Rotten Journalism: 4 Ways Time Magazine Misrepresents Teachers

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Wait just a second, Time Magazine. Maybe you thought the dust had settled. Perhaps you believe six months is enough time served. Maybe you think educators will simply forgive and forget how you called them “Rotten Apples” and that you confused the general public with your lazy reporting and elementary writing (apologies to the many outstanding second graders in the world whose writing far surpasses yours). Time Magazine: Think again!

In one of Brilliant or Insane’s most popular posts, we exposed Time for its thoughtless, egregious attack on teachers. Many months after this brutal assault, we’ve decided that Time’s time is once again up, so we are  rehashing this topic, in order to remind all education shareholders just how ignorant Time can be.
Time Magazine

Rotten Journalism: 4 Ways Time Magazine Misrepresents Teachers

originally published October 25, 2014

Along with millions of other educators, I am incensed by the lazy, reckless reporting by Time magazine–a publication that purportedly presents facts and insights on an array of subjects that the public may not understand.

Time’s article, War on Teacher Tenure (November 3, 2014) commits an ocean of of reporting sins that is far too deep to uncover here. I will, however, outline the four most egregious errors in this absurd piece.

The cover picture alone, with its Rotten Apples caption, merits an entire editorial. For now, let’s just say it’s arguably the most dangerous description of a story ever penned by a major news source (the accuracy of calling Time a news source is, admittedly, debatable ). Let me explain how Time’s cover and the “rotten apples” article misleads the public about teachers.

4 ways Time Magazine misrepresents teachers

1-The Time Magazine cover is blatantly misleading

While the article’s author uses the word “tenure” 10 times in a 3,600-word tome, there is virtually nothing about tenure in the piece. It’s unclear if the scribe really knows what tenure is. And the article isn’t really about “rotten apples” in education, as there’s no factual evidence in the piece that these so-called rotten apples exist. Time does quote a study that may be even more ridiculous than this article; it suggests that “bad” teachers are costing kids hundreds of thousands of dollars in career income. (There’s more on this in item 3.)

2-Time attempts to pass off a bad biography as education reform

Time should have put a picture of David Welch on the cover, as the article is more of a poorly-researched biography about Welch than it is about rotten-apple teachers. Welch is a relatively unknown Silicon Valley wannabe who created an equally unknown cause called Students Matter, which claims to sponsor “impact litigation to promote access to quality public education,” according to the Students Matter website. To put a finer point on this, Students Matter attempts to get teachers fired for “bad” teaching. Time Magazine won’t tell you this, but Welch is a science researcher–not a teacher. Yet he’s glorified in the piece as someone fighting the good fight for kids, as he passes judgement on teachers, whom Welch believes are protected from dismissal by tenure. What’s his evidence? In reporting that only a tabloid author would love, Time pounces on this one, reporting that a superintendent once told Welch that he needed control over his staff. Sounds like a perfect reason to sue the state of California, which Welch did.

3-Time’s information is as misleading as its cover

The Time Magazine reporter (no name recognition deserved) offers up a Harvard study to support the impact of so-called bad teachers. Brilliant or Insane has, of course, already debunked this Harvard study. (Yes, we’re always many steps ahead of Time.)

A three-year study led by Harvard education expert Thomas Kane, with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, found that a bad teacher, as measured by his or her students’ test scores, could set a student’s educational progress back by 9.54 months. Time Magazine

Perhaps if Time had invited a single intelligent educator to contribute to the discussion (see item 4), the writer might have added that any study, law suit, or contention about quality teaching that is founded on standardized test results is as misleading as, wait for it, the Time Magazine cover for this article.

4-Time robs teachers of their voice

How credible can a magazine be, when it publishes a story calling teachers “rotten apples” while quoting suspect research and non-educators. There isn’t one interview with a teacher in this sad excuse for journalism. The luminaries mentioned in the Time Magazine story–Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Peter Thiel, and David Welch–have a combined zero days of classroom teaching experience. Time suggests on its horrid cover that these millionaire techies can solve the purported tenure problem.

The truth that eluded Time

Unlike the folks at Time, I taught in public schools for more than 20 years. During that time, I saw numerous teachers terminated. Tenure is in place to protect teachers from zealots like the Time Magazine reporter and David Welch, who have unsubstantiated notions about bad teachers. Still, teachers with tenure can be dismissed.

What Time fails to address in its attack on teachers is that learning can’t be measured by a standardized test; learning can’t be measured with any tool. It can be assessed in a conversation, based on meaningful narrative feedback.

If Time Magazine wants to live up to its reputation as a respectable news source, maybe it should evaluate standardized testing and how it misrepresents learning. Perhaps it should interview some teachers about the problems with good and bad teaching, rather than seek the opinion of a litigious scientist and millionaires from Silicon Valley, who wouldn’t know a classroom from a CPU.

Recently, another school was victimized by a gun-wielding student. Time will likely cover this story. I wonder how teachers will be represented then. Will they be rotten apples, or will they be heroes?

The report may be suspect, but Time will tell.

Don’t miss Brilliant or Insane’s Why We’re Putting Time in a Permanent Timeout

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Mark Barnes is the author of many education books, including Bestseller Hacking Education, part of his Hack Learning Series, books that solve big problems with simple ideas. Barnes presents internationally on assessment, connected education, and student-centered learning. Join more than 100,000 interested educators who follow @markbarnes19 on Twitter.
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