Jeff Bryant’s Salon post yesterday gleefully described Michelle Rhee’s fall from glory but noted that someone is waiting in the wings to carry the privatization flam forward.
Bryant’s article recounts StudentsFirst’s loss of revenue, closing of schools, and overall loss of luster in the eyes of the mainstream media and— more importantly– in the eyes of donors. Bryant describes Rhee’s base of support as follows:
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.”
Bryant provides examples of StudentsFirst’s diminishing clout as a force for reform and provides many links to the work of bloggers and journalists who undercut Rhee’s claims of “success” in Washington DC and provides evidence of the stonewalling that continues to this day regarding cheating incidents that might have contributed to the marginal test score increases that occurred during Rhee’s tenure. All of this has led to Rhee’s decline in prominence…. but… as Bryant notes, the “blame teachers first” crowd is not cowed by the lack of results or the lack of evidence regarding the privatization movement. They’ve gravitated toward a new icon: CNN’s Campbell Brown. Here’s Bryant’s overview of Brown’s ascension, which is being propelled based on some bogus scare tactics that seem to be getting traction despite their lack of grounding in reality. I’ve added some emphases:
With Rhee and StudentsFirst sinking under the weight of over-promises, under-performance, and unproven practices, the Blame Teachers First crowd is now eagerly promoting Campbell Brown.
According to a report in The Wall Street Journal, Brown launched the group Partnership for Educational Justice, with a Veraga-inspired lawsuit in New York State to once again dilute teachers’ job protections, commonly called “tenure.” The suit clams students suffer from laws “making it too expensive, time-consuming and burdensome to fire bad teachers.”
Actually, Brown has already been warmed up and is plenty ready to take the mound and pitch. As the very same article noted, Brown started her campaign against teachers some time ago, claiming that the New York City teachers’ union was obstructing efforts to fire teachers for sexual misconduct. Unfortunately for Brown, the ad campaign conducted by her organization Parents Transparency Project failed to note that, as The Post article recalled, at least 33 teachers had indeed been fired. “The balance were either fined, suspended or transferred for minor, non-criminal complaints.” Oops.
Further, as my colleague Dave Johnson recalled at the time, Brown penned an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal accusing the teachers’ union of “trying to block a bill to keep sexual predators out of schools.” It turned out, the union wanted to strengthen the bill, not stop it. Double oops.
Nevertheless – or as The Post reporter put it, “undaunted” – Brown has now decided to take on teacher personnel policies on behalf of, she claims, “millions of schoolchildren being denied a decent education.”
Bryant provides a detailed analysis of the funders of the Blame Teachers First crowd and highlights research conducted by Rutgers professor Bruce Baker which concludes that:
…finding enough good teachers to staff its schools – especially those serving high-needs kids – is not obstructed by tenure or seniority policies but more so due to the fact it “is abundantly clear that New York State school districts – especially those serving the state’s neediest children – lack the ability to pay the necessary wages to recruit and retain the workforce they need.”
But addressing that issue would require the Rhee-Brown campaign to attack a different target instead – not teachers, but political leaders and lobbyists who influence legislation that keeps teacher compensation inadequate and school districts underfunded.
Sadly, those of us who are committed to making substantive changes to public education are mis-labelled as defenders of the status quo and/or union sympathizers while those who want to reinforce the current structure with standardized testing are called “innovators” and “reformers”… and the media are only too happy to emphasize this false dichotomy.
I just received a “breaking news” email from the NYTimes” that had a link to a lengthy investigation article “Cuomo’s Office Hobbled State Ethics Inquiry. This in depth article by Times reporters
What resulted provided a grim assessment of state government as “a pay-to-play political culture driven by large checks,” and offered a long menu of recommendations to curtail the influence of money in Albany.
The commission also unsettled the governor when they began digging into lobbies that were designed to keep the names of donors anonymous. Why? It seems that:
…the biggest lobbying spender in 2011 and 2012 was one that was created to support the governor’s own agenda: the Committee to Save New York, which spent more than $16 million and did not disclose where its money came from.
The governor’s office responded to this NYTimes article with a 13 page rebuttal full of non-sequitors. As the article reported, Cuomo created this “independent commission” to “…root out corruption in state politics”, and made multiple assertions that the commission that could look at anything they wanted to look at including “… me, the lieutenant governor, the attorney general, the comptroller, any senator, any assemblyman”… but once a commission started rooting out corruption in HIS sphere he changed his thinking. His 13 page rebuttal is now asserting that “A commission appointed by and staffed by the executive cannot investigate the executive” because “It is a pure conflict of interest and would not pass the laugh test.” As I noted in a comment left on this article, at least one reader is laughing in bewilderment at this logic!
What does all of this have to do with public education? Readers of this blog and followers of “charter school politics” recall that in the clash between Bill deBlasio and charter maven Eve Moskovitz Cuomo appeared at Moskovitz’ rally supporting her for-profit charter school’s demand for free space in public school facilities while deBlasio was rallying to get more funds for NYC schools. Was this part of the “pay-to-play political culture driven by large checks”? I was hoping the Moreland Commission might find out the answer to that question… and hoping the NYTimes might be looking for the answer as well. The Moreland Commission is out of business but the Times still has a chance to get an answer… here’s hoping someone at the Times will ask.