Will the REAL Grassroots Activists Please Stand Up – Teachers or School Privatization Lobbyists?

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Everyone claims to be grassroots.

 

We’re the ordinary people – they say – the Hoi Polloi, the everyday Joes and Janes who make the world go round.

 

Which is to say we’re NOT the wealthy elite who get what they want simply by buying lawmakers and the political process.

 

You’d think the plutocrats wouldn’t even bother hiding. After all, it should be pretty obvious who is who.

 

One group has barrels full of cash. The other has numbers. However, our laws are written to obscure exactly how much money any one side has. And if you have money, you can use it to buy bodies to line up on your side and “prove” you have numbers.

 

So when it comes to the American education system, which side truly represents the grassroots – those supporting privatized schools like charter and voucher institutions or those supporting public schools?

 

It’s kind of a ridiculous question to ask, when you come to think of it.

 

One side actively lobbies for big business and huge corporations to take over local schools and districts. The other supports neighborhood schools.

 

One side pushes for schools to be striped of local control and instead to be managed by private equity firms and corporate officers. The other supports democratically elected school boards.

 

One side demands taxpayer dollars be available as profit that they can pocket and spend on mansions, yachts and jewelry. The other fights for transparency and for all taxpayer funds to be used in the service of educating children.

 

Which side do you THINK represents the little guy and which represents Goliath? Which side do you THINK represents the Rebel Alliance and which the Galactic Empire?

 

Come on now!

 

It’s the public school advocates who represent the common people. They are literally an extension of the masses struggle to reassert control over their lives and our society. Not those looking to raid our public services for fun and profit!

 

People get kind of upset when you try to do that. So when the villagers show up with torches and pitchforks, it does little good to argue that money equals speech. Better for the aristocrats to disguise themselves in peasant garb.

 

Enter Jeanne Allen.

 

She wants to convince you she’s the real underdog grassroots champion.

 

As Chief Executive Officer and Founder of the Center for Education Reform, she’s spent most of her career lobbying for public schools to be gobbled up by private enterprise.

 

So when the folks behind a new documentary about school privatization, “Backpack Full of Cash,” had the gall to cast her and her organization as the bad guy, she did what any grassroots activist would – she called the Hollywood Reporter.

 

Why would anyone be against charter and voucher schools, she whined. They just suck away necessary funds from the already underfunded neighborhood school so that businesspeople can play with your tax money. They just cut services for children and parents while miraculously transforming the savings into yummy profit.

 

I can’t imagine why anyone is calling her out. Can you?

 

But perhaps the most pernicious aspect of her argument is monetary.

 

Allen, the Center for Education Reform and the entire corporate education reform movement are the real grassroots, she says, because they are outspent by the opposition.

 

By which she means teachers unions. As if the overwhelming majority of parents, students, social scientists, civil rights activists and concerned citizens somehow didn’t count.

 

But oh well.

 

“The people praised in the film” (i.e. public school teachers) “get paid from taxpayer dollars,” Allen told the Hollywood Reporter, as if the people the film criticizes (charter and voucher operators) don’t also get paid from the same pot.

 

“The teachers unions spend $300 million a year on political races. We don’t have that kind of money.”

 

Is that true?

 

Are those pushing for corporate control of our schools really unable to match the monetary might of the big bad teachers unions?

 

Well, first let’s examine the number Allen bandies about as if it were fact.

 

$300 million. Do teachers unions actually spend that much annually on political races?

 

It’s doubtful. The entire operating budget for the National Education Association (NEA), the largest teachers union in the country, is only $367 million. And the union does an awful lot besides lobby lawmakers for pro-education public policy. It raises funds for scholarships, conducts professional development workshops, bargains contracts for school employees, files legal action on behalf of teachers to protect their rights, and partners with other education organizations to promote sound educational practices. Political lobbying is an important part of what unions do, but if they spent what they’re accused of spending on it – even if you include other unions like the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) – they couldn’t do the rest of what they do.

 

It turns out the figure Allen uses is a stale conservative talking point that Poltifact, a non-partisan fact checking Website, rated as false.

 

It’s based on a funding target the unions had for the 2008 election of which the unions fell short by almost a third. But now right-wingers and anti-labor trolls everywhere are married to that number and quote it as if it were fact.

 

In the real world, where Fox News talking points aren’t accepted without question, it’s increasingly difficult to determine exactly how much organizations spend on politics. But it’s incredibly doubtful teachers unions have the monetary might attributed to them by corporate school reformers.

 

And speaking of those who fight on behalf of poor beleaguered corporate America, how much do THEY have to spend fighting public schools?

 

Well, let’s just take two of their most famous backers – Charles and David Koch.

 

This duo runs one of the largest privately held companies in the United States: Koch Industries. It is involved in petroleum, chemicals, natural gas, plastics, paper and ranching. In 2013, Forbes said it had an annual revenue of $115 billion.

