As journalists, we try to scrutinize education advocacy funding. But soon, the foundations and advocates may be turning the microscope back on us.
The Center for Education Reform — a Washington, D.C.-based group that pushes for the expansion of charter schools — is preparing to launch a new project it’s calling “The Media Bullpen.” The site will be designed to “monitor the daily flow of education news and respond to it in real time,” according to a preview of how the site might work posted on its website.
A six-point baseball-themed ratings system will determine whether stories are accurate, with facts “portrayed in the correct light” (“Home Run”), or “completely wrong,” drawing “invalid” conclusions (“Strikeout!”).
It’s not clear how the center’s advocacy positions and those of the funders of the project — several powerful foundations — will affect the ratings.The center declined to provide any details on the venture until closer to its release.
The project drew concern from Linda Perlstein, the public editor of the Education Writers Association. “Will ‘the correct light’ wind up meaning less about accuracy than about viewpoint?” she asked.
According to the preview, the venture is being funded by the Walton Family Foundation, the Gleason Family Foundation, the Bradley Foundation and a $275,000 grant from the Gates Foundation.
The site first attracted attention last month, when the job posting for the site’s managing editor began to circulate. The job description includes two notable requirements. On one hand, the managing editor should be a “passionate advocate for education reform”; on the other, she should also practice “sound journalistic ethics.” Many journalists believe that ethics prohibit them from becoming advocates of particular policy positions.
The job description harkened back to a question that GothamSchools once tried to resolve with a contest: Though supporters of school choice like CER are often called “reformers,” education reform means different things to different people, and almost everyone involved in education would like to see change of some kind. (We eventually dubbed the pro-charter camp into which CER falls the “idealocrats.”)
So it matters whether the Media Bullpen project is looking for a passionate advocate of “reform” in the broad sense or in a much narrower one. Whatever meaning the project takes will likely make a huge difference in how it rates education coverage.