Aug 24, 2009

Unfortunate lessons in activism

Last week, the Pasadena Star-News wrote a story summarizing the performance of Pasadena Unified School District students on a statewide standardized test. The article contained a factual error in the first paragraph and a correction needed to be made.

According to an essay from Peter Dreier at Huffington Post, a parent involved with a well-connected advocacy group, Pasadena Education Foundation, organized a campaign to push the paper for more than a correction of fact. He wanted a correction of tone. Members of PEF and other local advocacy groups wrote emails to and called the managing editor, and met with the paper's public editor, Larry Wilson, to share their frustration. They argued that this wasn't a one-time mistake but part of a long pattern of anti-public school rhetoric from the Star-News.

Or, as Dreier, an Occidental College politics professor, PUSD parent, PEF board member and progressive activist, wrote:
...the Star-News' coverage of PUSD had consistently been negative for years, rarely reporting on its successes, mostly focusing on problems, contributing to a misleadingly negative public perception of the public schools - so negative that about one-third of school age students, mostly from middle-class families, attend private schools.
Dreier skips over decades of racial and socioeconomic upheaval in Pasadena to blame the paper for the sorry state of PUSD.

In response, the paper's editors directed the reporter to write a second story, this one casting the test results in a wholly positive light. The less favorable, but completely factual, information about the school district was left out.

Dreier provides some insight at the end of his 2,180 word essay as to why the activists were so active this time around:
Some of them intend to show up at the School Board meeting next Tuesday, congratulate the board members and staff for improvement in test scores, and urge them to put a ballot measure before voters next year to increase local property taxes to raise funds for PUSD schools. Under California law, more than two-thirds of voters have to vote "yes" to enact a parcel tax increase. But the PUSD activists believe that not only do voters understand that the state government's drastic cuts are devastating local schools, but that voters will support a tax increase if they know that the schools are getting better.
(via LA Observed)

*Disclosure: I worked for the Star-News and have written a few stories about PUSD and PEF.

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