Recent Important Coverage of Betsy DeVos, Part 2

After today, this blog will begin a two-week holiday break. Look for a new post on Tuesday, January 3, 2017.  Good wishes for the holidays!

Here is the second half of a two-part post—yesterday and today—to summarize recent news coverage about Betsy DeVos

You may feel you already know enough about Betsy DeVos, President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Education. You may be disgusted that a one-cause activist and philanthropist has been appointed for an important federal position that oversees, for example, civil rights protection for children across America’s public schools, especially as her one cause has been the expansion of school vouchers—public dollars children can carry to private and parochial schools. Maybe you’ve already learned enough to be furious that yet another billionaire from the One Percent will be shaping federal policy for the schools that serve the 99 Percent. Maybe you are angry about DeVos’s lack of experience in education—and especially the schools operated by and for the public. Betsy DeVos graduated from Holland Christian High School and, as columnist Wendy Lecker has explained: “(S)he is wholly unqualified to be Secretary of Education. She has no education degree or background, and has never worked in, attended or sent her children to public school.”

But this two-part blog will help fill in any gaps in your understanding.  During DeVos’s confirmation hearing, and later, if she is confirmed and as her policy proposals roll out, you’ll have the facts at your fingertips as contributions to any and every conversation.  News reporting on DeVos this week has been particularly interesting, as newspapers have been assigning reporters to investigate in depth DeVos’s advocacy to reduce regulation of marketplace school choice, the influence of her religious beliefs, her partners and allies in the sphere of school choice advocacy, and the way in which DeVos’s ideologically driven philanthropy fits right in to the work of the Waltons, the Broads, and the Gates, although DeVos is far more driven by far-right anti-government, pro-voucher ideology.

In her 2010 book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System, the New York University education historian Diane Ravitch coined the term “The Billionaire Boys Club” to describe a new wave of mega-philanthropy—no longer responsive to the ideas of a range of grant seekers but instead driven by the strategies of foundation boards and staffs—and geared not simply to meeting the funding needs of supplicant nonprofits but instead to influencing the direction of policy.  In that book Ravitch warned: “Before considering the specific goals and activities of these foundations, it is worth reflecting on the wisdom of allowing education policy to be directed or, one might say, captured by private foundations. There is something fundamentally antidemocratic about relinquishing control of the public education policy agenda to private foundations run by society’s wealthiest people; when the wealthiest of these foundations are joined in common purpose, they represent an unusually powerful force that is beyond the reach of democratic institutions. These foundations, no matter how worthy and high-minded, are after all, not public agencies. They are not subject to public oversight or review, as a public agency would be. They have taken it upon themselves to reform public education, perhaps in ways that would never survive the scrutiny of voters in any district or state… If their plans fail, no sanctions are levied against them.  They are bastions of unaccountable power.” (pp. 200-201)

Now Ravitch has published an opinion piece for The Chronicle of Philanthropy, Blame Big Foundations for Assault on Public Education, to explain how the Billionaire Boys have paved the way for the appointment of another— and this time more radical—philanthropist, Betsy DeVos to run the U.S. Department of Education. (The article is paywalled in The Chronicle, but Ravitch has provided a copy on her personal blog.)

In her new piece, Ravitch reviews the membership of the original Billionaire Boys Club and demonstrates its influence: “The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Edythe and Eli Broad Foundation, and the Walton Family Foundation have promoted charter schools and school choice for the past decade. They laid the groundwork for extremist attacks on public schools. They legitimized taxpayer subsidies for privately managed charters and for ‘school choice,’ which paved the way for vouchers. (Indeed, as foundations spawned thousands of charter schools in the past decade, nearly half of the states endorsed voucher programs.) At least a dozen more foundations have joined the Big Three, including the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, and the Doris & Donald Fisher Fund.”  While Betsy DeVos’s philanthropic priorities are much farther to the right, Ravitch argues that the more centrist foundations have normalized school choice through their donations and as program officers from the Gates Foundation were brought in as key staff at Arne Duncan’s U.S. Department of Education.

Ravitch argues that, working in concert, these foundations and their philanthropic gifts have shifted the broader conversation to normalize what has become known as “corporate school reform” and to promote school choice.  They have also created and funded think tanks to justify this work and created  a concerted messaging campaign to favor their agenda; “For years these groups have argued that, one, public schools are ‘failing’; two, we must save poor children from these failing schools; three, they are failing because of bad teachers; four, anyone with a few weeks of training can teach as well, or better.  It’s a simple, easily digestible narrative, and it’s wrong.”

I urge you to read Ravitch’s critique and refutation of the mega-philanthropists’ agenda.  As Trump has nominated Betsy DeVos to move the privatization agenda deeper and farther to the right, Ravitch reminds readers about something that none of today’s mega-foundations seems to be promoting: “(U)niversal public education under democratic control has long been one of the hallmarks of our democracy. No high-performing nation in the world has turned its public schools over to the free market.”

Because, as Ravitch points out, Betsy DeVos’s experience is in far-right philanthropy, it might be expected that she’ll bring staff people with whom she is comfortable to run the U.S. Department of Education.  And this week, Alyson Klein, Education Week‘s most experienced reporter on federal education policy, has explored that very topic: Who Is Part of Ed.Sec. Nominee Betsy DeVos’ Policy Circle?  “After all,” begins Klein, “she and Trump have about 150 political appointee gigs to fill at the agency. In filling posts…. DeVos could decide to draw from a deep pool of folks she has worked with in education advocacy and political offices, including at the American Federation for Children, a political and advocacy organization she chaired until recently.  Many of them have ties to her home state of Michigan, including Josh Venable, a one-time aide to former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who is said to be helping with the transition. Like DeVos, they’ve been active in Republican politics, especially, and school choice  Also like DeVos, most haven’t served in state education agencies or school districts, at least not in recent years.” Venable has served as national director of advocacy and legislation for Jeb Bush’s pro-privatization Foundation for Excellence in Education.

