Thursday, January 27, 2011

Cognitive dissonance at the Star Tribune

Kudos to Star Tribune reporters who set out a few days ago to see what $2 billion in withheld state money has meant to Minnesota schools. The story "Money woes test school quality" is not pretty:
  • In Willmar, students share and check out textbooks instead of bringing them home.
  • In Rochester, some school areas are cleaned only once a week and some staffers bring blankets because of low thermostats.
  • In Two Harbors, the school week was cut to four days, staff took two-year salary freezes and leaders put off replacing buses that rack up 450,000 miles a year in the state's most spread-out district.
  • In Perham, a roof leaks directly onto the school secretary's desk. Says Superintendent Tamara Uselman: "Patch and go and pray for the best."
There are many other indignities. Biology classes with 40 students that don't have enough specimens for experiments. Classrooms with literally not enough chairs for all the students. Clearly budget cutting has taken a toll on our schools. I'm sure if you canvassed all Minnesota public schools you would find similar situations, perhaps many even more dire. $2 billion is a lot to cut out of schools.

One thing you'll never see in a news story like this in the Strib is a connection to the continuing attacks on school teachers as the bane of public education, even though there are usually two or three attacks like that weekly in their own paper. It's not like the two subjects are unrelated. After all, if a teacher stands in front of a standing-room only classroom without necessary supplies in physically uncomfortable conditions that might have some bearing on the achievement of students.

Which brings us to today's editorial endorsing the activities of MinnCan.  The editorial is unremarkable except for its authoritarian style - it doesn't make any arguments about how the things that MinnCan is proposing might improve education. Given the supposed concern for "achievement gaps" in which the editorial is couched, it is notable that not one word is expended either on poverty or lack of funding being important issues. It's clear that the editorialist either doesn't read his/her own paper, or is just not a serious person.

Finally, how unethical is it for Star Tribune editorial writer Denise Johnson to have taken part in the birthing of MinnCan and not revealed that conflict of interest in the editorial, even if she didn't write it? As authoritarian leaders know, anything is okay as long as you get away with it.

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For more on the Star Tribune's dishonest and authoritarian education coverage see my Authoritarian Journalism, and Propagating a dishonest narrative.

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