Newsweek Wants Accountability for Teachers, Not Editors

Newsweek devotes several pieces this week to public schools. But the lead piece, “Why We Must Fire Bad Teachers,” by Evan Thomas and Pat Wingert, lays out the magazine’s skewed vision: Teacher unions protect the worst performers, while charter schools offer an easy solution. (“In the past two decades, some schools have sprung up that defy and refute what former president George W. Bush memorably called ‘the soft bigotry of low expectations.'”) Newsweek even finds the silver lining in Hurricane Katrina:

It is difficult to dislodge the educational establishment. In New Orleans, a hurricane was required: Since Katrina, New Orleans has made more educational progress than any other city, largely because the public-school system was wiped out. Using nonunion charter schools, New Orleans has been able to measure teacher performance in ways that the teachers’ unions have long and bitterly resisted.

The decision of a Rhode Island superintendent to fire every teacher at one low-performing high school is called a “notable breakthrough.”

Many of these ideas are the subject of intense debate–research on charter schools has generally not shown substantial improvement over conventional public schooling, for example. Experts and advocates disagree with the notion that New Orleans is a success story. But Newsweek presents little debate–sticking with the right-leaning narrativeversion of”school reform” that is primarily about bashing teachers.

An accompanying article pitting teachers union president Randi Weingarten and anti-union D.C. schools chancellor Michelle Rhee is presented on Newsweek‘s home pageunder the headline “The Union Boss vs. the School Reformer.” It’s not hard to imagine which option is supposed to be more attractive (unless you’re the pro-boss, anti-reform type).

Back to the Thomas article, though, withitssubhead: “In no other profession are workers so insulated from accountability.” Thisis particularly ironic to see under Evan Thomas’ byline. Oneonly needs to recall his contribution to the pre-Iraq War propaganda effort summarized below, and wonder what sort of accountability exists at Newsweek.

March 17, 2003
â┚¬”Newsweek‘s cover story is entitled “Saddam’s War,” and the cover features a close-up of Hussein’s face on fire. At the top of the story, Newsweek reports from the scene of a Baghdad military parade, describing as jarring the sight of Iraqi fedayeen fighters “garbed in the familiar tan camouflage of the United States Army. Saddam has ordered thousands of uniforms identical, down to the last detail, to those worn by U.S. and British troopers. The plan: to have Saddam’s men, posing as Western invaders, slaughter Iraqi citizens while the cameras roll for Al-Jazeera and the credulous Arab press.” The article closes with this call for war:

“One Arab intelligence officer interviewed by Newsweek spoke of ‘the green mushroom’ over Baghdadâ┚¬”the modern-day caliph bidding a grotesque bio-chem farewell to the land of the living alongside thousands of his subjects as well as his enemies. Saddam wants to be remembered. He has the means and the demonic imagination. It is up to U.S. armed forces to stop him before he can achieve notoriety for all time.”

About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.