Brilliant, bored, or badly behaved? Media coverage of the charter school debate in the United states

Daisy Rooks, Carolina Bank Muñoz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Background: In recent years, charter schools have received a great deal of media attention, appearing in documentary films, newspaper articles, magazine profiles, television newsprograms, and even sitcoms and feature films. The media is not alone in its interest incharter schools; researchers in the public and for-profit arenas have also focused their attentionon charter schools in recent years. Questions: This paper employs qualitative content analysis to answer the following questions: What information have journalists contributed to the charter school debate in theUnited States? And how might this information have shaped or influenced the debate?Research Design: To answer these questions, we conducted a qualitative content analysisof print media coverage of the early years of the charter school debate. We analyzed 145articles about public charter schools and public alternative schools that appeared in theNew York Times and Los Angeles Times between 1994 and 2006. We developed two typesof coding categories: descriptive and interpretive. The descriptive coding categories capturedthe following information about each article in our dataset: the publisher, the type of schooldescribed and the student population. The interpretive coding categories captured reporters'descriptions of the students, teachers, resources, and institutional cultures of charter andalternative schools. Findings: Our analysis uncovered several interesting themes. First, we found that printmedia depictions of charter and alternative school teachers tended to be more positive thanmedia depictions of teachers in traditional public schools. This was especially true of printmedia coverage of charter schools that serve low-income students and/or students of color. Our analysis also cast doubt on a core assumption of the charter school debate; that charterschools' approach to educating their students differs significantly from that of traditionalpublic schools and public alternative schools. In their articles about charter schools thatserve middle-income students, reporters described institutional cultures and pedagogicalstrategies identical to those found in alternative schools with similar student populations. When reporting on alternative schools that serve low-income students and/or students ofcolor, reporters described pedagogical strategies that mirrored those found in charter schoolswith similar student populations. Recommendations: Further research is needed to determine whether charter and alternativeschools are educating their low- and middle-income students differently. If future researchconfirms this, we warn that charter and alternative schools could be preparing their lowincomestudents and/or students of color inadequately for higher education and work inprofessional environments.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-48
Number of pages48
JournalTeachers College Record
Issue number8
StatePublished - 2015


Dive into the research topics of 'Brilliant, bored, or badly behaved? Media coverage of the charter school debate in the United states'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this