Klein suspects that the DeVos-founded American Federation for Children will be sending several staff people to Washington to work in the U.S. Department of Education. What sort of experience would they bring?  “Over the past five years AFC has advanced school choice in a number of states, including Indiana, Nevada and Wisconsin…. The organization writes model legislation to help state lawmakers push vouchers, education savings accounts, and tax credits for school choice.”

Klein speculates that Greg Brock, executive director of AFC might be tapped.  For several years between 2000 and 2010, “Brock ran All Children Matter, a political action committee financed by DeVos and her husband, Richard ‘Dick’ DeVos.  The committee sought to elect lawmakers who were friendly to school choice, and target those who weren’t, including anti-voucher Republicans… Brock was also the executive director of the Great Lakes Education Project,” the Michigan organization that has promoted charter schools and blocked state laws to regulate charters.  Other American Federation for Children staff described by Klein are Matt Frendewey, AFC’s communications director, and John Schilling, AFC’s chief operating officer.

Another DeVos insider, Greg MeNeilly, is currently chief operating officer of the Windquest Group, a company owned by the DeVoses.  “McNeilly has a long record both in GOP politics and with the DeVos family. He served as the campaign manager for Dick DeVos’ ultimately unsuccessful bid for governor of Michigan in 2006. And he was an architect of Michigan’s Right to Work law…. On the education front, he was the communications director of ‘Kids First! Yes!’ And from 1998 to 2000 he served as a political director for the Michigan Republican Party. He’s also currently on the board of GLEP (Great Lakes Education Project)…. (H)e’s known as an unofficial gatekeeper to Betsy and Dick DeVos.”

Klein also mentions Campbell Brown, the former CNN anchor and driver of a national campaign to eliminate due-process job protection for school teachers and undermine teachers unions. Quite recently Campbell Brown launched what she claims is an objective education news website, The 74. Given Cambell Brown’s well-known biases, it is difficult to take seriously her claim of journalistic objectivity. About Campbell Brown, Alyson Klein notes: “She did however, write a warm blog post in support of DeVos’ nomination.”

Finally, to sum up the basic profile of Betsy DeVos, we can turn to Rebecca Mead in The New Yorker: Betsy DeVos and the Plan to Break Public Schools. “DeVos lobbied for school-choice voucher programs and tax-credit initiatives, intended to widen the range of institutions—including private and religious—that could receive funding that might otherwise go to both charter and traditional public schools… One can fully credit DeVos’s commitment to her cause—one might even term it her crusade—while also seeking to evaluate its effectiveness… Almost two-thirds of the state’s (Michigan’s) charter schools are run by for-profit management companies, which are not required to make the financial disclosures that would be expected of not-for-profit or public entities… And, despite the rhetoric of ‘choice,’ lower-income students were effectively segregated into poorer-performing schools, while parents of more privileged students were better equipped to navigate the system.”

Mead reminds us: “Missing in the ideological embrace of choice for choice’s sake is any suggestion of the public school as a public good—as a centering locus for a community and as a shared pillar of the commonweal, in which all citizens have an investment… In one interview… DeVos spoke in favor of ‘charter schools, online schools, virtual schools, blended learning, any combination thereof—and, frankly, any combination or any kind of choice that hasn’t yet been thought of.’ A preemptive embrace of choices that haven’t yet been thought of might serve as an apt characterization of Trump’s entire, chaotic cabinet-selection process. But whether it is the approach that will best serve current and prospective American school students is another question entirely.”

This blog has covered Betsy DeVos in previous posts:

Important Reading on Betsy DeVos

Today’s post is an update—some new tidbits and clarifications about the record of Betsy DeVos, President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for U.S. Secretary of Education.

Jennifer Berkshire on Betsy DeVos 

I encourage you to read Jennifer Berkshire’s fascinating commentary on Betsy DeVos’s role in the mess created by an out-of-control charter sector in Detroit. Berkshire explains how DeVos’ influence and money undermined a bipartisan effort to save the Detroit Public Schools: “It was out of… (a) spirit of hopefulness that the Coalition for the Future of Detroit’s Schoolchildren emerged back in 2014.  And it was a for real coalition.  AFT was there, but so was the (corporate) reform-minded Excellent Schools Detroit and the city’s pro-charter mayor, along with members of the corporate and civic elite.  People who’d been, if not at war, at deep odds, had finally gotten together around a single, shared point of agreement: if Detroit doesn’t have some way to oversee its schools—both what remains of the district schools and the fast-growing, completely unregulated charter sector—the city can forget about the future.  Bankrolled by a local philanthropy, the Skillman Foundation, the coalition had the wind at its back and the political wherewithal necessary to get a bill through the state senate, even gaining the support of Governor Rick Snyder…. But the feel-good story screeched to a halt last summer thanks to a wall of GOP opposition.  Except that “wall” and “opposition’ make it sound as though there were a whole bunch of people involved in the kneecaping that went down.  There was a single family: Betsy and Dick DeVos.  The bill that ultimately passed, with the DeVos’ blessing and with the aid of the lawmakers they bankroll, did virtually nothing to regulate Detroit’s ‘wild west’ charter school sector, and will likely hasten the demise of the Detroit Public Schools.”

DeVos PAC Still owes Ohio $5.3 Million Fine

The Columbus Dispatch and Politico have now clarified the role of All Children Matter, a PAC that favored school privatization and that was founded in 2003 by Dick and Betsy DeVos and formerly directed by Betsy DeVos—in a huge fine still owed to the Ohio Elections Commission after a 2006 violation. Here is Randy Ludlow for The Dispatch:  “The Ohio Elections Commission unanimously ruled that All Children Matter violated state law by illegally channeling $870,000 in contributions from its Virginia PAC to its then-unregistered Ohio PAC, violating a state law that restricts political action committees to accepting  no more than $10,000 from a single source… David Brennan of Akron, one of Ohio’s top charter-school operators and a top state GOP donor, gave $200,000 to the Virginia PAC before it funneled money to All Children Matter’s Ohio PAC.  Virginia imposed no limit on contributions to PACs.”

Politico describes what happened: “The state (elections) commission told POLITICO that DeVos’ group initially asked Ohio if this sort of spending was permissible.  When the state said no, DeVos’ group did it anyway. ‘I’ve been with the commission since 1996 and I’ve never had anyone else ask for an adivisory opinion and then proceed to not do what the opinion said,’ said Philip Richter, executive director and staff attorney at the Ohio Elections Commission.”

