Cheap Shots & Careless Inaccuracies—Public Schools Don’t Need This Treatment

Oct 21, 2011 by

Cheryl Williams –

If the mainstream press reporting on public schools wasn’t important, I wouldn’t be writing this blog post.  But, the fact is that the general public gets its information about public education (and private education) from the mainstream press both in print and online, so how our work is depicted is key to the support we get from the public we serve.  Last week, Jay Matthews, the education reporter/columnist for my home town newspaper, The Washington Post, not only misrepresented how successful school districts operate, he also got his facts wrong.

In a story early in the week, Matthews profiled the successful tenure of the superintendents of the two largest schools districts in the Washington, DC metropolitan area:  Fairfax County, Virginia, and Montgomery County, Maryland.  The majority of the article was a balanced assessment of the issues that Jack Dale and Jerry Weast have addressed during their respective service and provided the achievement data that proved their effectiveness as system leaders.  The unnecessary and inaccurate cheap shot came at the end of the article when Matthews declared that the two superintendents were successful in large measure because their respective elected school boards supported their work….or as Matthews stated, “So in the 14 years I have been watching those counties closely, the high quality of their elected leadership has often surprised me.”  Mr. Matthews needs to get out more.  High performing school districts across the country are led by locally elected boards of directors who volunteer their time to ensure that their communities are served by high quality schools.  Show me a high performing school district and I’ll show you an effective, high-functioning school board.  The cheap shot at the two local district boards served more to illuminate Mr. Matthew’s uninformed prejudices than to provide useful information to his readership.

The second disservice to the representation of public education was his column extolling the “impossible dream” of a charter school in Fairfax County.  The blog format is too limited to take on the flaws in Mr. Matthew’s reasoning on how charter schools are superior to existing public schools.  He’s made those views known on any number of occasions in the past.  What’s especially egregious in this latest column is the representation of the Fairfax County School Board as not having the best interests of all the students in the county, should they be so crass as to turn down the charter request from this latest proposal.  (Fairfax County currently has no charter schools.)  The Fairfax County school board is tasked with making policy decisions that have the best interests of all the county’s students in mind and without getting into the specifics of the current request, I’m sure their decision will be guided in that manner in this instance.  In fact, Mr. Matthews just extolled the virtues of that board in his column earlier last week….though, indeed, he was surprised at how good they are!  But his statement that Montgomery County public schools adopted its first charter after Jerry Weast’s departure is just plain inaccurate.  The Montessori preschool charter was authorized while Dr. Weast was still superintendent.  I do hope Mr. Matthews gets his facts straight next time.


About the Author

Cheryl Scott Williams is a nationally recognized leader in education reform and improvement with extensive experience leading nonprofit boards and building successful board/staff relationships.

Prior to coming to the Learning First Alliance, she served as a senior consultant at APQC. She was previously Vice President, Strategic Initiatives at Teachscape, a San Francisco based company that designs and delivers online, job-embedded professional development for teachers and principals. In addition, she has served as Vice President, Education at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), and she spent 14 years directing the Education Technology Program at the National School Boards Association (NSBA) before joining CPB.

Williams is a past president of the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), past board chair of the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN), and current board member of the National Coalition for Technology in Education and Training (NCTET). She began her career in education as an English Language Arts teacher in Montgomery County, MD, and Fairfax County, VA. She holds a BA and MA in English and Secondary Education from the University of Maryland, College Park.

About The Learning First Alliance

The Learning First Alliance is a partnership of 16 leading education associations with more than 10 million members dedicated to improving student learning in America’s public schools. Alliance members include: the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, American Association of School Administrators, American Association of School Personnel Administrators, American Federation of Teachers, American School Counselor Association, Association for Middle Level Education (formerly National Middle School Association), International Society for Technology in Education, Learning Forward (formerly National Staff Development Council), National Association of Elementary School Principals, National Association of Secondary School Principals, National Association of State Boards of Education, National Education Association, National School Public Relations Association, National PTA, National School Boards Association and Phi Delta Kappa International. The Alliance maintains, a website that features what’s working in public schools and districts across the country.


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