The Sacramento Bee Disappoints

I noticed an interesting example of media bias in the Sacramento Bee last week on January 19. The front page of the Bee had 2 headlines above the fold, they were:

  • “Governor opens his tax campaign: HE SAYS HIKES ARE NEEDED TO HELP SCHOOLS”
  • “Davis schools slip in scores: STUDENTS LAG FORMER PEERS”

Interesting combination don’t you think? The obvious inference in combining the two headlines is that Jerry Brown is right, we need higher taxes. The headline the Bee should have written to be forthright is, “We Advise You to Raise Taxes to Help the Schools.”

But then the Sacramento Bee would be A) openly admitting its bias instead of maintaining neutral journalistic integrity, and B) the writer would have to show evidence that substantiates the admonition.

The trouble is that what they’re talking about, the need to increase taxes to support school achievement is not supported by facts about the Davis Unified School District. All of the data cited in this article are easily available at http://www.ed-data.k12.ca.us and at http://dq.cde.ca.gov/dataquest . Anyone can look at these data for themselves, but the Bee chose not to look beyond the end of their noses.

Let’s deal with the headline that is meant to buttress the Governor’s call for higher taxes, “Davis schools slip in scores.” Did the scores really slip?

No they didn’t, and if anyone read the whole article they’d realize it actually debunks the headline but not until the very end where a UC Davis professor, Jamal Abedi is quoted as saying that Davis school results were more due to “bad luck” than student performance. So why would the Bee place such a misleading headline on the article? Why to support the Governor’s call for more funding of course..

And WHY would the governor call for more taxes? Because the California Teacher’s Association gave Jerry Brown $49,300 for his campaign for governor. He knows very well that any new money sent to the schools will be subject to the negotiating table and the unions will soak it up like bread dipped into olive oil.

Let us look at the truth of the numbers about the Davis Unified School District.

Teacher salaries are reported here because they are available on the Internet. Certificated (teachers and administrators) and classified (everyone else) and benefits comprised 86.02% of the Davis Unified General Fund Budget in 2009-2010 (this is about normal).

The average teacher salary reported in 09-2010 is $65,683 and the range of teacher salaries is $35,081 to $77,965. This salary does not include benefits or the district contribution to the retirement system. It is paid for a contracted work day of about 7 hours (8 – 3 PM) and about 183 days a year. Not a bad rate in my opinion, especially when one considers that the Bee reports that “shortfalls have cut $1,100 per student in state revenue to the district since 2008.” These cuts were obviously not made in full time teacher salaries.

It seems to me that the real story in Davis is that the students are performing remarkably well in spite of their programs being stripped to maintain teacher employment and salaries.

While there is a lot of puling a crying about how much education has been cut since the 2008 economic disaster, the number of full time teachers in Davis has risen from 422.3 full time teachers in 2007-2008 to 433.9 full time teachers in 2009-2010. The student teacher ratio dropped during that same period from 20.1:1 to 19.7:1.

So where is the fiscal crisis that the BEE article asserts would require Californians to agree to raise their taxes? Salaries in Davis for teachers have not fallen. The salary range (lowest and highest salary) remained exactly the same since 07-08 until the most recent report, and the average salary rose during that period from $63,810 to $65,683.

So if the average salaries have risen, the number of teachers has risen, and the teacher:pupil ratio has dropped, why are the Davis Schools experiencing a “slip” in scores as the Bee asserts?

Well, the funny thing is the Davis Schools are NOT experiencing a drop in scores. Witness the Davis Unified School District’s scores on the STAR testing which is the California test of standards. As the results clearly demonstrate, the Davis students are scoring better in 2010-2011 than they did in 2008-2009 in three of four subject areas and scoring at the same level in the fourth. Over the past three years there is no evidence of a downward trend in student scores on the California standards testing.

STAR Results – Percent of students scoring Proficient or Advanced

 

10-11

09-10

08-09

English Language Arts

75%

75%

75%

Mathematics

68%

69%

66%

Science

82%

81%

81%

History/Social Science

76%

71%

75%

 

A review of the data for dropouts also shows no increase: the dropout rate in 2010-2011 was 1%, and the dropout rate in 2007-2008 was 1% (Data Quest).

None of the data suggests an education crisis in Davis, and certainly no crisis that can be related to a loss in funding.

The data does not suggest that there is an educational crisis in Davis Schools as the Bee headline asserts and if there is no crisis, then why would the Bee place this ridiculous article on the front page opposite their article about Jerry Brown’s desire for more tax money?

There is no nexus between the economic crisis and the performance of students in Davis, or the pay of teachers, or even the number of full time teachers employed by Davis Unified.

Another key piece of evidence that the Bee fabricating a crisis in Davie to boost the Governor’s argument that without tax money schools will suffer is this, the California Department of Education’s Press Release of August 31,2011 for the results being reported by the Bee on January 19, 2012. Why did the Bee wait more than four months to report on this “crisis?” I suggest that Jerry Brown’s plea for more tax money needed some support and the editors at the Bee inserted a bullshit article that took up half of the back page of the main section of the paper and which, when you read it all the way to the end, contradicted its own headline by quoting experts who debunked the headline with a quote by Sacramento State Education Policy Professor, Su Jin Jez, “In the end, I would think, ‘Our students are doing very well,’” she said, “and focus on other things.”

Focusing on other things is good advice and should have been heeded by the Bee before they wasted trees and ink on a political puff piece designed to give credence to their other lead story.

 

 

 

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