Are Post authors biased? Give us your solutions.
A very thoughtful and persistent reader who signs in as bermanator4 has gone after me for not warning readers of my personal views whenever I address issues about which I have written extensively, particularly when I have written books on the topic. This is something that I and the many other Post writers who have done books have heard before, and it deserves consideration. Does producing a book that comes to strong conclusions---as many of our books do---make us biased, and untrustworthy when discussing the issue and presenting facts on it in the Post, and on washingtonpost.com?
I am not sure anyone but those readers who share my interest in schools are going to see this post, so I am going to suggest an exercise just for them. But if any of you politics or sports or healthcare or science wonks out there want to participate, feel free.
I am most often accused of bias in my views on two subjects---college level courses and tests in high school, particularly Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate, and the Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP), a network of 82 public charter schools in 19 states and the district. I have written two books, "Escalante" and "Class Struggle" about AP and one, "Supertest" about IB. My most recent book, "Work Hard. Be Nice." is about KIPP.
Another thoughtful and persistent reader who signs in as efavorite has suggested that people in my situation provide a little background memo, maybe just a few sentences, that explain my close relationship to topics like AP, IB or KIPP so that readers will be forewarned that I might have very strong views on them. I have often referred to my books, or at least the time I spent in schools reporting those books, in my columns. I often tell readers that I am coming back to a topic on which I have previously expressed strong views, like my doubts about the 21st century skills movement. I have also told the reader when a column represents a change of mind, like my deciding that elementary school homework was not so importatn.
But overall I think the reader would prefer not to have to wade through a lot of background. As a reader myself of topics on which I am not an expert, I would prefer that the writer get to the point, make his or her argument, state the facts that support it, give some sense of the counterarguments, and let me make up my own mind.
Getting to the point is also something that my editors want, particularly those that edit my columns in the newspaper, where space is limited. Only here in cyberspace do we have much room to get into the writers' backgrounds, but since the Web is the wave of the present, and probably the future, we ought to try to see how this might work.
I would sum up my views on these topics, and the books I have written about them, this way. I think AP and IB are the most beneficial programs in American high schools in the last 20 years, and have reported many studies and quoted many educators and students to that effect. Each year I rate high schools nationally and locally on AP and IB participation, which I think is a better measure of their academic strengths than the usual measure--test scores--that are so strongly influenced by family income. I have also quoted educators who think AP is overused and too hard for some students, and think my use of AP and IB to rate high schools too narrow. I have reported in detail how KIPP developed and noted data on KIPP schools showing them to be the most successful so far in raising the achievement level of low-income children. I have also quoted scholars who say that there is not enough data yet to decide if the KIPP model can be sustained, and raising concerns that KIPP schools are too few, and the pressure they put on teachers too great, to be a good example to follow.
Here is my challenge. Draft for me the words that you think I should insert at the top, or some relevant part, of a column I am doing on AP, IB or KIPP to warn readers of my views. Post it as a comment to this post, and let's see what we get. If you want to suggest a similar advisory for any other Post writer on any other favorite topic of theirs, send that in too and I will make sure it gets to them.
I will then consider the suggestions, show them to my editors and reveal in a future post what I am going to do about this, and why. And if you think this approach is clumsy and will only reduce the number of people who want to read anything I write, or if you want to address this issue in a different way, put in a comment on that too. Thanks for your help on this. Journalists have never had such an opportunity before to communicate directly with readers, and I don't think we should waste it.
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