An article from the West Cook News claims a school near Chicago gives students different grades… based on their race? Can that be true? How could a person’s race have an impact on the grades they receive?
Here’s how we checked it.
Look for evidence
The article from West Cook News said that Oak Park and River Forest High School “would require teachers next school year to adjust their class scales to account for the color or ethnicity of their students.”
When faced with claims like this, which could evoke a strong emotional response, the first thing to do is step back and take a deep breath. Look for evidence in history to support the claim, then find out what other credible sources are saying on the subject.
The first thing that struck us was that West Cook’s story offered no further evidence to support this claim. But what did other sources say on the subject?
We did a Google keyword search and found an article by political fact, who described the West Cook News story as misleading. It states that “while the school board and administration have discussed ways to grade students more equitably…there is no indication that the district plans to grade students differently based on race.”
The Politifact article also linked to a statement by the school district on May 31, stating that it “neither nor ever had any plan to grade students differently based on their race.”
It’s best to click on the links in the story and read from the main source. This is called reading upstream.
Pink Slime Journalism
The controversy surrounding the West Cook article was later addressed Washington Post Column by media critic Margaret Sullivan. She says this story is part of an even bigger problem: pink lime journalism.
Here’s some background: Over the past decade, many local news sites have either gone bust or are struggling to survive, and shady sites like this West Cook News have replaced them. Many of the articles on Pink Slime sites are written by inexperienced writers.
The sites appear to be reliable, but in reality they are funded by outside companies who receive funding from a partisan source or have an interest in a certain type of reporting – or avoiding other reporting.
The term “pink slime” was first used to describe a meat by-product used as a “filler,” and Sullivan advises a solution: “skeptical awareness.” She said readers need to spot the difference between “journalistic flesh and fraudulent filler.”
To be clear, West Cook News is just one of the hundreds of these types of sites identified by the Columbia Journalism Review in a 2019 article.
Here’s how to find out if what you’re reading is from a reputable news site or a Pink Slime site:
- First make some lCheck regularly whether the website is legitimate or not. Find out who runs the outlet and check out their political leanings. A hallmark of good journalism is objectivity. So if the site is pushing an agenda, it’s probably not legitimate.
- Read the “About” page and try to find out who funds the site. Does the money come from a source that advances a particular point of view? For example, the About Us page of West Cook News states: “Funding for this news site is provided in part by interest groups that share our beliefs in limited government.” That’s not a real answer. Always ask websites that are incomplete where their money is coming from. A credible news source is always transparent about its funding.
- Check to see if fact-checkers like Politifact, Snopes, or other reputable sources have said anything about the legitimacy of the site.
Not legitimate. Based on all of the evidence we reviewed today, it’s safe to say that the claim that an Illinois school district will soon be grading students based on their race is accurate not legitimate. The article is from a “Pink Slime” source and there is no evidence to support the claim.
ATTENTION TEACHERS: This fact check is included in a free, one-hour lesson plan what pink slime journalism is and how it can spread. “How to Spot Pink Slime Journalism – Misinformation in tried and true local news” is available through PBS NewsHour Classroom and includes slides and a handoutsamong other resources for teachers.