 

That’s an incredible amount of resources they can draw on every year when compared to teachers unions. The NEA would have to bring in more than three times its annual revenue to even come close to matching 1% of the Koch’s annual pay.

 

And do the Kochs spend on politics? You BET they do!

 

In 2012, alone, they spent at least $407 million on Mitt Romeny’s Presidential campaign! Yes, just that one campaign! They spent more on others! But even if we limit it there, that’s more than even the most absurd estimates of teacher’s unions political spending.

 

And they’re only two people!

 

We’re comparing about 3 million members of the NEA, and 1.5 million members of the AFT with two individual human beings.

 

Even if teachers unions spent $300 million, that only comes to less than $67 per member.

 

A quick look at Allen’s backers at the Center for Education Reform includes some of the richest people on Earth including: Bill and Melinda Gates, the Walton Family and Eli Broad.

 

And this woman has the nerve to cry poor in comparison to the big bad teachers!

 

Herself, she draws a six-figure salary as the organization’s President Emeritus – well more than the overwhelming majority of teachers.

 

But you’ll still find corporate reformers who contest this analysis with creative accounting. They’ll give you a spreadsheet with hundreds of millions of union dollars laid bare compared with a handful of poor billionaires who just can’t scrape together enough change in the couch cushions. And to do so, they’ll hide the super richs’ donations to super PACs or exclude dark money contributions, etc.

 

Look, I’m not saying our campaign finance system is perfect. In fact, it’s pretty messed up.

 

I am the first person to advocate for getting money out of politics. No more defining money as speech. One person, one vote.

 

But you must realize, the super wealthy don’t want that. More than anything else it would exponentially increase the power of the unions and the middle class from which they come. Not to mention their allies – the parents, students, child advocates, etc.

 

You really don’t need a detailed analysis of each group’s relative financial worth. You just have to look at who is in each group.

 

We’re talking the richest 1% of people on the planet backing charter and voucher schools versus teachers, parents, students, college professors, civil rights activists and concerned citizens backing public schools.

 

Which group do you think truly represents the grassroots?

 

Which group is an authentic demonstration of the will of the people?

 

And which is emblematic of the arrogant, hypocritical wealth class demanding we all bow down to the power of their pocketbooks?

 

You decide.

The Arrogant Ignorance of Campbell Brown: Education Journalism in Decline

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Apparently facts don’t matter much to Campbell Brown.

 

 

Though her latest “fact” about public schools has once again been shown to be more truthiness than truth, she refuses to retract it.

 

 

During an interview published in Slate where she gave advice to the next president, she said:

 

 

“Two out of three eighth graders in this country cannot read or do math at grade level. We are not preparing our kids for what the future holds.”

 

It’s a scary statistic. The problem is it’s completely unsupported by evidence.

 

And when education experts called her out on it, she complained that SHE was being attacked.

 

When pressed, Brown admitted she got this figure from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) a test given to random samples of students in fourth and eighth grades every two years.

 

However, Brown either misunderstands or misinterprets the scores. If one were to interpret the data in the way Brown suggests, the highest scoring countries in the world would be full of children who can’t read at grade level. Hardly anyone in the world would be literate or could add and subtract. It’s beyond absurd.

 

And when she was notified of her error by authorities in the field including Carol Burris, Tom Loveless and Diane Ravitch – who, by the way, served on the NAEP Governing Board for seven years – Brown responded by likening her critics to Donald Trump.

 

She wrote:

 

“That the people who disagree with my characterization would react by attacking me personally… speaks volumes. Those feigning outrage over the difference between “grade level” and “grade level proficiency” are the people who profit off the system’s failure and feel compelled to defend it at all costs. Sadly, in the age of Donald Trump and Diane Ravitch, this is what constitutes discourse.”

 

I especially like the bit where she attacks experts, teachers, and PhDs because they “profit off the system’s failure.” It’s pretty rich stuff coming from Brown who makes a pretty penny retelling the fairytale of “failing public schools.”

 

Once upon a time, Brown was a respected reported for NBC and anchorperson for CNN.

 

 

Now she’s a paid Internet troll.

 

 

I’m sorry if that sounds harsh, but it’s true.

 

 

She co-founded and edits a Website called The Seventy Four – a reference to the 74 million children across the country who are 18 or younger.

 

 

It might be more honest to call it The Four, instead, for the $4 million she receives annually from the mega-rich backers of school privatization to bankroll the endeavor.

 

 

She claims her site is “nonpartisan.” Funny. I guess that explains why she continually backs every cause and campaign championed by her donors.

 

 

Change all public schools to private charter schools? Check.

 

Block teachers unions from collectively bargaining? Check.

 

 

Ignore the overwhelming preponderance of stories about charter schools cheating the public and their students? Check.

