Not quite two years ago, the NY Times published what seemed to me a strange story. Former CNN anchor, Campbell Brown had begun tweeting mean things about school teachers and attacking the unions who, she said, protect lewd behavior. What did Campbell Brown have against school teachers and the NEA and AFT?
The NY Times piece then explained that Brown is married to Dan Senor, a foreign affairs advisor to then-presidential-candidate Mitt Romney, and that Senor also was serving on the board of Michelle Rhee’s national PAC, StudentsFirst, whose agenda includes attacks on the teachers unions that, according to StudentsFirst, put teachers first—ahead of students.
Campbell Brown had appeared on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, written an op-ed that was published in the Wall Street Journal, and begun testifying in Albany against teachers unions. While the teachers unions were quick to point out that they do not protect sexual predators, Al Baker reported: “Ms. Brown had transformed into the most recognizable face of the combustible school-reform fight and in so doing had injected star power into a campaign the Bloomberg administration has been waging for months.”
Fast forward to June, 2014. Earlier this week Stephanie Simon reported at Politico that Campbell Brown has now spent “hundreds of thousands of dollars” to launch a series of lawsuits against teachers’ tenure and due process protections, legal attacks similar to the recent Vergara trial in California that “struck down California’s tenure system and other job protections embedded in state law, ruling that they deprived students of their constitutional right to a quality education….” The California trial in Vergara will be appealed and many speculate that the decision will not survive the appeal.
Campbell Brown has hired a brand new public relations firm to manage her effort: “The Incite Agency, founded by former White House press secretary Robert Gibbs and former Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt will lead a national public relations drive to support a series of lawsuits aimed at challenging tenure, seniority and other job protections that teachers unions have defended…. LaBolt and another former Obama aide, Jon Jones—the first digital strategist of the 2008 campaign—will take the lead role in the public relations initiative.”
Whether Robert Gibbs’ new firm, staffed by Democrats, is merely monetizing its celebrity and insider connections in this new bipartisan anti-teacher campaign or whether it represents a stronger anti-teacher bias than many had perhaps realized in President Barack Obama’s Department of Education is not quite clear. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has surprised some with his strong statements of support for the Vergara decision.
What is clear is that Campbell Brown is interested not merely in the legal outcome of the cases she plans to bring. She cares very much about the message. Brown is quoted by Simon: “The PR piece of this is essential because for the first time, we’re having a dialog in this country about anachronistic laws and how we revamp our public education system for the modern world so it serves children first and foremost. Having that conversation is as important to me as the litigation itself.”
Notice how Campbell Brown defines “dialogue.” There is no mention here of the dedication of the great mass of our approximately five million school teachers across the country. There is no acknowledgement that teachers might need some job protection because the work they do is so public. They meet groups of children and parents all day; high school teachers often teach 135-150 students every day. With this level of public exposure, teachers can come in for frequent criticism, some of it unmerited. There is no mention of the peer assistance and review programs designed by the teachers unions, programs in place in school districts across the country to improve the practice of teachers and to ease out the teachers unable to succeed even after they receive intensive assistance. What Campbell Brown is talking about is a public relations campaign driven by big money and insider professionals to attack job security for school teachers.
We ought to think about this. As a society are we really intent on making public school teachers at-will employees like the adjunct professors becoming more and more prevalent in our colleges and universities? These are the college teachers who are hired as-needed—one class at a time from semester to semester. Part-time employees who struggle to patch together a living wage—paid by the class and frequently denied health insurance.
As an adolescent I was encouraged by my father to become a school teacher because I would always be employable in a secure job. Certainly job security should not be the only reason a person chooses a profession, but it is one of the characteristics of teaching that has attracted a lot of good people over the years. Campbell Brown, from her perch in lower Manhattan, attacks what she calls “anachronistic” laws. Do we really believe stable employment is an anachronism? I wish Campbell Brown’s dialogue would explore that much deeper question.