Comment Sections

I have a mini opinion piece in NY Times online. It's about Teach For America.

My musing today for this blog is not about TFA, but about how "new media" works in covering education.

Review: Loosely speaking, education coverage describes two competing groups. Those seeking major changes in K-12, and those largely opposing those changes.

The latter group has a built-in media advantage in a forum like NYT online (or Boston Globe online, Washington Post online, etc).

Roughly 3 to 4 million people are employed by the existing K-12 system. Schoolteachers, administrators, Ed School professors, etc. Generally they do not support major changes in K-12. Except for far greater funding.

These folks, all with college degrees, tend to read newspapers. I'm not sure how many newspaper readers make comments online, but let's guess 2%. So that's a 2% of 3 million people - an army of 60,000 comments who tend to oppose Ed Reform (or, if you're in the other camp, "so-called Ed Reform).

Now there are self-interested parties, people like me, who work for a charter school. We also read these publications.

But if you add up every employee of a so-called Ed Reform organization, including every charter school teacher, TFA corps member, etc, we're talking maybe 100,000 people? Let's posit that we're a little more jacked up on these issues, and that we drink more coffee, and that we're quick to shoot off our if regular people comment at a 2% rate, perhaps we comment at a 4% rate. Our army of newspaper commenters is perhaps 4,000, spread across the nation.

So commenters who work "for" so-called Ed Reform are outnumbered by commenters who oppose those changes are outnumbered by, say, a 15 to 1 margin.

Here's the rub. Few of the tens of millions of inner-city parents read newspapers. Fewer still read the elite media. And since comment sections sprung up a couple years ago, almost never do these parents comment.

(When I do see "parent" comments, they are more likely to be outlier, non-poor, well-educated parents who happen to navigate high-poverty school systems.)

So every day reporters and readers get hit with scores of comments from people who work for the K-12 system as is. And of course their voice should be heard. And some comments from those of us who think the system needs big change. (And of course our voice should be heard too!)

But rarely do these comment sections capture the views of those actually served by the system.

This creates a natural "media" advantage for the status quo.

In addition, the absence of parents of failing children (those who are pretty much guaranteed never to get college degrees) from the policy discussion escalates the 2 "competing" self-interested sides.

Here's why. If inner-city parents contributed to these debates, I'd predict some would comment along these lines:

"Stop yelling at one another, get your act together, and move with urgency, because my kid is 13 years old and can barely read! Try to overcome your policy differences, work together where possible, and actually make good teaching happen for my kid before her whole education slips away..."