COMMENTS: All Charter Schools are in Lake Wobegon

If you look at the playlist of coverage of magnet and charter schools on all three of the nightly newscasts, one thing will strike you. In all that coverage, you will never find a single charter school that is failing to produce stellar results. All are way better than average. This year alone, CBS anchor Katie Couric has offered glowing praise for the Thurgood Marshall Academy in Washington DC; ABC's David Muir just loved the Urban Prep Charter Academy in Chicago; CBS' Michelle Miller gushed over Harlem Village Academy in New York City; CBS' Jim Axelrod was so impressed by Cleveland's Ginn Academy.

So what a refreshing change Rehema Ellis appeared to be offering on NBC's Making a Difference when she uncovered the shambolic Austin Can! Academy in Texas! This charter school was a mess, "desperate for leadership, going through four principals in two years…with only 88 students, huge behavior problems and dismal test scores."

Finally, NBC's Education Nation appeared to be dropping its cheerleading, turning a skeptical eye on the solutions publicized by Waiting for Superman, the documentary it showcased during its Education Summit on Rockefeller Plaza. Ellis had already taken a step in that direction in her coverage of the departure Chancellor Michelle Rhee, the Waiting for Superman favorite from Washington DC: "Rhee is leaving after her boss Mayor Adrian Fenty failed to win his bid for reelection and her policies had become a major issue in the campaign." Rhee's style, Ellis reflected, "alienated many teachers and parents." The improved school system she leaves after four years "still struggles with less than half the students graduating on time, meaning there is a lot more work to be done."

But no, Ellis turns out to be a cheerleader still. The reason she covered the Austin Can! Academy was not its failure but its success. Joe Gonzales, a new principal, arrived three years ago, his plan "strict discipline, a dress code, longer school days. It is working. Enrolment has quadrupled. Grades are improving." Score one more for the Superman system.

When every single charter school that attracts coverage is better than average, we are not seeing journalism about the Education Nation. We are being fed propaganda.


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