School Talk

We Deserve A Lot More From A Reporter—Perhaps It’s Time to Start an Opinion Column

Imagine my frustration when I saw a tweet the other morning from the education reporter at the Providence Journal asserting that, according to Education Week, Rhode Island had moved to 12th in the nation for “academic achievement.” It was obvious she had her facts wrong. When I challenged her false assertion on Twitter and via email—and included information from the very report she had cited—she took the swift action to block me from being able to see her tweets in the future.

I am well versed in people whose preferred strategy of dealing with those who question the validity of their claims is to block them online. It’s always a bad look but it’s nothing new.

But getting back to the issue at hand, anyone familiar with Rhode Island’s achievement data—like, ahem, an education reporter—would know how ridiculous her assertion was in the first place.

You’ll notice that Borg did not include a link to the ranking she was citing— so I asked for one. She did not provide it but someone else following the conversation was kind enough to do so.

It took me all of about thirty seconds to confirm that the ranking of 12th did not apply to academic achievement. At first, I thought it referred to “chance for success” but soon discovered that it is actually an overall rating that combines chance for success, school finance, and K-12 achievement. According to the report—the very one cited by Borg—Rhode Island ranks 30th on the academic achievement index.

30th is not 12th.

From the report:

The report is interactive so for readers who want to actually click on the graphs to see specific percentages or read the report in full, click here.

To her credit, after blocking me, she did correct her mistake on Twitter. But then, she went on to make yet another erroneous claim about Rhode Island students’ performance in math:

Education reporter again gets the data very wrong.

Unless Linda Borg—and her readers—think that being ranked 44th in 4th grade math and 46th in 8th grade math puts us in the “middle of the pack,” she has again shown that she is not well informed. This data is not up for interpretation.

People can certainly celebrate or quibble with EdWeek’s finding of Rhode Island landing in the 12th spot for its school systems overall. If 22nd for chance for success, 30th for academic achievement, and 5th in school finance puts us in 12th place, perhaps we should be asking ourselves the following questions:

  • Why is every state in New England, except for Maine, ranked higher than we are?
  • Why, with such a strong score for school finance, do our achievement scores remain so low?

I am personally not a fan of the phrase “fake news” — largely because I am not a fan of our current president but also because of the overly broad net it casts over the tireless and honest journalists who provide an invaluable service to the public. But Linda Borg is a local example of why the concept of #fakenews has had such staying power—she perpetuates the belief that we, the public, must take it upon ourselves to verify the information shared by journalists. Not only does she give the president and his supporters more ammunition to make their case about the media but she casts a shadow on her newspaper and her fellow journalists who are committed to truth, work hard to maintain objectivity, and are prudent about the opinions they share publicly.

I have long thought that Linda Borg peddles in opinion far too much to be considered an education reporter. For a long time, her Facebook page was a steady stream of opinions about politics and yes, even education policy. Her Twitter persona can largely be characterized as a hotbed of misinformation, deflection, and incessant typos.

Former state board of education member and entrepreneur Angus Davis sums up what many of us have observed in her social media presence and her reporting for a long time:

Here’s just a small taste of how Borg’s Facebook page used to look—keep in mind that she was the education reporter at the Providence Journal at the time, as she remains today:

But perhaps most egregious, at least in my eyes, was a tweet that Borg posted recently in the wake of the gut-wrenching Johns Hopkins report on the Providence Schools. In response to a piece I wrote about my frustration with state senator Gayle Goldin’s focus on ice cream shops and simultaneous silence about the Providence Schools report. Goldin represents a large section of Providence. Borg—who clearly had not read my piece— advised me to stop playing “the blame game.”

For the education reporter at the Providence Journal to state publicly that, when it came to the Providence Schools, she had “looked the other way” is outrageous. It is not only an admission that she failed to do her job but it is a totally unfair smear of the countless people who did not show the negligence and indifference to our capital city that she did.

There is a simple reason why so many of us in this small state rely on reporters other than Linda Borg for information about education K-12 education: we don’t trust that she is telling us the truth and we don’t have the time to do our own research to verify her claims.

Lucky for us, she’s not the only game in town.

What do you think?

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