Confused & Misleading Miami Herald Teacher Jobs Story

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On one hand, this Miami Herald headline (Charter school growth means fewer public school teaching jobs in Miami-Dade) makes perfect sense: “The district estimates it will hire 425 less instructional staff next year, according to its latest budget projections.”

On the other hand, it makes no sense at all. Charter school jobs are just as much public school teaching jobs as district jobs. Inserting “public school” teaching jobs suggests that charter school jobs aren’t public school jobs. 

A more accurate (but still problematic) headline, in my opinion, would have been “Charter school growth means fewer teaching jobs at traditional Miami-Dade schools.”  

Alas, the problems with this piece aren’t so easily solved as with a headline fix. The piece refers to “public schools” and “charter schools” as two separate categories: “While public schools are expected to increase by about 400 students this year, charter schools are projected to welcome almost 6,000 more students in Miami-Dade.” The story later defines charter schools as “privately run but get public money on a per-student basis.”

To be sure, there are big differences between charter and traditional or district schools — unionization of teachers chief among them, and how they’re approved and monitored — but they’re both publicly funded and open to students without tuition. Nearly all charters are given to nonprofit organizations, though some allow for-profit companies to handle operations.

Last but not least, there’s the issue of clarity. The headline suggests some sort of problem – the spectre of layoffs, even — but it turns out not to be the case at all. No one’s getting fired. Towards the end of the piece, we’re informed that teacher retirements are going to make layoffs not an issue for district schools.

The issue of how journalists think about and describe charter schools as opposed to district schools has come up before in reference to Miami-Dade, as in a recent New York Times piece that (according to me) left out charter school teacher hiring numbers offsetting district school teacher numbers going down (at least somewhat).  It’s not easy avoiding mischaracterizations and falling into zero-sum reporting about charters and district schools, but I think that it’s worth being accurate and clear for readers who aren’t necessarily up to speed on the different categories (and who might not care particularly or who might be confused).

Related posts: NYT Includes Squishy Miami-Dade Layoff Figures;  A Correction Request, An Apology

Via Peter Cook

Alexander Russo

Alexander Russo is a freelance education writer who has created several long-running blogs such as the national news site This Week In Education, District 299 (about Chicago schools), and LA School Report. He can be reached on Twitter at @alexanderrusso, on Facebook, or directly at alexanderrusso@gmail.com.