Monday, August 5, 2019

Does The Star Dislike Public Schools, Or Does It Just Act That Way To Sell Papers?

Posted By on Mon, Aug 5, 2019 at 3:07 PM

I usually read education articles written for the Star the day before they make it into the paper, courtesy of my Google Alerts which link me to stories about Arizona education the minute they go live. So on Sunday I read an online version of a story about teacher shortages decreasing in Pima County which was written for Monday's paper. I was happy to read that local districts are doing better with teacher recruitment this year.

When I opened my paper this morning, there the story was on the front page, word for word. Except for one thing. The headline was rewritten to take away any impression that our teacher shortage situation had improved.

Because in the Star, if education bleeds, it leads, even if the editors have to bloody it up a bit. "Ain't it awful?" stories about public education make the front page. They sell papers.

According to the story, Pima County districts still have 142 fewer teachers than they need. That's not good news. But also according to the story, that's down 19 percent from last year. That is good news. Our districts moved the needle. They're trending in the right direction.

The article itself is a long, well researched, well written piece by reporter Danyelle Khmara. No surprise there. She does her journalistic homework and it shows.

Then there are the two headlines, which most likely were not written by Khmara.

Whoever wrote the version for the online story captured the sense of the article accurately.
Pima County has fewer teacher vacancies this year, but it's still a problem for schools
As for the Monday headline? Not so much.
Teacher vacancies still an issue in Pima County despite raises
The original online headline says things are better this year, which is accurate.

The rewritten front page headline implies nothing has changed, it's the same old teacher vacancy problem, even though teachers got a raise. It makes it sound like nothing will satisfy those damn teachers. But that's not what the facts in the article say.

This headline change may sound like a minor detail, except that, as everyone who has studied journalism knows, people who take the time to read a headline often get no farther than the first paragraph before they move on. Most people who see the front page of the Star are going to think Pima County has the same teacher vacancy problem it had last year.

That rankles me. I wrote a series of posts recently about how attacking TUSD in particular and public education in general has turned into a blood sport. The Star had an opportunity to leave readers with a sense that things are a little better. Instead, it blasts out a headline saying things were bad before, and they're just as lousy now.

Some good stuff from the article

The headline pisses me off mightily as you can probably tell, but if you dig into the article, it has some positive information which is worth spotlighting.

Teacher vacancies are down 19 percent this year compared to last year, which is a significant decrease. It's even better for TUSD, where the vacancies are down 26 percent, from 84 to 62. Sunnyside did even better with a 31 percent decrease, from 51 to 34.

Some districts dug into their capital funding to boost teacher raises. That means projects needing capital funding, which plummeted in 2008 and still hasn't risen to pre-recession levels, will take a hit, but it sends a message to teachers that the districts are willing to go the extra mile to put a few more dollars into their paychecks. That's going to help retain teachers and attract others. It's especially important since the state isn't actually giving teachers the 20 percent raise over three years Ducey promised — our smoke-and-mirrors "education governor" figured out a way to cheat the teachers without lying to them outright — so the districts making up some of the difference is an act of good faith.

The article notes that the pay raises probably have something to do with lowering the teacher vacancy rates, and it credits Red For Ed for making the raises a reality, both of which are true. But I want to give the Red For Ed movement credit for more than an increase in education funding. It gave teachers an increased sense of purpose and empowerment. They still have every reason to be discouraged by their salaries, which are near the bottom in the country, their large class sizes and lack of resources, but now they can feel like they are part of a national movement to improve education. By joining together and going out on the streets to make their case, they have gained back some of the country's respect which has been stolen from them by the privatization/"education reform" movement.

When they look at their students, teachers know they are part of something bigger than themselves. Red For Ed gave them a reason to feel like they are part of something bigger than their classrooms as well, and that's a good thing.

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