I’m sympathetic to how hard it is for journalists to cover complicated policy areas.
Translating policy into readable articles that both inform and entertain is difficult. In this sense, writing a policy a blog is a luxury. For the most part, I just get to stick to the research and ideas.
But journalists do have a duty to accurately cover the basic facts of the issue they are covering.
In her recent article on Japan’s education system, Alana Semuels included a throw away line about New Orleans education reforms; she writes:
The equity in Iitate stands in stark contrast to a place like New Orleans, which was also hit by a disaster. While Japan’s national government tried to ensure that students in the affected area got more resources after the accident, officials in New Orleans disinvested in the public educational system in their city. Public-school teachers were put on leave and dismissed, many students disappeared from schools’ rolls, and the New Orleans system now consists almost entirely of charter schools.
If you click on the links, which presumably justify her claims, you don’t get taken to supporting research; instead, you get taken to an op-ed.
As it happens, rigorous research has been done on the New Orleans reforms.
In terms of student achievement, after Katrina New Orleans saw some of the biggest gains ever recorded in an urban school district. You can read about the research here.
In the article, the authors of the study note:
For New Orleans, the news on average student outcomes is quite positive by just about any measure. The reforms seem to have moved the average student up by 0.2 to 0.4 standard deviations and boosted rates of high school graduation and college entry. We are not aware of any other districts that have made such large improvements in such a short time.
Rigorous research has also been done on how public spending in education changed in New Orleans after Katrina. Contrary to Semuels claim, spending went up.
The authors of the study write:
New Orleans’ publicly funded schools spent 13% ($1,358 per student) more per pupil on operating expenditures than the comparison group after the reforms, even though the comparison group had nearly identical spending before the reforms.
A quick google search could have turned up both of these studies.
I wish Semuels had taken the time to review these studies.
Because she did not, thousands of readers have been misinformed.