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Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Tessa Duvall, Times Union reporter or district Shill. The disappointing coverage of Eugene Butler Middle school

The Times Union did a massive three day story on Eugene Butler Middle school where they claimed to cover what was happening there from all angles. Then in case a few questions went unanswered they schedule an on-line community talk where they asked for questions. 

I sent the reporter a dozen questions that weren't covered in her piece, for the on-line conversation about what was happening at Butler Middle school which was converted this year to two single gender leadership academies. Instead of answering mine which had to do with Teach for America, class sizes and reading scores, she led with, what inspired her to do the story and what she would like to see happen as a result of her coverage.

Before I continue let me say, I believe there are great things going on at Butler and I open to uniforms, single gender classes and a leadership curriculum helping with the schools improvement too, though I think the 60 plus staff members for 471 kids, something not mentioned in the ten thousand word piece, has more than anything to do with any improvement.

I also believe schools not just have a right but a responsibility to try new things. That being said I think the district began to salivate when they saw this doe-eyed features reporter coming, because they knew she was not the one to let us know what was really happening at Butler, instead her one job would be to put a cherry on top of whatever the district told her  .

The next question she had was, how did you keep plugging away for four months, a question I am sure many teacher ask themselves daily. The reason she replied was because she saw big implications for our urban schools. She said in her response: So, when you talk about schools like Butler, remember you're ultimately still talking about kids. And they know what adults and kids alike say about their school, and they know the stigma that goes with that. I've been an education reporter for over a year and have talked to a lot of kids, and the kids at Butler are just as smart and articulate as any other kids I've met. Give them a chance to make progress.

Give them a chance to make progress, wow, reading that I was speechless because I guess up to this point she doesn't think they had a chance. She’s implying they were labeled failures and nobody in the school system cared or lifted a finger to help them, quite the assertion for a features reporter who has been covering education for a year and in the city for less than six. Friends, all they needed was a chance (to make progress). It sounds like a Taylor Swift lyric.

Are the kids in the inner city schools, heck throw in the Westside and Northside at a disadvantage? Sadly yes. Families wracked by poverty tend to do worse than those that aren’t and it doesn’t help that we live in a state that treats poverty like an excuse rather than the number one measurable factor influencing education, but to imply they haven't a chance is insulting. I have spent the last 14 years working in those schools side by side with teachers who give it their all and then some. They have given their students a chance while often saddled with poor district leadership and a lack of resources and support.    

Her next question and probably toughest was, is her last name really Duvall? My hope that maybe a serious and tough question would be answered started to dwindle, despite the fact I had sent several to her, several times. It seemed like she and by extension the Times Union weren't interested in finding out what was happening and why but just reporting the equivalent of who made the prized jam at the fair. Except in this case decisions that are going to effect thousands of children's lives and cost a considerable amount of money are at stake. 

You see Superintendent Viti seems to be ready to rush head long into multiple single gender schools with just one year of mixed data at one school or you know the opposite of what any responsible superintendent would do. The article gives him the cover to do so and that not informing people was I believe the real reason behind it. It kind of reminds me of the time the Bush administration leaked information to the press and then used the press reports as a reason to go to war. See single gender schools work Vitti and the school board can say, the Times Union says so.

For the record the results with single gender schools are very mixed but whats not mixed is they almost invariably happen in mostly minority schools because you know poor black boys and girls can't be around each other and be successful. I am a white guy who can't jump and I am insulted by that notion.

Then Tessa Duvall's conversation came to an end and looking back the toughest question she received was, yes, is that really, Duvall, your last name.  The questions I asked and I think the city deserved answers to were never brought up. Here they are in case you were wondering.

How many teachers students and parents did you speak to outside of Butler where they might be more relaxed?
How come no mention of the Valor academy, the charter school that has the same program.
Is the Times Union advocating for poorly trained non education majors who rotate in and out every two years in our schools over having professional teachers?
What is the class size average?
What is the student staff ratio?
Could either of those things played a role in Butler's improvement?
The district says 8 percent of students are at grade level while the state says it is 23 percent, why the discrepancy?
The district says the transformation schools average 6 percent reading on grade level, while the state says we have zero schools scoring that low, why the discrepancy? 
When you talked about suspensions was that individual suspensions, 154 or suspension days? You indicated it was better this year but you didn't say how many students were at Butler last year.
Did you talk to anybody who left Butler during the year to find out why? 
How are single gender schools doing elsewhere?
Are single gender classes exclusively happening at minority schools?

Nothing crazy, nothing unfair.

The entire talk was over in thirty minutes and we did not get an expose or I believe even truly informed and instead we got a puff piece from a rookie reporter that pushed the district agenda in and attempted to give them a much needed win despite dubious evidence and cover for a juries still out expansion of single gender classes.

Like I said above there are undoubtedly great things going on at Butler but you know what? There were undoubtedly great things going on at Butler last year too. Dedicated teachers showing up with their sleeves rolled up to teach a lot of great kids. I believe the difference is this years staff is getting a lot more help.

The sad truth is we have problems in education and a lot of those are the fault of the media, they don’t ask tough questions and they just regurgitate what they are told, it’s shameful and embarrassing and it's holding our schools and city back. Tessa Duvall and the Times Union should be ashamed for printing such claptrap and calling it news.

1 comment:

  1. Yeah, I'm not impressed with this piece. The reporter clearly has no knowledge of how Duval works and has worked over the years. Typically, when you add a magnet, achievement will rise. On top of that, kids mentioned several times that behavior is still an issue. And Chris, you rightly pointed out the staff to student ratio is crazy. Our high schools don't even remotely have that support. We have about double their ratio.