Former Reporter Chides Media Over “Fascination With Failure”

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It might have been hard to believe two weeks ago, when it was first published in the Chicago Tribune, and even more so now that the former CPS head Barbara Byrd-Bennett has been indicted and admitted being guilty for taking kickbacks, but it’s all the more worth saying that what’s going on downtown and how things are going in schools can sometimes be quite different.

In a recent commentary titled CPS success? Yes, former Tribune and WSJ journalist Stephanie Banchero declares that “the storyline of Chicago Public Schools as a system in shambles misses a story of notable student progress and the undercurrent of hope that courses through our schools.”

According to Banchero and co-author Robin Steans, the narrative in which Chicago schools are a disaster is part of a “facile national caricature” that includes “terrible schools.” They lament “the fact that this storyline [of progress] gets drowned out by the intense fascination with failure.”

No doubt, failure is fascinating. No doubt, there are lots of things awry in Chicago — and lots of people trying to press for changes. But editors and writers who cover education should probably keep Chicago in mind as they decide what to cover and how. Sometimes, as appears to be the case in Chicago, the failure narrative isn’t the only story that’s taking place. It’s just the most immediately appealing. 

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.