Why NY Mag’s Jonathan Chait Should Disclose Wife’s Role In Education Columns

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It’s no secret that NY Magazine writer Jonathan Chait is married to someone who’s involved in the charter school world. That’s Jonathan and Robin pictured above. Robin Chait has worked at CAP and for a charter school network, among several other places.

Sometimes, Chait discloses his wife’s role in education. In last summer’s How New Orleans Proved Education Reform Can Work, for example Chait includes a disclosure statement:

“My wife (and chief intellectual influence on education reform), Robin Chait, has worked as a public-school teacher and an education-policy analyst, and works for a public charter school network in Washington.”

Sometimes he doesn’t, however. Here for example is a 2014 blog post (Public Education’s Weird Ideological Divide) that includes no disclosure. No disclosure from a 2010 The New Republic blog post (Why education reform cannot be solely about race), either. Nor from this 2015 post (How Campbell Brown Became a Hate Figure).

This is an issue for many who read and disagree with his views, or who believe that disclosure is an important aspect of credible journalism.  The American Prospect’s Rachel Cohen brought it up fairly recently on Twitter in response to a piece (Education Reform Not That Popular, Still Working) that again lacks any disclosure statement: 

Reached via email, Chait says “My wife has worked in public neighborhood schools, public charter schools, the US Department of Ed, CAP — because there is a vocal contingent of charter critics online, I have disclosed her charter affiliation ad hoc numerous times because people keep demanding it (or insisting I haven’t) and because I’m extremely proud of what she’d done to help educate underprivileged kids.”

I’m a big fan of disclosure, though I know it’s often raised as a proxy for disagreement over substantive issues. It makes sense for Chait to disclose his wife’s role so that readers know where he’s coming from and to remove the distraction. For some readers, the disclosure would disqualify his analysis, but for many others it would be weighed along with the rest of what he had to say. 

The need for disclosure holds for other education reporters, too. The only other couple I know of is Emily and David Sirota (who to my knowledge does not generally disclose). Sometimes the relationship is inter-generational. Dale Russakoff disclosed that her child was a TFA corps member.  Richard Whitmire makes no secret that his daughter has been involved in school reform efforts. 

Other information that reporters could consider disclosing to their readers include what kind of schooling they received as a child, or choose for their own children, or whether they are or aren’t members of a workplace union. Even more extreme — but perhaps more useful — would be if reporters disclosed where each story idea comes from (press release, friend, editor’s assignment, etc.).

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.