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Public School Advocates Call on News Media to Cover What's Right and What's Wrong with Education

A panel of parents, public school advocates and academics had mixed praise for coverage by education-beat reporters in the New Jersey-New York region.

Although all of the panelists cited examples of "good media coverage" about outstanding programs or students, all of them also complained about generally inadequate press coverage and the lack of depth in the stories.

Said Ann Cook, co-director of The Urban Academy: "Where the press does the best job is where it can spend time and peel back the onion to reveal the rest of the story."

Cook was one of six people brought together for a discussion of media coverage by three Teachers College programs: the Center for Educational Outreach and Innovation, the National Center for Restructuring Education, Schools and Teaching, and the Hechinger Institute for Education and the Media.

Thomas Sobol, the Christian A. Johnson Professor of Outstanding Educational Practice at TC, served as moderator. He decided to start the discussion with a comment from a parent: Margarita Bravo, president of the Christopher Columbus High School Parents-Teachers Association.

Ms. Bravo said: "The media has been both accurate and inaccurate. Sometimes they don't have the full story."

Too many people who cover education don't know much about schools, said Ms. Cook. "There isn't a commitment to get someone to cover education who will stick with it," she said.

Said Linda Darling-Hammond, the William F. Russell Professor in the Foundations of Education at TC: "Education is a low status beat in newspapers. There is constant turnover. People move on about the time they learn the beat."

The media did have some supporters on the panel. James Vlasto, the communications director for New Visions for Public Schools, said: "As one who has followed schools and media for 25 years, I know we've had some very, very good reporting in New York."

Before he joined New Visions, which works with public and private schools to improve education, Vlasto was spokesman for New York City Schools Chancellor Joseph A. Fernandez. During the Fernandez era, The New York Times, New York Newsday, and the New York Daily News each had three reporters covering education, he said.

"Yes, there were a lot of negative stories. But there were tons of positive stories," he said. "We just don't remember them."

Gene Maeroff, director of the Hechinger Institute, reminded the school advocates that "we're talking about news organizations. If something happens at Thomas Jefferson High School that's unpleasant, that's unfortunate-but it gets covered."

News organizations are afraid of covering something "isn't news," he explained. "It's no accident that the stories on all three newscasts are the same," Maeroff said.

Vlasto said: "My philosophy is that you must counter the bad news with the good news. We put blame on the press. But we don't work very, very hard to get the good news out."

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