All Children Matter lost when it appealed the decision. Finally Ohio’s attorney general, “went to court in 2012 in a bid to collect the fine, receiving a $5.2 million judgment in 2013 from Franklin County Common Pleas Court Judge Daniel T. Hogan.”  Hogan also fined All Children Matter’s Virginia PAC $25 a day, retroactive to October 26, 2006. The Dispatch and Politico agree that All Children Matter seems to be fading away and has inadequate assets to pay the fine.  At the end of 2015, the organization had only $275 in assets.  Betsy DeVos was never held personally liable.

Campbell Brown Says Her News Website Will Provide Objective Coverage of Her Good Friend, Betsy DeVos

Caitlin Emma reports for Politico Morning Education that Campbell Brown, the anti-teachers union crusader, will recuse herself from covering her friend Betsy DeVos on The 74, Brown’s website that pretends to be an objective news-reporting site on topics relating to education.

Emma explains: “Brown and DeVos are friends, and Brown sits on the board of DeVos’ school choice advocacy group, the American Federation for Children.  (DeVos resigned as chair [of the American Federation of Children] last week after accepting Trump’s Cabinet offer.)  In 2014, the Dick & Betsy DeVos Family Foundation helped launch The 74 with a two-year grant—the amount of which wasn’t disclosed to Morning Education.”

Since President-elect Trump’s nomination of DeVos, The 74‘s coverage of Betsy DeVos has been largely positive.  Despite a more complex piece by Michael Petrilli, The 74‘s has printed a laudatory 2015 interview with DeVos and Campbell Brown’s own gushing commentary: “Social media attacks aren’t famous for accuracy, but it’s a pity that Betsy DeVos has been so misleadingly caricatured since Donald Trump asked her to serve as secretary of education last week… The suggestion that Betsy’s work with children is ideologically or financially driven would be disputed, I’d guess, by just about everyone who has spent time alongside her during the past 30 years as she founded, helped run and advised education groups and initiatives that have helped improve education across the country — including thousands of teachers and poor families.”  You’ll notice that the sole purpose of DeVos’s education work—privatization— is unmentioned in Brown’s effusive tribute to her friend.

Writing for Education Week, Mark Walsh comments: “The 74, the website founded by former TV journalist Campbell Brown, is in an awkward position when it comes to the site’s identity. Is it an independent education news and opinion site, as Brown, herself a supporter of school choice and teacher tenure reform, has maintained, or is it an electronic pamphleteer for DeVos and her causes?”  Walsh acknowledges that articles about DeVos posted at The 74 have contained disclaimers explaining DeVos’s financial connections and the fact that Campbell Brown serves on the board of the American Federation for Children, but despite the disclaimers, worries remain.

Yesterday Romy Drucker, CEO of The 74, tried to clarify further in a formal statement posted on The 74 website: “Two years ago, in 2014, the Dick & Betsy DeVos Family Foundation approved a two-year general operating support grant for The 74.  The final disbursement of those funds, in the first quarter of 2016, means that the foundation is an active donor only through the end of this year. Obviously, given Ms. DeVos’s potential role in the federal government, The 74 will not be seeking additional funding for 2017 or beyond.  In addition to The 74 having received support from the Dick & Betsy DeVos Foundation, my co-founder and the site’s editor-in-chief, Campbell Brown, sits on the board of the American Federation for Children, which Betsy DeVos previously chaired… Still, given Ms. Brown’s close ties to Ms. DeVos, she is recusing herself from editorial involvement in the coverage of Ms. DeVos and her upcoming confirmation hearing.”

This is, of course, a case of DeVos philanthropy not only underwriting the pro-privatization American Federation for Children and the Great Lakes Education Project, which has lobbied for unregulated expansion of charter schools, but also granting the seed money for Campbell Brown to launch a news outlet that in subtle and obvious ways favors the very same education ideas that Betsy DeVos’s organizations promote—even while the news site pretends to be objective.

Anti-Teacher Vergara Lawsuit Reversed; Campbell Brown’s Group Brings New Lawsuit in MN

The second battle in the well-funded war against job protections for school teachers was won last week by teachers. The Washington Post’s Emma Brown  explains that a California appeals court on Thursday overturned the Vergara lawsuit and “upheld the state’s laws regarding teacher tenure, dismissal and layoffs, handing a major victory to teachers unions.”

Last week’s “ruling reverses a lower court’s 2014 decision that found after a 10-week trial that job protection statutes for teachers had created illegal inequalities: Poor and minority children were more likely to be saddled with ineffective teachers who were difficult to fire. The plaintiffs in the case presented a new civil rights argument against teacher tenure laws, and when it was successful, it was widely expected to be the first of many similar legal challenges in other states.” In their lawsuit, plaintiffs had alleged that job protections for teachers caused the poorest children to be taught by unqualified teachers.

Except, that on appeal, the plaintiff’s effort to undermine teachers’ due process protections was unsuccessful.  Last week the three appellate judges wrote: “We reverse the trial court’s decision.  Plaintiffs filed to establish that the challenged statutes violate equal protection, primarily because they did not show that the statutes inevitably cause a certain group of students to receive an education inferior to the education received by other students.  Although the statutes may lead to the hiring and retention of more ineffective teachers than a hypothetical alternative system would, the statutes do not address the assignment of teachers; instead, administrators—not the statutes—ultimately determine where teachers within a district are assigned to teach.”

The Vergara case was launched in California by Silicon Valley telecommunications entrepreneur David Welch and the nonprofit he created to fund and publicize the case.  He recruited student-plaintiffs and hired as plaintiff attorneys former U.S. Solicitor General Ted Olson and Theodore Boutrous, Jr., a corporate attorney who represents Walmart and who represented George W. Bush against Al Gore in 2000, when the Florida recount reached the U.S. Supreme Court. At the trial court level, in June of 2014, Judge Rolf Treu struck down tenure and seniority protections for California’s K-12 school teachers.

