Even though I live in Ohio, every morning in my e-mail in-box, I receive and scan an update on news about education from Politico New York. I read it as a summary of public education issues surfacing in the state of New York and because its authors—Eliza Shapiro, Keshia Clukey and Conor Skelding—select and recommend a list of national stories about education. As a blogger, I use a lot of tools to find current news.
Imagine my surprise when in yesterday’s morning e-mail newsletter from Politico NY, I found the following in a section called “TRACKING EDUCATION” as the second of several blurbs :
** A message from Families for Excellent Schools: New York City’s schools are divided into two separate and unequal systems – one for white, affluent children, and another for low-income children of color. But we can change that. Visit DontStealPossible.org today to take a stand for school equality. **
Then at the end of the newsletter, I discovered a similar message:
** A message from Families for Excellent Schools: 478,000 New York City children — almost all black and Hispanic — are stuck in a network of failing public schools. That’s more children than the entire Chicago Public Schools, and they’re trapped in a separate and unequal education system. Our leaders must do better – especially Mayor de Blasio. It’s time for bold action, not more of the same.
That’s why New Yorkers from every borough are coming together to take a stand for school equality. If you believe EVERY child in New York City deserves a quality education, join Team Possible today: Join us at DontStealPossible.org **
Both of these pieces are highly political. Both condemn the New York City public schools and identify “Team Possible,” known to be affiliated with charter schools, as a fine alternative to the problems of public education. (I paste these sections into this post, because I cannot provide links; I cannot locate on Politico NY‘s website a cache of its daily e-newsletters.)
A lot of readers would skim such a publication without careful and detailed reading. I checked my “delete” file and discovered that these very messages have been appearing in my e-mail newsletters all this week, but I hadn’t noticed them until yesterday, when it took me a minute to register what I was skimming over. My eye caught precisely the same wording as the script in the television advertisements a group called Families for Excellent Schools has been running in New York City to denounce Mayor Bill de Blasio and the improvements that he and his chancellor Carmen Farina have been making in New York’s traditional public schools and also to lavish praise on the city’s charter schools, most particularly Success Academy Charter Schools, the charter school chain led by Eva Moskowitz.
Families for Excellent Schools, the sponsor of the television advertising campaign, claims to be a non-political, educational not-for-profit, though it continues to be very much involved in New York state education politics. It appears that, besides paying for its television campaign, Families for Excellent Schools is also buying space in my morning e-newsletter, though you’d hardly guess these were ads unless you thought about it. The newsletter is made up of bullets of information in the news about education; these ads are different from the other blurbs only because they begin and end with a series of stars. There is no formal notation that they are paid advertising.
In a news story, Politico NY (the online news outlet that also sends around the morning e-newsletter) quite recently posted a report on its website about Families for Excellent Schools and its ad campaign. The story declared: “Charter school advocacy group Families for Excellent Schools is attacking Mayor Bill de Blasio in a television ad for the second time in just a few weeks, this time by targeting his K-12 education agenda. The new ad, called ‘Reality,’ started airing on Friday and attempts to rebut the educational policies de Blasio announced during a recent speech… FES, which is closely aligned with Success Academy and its CEO, Eva Moskowitz, has been one of de Blasio’s most relentless antagonists over the last two years.” So what does it mean when Politico NY‘s e-newsletter appears to promote Families for Excellent Schools?
This blog recently covered the very same television advertising campaign in a post, Plutocrats in NYC Wielding Power, Buying the Airwaves, and Trashing Public Schools Again, which explains: “Here is what Families for Excellent Schools is attacking in its new ad. In a recent major address, De Blasio committed to extending school improvement well beyond his vast expansion of pre-school over the past year. Well over 65,000 children in New York City are now enrolled in pre-K programs, including many low income children, even children living in shelters for homeless families. The district is also engaged in the ongoing transformation of New York City’s lowest-achieving schools into full-service, wraparound Community Schools. In the recent address de Blasio promised to ensure reading specialists across the city’s second grades and access to algebra for all students by ninth grade. He also promised that all of the small high schools created by Mayor Bloomberg will offer courses in advanced sciences and math. Many of these schools that have offered a more personalized education have not, until now, provided a curriculum with enough courses for students to earn a Regents diploma.”
I urge you to read the entire blog post that explains how Families for Excellent Schools has been able to shield its donors to ensure that people watching (or reading) its ads do not know who is sponsoring them. The organization is closely affiliated with wealthy hedge fund managers, and has, to avoid naming its contributors and the limitations that might be imposed on their political giving, skirted the law that distinguishes nonprofit educational organizations from political advocacy groups.
This blog’s recent post suggested that readers reflect on the Families for Excellent Schools’ television ad campaign and, “Consider what it would be like to live in New York City these days with a bunch of wealthy plutocrats sponsoring political ads designed to trash your community’s public schools. Mayor de Blasio has committed to making significant improvements in the way the city’s public schools serve over 90 percent of the city’s young people. What are a few rich friends committed to helping Eva Moskowitz grow her charter network doing undermining the public interest?” This blog also recently covered Eva Moskowitz and her charter school empire so closely tied to Families for Excellent Schools in this post: Moskowitz and Petrilli Push Education Model Designed to Serve Strivers and Shed the Rest.
It would be easy for a reader of Politico New York‘s morning e-newsblast mistakenly to assume that Politico NY is somehow endorsing Families for Excellent Schools’ cause and that Politico NY is recommending that readers follow the link to the anti-deBlasio ads—just as readers are expected to follow the links to the news stories collected each morning.
I challenge Politico NY to re-format the publication for the purpose of distinguishing clearly and without ambiguity the blurbs designed to inform from the blurbs designed to advertise. Ads ought to be labeled as “paid advertising.” And I wonder, frankly, whether a publication devoted to coverage of what has become a highly politicized policy war in New York, shouldn’t stop selling ads to the proponents of one side in that battle.