I wonder how many people, particularly those funding and cheering for education reform, were excited when Campbell Brown left CNN in 2010.
Unemployment would, after all, give the widely-known news personality the opportunity to focus all of her time and energy on dismantling public education: and that’s exactly what she’s doing. Using reformers’ favorite buzz phrases like “all kids should have great teachers!” and “all students need to have access to great public schools!” and “bad teachers should not be teaching!”–declarations with which few people would argue–Brown is on a crusade to promote the reform agenda that’s become her focus since low ratings drove her from journalism exactly four years ago.
Before we go any further, though, here’s a brief Campbell bio for anyone who
forgot about her a long time ago would like some context for the rest of this post:
- The daughter of a state senator, Brown attended the exclusive Madeira School (she was reportedly expelled for sneaking off campus), a private institution whose current tuition is $41,224 for non-boarders and $54,555 for boarders. Her sons, too, attend private schools.
- Brown is married to Dan Senor, a political strategist who sits on the Board of Directors of Michelle Rhee‘s anti-union group StudentsFirstNY.
- In 2012, Brown penned a ridiculously shallow and purposefully-misleading op-ed for The Wall Street Journal in which she accused teachers’ unions of “go[ing] to bat for sexual predators” and “resisting almost any change aimed at improving our public schools.” (Read this article for a link to Brown’s op-ed and to understand the extent to which her piece was pure propaganda.)
- Brown is a member of the Board of Directors at Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy charter chain–which I assume means that she condones all of the corrupt and abusive practices of which the network is guilty.
(Fun fact: Nina Doster, one of the plaintiffs who claims that incompetent teachers are the reasons her children cannot read on grade level, is also a paid organizer for StudentsFirst. Another fun fact: PEJ uses the American Federation of Teachers’ slogan of “reclaiming the promise of public education” in the “about us” section of its website. When Valerie Strauss asked for an explanation, the group’s executive director attempted to discredit the AFT by citing the 31% proficiency rate–which was calculated and predetermined to perpetuate the idea of “failing schools”–on NY Common Core-aligned tests. We all knew these tests would be used to label and punish students, teachers, and scores even before they were administered; PEJ’s response here, as well as its lawsuit, is evidence of as much. It’s all part of the plan, folks.)
So because some nameless, faceless teachers are allegedly so incompetent that due-process protections should be stripped from the entire profession, Campell Brown says her lawsuit is necessary to address “anachronistic” tenure laws that she said are responsible for students’ educational woes in New York and beyond. To bolster their argument, PEJ has even included a page on their website called “Share your Story“–where parents can fill out and submit a form explaining how bad teachers have hurt their kids.
Brown’s lawsuit first takes issue with “last in, first out” policies, which dictate that teachers with the least amount of seniority are the first to be let go in RIF situations. In fact, Brown suggests that she’s actually doing teachers a favor by taking away their due-process protections–because removing tenure actually protects teachers (?), since so often, she says, the best teachers are the ones who are let go. (She provides no data, of course, to support this claim–nor does she say what constitutes “good teaching.”) This kind of rhetoric suggests that new teachers are somehow inherently better than veteran educators, and it disregards evidence that shows just how much experience matters in teaching. It’s also important to point out that much research exists to suggest that teacher attrition, which Brown’s lawsuit certainly promotes, is disproportionately prevalent–and particularly harmful–in urban schools. I suppose Brown, a non-educator, wouldn’t understand any of this, though.
And just after she insinuates that new teachers are superior to experienced ones, Brown claims that three years is an insufficient amount of time to determine whether a teacher is effective or not. How odd, especially given the love affair between StudentsFirst and Teach for America–the organization that requires its corps members to commit to only two years of teaching–and the extent to which Success Academy staffs TFAers. By Brown’s own logic, she, as a board member at Success Academy, will never know if many of the teachers who populate SA’s charters are effective because the turnover rate is so high. How does that make sense?
(As an aside, and in true Success Academy fashion, Brown has refused to disclose the names of the individuals and groups who are funding her group and lawsuit. But then again, transparency was never a cornerstone of education reform.)
When it really comes down to it, Campbell Brown’s lawsuit is as irresponsible and manipulative as her 2012 WSJ op-ed, and it represents what is so wrong with the idea of corporate education reform: that specific, isolated problems should be “fixed” by implementing sweeping, untested, top-down mandates–which are most often implemented by non-educator elites–that punish everyone and facilitate privatization and union busting. Brown’s empty rhetoric, which sounds reasonable on the surface, is meant to trick parents and taxpayers into thinking that teacher tenure is what ails public education–when it most certainly is not. Conversely, it’s due-process protections that allow teachers to advocate for their students and do what they know to be best for children without the fear of retribution. Anyone who believes otherwise–or believes that the best way to improve teacher quality is to strip teachers of their rights to a fair hearing and protection from capricious, arbitrary, or politically-motivated dismissal–is misguided at best.
The bottom line is this: if Campbell Brown really cared about supporting teachers, she would work with unions to construct meaningful reforms to existing laws–instead of spending millions of dollars on a politically-motivated lawsuit that hurts teachers and the students they serve. If Campbell Brown really cared about students, she would advocate for reforms that support the neediest children–instead of serving on a board of a charter network that excludes such students or pushes them out when they’re unable to perform well on standardized tests. If Campbell Brown really cared about public education, she would use her foundation’s money and influence to address the root of the problem, which we know to be poverty. And if Campbell Brown really wanted to understand why due process is so important for teachers, she would herself teach in a public school–preferably an urban one–and attempt to advocate meaningfully and passionately for her students without such protections.
But it doesn’t seem that Campbell Brown really cares about any of those things.
* If you’re on twitter, check out all the #Questions4Campbell that were submitted in advance of Brown’s appearance on The Colbert Report. Campbell is notorious for blocking twitter users who challenge her, so it looks like she’ll be pretty busy for a while.