Campbell Brown is a former news anchor from CNN who has launched her own attack on teachers’ unions and established a web-based news service to report on public education.
Last July, Campbell Brown launched her education news site. She calls it The Seventy Four, for the 74 million children in school across America. The news website does not sell advertising and instead depends on philanthropy—donations from Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Walton Family Foundation, Jonathan Sackler of Purdue Pharma (makers of Oxycontin) and founder of the far-right ConnCan and 50 Can. According to Inside Philanthropy, The Seventy-Four has an annual budget of $4 million.
Inside Philanthropy comments: “Sackler serves on the board of the New Schools Venture Fund and has been active in other charter school organizations. This is not Walton’s first foray into education journalism… Considering this array of funders, as well as Brown’s pro-reform stance, you can bet this new site will cover issues in K-12 education from the pro-reform perspective that has made Brown the target of criticism from teachers unions and their allies…”
According to the NY Times, Campbell Brown is married to Dan Senor, who was a foreign affairs adviser to presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Before that, Senor was President George W. Bush’s chief spokesman for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq. Senor has also served on the board of Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst.
Brown’s other current venture is the national organization, the Partnership for Educational Justice, she has established for the sole purpose of filing Vergara-type lawsuits across the states to undermine due process job protection for teachers. According to Stephanie Simon at Politico, Brown and her campaign, the Partnership for Educational Justice, joined with a politically connected Washington, D.C. public relations firm, the Incite Agency, where Robert Gibbs, President Obama’s former press secretary, and former Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt have been hired to create a national public relations drive to promote Campbell Brown’s lawsuits. This blog commented on Brown’s Partnership for Educational Justice here.
Despite that Brown has hired professional journalists for The Seventy Four, Howard Blume, the education reporter for the Los Angeles Times, explores some of the concerns about Campbell Brown and The Seventy Four expressed by supporters of traditional public education: “The Seventy Four, based in New York City, describes itself as a nonpartisan news site with the mission of exposing an education system ‘in crisis… to challenge the status quo, expose corruption and inequality, and champion the heroes who bring positive change to our schools.'” Blume continues: “Critics call The Seventy Four an advocacy effort on behalf of a pro-charter school, anti-union agenda. The organization, critics say, uses opinion pieces and reported stories to promote charter schools and to find fault with traditional campuses and teachers unions. Not so, said co-founder and Chief Executive Romy Drucker. ‘We try to highlight what’s working,’ Drucker said.. ‘part of the mission also is highlighting what’s broken and needs to be fixed and highlighting the solutions.'” Blume describes Drucker as “a top New York City schools official under former Chancellor Joel Klein. Klein is closely associated with advocates who believe that school systems should be run more like successful businesses.”
Why has Howard Blume in Los Angeles recently been reporting on The Seventy Four? “The Seventy Four, an organization whose co-founder is a controversial education advocate, has taken over L.A. School Report, a website covering the Los Angeles Unified School District.”
Blume explains that the stakes are high in Los Angeles: “A confidential document, obtained last year by The Times, laid out a plan, spearheaded by the Broad Foundation, to more than double the number of local charters, pulling in half the district enrollment over the next eight years. Potential funders included the Walton Family Foundation…. That plan, were it to go forward, could push the nation’s second-largest school system into insolvency, according to an independent panel of experts.”
So far, the elected school board in Los Angeles has resisted pressure and voted not to adopt Eli Broad’s plan for doubling the number of charter schools, but many people worry that supporters of charters are pursuing a long term strategy to undermine the board’s current resistance.
Blume reports on the concerns of Steve Zimmer, a member of the elected school board in Los Angeles: “Zimmer linked the acquisition (Campbell’s acquisition of L.A. School Report) to what he characterized as a pattern of wealthy partisans trying to control the media message, including at The Times, which has received funding from Broad and others to increase education coverage. In an e-mail Zimmer described his concern: ‘Truth itself, as it relates to public education in Los Angeles, will be filtered through an orthodox reform lens at every turn.'” Blume and others at the Los Angeles Times have persistently declared their independence as journalists, despite Broad’s investment in expanded education coverage at the newspaper.
The L.A. School Report had run out of money to operate. Blume reports that the takeover by The Seventy Four, “involved no money; instead The Seventy Four, with its $4 million annual budget, absorbed the school report and its staff—an editor and two reporters.”
How does all this relate to those of us who don’t reside in Los Angeles? Clearly there is an ideological battle going on in public education policy. Reading the news these days requires thoughtful discernment.