Peter Schrag, retired editorial page editor for the Sacramento Bee, described the case during the original trial in April of 2014: “The case, and the public relations effort accompanying it, is being bankrolled by a nonprofit called Students Matter, set up by Silicon Valley entrepreneur David Welch.  Welch is seconded by groups such as Ben Austin’s Parent Revolution and Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst, with funding help from Eli Broad and the Walton Family Foundation, all of which have battled teachers unions and supported charter schools and ‘transformational’ change in public education.”

The battles in this plutocrats-vs-teachers war are only beginning, however.  The plaintiffs in the Vergara case have pledged that they will appeal last week’s decision to the California Supreme Court.  Coincidentally last Wednesday, Campbell Brown’s Partnership for Educational Justice, a group she formed to file lawsuits against state laws that provide due process job protection for teachers, filed a Vergara-like lawsuit in Minnesota. (See here and here, to learn about Campbell Brown, the former CNN anchor who has made her cause defeating teachers unions through lawsuits threatening laws that protect due process.)  The new case in Minnesota is the second anti-teacher lawsuit filed by Brown and the Partnership for Educational Justice.  The first, Wright v. New York is currently being appealed.

Motoko Rich for the NY Times explains: “The Minnesota lawsuit names the state, Gov. Mark Dayton, the state Education Department and its commissioner as defendants.  The case is being supported by the Partnership for Education Justice, a New York-based advocacy group that receives its primary funding from the foundations of the Walton family, the founders of Walmart, and the Los Angeles billionaire Eli Broad.  Students for Education Reform a group that also receives funding from the Broad and the Walton Family Foundations, is also backing the suit.”

Minnesota’s education commissioner, Brenda Cassellius (one of the defendants named in the case), is quoted by the NY Times in support of the school teachers of Minnesota: “Minnesota has some of the most hard-working and talented teachers in the nation, and we are committed to ensuring every student has a dedicated and competent teacher.” “We also have rigorous laws that protect due process for teachers and that, when followed, provide school administrators and school boards with the authority to remove teachers.”

Two weeks ago the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) released a study on the allocation of school teachers across school districts.  It confirms what the research literature has shown: that children in America’s poorest schools tend to have teachers who are less experienced and less credentialed.  In its review of the literature and of current data, however, EPI finds: “It is easy to summarize our results because we consistently fail to show an association between the strength of unions and the allocation or misallocation of teacher credentials across schools in a state.  States with stronger teachers’ unions do not seem to place teachers with weak credentials in schools with disadvantaged students any more than states with weak unions do.  We find no negative or no association at all between union strength on the one hand and the allocations of credentials in average schools or in high poverty schools on the other (although we find some positive slopes, suggesting that the credentials of teachers—on average and in high poverty schools—are better in states with stronger unions.)  Most importantly, we find no association between union strength and the misallocation of credentials among high-poverty schools relative to the average school.  This result is confirmed using different specifications of union strength, measured categorically in quintiles and as continuous, and adding an additional control for the proportion of high-poverty schools in the state.”

There are other factors that may be affecting where teachers choose to work, factors that nobody bringing the anti-teachers union lawsuits is mentioning: unequal school funding; working conditions; large class sizes in the poorest school districts; the shortage of an adequate number of support professionals including counselors, school psychologists, and social workers; inadequate curriculum; insufficient access to technology; and the absence of science labs, the arts, and other programs that encourage students to be engaged in their education.  The people bringing the anti-teacher lawsuits never talk about adequate taxation and equalization of school funding to ensure that all schools are suitable places for teachers to work and students to learn.

What Gives Campbell Brown Standing to Spin the News about Public Education?

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.

Who Is Campbell Brown and Why Is She Trying to Discredit Teachers (and Their Unions)?

Time Magazine‘s November 3, 2014 cover that scapegoats teachers by implying that the profession protects a whole lot of “bad apples” has brought the California Vergara court decision back into the news and once again brought us Campbell Brown, whose face is familiar as a former CNN news anchor.  Her new mission is represented by her new organization, the Partnership for Educational Justice, that has begun bringing Vergara-like lawsuits across the states to oppose due process for teachers.  Yesterday in a post, It’s Not OK to Hate Teachers, this blog explored how wrong it is that Time (on its magazine cover) is attacking a whole profession of people in this country—about 5 million school teachers.  Today we’ll review what has become a far-right attack on public school teachers, and why outlawing due process for teachers is probably not a very good idea—not only from the point of view of the teachers but also from the perspective of the students in their classes.

The review must begin with Michelle Rhee, however, because she launched the attack on teachers long before Campbell Brown left her position at CNN.  Michelle Rhee made her mark as the Washington, D.C. schools chancellor who, according to Rhee herself, set out to put the interests of “students first” over the interests of the adults who worked for the D.C. schools.  Rhee portrayed teachers—through their union—as protecting their own “adult”  interests above the needs of the children.  The adult interests Rhee was talking about were things like their salaries, their health insurance, and their job protection.  Rhee surely didn’t believe in job protection; she became famous for firing lots of teachers and school administrators.  She fired one principal publicly during a video being filmed by John Merrow for the PBS News Hour.  It was later shown that any test score gains during Rhee’s tenure were the result of gentrification, that the racial achievement gap widened during Rhee’s years, and that she left the District under the cloud of allegations of a massive test score cheating scandal that was never fully investigated. She went on to found StudentsFirst, a national PAC that has attacked teachers unions, supported corporate school reformers for positions on local school boards and state legislatures, and supported vouchers.  Just months ago, however, StudentsFirst closed state affiliates in Minnesota, Florida, Maine, Indiana and Iowa.  Michelle Rhee has resigned as its executive director, while she has remained on its board.  She has also joined the board of Scotts MiracleGro.

As Rhee’s star has been falling as the leader of the attack on school teachers, Campbell Brown has stepped in to lead a series of lawsuits to destroy due process protection for teachers. According to the NY Times, Campbell Brown is married to Dan Senor, who was a foreign affairs advisor to presidential candidate Mitt Romney.  Senor has also served on the board of Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst. In June we learned from Stephanie Simon at Politico that Brown and her campaign, the Partnership for Educational Justice, had 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.  You will note that Brown has been working to make her organization bi-partisan.  She has made David Boies a member of her board.  He is the high profile attorney who represented Al Gore back in 2000 at the U.S. Supreme Court when the presidential election was in question, and he represented gay couples seeking to protect their right to marry when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned California Proposition 8.

