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A Dubious Distinction, But Well-Deserved

Val Strauss once again tops Alexander Russo’s “Worst Journalist” list

Education media watchdog Alexander Russo released his annual roundup of the “Worst Education Journalism” yesterday and once again the Washington Post’s Valerie Strauss landed at the top of the “Worst Journalist” list.

This dubious distinction is well-deserved, as Strauss jettisoned her journalistic principles years ago when she effectively turned her column, “The Answer Sheet,” into a high-profile (and high-traffic) platform for a rotating cast of education reform opponents.

Alexander Russo

Although the Post tags her pieces as “Analysis” (as opposed to straight journalism), which the paper defines as an “interpretation of the news based on evidence, including data, as well as anticipating how events might unfold based on past events,” readers will find little actual analysis in her work. Instead, Strauss essentially republishes the work of others, who all happen to share the same anti-reform outlook, while adding an often flattering introduction of the author, which in many cases appears to be cut-and-paste, as seen below.

“What she’s doing — stealing bylines that should rightly go to her contributors, essentially  — is simply wrong to me, even if her contributors give her permission to post their work,” Russo said in explaining why he once again singled out Strauss on his dishonor roll. “Her page is also lazy. Instead of helping readers sort through complicated issues or giving us an unsparing analysis of both sides, she’s pandering to her readers’ baser urges.”

That last point is really the crux of the problem with Strauss’ output at the Washington Post: it is completely one-sided. Instead of presenting readers with views from both sides of the education debate, Strauss turns to the same anti-charter/testing/accountability folks again and again to share their views.

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For example, Strauss has published (and/or extensively quoted) pieces from Carol Burris, executive director of the Network for Public Educationtwenty times since January 2017.

During the same period, Strauss has published or extensively quoted works from the National Education Policy Center twelve times.

The same goes for the National Center for Fair & Open Testing (a.k.a., Fairtest), whose work has made a dozen appearances in the pages of the Answer Sheet over the past eighteen months.

All of these groups receive funding from the teachers unions (in the case of the National Education Policy Center, we’re talking millions), a fact that you won’t find disclosed in their essays or Strauss’ introductions. Meanwhile, contrasting views from pro-reform voices are nowhere to be seen.

In short, Valerie Strauss has given education reform opponents one a hell of a soapbox from which to broadcast their propaganda, but she’s left her readers with a distorted view of education policy issues. It’s hard to see how that aligns with the mission of the Washington Post – whose motto is “Democracy dies in darkness” – but as Russo has noted in the past, those in charge at the paper don’t seem very concerned.

Perhaps it’s because reformers haven’t made enough of a stink about it.


EDITOR’S NOTE: This story is part of a series of periodic posts looking at the anti-reform propaganda published by Valerie Strauss at The Washington Post.

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Written by Peter Cook

Pete became involved in education reform as a 2002 Teach For America corps member in New Orleans Public Schools and has worked in various capacities at Teach For America, KIPP, TNTP, and the Recovery School District. As a consultant, he developed teacher evaluation systems and served as a strategic advisor to school district leaders in Cleveland, Nashville, Chattanooga, and Jefferson Parish, Louisiana. He now writes about education policy and politics and lives in New Orleans.

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