For more than a year now, I have despaired of the New York Times’ editorial page whenever the topic of education reform has come up. It is not because those pages have disagreed with me, although it would be pleasant to occasionally see representation of lively and vital debate make it on to those pages. It is because the editorialists who have opined on the reform efforts now engulfing America’s public education have appeared so ill-informed that there even is a debate to be had, writing pieces that have graced the pages of America’s “Gray Lady” of journalism with what could have been submitted to them as brochures from Bill Gates and Michelle Rhee. On topics from the Common Core State Standards to the issues and concerns with teacher preparation, columnists such as David Brooks, Joe Nocera, Frank Bruni and Bill Keller have provided staggeringly limited perspectives and have even taken effectively discredited organizations and reports at face value. Again, it is not that these columnists do not see things my way that is the problem, but by entirely failing to engage the arguments even in passing, they have acted as if those arguments do not exist.
Today, Frank Bruni entered the fray again with a remarkably one-sided piece about teacher tenure. I will not dissect all of its problematic assumptions here, but I will point out that Bruni’s source on the “problems” with tenure is ONE individual, a former TFA teacher and current state senator in Colorado who was central to efforts that tied teachers’ contract renewals to multiple years of student gains in, you guessed it, standardized testing. For his take on an issue that effects the working conditions and workplace protections of the millions of public school teachers in America to be limited to one source is staggering. Mr. Bruni also directly quotes the judge in the California Vergara lawsuit as if there were not reams of critiques of the judge’s legal reasoning and use of controversial research.
And thanks to some Internet sleuthing on Twitter, it also demonstrates an apparent flaw in how the OpEd page of the New York Times operates today. Mr. Bruni may not come to the issue of teacher tenure entirely out of natural interest:
According to this People Magazine article located by teachers and posted to Twitter, Mr. Bruni is a personal friend of Campbell Brown, the former NBC and CNN news personality who has dedicated herself to suing teacher tenure out of existence first in New York and then elsewhere.
Mr. Bruni is, of course, entitled to the friends he wishes, but the operation of the flagship newspaper of the world’s oldest continuous democracy ought to be better than this. Given the thoroughly one-sided and completely unresearched positions staked out by David Brooks, Joe Nocera, Bill Keller and Frank Bruni, it is easy to postulate how Mr. Bruni’s wading into the Tenure Wars took place. A personal phone call from a personal friend is made. It is suggested that he ought to turn his talents upon this very important issue that is “for the kids”. He is even given the name of an impressive person to contact and an offer of an introduction. Voila. “Partnership For Educational Justice” gets free replication of their talking points against teacher tenure on the OpEd page of the New York Times.
The position of opinion writer on the New York Times is a highly privileged one. I suspect that those who hold that position are frequently contacted by the influential in society with suggestions towards what they should aim their pens. It should come, therefore, with great sense of responsibility for recognizing when there are areas in our society with dynamic and complex debates, and, when taking a position, demonstrating an understanding of those complexities.
Mr. Bruni and his esteemed colleagues at the Times have repeatedly demonstrated no such understanding. It is well past time for the editorial board to either seek out additional voices on these issues or to provide their opinion writers with remedial instruction on how to acknowledge and engage arguments without simply bypassing them in favor of one-sided talking points.
Alternately, Mr. Bruni and his colleagues could meet more people. I know quite a few who would be happy to provide more information.