Should Ifill Have Challenged Hagopian’s Testing Claims?

It’s been quite a week for the PBS NewsHour’s education coverage, what with the controversy surrounding the segment on Success Academies charter schools (below) and complaints more recently about Gwen Ifill’s profile of Seattle teacher and testing critic Jesse Hagopian (above).

Will Ragland, of the Center on American Progress, wrote a critique of the segment here that focused mostly on Ifill’s failure to correct or clarify claims made by Hagopian rather than letting them go unchallenged.

USC education professor Morgan Polikoff also wrote about the segment (Testing my patience), calling it “a truly awful report.” In particular, Polikoff notes that the segment conflates the Common Core assessments in math and English with other state and local measures.

“It shouldn’t be asking that much for a respected news organization to get very basic details about major education policies that have existed for 4+ year correct,” writes Polikoff. “Instead, we get misleading, unbalanced nonsense that will contribute to the tremendous levels of misinformation we see among voters about education policy.”

So far, no real response from the NewsHour on this (and perhaps no real reason, given that the complaints come from folks in favor of Common Core whose displeasure is somewhat predictable, rather than factual inaccuracies or mis-statements). Co-host Ifill did tweet back at me:

“See part 1 of this discussion: ow.ly/TGPoL,” which I take to mean that Ifill believes she has addressed the issue (or demonstrated understanding of it) in her interview with Bill and Melinda Gates. 

Concerns about this segment raise two key questions for me: what is the appropriate role of the host/interviewer to challenge or correct assertions being made by a guest or subject? Should viewers/observers evaluate segments individually or in a broader way (as Ifill seems to be suggesting here)? My general belief is that reporters and moderators in education need to be more skeptical when interviewing advocates.

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.