2015 was an important year in education policy, with the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the beginning of the 2016 election campaigns, and local fights for teachers and public schools making national headlines. In an important year for students and teachers across the education spectrum, however, some media outlets used their platforms to push falsehoods. Here are five of the worst media failures on public education this year.
This summer, teachers union opponent and former journalist Campbell Brown launched a "non-profit, non-partisan news site about education," called The Seventy Four. In spite of the site's stated mission to combat "misinformation and political spin" with "investigation, expertise, and experience," Brown hired Eric Owens, who has a long history of attacks on students and teachers, to write for the site. Owens has a long history of attacking and mocking teachers and students with transphobic, sexist, victim-blaming, and racially insensitive rhetoric as the education editor at the Daily Caller.
This year, The Wall Street Journal continued its campaign of misinformation on teachers unions, pushing harmful, union-opposed policies such as a Louisiana voucher program that was found to violate desegregation requirements and a Washington, D.C. voucher program reported to waste federal dollars on "unsuitable learning environments." The WSJ editorial board often explicitly attributed its support of these unsuccessful policies to combating teachers unions. In an October editorial, for example, the board wrote that being "unpopular with unions... ought to be a requirement for any education leadership position," ignoring the troubling realities of the programs they attempted to defend in spite of well-founded union concerns.
As ESSA moved through Congress in late November, the editorial board doubled down on its teacher-blaming rhetoric, claiming that the new legislation was favored by "teachers unions who want less accountability," and advocating for the continuation of unpopular high-stakes testing and voucher policies in the states.
The Washington Post editorial board similarly advocated for continuing the extensive testing requirements of the No Child Left Behind legislation, lending support to a high-stakes testing policy with questionable public or research support, and villainized teachers unions in the process. In its February editorial on the issue, the Post claimed that teachers unions "give lip service to accountability as long as their members aren't the ones held to account," and cited this self-interest as the source of unions' opposition to flawed teacher evaluation models that utilize students' standardized test scores to punish teachers.
Fox News featured offensive and often inaccurate commentary on public education and the teaching profession throughout the year -- in some cases doubling down on the anti-teacher rhetoric many Fox figures pushed in 2014.
In February, Outnumbered co-host Kennedy kicked off the teacher-bashing by arguing that "there really shouldn't be public schools," before the hosts agreed that the federal Department of Education ought to be abolished. In April, Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy slurred prospective bilingual educators, referring to immigrants with legal permission to work in the United States as "illegals" during a segment highlighting an initiative to boost language learning in schools.
In August, Fox & Friends included a segment where Fox News regular Frank Luntz conducted a live focus group segment about public education. Questions for the focus group included "Who here has issue with teachers unions?" and "Doesn't it make you angry that you're putting all this money into public schools?" Luntz followed up his leading question about teachers unions by singling out a teacher from the group and asking him to "defend" himself.
In an October discussion about New York City schools on Fox's The Five, the co-hosts implored the city's public school teachers to "become a better teacher" and "don't suck at your job." That same month, co-host Juan Williams attacked unions' endorsement of Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential race, asserting that an "unholy alliance between education unions and Democrats" would be "dangerous for our kids" and would "hurt" "minority communities" and "poor people."
This year also marked the launch of the 2016 presidential campaign season, with five Republican and three Democratic debates held this fall. While candidates outlined their positions time and again on national security issues, women's health care, and taxes, the debates barely mentioned education issues. A Media Matters search of all eight full debate transcripts found only nine mentions of any variation of the term "teach." In fact, according to this review, no candidate or moderator uttered the phrases "No Child Left Behind," "Race To The Top," or "Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA)" throughout the 2015 debate season, despite the recent passage of the landmark ESSA legislation replacing No Child Left Behind.
Moderators did discuss schools and teachers a handful of times throughout the debate season, mostly in relation to national security. In the August 6 Republican debate on Fox News, moderator Bret Baier questioned former Governor Jeb Bush (R-FL) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) on their disagreement on the Common Core state standards and asked former Governor Mike Huckabee (R-AR) whether he would abolish the Department of Education, among other federal agencies. The moderators of the October 28 CNBC Republican debate also mentioned teachers once, when moderator Carlos Quintanilla asked Donald Trump about his comments that educators ought to be armed. And on CNN's December 15 Republican debate, moderator Wolf Blitzer asked candidates about the closure of the Los Angeles Unified school district following an email threat.
