Virtual School Meanderings

August 4, 2016

7 Day Groove Challenge – Review Entry: Media and Interviews

As I mentioned on Monday, Darren Rowse over at ProBlogger has issued a 7 Days to Getting Your Blogging Groove Back challenge.  I told my EDTECH537 – Blogging In The Classroom students that I would do my best to participate in this challenge fully – as a way to model different things you can do to ensure that you have a consistent stream of original blog entries.

So Darren has posted the third challenge for this week – Create a Review Post. As a review entry is not one of the ones I have had my EDTECH537 students create, I figure that I should mention that Darren describes a “Review Entry” as “a piece of content that is in some way a review.”

Earlier today I receive notice from one of my alerts, from our institutional clipping services, and from LinkedIn (of all places, as its the first time that happened) of this article:


online educationClick to Open Overlay Gallery

First, let me say that this is a good article that is written about one of the few cyber charter schools that I believe is actually living up to its potential (and the evidence thus far also bears that out).  So my review of this article won’t focus on the overall article, but more how journalists use interviews with experts, and also feel the need to create controversy.

For some context, I was interviewed by this reporter for about an hour.  Our interview went over the necessary background to the field, the differences between supplemental and full-time K-12 online learning, what we knew about student performance, the types of students often found in both environments, the role of for-profit educational management organizations or EMOs in the cyber charter world, etc..  Once we had done the “K-12 online learning 101” material (as it has been my experience that the vast majority of reporters know very little about the field – even the basics of it; they just know that there is a story here that they should be writing about), we talked about the what we knew from the research.  It sort of went like this…  The reporter would tell me something about VLACS and I would tell them what we knew from the research about that something – and in most cases VLACS lined up well (e.g., focus on residency, role of local support, student-teacher ratio, amount and nature of interaction, etc.).  As we went through all of the things that the reporter knew about VLACS, the interview changed to where I would tell the reporter more about the “somethings” that we knew from the research and then advise the reporter on additional questions to ask about as they continued to investigate VLACS.

This all happened months ago…  Today (or yesterday) the article was published and this was my contribution to it.

Some outside experts question that pay-for-performance model, either due to the risk that teachers may thumb the scale to speed student progress, or because such a system may not fully account for differences in students and subject matter.

“When you’re teaching high-ability students, a lot of these free market principles will bring you success,” said Michael Barbour, an education professor at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Connecticut, who studies online learning. “But if I’m teaching algebra to at-risk students, the majority of whom have already failed it two or three times, then I’m going to have big problems with pay-for-performance. What kind of teacher will you get to teach those kids?”

But Larry Miller, dean of the school of education at Florida SouthWestern state college and a co-author of the 2015 Center for Reinventing Public Education study, pointed out that VLACS teachers get their base pay whether they hit their targets or not, and most bonuses are a marginal incentive, “in the single digits as a percentage of total salary.”

Now this isn’t an issue of whether I was misquoted, as I know I would have said that kind of thing.  However, there are two issues here.  The first is that for some reason journalists need to present both side of every issue.  It is the reason why like 99.7% of all climate change research says that humans have an impact, but yet reporters will still find someone from that 0.3% group and give them equal airtime.

The second issue is that all the reporter has done here is present the perspectives of two people who have different opinions on an issue, but they aren’t talking about the same thing.  The fact that VLACS teachers are well paid has no impact on the fact that those teachers that teach Advanced Placement courses will have a much easier time getting their bonuses each year than those teaching credit recovery.  Even the amount of the bonus is portrayed in an odd way – “in the single digits as a percentage of total salary.”  – and still in no way related to my comments.  Let’s say that a VLACS teacher gets $50,000 (I have no idea how much they make, I’m just picking a round number).  A 1% bonus is $500 (i.e., a monthly car payment on a +$40,000), while a 9% bonus is $4,500 (i.e., three months of payments on a $200,000 mortgage).  But a car payment or three months of your mortgage payments or something in between are only “marginal incentive” according to Larry Miller – all unchallenged by the reporter.

Even it is was ONLY a car payment, does that address the issue of some teachers having an easier time getting this bonus simply because of they classes they are assigned?  Simply put, journalists shouldn’t feel the need to give representation to people from the other side simply in this false balance.  If I say “the sky is blue,” you don’t need to include someone else to come behind me and say “no it isn’t, and the earth is brown.”  But reporters continue to do this time and time again…  It is one of the reasons why there is so much debate that continues over school choice in general.  The empirical evidence that we have about charters, vouchers, value-added, pay for performance, cyber schooling, etc. have largely found that these are not effective forms of education; and those that do show progress it has more to do with the student population OR changes in pedagogy.  Yet the media will always present some student or some parent or some ideological researcher to give the other side – essentially to be the representative climate change denier.  And the public continues to listen…

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