When I was seventeen years old I started to participate in anti-Vietnam War demonstrations. The next morning I would check for coverage in the New York Times. Sometimes the protests were ignored. Sometimes the coverage was downright distorted. I wondered if the reporter had even been to the demonstration or if the paper was just lying to the public. The New York Times now has a "Public Editor" who is supposed to work "outside of the reporting and editing structure of the newspaper" and provide some check on the paper's accuracy and biases.
Unfortunately, at least in education, the public editor system is not working. In coverage of the debates over testing, teacher competency, unions, and charters, the Times always seems to come down on the side of Bloomberg, Gates, Duncan, Teach for America, and alternative certification and ignores people with actual classroom experience. On December 14, 2010, a Times headline told us "More and Better Tests" were the answer to improving educational performance.
While I have disagreed with the Times on a number of occasions, and in one blog post specifically accused the newspaper of promoting the latest educational "gimmick of the month," I have also encouraged teachers and teacher education students to use the Times as a literacy standard for their students and as a source of information of about local, national, and global events.
However, the New York Times' latest educational business venture is so insulting to teachers, parents, and students and so corrupting that I cannot recommend the New York Times any longer and I will cancel my subscription.
The Times "Knowledge Network" recently announced a joint enterprise with Rio Salado College, an online community college that is part of the Maricopa Community College system based in the Phoenix, Arizona area and not one of the leading educational institutions in the United States, to provide an alternative path to teacher certification. Rio Salado also offers initial certificates for entry-level positions working with substance abusers, as flight attendants, and in customer service at banks and insurance agencies.
Rio Salado, while a public community college, is not part of the Arizona state university system, and is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, which accredits many of the major proprietary, or for-profit, edu-businesses in the United States. The Higher Learning Commission is now conducting an internal "investigation" of member institutions, including the University of Phoenix, the nation's largest private "university," charged by the federal government General Accounting Office with unscrupulously recruiting people eligible for federal financial aid who had no hope of achieving any type of credentials or jobs.
The Goldwater Institute, a Phoenix, Arizona-based conservative public policy research organization has been especially critical of the Maricopa Community Colleges. It charges Maricopa, which receives local property tax dollars and pays bloated administrative salaries with 460 employees making over $100,000 per year. Goldwater calls Maricopa a "dropout factory" with only 16.9 percent of the community college district's full-time students graduating after three years, although Rio Salado has the best graduation rate in the system.
A quarter-page advertisement in the Times on June 28, 2011, (p. D2) invited readers to "discover new pathways to a career in education" by joining "a community of future teachers who are exceptionally well prepared to shine." However in tiny print at the bottom of the ad, we learn that this online teacher preparation program (a) requires an in-person component in your local area; (b) is available only in approved states; (c) that certification requirements are set individual states; and (d) IT IS THE RESPONSIBILITY OF THE STUDENT TO VERIFY THOSE REQUIREMENTS. New York State requires almost twice the number of classroom practicum hours as this program.
The New York Times Corporation may be financially desperate. In the fourth quarter of 2010, profits were down 26% compared to the previous year. But a newspaper that pretends to provide an objective analysis of educational reform has no business in the business of providing online credentials of questionable legitimacy.
What happened to journalistic ethics? As a reader for about fifty year, I would welcome a response from the New York Times.
- Alan Singer is a social studies educator at Hofstra University