The other five debates did not feature questions regarding K-12 education policy.
Public school educators and their unions in major cities made national headlines in 2015 following strikes, contentious contract negotiations, school board elections, and school funding battles. While research shows that teachers unions not only protect the rights of educators but also benefit students and their communities, state newspapers editorializing on union activities framed unions and educators as selfishly seeking higher pay at the expense of others.
Amidst a victory year for teachers unions on several fronts, Media Matters found that state newspapers in New York, Pennsylvania, New Mexico, California, and Washington published editorials distorting the facts to question the motives of teachers and attack their right to organize.
In Buffalo, New York, The Buffalo News repeatedly claimed that teachers unions supporting a parent-led movement against standardized testing want to maintain "the wretched, costly, dysfunctional status quo" and require children to "pay the price." In Scranton, Pennsylvania, The Scranton Times-Tribune lamented that teachers unions had the ability to strike and dismissed teachers' calls to be treated with respect and dignity. In Albuquerque, New Mexico, The Albuquerque Journal mocked teachers' concerns over an unfair evaluation method that was subsequently struck down by a district court that agreed with the unions. In Los Angeles, California, the Los Angeles Times dismissed unions' worries that a charter expansion plan created by one of the paper's education reporting funders would financially jeopardize local public schools, telling those who opposed the plan to "quit whining." And in Seattle, Washington, The Seattle Times repeatedly attacked the local union for "using their students as pawns," as they advocated for fair pay, guaranteed recess time, more funding for schools, and greater equity in school discipline policies.
These editorial board attacks on educators -- because of the readers they serve and the prominence of local priorities on education policy -- have the dangerous potential to shift public conversation away from the facts and to pit communities against the teachers who advocate for them. After a year where the importance of education policy has become more critical than ever, hopefully this disturbing trend will not continue in 2016.
Image by Ian MacKenzie under a Creative Commons license.
The October 13 Democratic debate on CNN offered the public a first look at a slate of candidates whose policy positions offer a stark contrast to their counterparts in the Republican party. However, in an election season that could determine whether or not the country continues to make strides toward progressive goals or instead takes steps backwards, it is crucial that the next debate explore these substantive differences even further. Here are some suggestions for the second Democratic debate scheduled to be hosted by CBS, KCCI, and the Des Moines Register on November 14:
On July 22, the American Legislative Exchange Council's (ALEC) annual meeting will once again see corporations and state lawmakers gather to discuss and vote on model legislation meant for introduction in state legislatures across the country. On the eve of the three-day conference in San Diego, Media Matters looks back at five examples of great reporting by local news teams who pulled back the curtain and held ALEC accountable for hosting lobbyists and legislators in secret meetings -- where they wrote corporate-supported bills blocking minimum wage hikes, attacking unions, and eliminating environmental regulations -- and previews this year's agenda.
From the May 31 edition of Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday:
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The conservative Washington Times published a series of bizarre conspiracy theories and claims about the Common Core State Standards, alleging that the educational standards amount to "Islamic infiltration of America."
On April 7, The Washington Times published a piece by columnist and Fox News Radio analyst Bethany Blankley titled, "Common Core ties to Libya, Qatar, Saudi Arabia." Blankley conflated several stories unrelated to Common Core throughout the article, including the addition of two Muslim holy days to the New York City public school calendar and "public-school sponsored trips to mosques via taxpayer expense," to allege that the state standards are "but one of many parts of an intricate plan to infiltrate every area of American society with Islam." She also included a passage supposedly demonstrating Common Core's connection to foreign countries, relying on right-wing birther website WorldNetDaily for evidence:
Globally, Common Core originated from the "One World Education" concept, a global goal orchestrated by the Connect All Schools program. Its origin is funded by the Qatar Foundation International (QFI). The director of QFI's Research Center for Islamic Legislation and Ethics is Tariq Ramadan, grandson of Muslim Brotherhood founder, Hassan al-Banna.