The other primary character in the attack on tenure is David Welch, who launched the original Vergara case in California.  He is a Silicon Valley telecommunications entrepreneur whose not-for-profit organization, Students Matter and its chosen student plaintiffs alleged that tenure protects bad teachers, and that tenure, therefore, violates the civil rights of students living in poor school districts. Welch and Students Matter hired as plaintiff attorneys former U.S. Solicitor General Ted Olson and Theodore Boutrous, Jr., a corporate attorney who represents Walmart and who represented George W. Bush against Al Gore in 2000, when the Florida recount reached the U.S. Supreme Court. Peter Schrag, retired editorial page editor for the Sacramento Bee, has noted that in Vergara,  “Welch is seconded by groups such as Ben Austin’s Parent Revolution and Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst, with funding help from Eli Broad and the Walton Family Foundation, all of which have battled teachers unions and supported charter schools and ‘transformational’ change in public education.”  In June,  Judge Rolf True found for the plaintiffs. The case is being appealed, and many have questioned whether a firm case can be made that tenure is a civil rights matter.

Last Thursday, in a fine article published by the New York Daily News, Erwin Chemerinsky, the dean and Raymond Pryke Professor of First Amendment Law at the University of California, Irvine School of Law analyzed the contentions made by attorneys for the plaintiffs in Vergara.  Chemerinsky writes: “American public education desperately needs to be improved, especially for the most disadvantaged children.  But eliminating teachers’ job security and due-process rights is not going to attract better educators—or do much to improve school quality…  The reality is that job security and protection against arbitrary treatment are terms and conditions of employment that, like higher wages, attract good people into teaching and keep them in the classroom…  It should be noted that teachers in the United States work more hours and are paid less than their counterparts in almost every other developed country—and their salaries have fallen dramatically relative to pay for comparable jobs in our economy since 1940.”

Chemerinsky continues, “The causal relationship alleged by the plaintiffs in these lawsuits—that teachers’ rights cause minority students to receive substandard educations—is belied by readily available empirical evidence.  If the plaintiffs were correct, similarly situated students in states with weak protection of teachers—such as Texas, Alabama and Mississippi—would have higher levels of achievement and the racial achievement gap would be smaller in those states. But…. every year, the states with the highest student performance are those with robust protections for teachers—places like Maryland and Massachusetts.”

He concludes: “The plaintiffs who are bringing these lawsuits have misappropriated the soaring rhetoric and fundamental principles of the civil rights movement… Cloaking the attack on teachers’ rights in the rhetoric of the civil rights movement is misleading.  Lessening the legal protections for teachers will not advance civil rights or improve education.” “The problem of inner-city schools is not that the dedicated teachers who work in them have too many rights, but that the students who go to them are disadvantaged in many ways, the schools have inadequate resources and the schools are surrounded by communities that are dangerous, lack essential services and are largely segregated by both race and class.  Taking the modest job security accorded by tenure away from teachers will address none of these problems.”

It’s Not OK to Hate Teachers

“It’s not OK to hate teachers.”  Those are the words of the Rev. John Thomas back in 2010, four years ago, right after he retired as General Minister and President of the United Church of Christ, joined the staff at Chicago Theological Seminary and started a blog.

“What’s going on here?” asked Thomas. “Certainly union busting is part of what’s going on.  Public officials see a rare opportunity to diminish the power of teachers’ unions in this climate and are doing what they can to discredit organizations that have done much to ensure that teachers are rewarded and protected at a level commensurate with other professions… And let’s be honest, for most people passionate interest in public schools begins when the first child enters kindergarten and ends when the last child graduates from high school.  How many of us know much of anything about what’s going on in our public schools when we don’t have our own children or grandchildren attending them?”

Well… on the cover of its November 3, 2014 issue, Time Magazine is trying to develop some passionate interest.  Or maybe that is not what’s happening.  What is Time really trying to accomplish on the cover of its new issue?  Here is what the text says: “Rotten Apples: It’s nearly impossible to fire a bad teacher. Some tech millionaires have found a way to change that.”  The picture that accompanies this text is of a judge’s gavel poised above an apple.  That’s a hint.  This must have something to do with former CNN anchor Campbell Brown’s new cause: to file Vergara-type lawsuits across the states to outlaw due process job protection for school teachers.  This blog has covered the California Vergara lawsuit here.  It has covered Campbell Brown’s new endeavor to organize a legal attack on teachers unions here and  here.

This is actually the second time that Time Magazine has attacked teachers with a picture on its cover.  Valerie Strauss, in the Washington Post, reminds us that back in December of 2008, Time pictured Michelle Rhee—then chancellor of the schools in Washington, D.C.—poised to sweep out bad teachers with the broom she was holding.  “Rhee was,” according to Strauss, “the vanguard of a wave of ‘corporate school reform’ that has used standardized test scores as the chief metric for school ‘accountability,’ promoted charter schools and vouchers, and sought to minimize or eliminate the power of teachers unions and change the way teachers are trained.  Rhee was chancellor from 2007-2010, during which she fired hundreds of teachers and principals and started a program that used test scores to evaluate every adult in the building—including, for several years, the custodians.  She also collected enormous sums of donations from private philanthropists to start a merit pay system for teachers (even though merit pay systems in education have a long history of failure).”  Any test score gains during Rhee’s tenure were later shown to be related to gentrification; the racial achievement gap widened during Rhee’s years; and she left the District under the cloud of allegations of a massive test score cheating scandal that was never fully investigated.