 

 

When called out on her bias, she proudly proclaimed, “I have learned that not every story has two sides… Is The Seventy Four journalism or advocacy? For 74 million reasons, we are both.”

 

 

Pithy. Yet it remains unclear exactly how the nation’s school children will benefit from Bill Gates and the Walton Family having an even larger say in education policy.

 

Brown has sold her image and rep as a journalist so it can be used to purposefully mislead the public into thinking she is still dedicated to those endeavors. She’s not. What she’s offering these days is not News. It’s bought-and-paid-for public relations meant to destroy our nation’s public schools.

 

If anyone thought Brown retained even a shred of journalistic integrity left, she should have removed it when she called herself, “a soldier in Eva’s army.” This is a reference to Eva Moskowitz, the founder and CEO of a New York City charter school chain – Success Academy – where children are put under such pressure they wet themselves during testing and kids in first grade are shamed and berated for math mistakes.

 

As a public school teacher, myself, this makes me sad.

 

John Merrow, one of the elder statesmen of education journalism, recently proclaimed that we live in the “golden age of education reporting.”

 

I must respectfully disagree.

 

Yes, there is more being written about education policy and public schools than ever before.

 

But most of it is just paid advertisements from the standardization and privatization industry.

 

Look who’s funding these stories.

 

 

TV Networks such as NBC, MSNBC and Telemundo have broadcast various education segments on “Nightly News” and “Today” underwritten by Bill Gates and Eli Broad.

 

 

The Education Writers Association – which boasts more than 3,00 members – receives money from Gates and Walton. The L.A. Times receives funds from Broad for its Education Matters Digital initiative.

 

On-line publications also have been infiltrated. The Education Post took $12 million in start-up funds provided by Broad, Bloomberg and the Waltons. The site focuses on “K-12 academic standards, high-quality charter schools and how best to hold teachers and schools accountable for educating students,” according to the Washington Post.

 

Even well-respected education blogs including Chalkbeat and Education Week are funded in part by the Waltons (in the latter case, specifically for “coverage of school choice and [so-called] parent-empowerment issues.”) Education Week even tweets out paid advertisements for Teach for America as if they were news stories!

 

 

We’ve all seen “Waiting for Superman,” the infamous union bashing, charter loving propaganda film packaged as a documentary. Its popularity was helped with outreach and engagement funds by the Waltons and a host of other privatizers. It’s far from the only effort by market-driven billionaires to infiltrate popular culture with corporate education reform. They tried to sell the parent trigger law with “Won’t Back Down,” but no one was buying. Efforts continue in Marvel Studios television shows.

 

A plethora of teachers, academics and other grassroots bloggers have taken to the Internet to correct the record. But they are often ignored or drowned out by the white noise of the same corporate education reform narratives being told again-and-again without any firm footing in reality. In fact, after blogger and former teacher Anthony Cody won first prize from the Education Writers Association in 2014 for his criticism of Gates, the organization banned bloggers from subsequent consideration.

 

We bloggers are almost completely unpaid. We do it because we care about our profession. Meanwhile the so-called “news” sources are funded by corporate special interests, yet it is bloggers that are looked at as if they were somehow reprehensibly compromised and biased.

 

Education journalism is not going through a golden age. It’s a sham, a farce.

 

When we allow our news to be funded by private interests, we lose all objectivity. The stories are spun to meet the demands of the big foundations, the billionaires bankrolling them. And the real experts in the field are either not consulted or left to quixotically do whatever they can on their own time.

 

Education journalism isn’t about what’s best for children. It’s about how best to monetize the system to wring as many taxpayer dollars out of our schools as possible for corporate interests.

 

It goes something like this: reduce the quality to reduce the cost and swallow the savings as profit. But it’s sold to the public in propaganda that we call journalism.

 

As famed cartoonist and counter-culture figure Robert Crumb wrote in 2015:

 

“You don’t have journalists [in America] anymore. What they have is public relations people. Two-hundred and fifty thousand people in public relations. And a dwindling number of actual reporters and journalists.”

 

Nowhere is this as obvious as with Brown.

 

Just as Broad was initiating a plan in February to double the number of charter schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District, Brown’s site, the Seventy Four, was given control of the LA School Report, an on-line news site focusing on the second largest district in the country. Brown was expected to run interference for the takeover. She was running the propaganda arm of the privatization push.

 

And that’s really what’s happening with our education journalism.

 

I’m not saying there aren’t actual journalists out there trying to tell unbiased stories. But they are few and far between. They are beset by corporate interests. And anyone who wants to tell the truth is silenced or marginalized.

 

As we’ve seen, when you actually try to point out errors like Brown’s ridiculous assertions about eighth grade students, the media treats it as a he-said-she-said.

 

They say, “Wow! Teachers really hate Brown.” Shrug.

 

Meanwhile the truth is left murdered on the floor as our schools are pillaged and sacked.