Shhhh! Who’s Silencing the Debate on Real Education Reform?


“Well, I, I mean, they’re trying to silence the debate that’s a really important debate that we should be having in this country.”
-Campbell Brown on The Colbert Report, July 31, 2014


Yes, Campbell Brown. You’re absolutely right. Someone is trying to silence an important debate we’re trying to have about public education. But who?


The former CNN anchorwoman thinks teachers are to blame. She made the above comment as part of her publicity tour to promote her New York lawsuit attacking teacher tenure. Colbert had asked her why her appearance on his show moved people to protest outside his studio.


Her answer above was that the protestors were silencing debate – she was in effect demonizing those who disagree with her, many of whom are teachers. It was a cheap propaganda move that somehow manages to be both grossly incorrect and – from another vantage point – absolutely factual.


On the face of it, protestors aren’t silencing debate – they’re just taking part in it. A debate with only one side is not a debate; it’s a monologue.


Parents, students and teachers standing politely on the sidewalk holding handmade sign aren’t silencing anyone. Strongly worded tweets with clever hashtags aren’t silencing anyone. They just don’t agree with Brown.


But no worries. The ex-TV-personality is using her well-financed megaphone to shout over all these little people just fine. The secret donors (she still won’t say who they are) funding Brown are getting their message across like a thunderclap. The money being pumped into the few remaining media giants to discredit public servants rights is still making it to the right palms and greasing them nicely. As a result, talking heads across the nation from Joe Scarborough (who doesn’t know any better) to Whoopie Goldberg (who really should) go on TV to tell the traditionally Conservative bedtime story of a rampant horde of bad teachers who allegedly can’t be fired because of tenure. Ooooh! Scary!


This is so clearly nonsense it staggers the mind that it even needs debunking. But we might as well address the three most glaring falsehoods.


First, Brown and company are fighting a straw man. No one wants bad teachers to keep their jobs. Teachers don’t want it. Unions don’t want it. No one wants it.


Second, tenured teachers do not have a job for life. In fact, teacher tenure only means due process. It just means a teacher can’t be fired without administrators providing a good reason to do so. Therefore, if there are countless multitudes of bad teachers infesting our schools, administrators don’t need Brown and company to do a thing. Administrators can fire every bad teacher in America TODAY if they just gather the evidence and make a case.


Finally, we must ask ourselves how many bad teachers are out there? Are their armies of educators not doing their jobs resulting in poor academic outcomes for our children? The answer is unequivocally NO. Even the anti-tenure crowd admit there are very few bad teachers working in our public schools. That’s one of the things that makes this so absurd!


The Vergara v. California decision, which emboldened people like Brown to attack teacher tenure elsewhere, makes this plain. The case, which found teacher tenure to violate students rights, hinged on this fact. How many bad teachers are there in California? The prosecution’s chief witness, Arizona State Education Prof. David Berliner, put the number at 1-3% – a statistic that he later admitted was a “guesstimate.” (Look for this verdict to be overturned soon.)


But let’s do like the judge and accept this statistic for a moment. If only 1-3% of a student’s teachers aren’t doing a good job, how can that possibly result in that child doing badly through all his years in school? If true, this would mean on average some students have at most one bad teacher during their entire academic careers while others have none. One bad teacher is enough to make you a bad student? Forever? Even before you had that teacher? This doesn’t exactly pass the smell test.


So even by the less than rigorous standards set by the anti-tenure crowd, bad teachers are like four leaf clovers. They exist but you’d have to look for a long time to find one. Yet we’re spending all this time and money to eradicate mythical bad teachers while doing absolutely nothing to help the true majority of teachers who execute their jobs with passion and diligence.


Therefore, Brown is wrong. Protesting anti-tenure efforts does NOT silence debate. However, she’s also correct. A debate IS being silenced – the debate over corporate education reform. And it’s Brown and company who are doing it.


Teachers have had enough of decades of top down, corporate education policies failing miserably and then being resurrected from the dead, given a new name and failing again – all the time with no evidence they’ll work the second, third or fourth time. No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, Common Core, school vouchers, charter schools – it’s all the same Kool-Aid just in different flavors.


The biggest resistance to these policies has come mainly from teachers. Yes, parents, administrators and policy-minded individuals have joined this fight, too, but it’s teachers who have been most visible making the argument against these policies.


And the resistance is only getting stronger. Just this summer the largest teachers union in the country, the National Education Association, voted for U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to resign. The reason? His support and proliferation of these same proven destructive policies. Similarly, the second largest teachers union, the American Federation of Teachers, cheekily voted to put Duncan on an improvement plan. Either he changes his ways and supports real reform efforts or else he should step down.


How interesting that when grassroots teachers groups are clamoring for a change in our failed education policies, shadowy AstroTurf organizations appear from nowhere to attack teacher’s rights! Moreover, the rights they’re attacking are the ones that allow teachers to take such a stand in the first place!


Without due process rights, teachers would not be able to speak out against the horrendous injustices being done to students in their classrooms without fear of being fired in retaliation. Without tenure, school districts do not need to provide a teacher with notice, summary of charges, or a hearing before summarily kicking them out the door. So if untenured teachers speak out, administrators and school boards can fire them at will. Teachers are witnesses to the abuses of our current educational policy – should we make them mute, as well?


Unlike policymakers, teachers see the results of these top-down directives every day. Teachers see their students ground down under the pressure of months of administration-mandated test prep. Teachers see the weeks of class time wasted as students take the tests. Though explicitly told not to read the questions students are being asked and even threatened with legal action if they divulge the content of the tests, teachers see how badly worded and inappropriate the questions are.


Teachers see the love of reading dim from their students eyes as Common Core initiatives imply that the only reason to open a book is to score well on a test. They see the increased emphasis on facts and figures and any connection to the students lives, to forming valid opinions, to real critical thinking being dismissed as – of all things – not rigorous enough!


Without tenure, we lose the most vocal critics of the very policies that are holding our public schools back and stopping our children from succeeding. Apologists like Michelle Rhee, Duncan and Brown will tell you our schools are failing because of bad teachers. But if you listen to the professionals in the room where these policies are being enacted, you’ll hear the real story: it is corporate education reform that is failing our schools.


It makes one wonder again about those anonymous donors of Campbell Brown. Could they be the same people pushing for these destructive policies? Almost definitely.


The Board of Directors for her organization prosecuting this case, Partnership for Educational Justice, reads like a who’s who of vulture capitalists and corporate education reformers. Her own husband, Dan Senor, sits on the board of Rhee’s poisonous Students First.


We have here the worst conflict of interest imaginable. Corporate education reformers are funding an attack on their biggest critics – teachers – in order to silence them.


Campbell Brown may play the victim crying that the debate on teacher tenure is being silenced. But the truth is that she’s part of a well-financed effort to silence the resistance to their destructive and noxious education policies.

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