Many have pointed out that Time‘s new article  (which is unfortunately behind a paywall), by Haley Sweetland Edwards, is fairer and far more nuanced than Time‘s cover.  Sweetland analyzes, for example, not only the likely impact of the California Vergara case, but the series of lawsuits anticipated by Campbell Brown and her funders including California’s David Welch (who bankrolled the Vergara litigation): “(Judge) True’s decision (in Vergara) holds no precedent-setting power and won’t affect any California law unless an appeals court upholds the ruling sometime next year.  Both the state and the teachers’ unions have appealed and are waiting a trial date.  But on another level, the Vergara case is a powerful proxy for a broader war over the future of education in this country.  The reform movement today is led not by grassroots activists or union leaders but by Silicon Valley business types and billionaires.  It is fought not through ballot boxes or on the floors of hamstrung state legislatures but in closed-door meetings and at courthouses.  And it will not be won incrementally, through painstaking compromise with multiple stakeholders, but through sweeping decisions—judicial and otherwise—made possible by the tactical application of vast personal fortunes.”

Toward the end of her piece, Sweetland calls into question the very kind of Value Added Measure (VAM) testing on which the Vergara lawsuit was based.  Sweetland lists several  significant pieces of research that challenge the very notion that Value Added formulas based on students’ test scores have validity for evaluating teachers—from the American Statistical Association last April, from the American Educational Research Association last May, and even, in July, from the U.S. Department of Education, whose study, according to Sweetland, “found that VAM scores varied wildly depending on what time of day tests were administered or whether the kids were distracted.”

If you are one of Time Magazine‘s 3,289,377 subscribers, consider carefully the cover of Time‘s November 3 issue.  Why would a major news magazine make an editorial decision to promote the scapegoating of an entire profession?  Why is Time Magazine urging you to fixate on what it calls “the bad apples”?  The American Federation of Teachers urges us all to sign its petition demanding an apology from Time Magazine“Time’s cover doesn’t even reflect its own reporting. The Time article itself looks at the wealthy sponsors of these efforts. And while it looks critically at tenure, it also questions the testing industry’s connections to Silicon Valley and the motives of these players.  The cover is particularly disappointing because the articles inside the magazine present a much more balanced view of the issue. But for millions of Americans, all they’ll see is the cover and a misleading attack on teachers.”

Four years after his column, It’s Not OK to Hate Teachers, Rev. John Thomas just last week published a new column lamenting the corporate attack on public school teachers, on their unions, and on public schools as democratic institutions: “Control and management of our public schools is being systematically removed from parents, teachers, and ordinary citizens, and placed in the hands of mayors, their political allies in state legislatures and governors’ offices, their wealthy donors, the operators of charter schools, and politically well-connected entrepreneurs and vendors eager to make money from contracts for things like technology or maintenance with the charters they themselves have invested in. Local school boards are vanishing and the collective bargaining rights of teachers, one of the few remaining countervailing power bases able to challenge the privatization of our schools, are under assault. Is this what democracy looks like?”

Campbell Brown and Joe Nocera Trash Teachers; Education Experts Respond

Again in the past week, two prominent media personalities—neither one a school teacher by profession or training and both with an ax to grind—have attacked school teachers, the programs that train teachers, and the teachers unions and due process rights protected in union contracts.

Of course Campbell Brown, the former CNN anchor, has launched her new organization, the Partnership for Educational Justice, whose mission is to bring lawsuits across the states to get rid of due process protections for teachers.  This week her organization filed a second Vergara-type lawsuit in New York state, and Campbell Brown went on The Colbert Report to promote her new cause.  (This blog has covered Campbell Brown here, and here.)  Earlier this week, Valerie Strauss published an analysis of Campbell Brown’s interview with Stephen Colbert.  Strauss’s guest columnist is Alyssa Hadley Dunn, a former high school teacher and now assistant professor of teacher education at Michigan State University.  Hadley Dunn fact-checks what Campbell Brown had to say; I urge you to read her careful analysis.  She concludes: “Ms. Brown… I wholeheartedly concur that educational policies should be determined by what is best for children.  What I remain unconvinced about, however, is how eliminating teachers’ rights is what is best for children.  We know that teacher working conditions are student learning conditions…. What research actually shows is best for children is teachers with long-term and sustained preparation in content and pedagogy; an equitable education that is not segregated by race and socioeconomic status; and student-centered, hands-on pedagogy that sustains students’ cultures and challenges them to be critical thinkers and engaged citizens.  None of this has anything to do with teacher tenure laws.”

And Joe Nocera (on the op ed page of the NY Times) has once again been attacking college training programs for teachers.  Last December Nocera praised the almost universally discredited report from the National Council on Teacher Quality, an organization established by the Thomas Fordham Foundation in 2000 to promote alternative certification paths outside the teachers colleges.  As the education writer and UCLA professor of education,  Mike Rose wrote in response to Nocera’s December column, “Much has been written about the problems with this report, particularly about the significant limitations of its analysis, built primarily of one kind of information: syllabi, course descriptions, and other program materials.  Because of NCTQ’s well-known animus toward teacher ed programs, only a small number of programs willfully complied with requests for this information, so the Center filed open records requests, litigated where it could, searched the Internet, queried students and districts, and so on—setting up a contentious dynamic that suffuses the Teacher Prep Review.  At several points, the authors appeal directly to readers to pressure their institutions to comply with NCTQ.  The gloves are off.”  Rose criticzes those, like Joe Nocera, who equate “good teaching with technique,” and who discount the value of  more theoretical coursework in philosophy and psychology of education, for example.

Nocera’s recent article repeats his bias for teacher training based on finite techniques and tricks. Nocera also attacks young teachers without backing up his accusations. He describes new teachers who “are basically left alone in the classroom to figure it out on their own.  In America, that’s how it’s always been done.  An inexperienced teacher stands in front of a class on the first day on the job and stumbles his or her way to eventual success.  Even in the best-case scenario, students are being shortchanged by rookie teachers who are learning on the job.”  He celebrates a professor at the University of Michigan who has broken down the practice of teaching into discrete practices, and writes, “Bell is pushing the idea that teachers should be prepared to teach—that they should have the tools and the skills—when they walk into that classroom on the first day on the job.  That is rarely the case right now.” How does Nocera know this is rarely the case?  He provides no evidence to back up this contention.  What about the  guided practicum experiences regularly provided and required by colleges of education including semester-long student teaching under master-teachers backed up by college professors?

