Tuesday, October 4, 2011

What makes a good principal? Don't ask Michael Winerip.

Last week, The Times published this ridiculous puff piece by Michael Winerip about the principal of NYC's PS 126. The Times has published some excellent education journalism in recent years, especially the long and nuanced pieces that Paul Tough writes for the magazine supplement, but Winerip's column is of a very different sort. Bad, partisan education reporting (and Winerip's article is subtly but definitely partisan) has very real negative consequences for the public debate. I wrote the Times the letter below, which, naturally, they declined to publish. I knew they would— its tone is far too strident— but I'm disappointed that they published this letter instead, which not only praises Winerip's column, but treats it as serious education journalism.

The "letter to the editor" is a fun form. The word-length constraint forces a nice directness and economy. Here's me on "The Secrets of a Good Principal," in 150 words:

Dear Editor,

I don’t know whether Jacqui Getz is a good principal. She may or may not be, but Mr. Winerip’s column sheds no light on the matter. From the column we learn that Getz works hard; that she espouses union-friendly opinions about teacher evaluation (but not that she acts on them); that she talks to students; and that she wears high-heels.

I’ve observed classes at PS 126 and happen to know that over the last few years, it ran a highly innovative literacy program that produced impressive results and inspired other schools. Is this program still in place? Is Ms. Getz supporting or revamping it? These are details that a responsible journalist might report on.

But this column is not journalism, and it leaves the public none the wiser. This kind of negligent reporting is damaging to the entire public debate about education, and The Times ought not to publish it.

Max Bean

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