Monday, July 16, 2012

Bizarre Tennessean School Board Endorsements: We Know Who We Like But We're Not Saying Why

Posted By on Mon, Jul 16, 2012 at 11:25 AM

It's lovely that The Tennessean decided to make endorsements in this year's Metro school board races. I'm a fan of editorial endorsements by news organizations. Typically, an editorial board will conduct meaningful interviews with candidates and dig into backgrounds and positions, yielding endorsements that reflect some depth of inquiry and analysis.

But leave it to our local daily to take a straightforward process like that and turn it into something feckless. A voter who might look to the endorsements in Sunday's paper for guidance on what makes one candidate preferable to others will be left wanting because, amazingly, the geniuses at the The Tennessean apparently thought it superfluous or unnecessary to tell us why any one candidate is better than any other. We get short biographical summaries on candidates and terse statements of endorsement, but no reasons.

Let's look at the text of some of the endorsements.

In District 1, where incumbents Sharon Gentry and Ed Kindall have been redistricted into running against each other, the paper gives a paragraph of factual biographical information on each, and then states the entire endorsement in this way: "We think Gentry to be the stronger choice for the next four years." Why stronger? Who has been more effective for the last four years? How do they differ? Who knows? The paper isn't telling.

In District 3, we again get a brief paragraph of factual information about each of three candidates, leading to this endorsement of two of them (for one seat): "Both Lee and DeLozier bring strong ideas to the campaign. We would be comfortable with either as a board member." What strong ideas, you might ask if you live in District 3? Who knows — the paper's not saying. But trust us, those ideas are strong, damn it!

In District 5, the closely watched race where several challengers are trying to unseat current school board chair Gracie Porter, the full text of the endorsement is this: "Haubenreich and Kim both bring new ideas and vitality that make either of them a better choice than returning Porter to the board." And what precisely are these new ideas? Are they new but not strong, like the ideas in District 3? And what leads us to believe that Porter lacks vitality? Not saying, not telling. Just trust us.

In District 7, the factual info on each candidate leads to this and only this: "District 7 would be best served by electing Pinkston to the school board." Best served how? Should we assume that he has ideas that are neither new nor strong? Not saying.

And lastly, in District 9, another race with several candidates, the full text of the endorsement passage reads "Dolan is the best choice among this strong group with the unusual connections and broad experience she would bring to the board." This is the only one of the five races where an actual reason for an endorsement is hinted at — connections and experience — although the paper doesn't bother to say what those connections and experiences are or why they matter to service on the board.

As the endorsement piece notes in the opening paragraphs, Metro schools face a number of crucial issues going forward, and anyone paying attention to education policy in this city knows that there are serious, substantive differences of opinion and perspective on issues of privatization, charter schools, teacher compensation, system leadership and other matters. Useful endorsements in these races would give us some concrete perspective on how these candidates differ on key issues and would offer arguments as to how and why specific candidates will make better contributions as board members than other candidates. The Tennessean's vacuous picks do neither.

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