You wouldn’t know it by reading Nocera or listening to Campbell Brown, but both of the nation’s large teachers unions endorse programs to support new teachers as they improve their practice.  The National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers also explicitly support accountability through formal peer assistance and review programs, and are underwriting grants to help their locals strengthen such programs.  When school districts fail to provide strong programs to support new teachers through mentoring and time for collaborative planning among teachers across grade level teams, it is not because teachers unions oppose such programs.  In fact union locals regularly work to get planning time and mentoring included in their contracts.  When school districts balk, it is virtually always due to financial constraints in communities where state and local funding has continued to drop since 2008.  Programs to support teachers, to improve school climate, and to implement fair, high quality professional evaluation are uniformly endorsed by the national teachers unions and their locals.

For a more substantive approach to issues of education policy including issues around the training of teachers, I recommend a good book for end-of-summer reading.  Public Education Under Siege, edited by Mike Rose and the historian Michael B. Katz—a collection of wonderful essays on public education published by the University of Pennsylvania Press—was just re-released in paperback at an affordable price under $20.  Chapter 3, Targeting Teachers is one of my favorite essays.  Here David Labaree, a professor of education at Stanford University, describes exactly the kind of learning that teachers undergo in their first years in the classroom.  It isn’t as Nocera describes, that new teachers stumble along because they don’t know what they are doing.  Well trained teachers across the country do know how to teach and they know what to do, but they likely haven’t yet had an opportunity to fully develop the teaching persona that will enable them to function comfortably in the classroom day after day, year after year:

Teachers need to develop a teaching persona to manage the relationship with their students.  Teaching means finding a way to get students to want to learn the curriculum.  And this requires the teacher to develop a highly personalized and professionally essential teaching persona.  That persona needs to incorporate a judicious and delicately balanced mix of qualities.  You want students to like you, so they look forward to seeing you in class and want to please you.  You want them to fear you, so they studiously avoid getting on your bad side and can be stopped dead in their tracks with the dreaded ‘teacher look.’  You want them to find your enthusiasm for learning the subject matter so infections that they can’t help getting caught up in the process and lured into learning.  Constructing such a persona is a complex task that takes years of development.  It’s part of why the first years of teaching are so difficult, until the persona falls in place and becomes second nature.  The problem is that there is no standard way of doing this.  The persona has to be a combination of what the situation demands—grade level, subject matter, cultural and personal characteristics of the students—and what the teacher can pull together from the pieces of his or her own character, personality, and interests.” (p. 35)

So… to answer Joe Nocera, a professor of education describes the importance of technique and also much more.  And, to confront Campbell Brown… we learn why experience matters and developing strong committed professionals is far more central to building the profession than weeding out a handful of bad teachers. Professionals working in our schools along with the professors who prepared them agree that we  need to create a supportive learning climate  to enable teachers to continue to develop what they know how to do and to help children enjoy learning.

Jeff Bryant Thinks Campbell Brown Is Replacing Michelle Rhee as Face of Attacks on Teachers

In a blockbuster story at Salon.com, Jeff Bryant threads together the two key school “deformer” stories of the past week.  Michelle Rhee’s star seems to be fading even as Campbell Brown, the former CNN anchor who has turned herself into an opponent of job protections for teachers, seems to be rising as the darling of those intent on scapegoating school teachers.

Bryant writes:  “For years, Michelle Rhee the former District of Columbia schools chancellor, has been upheld in the media as someone with the formula and fight required to ‘fix’ public schools.  Others–okay, yours truly—have likened her more to an ‘education Ann Coulter,’ providing lots of attention-getting optics for a movement made up of rich and powerful people who press their belief that what ails public education most is ‘bad teachers.’  Supported by shadowy money and shaky science, these wealthy folks have created a ‘blame teachers first’ campaign that seeks to address education problems rooted in inequality and low investment by attacking teachers’ job protections and professional status.  Their efforts are, of course, ‘for the children.'”

Summing up the ways Rhee’s impact and reputation seem to be fading, Bryant links to reports that show her organization, StudentsFirst, has proven to have neither the members nor the organizing clout Rhee has claimed.  He reports that Rhee carries the stain of a likely, but not fully investigated and therefore unproven, scandal in Washington, DC, where it looks as though teachers and school administrators erased  the answers on hundreds of students’ standardized test answer sheets and and corrected them. He describes Rhee’s boasts of rising scores on the National Assessment of Education Progress during her tenure in Washington, DC,  and then reports that rising scores were about the same as those of her predecessors, that DC’s students’ NAEP scores overall continue to be relatively low, and that the test score gap between poor and wealthier students in Washington, DC widened during her tenure.  Bryant concludes his summary of Rhee’s fade with the news from last week that Rhee’s national organization, StudentsFirst, has quietly closed a number of its statewide offices—first in Minnesota, followed by Florida, Maine, Indiana and Iowa.

At the same time according to Bryant, Campbell Brown, the former CNN anchor, seems to be rising to prominence as the spokesperson for the same causes that have been championed by Rhee and StudentsFirst.  Brown has launched the Partnership for Educational Justice to underwrite legal costs and a public relations campaign for a planned series of Vergara copycat lawsuits like the one in California, bankrolled by David Welch, a Silicon Valley multimillionaire who opposes teachers unions. The first of these copycat lawsuits was filed in New York last week.  (This blog has covered the Vergara decision and Campbell Brown’s involvement in copycat lawsuits here, here, and here.

Bryant points to a strong convergence of interests between Michelle Rhee and Campbell Brown.  Brown’s husband is Dan Senor, an investment banker on the board of StudentsFirst NY.  Brown also seems to be connected with TNTP—formerly The New Teacher Project that was founded by none other than Michelle Rhee.  Like Teach for America, TNTP runs alternative summer certification programs for college graduates who lack training in education.  According to Bryant, “An analysis of the website associated with Brown’s effort to revamp teacher contracts has revealed that much of the site’s content appears to be written by TNTP without any attribution to the group…. Metadata from various documents included in the site list the author as Elizabeth Vidyarthi.  Vidyarthi works for the TNTP communications department.”

Bryant concludes: “With Brown as the new figurehead of the Blame Teachers First campaign, proponents may feel that a fresh face on a stale product is all they need to win over acceptance of their unfounded ideas.  Don’t buy it.”  I urge you to read the material Bryant has compiled here.  You may also want to read the additional article referenced below…

Addendum…   more evidence to undermine the reputation of Michelle Rhee:

In a post just yesterday John Merrow, the reporter for the PBS News Hour, published another of his scathing pieces on Michelle Rhee.  Merrow has criticized Rhee for covering up a cheating scandal while she was chancellor of the schools in Washington, D.C.  In the new piece, Merrow charges:  “Michelle Rhee is smart, talented, hard-working, charismatic and ambitious, but, in the public education arena she is a fraud.  That this truth is not widely acknowledged is a tribute to the PR skills of Anita Dunn of SKDKnickerbocker.”  “In just one year Michelle Rhee spent about $2 million to buy the public relations services of Anita Dunn and SKDKnickerbocker.  It’s a continuing relationship that goes back to early in Rhee’s Chancellorship in Washington….”  (Anita Dunn is the political strategist and public relations executive who served as the White House Communications Director in the first year of President Barack Obama’s first term. This blog has also noted, here, that Anita Dunn’s SKDKnickerbocker has provided hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of public relations services for Eva Moskowitz and her New York Success Academy Charter Schools.)

In this post, Merrow shares the e-mail he wrote that was forwarded by the recipient and ultimately sent to StudentsFirst.  A smear campaign was subsequently launched against Merrow in letters sent to Frontline, the News Hour, PBS, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.  Merrow was accused of misrepresenting facts, actively digging “dirt” on Michelle Rhee and making false allegations.  Here, he writes, is the e-mail that provided what he calls “the slender thread” for the campaign designed by SKDKnickerbocker to destroy his reputation as a journalist:

“We are editing a powerful documentary about Michelle Rhee, the controversial educator who has become a national figure.  After she left Washington, strong evidence of widespread cheating on standardized tests in roughly two-thirds of her schools emerged, along with a paper trail that indicates that the Chancellor declined to investigate the situation, despite being urged to do so by the official in charge of testing.  When test security was eventually tightened—after three years—scores declined precipitously.  In fact, at half of the schools with the highest erasure rates, where scores had jumped as much as 50%, achievement scores are now below where they were when the Chancellor took office.”

Merrow stands by every word of the statement and writes that he resents the three months he had to spend assembling the evidence to defend himself against the allegations and clear his reputation.

Vergara Copycat Lawsuit in NY Attacks Teachers Instead of Injustice, Say Experts

In June of this year, California Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu struck down tenure and seniority protections for California’s K-12 school teachers in the case of Vergara v. California.  According to Treu’s decision, tenure protects bad teachers, bad teachers are more often assigned to the schools serving California’s most disadvantaged students, and the assignment of bad teachers (protected by tenure and seniority rights) violates the students’ civil rights under the equal protection clause of the state constitution. Many speculate the case will be overturned on appeal, and Judge Treu has stayed his decision pending the appeal.

Opponents of tenure have promised to launch copycat lawsuits against school teachers’ job protections in other states. Earlier this month, such a lawsuit was filed in New York on Staten Island by a group called the New York City Parents Union. While Mona Davids, president of the New York City Parents Union, told the NY Times that her lawsuit is different because it is “not being bankrolled by outside interests,” the research blogger, Mother Crusader, has connected the group’s board members to three organizations that actively oppose teachers unions and seek to privatize public education: Democrats for Education Reform, NYCAN, and StudentsFirstNY.

Paul Farhi of the Washington Post reports that Campbell Brown, the former CNN anchor who has transformed herself into an advocate against job protections for teachers, has created her own organization, the Partnership for Educational Justice, for the purpose of her crusade.  She has hired the public relations firm of former White House press secretary Robert Gibbs and former Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt, according to Stephanie Simon of Politico, to “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.”  Brown has said her organization will be involved in New York.  (This blog covered the Campbell Brown, Robert Gibbs, Ben LaBolt endeavor here.)

On Tuesday of this week, two heavyweight public school justice advocates went on the offensive against the New York attempt to claim that due process protections for teachers deny children’s civil right to an education.  Billy Easton, executive director of the Alliance for Quality Education, and David Sciarra, executive director of the Education Law Center—both involved for years in lawsuits in New York and New Jersey to protect the rights of children to adequately funded education—published an opinion piece in the Albany Times Union.

The Staten Island lawsuit, they declare, completely misses the point: “The lawsuit gets one thing right,” they charge, “Children in high poverty, urban and rural school districts across the state are indeed being deprived of their constitutional right to a sound basic education.  What it gets completely wrong is why:  the state’s continuing failure to fairly fund high need schools so they can recruit, support and retain effective teachers and deliver rich instruction in math, science, world languages, the arts and other core subjects under optimal working conditions.”

In the case of Campaign for Fiscal Equity v. New York, New York’s high court defined the “sound basic education” to which all children in New York have a right. In response the New York General Assembly enacted the 2007 Foundation Aid Formula, which increased school funding across the state by more than $5 billion to be phased in over four years. However, “After two years, the state walked away from its commitment to our most disadvantaged children and schools.  The funding shortfall now totals a staggering $5.7 billion, with the greatest impact on schools with the highest need.”

According to Sciarra and Easton the shortage has “cut teachers by the thousands…. In five years, Yonkers cut 500 staff members, losing half of the reading teachers and all math coaches.  Schenectady has shed 40-50 positions annually, cutting music teachers by half, and letting go librarians, instructional coaches and writing instructors… Predictably, these staff reductions have sparked drastic increases in class size.  Teachers now routinely face classes of 30 students or more.”

Easton and Sciarra conclude: “The good news is parents and students across New York know better.  They have stepped up by the thousands to let Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislators know that they will no longer tolerate an underfunded, under-resourced, third-rate education.  And they will not be distracted by frivolous, irrelevant lawsuits.”

D.C. Insiders Monetize Experience, Join Ex-CNN Anchor to Attack School Teachers

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.