According to the WND website, in 2011, QFI "partnered with the Department of State and the U.S. Department of Education to facilitate matchmaking between classrooms in the U.S. and international schools through ... the 'Connect All Schools' project." QFI states on its website that the initiative was founded in response to Mr. Obama's infamous 2009 Cairo speech, during which the Muslim Brotherhood was seated in the front row.
Mr. Obama's mentor, domestic terrorist Bill Ayers, received $49.2 million from Vartan Gregorian, a board member of the Qatar Foundation, who also is involved with Mr. Obama's White House Fellowships Commission. Gregorian is an integral part of Connect All Schools, through which Qatar invested $5 million to teach Arabic in American public schools
Such inexplicable conspiracy theories about Common Core, however, don't come as much of a surprise given Blankley's anti-Islamic agenda. On her personal website, Blankley has published several pieces supposedly uncovering "The Muslim Brotherhood's Infiltration of the American Government," in a series titled, "The Betrayal Papers," where she implicates everything from Common Core to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to the Department of Homeland Security.
Blankley's piece is just the latest in a long history of Common Core misinformation from right-wing media. Multiple conservative outlets have promoted tired myths to stoke fears about this set of state-based education standards in math and English voluntarily adopted by 45 states in 2010. The conservative media outrage machine has turned Common Core into something of a "rallying cry" over the past few years, thanks to the loud and often misinformed voices telling audiences to be angry or in some cases, to boycott the tests associated with the standards.
For more on the lies and misinformation about Common Core often propagated by conservative media, watch below:
Washington Post's The Fix falsely referred to the Common Core State Standards as "federal" and "national," a scare tactic often used by right-wing media to smear the education standards.
Earlier this week, the Oklahoma House Education Committee voted to ban Advanced Placement (AP) U.S. History, "persuaded by the argument that it only teaches students 'what is bad about America.'" According to Think Progress, the bill banning AP U.S. History "would also require schools to instruct students in a long list of 'foundational documents,' including the Ten Commandments, two sermons and three speeches by Ronald Reagan." As Tulsa World pointed out, the committee hearing also included discussion about the "legality" of teaching any AP courses in the state's public schools, largely from opponents of Common Core.
In a February 17 post at The Washington Post's The Fix blog, Hunter Schwarz wrote that Oklahoma lawmakers "are considering dumping the Advanced Placement program because of its similarities to Common Core," and falsely referred to the standards as both "federal" and "national" (emphasis added):
It's more controversial in a red state like Oklahoma that's more distrustful of federal standards being imposed; the poll found Republicans are more likely to view Common Core negatively than Democrats, 58 percent to 23 percent.
But there are some major differences between AP and Common Core. For one, schools aren't required to offer AP courses and students aren't required to take them to graduate. Even without banning the program statewide, AP can be a local community decision.
AP is also well-established. About one-third of public high school students in the class of 2013 took an AP exam, and the class of 2013 also scored a 3 or higher on more than a million tests -- a score typically accepted by colleges for credit, according to the College Board, which oversees the program. The University of Oklahoma accepts scores of 3 or higher in nearly 40 subject areas.
Although fighting against national education standards has become popular among some Republicans, equating Common Core to AP isn't a direct comparison, and it's likely to be a tougher slog because of it.
The myth that the Common Core State Standards are a federal initiative has been long debunked, despite its frequent use by conservative media to stoke fears about the standards. Voluntarily adopted in 2010 by 45 states and the District of Columbia, the Common Core is a set of standards in math and English that was developed by a bipartisan group of governors, state school chiefs, and teachers, among others. As the standards have taken hold in many states, some controversy has surrounded their rollout, with even Common Core supporters calling its implementation "botched."
The right-wing media outrage machine, however, has turned Common Core into something of a "rallying cry" over the past few years, thanks to the loud and often misinformed voices telling audiences to be angry or in some cases, to boycott the tests associated with the standards. The misguided notion that Common Core is a federal program comes as no surprise from conservative media voices, but is an unfortunate find in The Fix's education coverage.
Right-wing media lobbed harsh criticism and conspiracy theories at Jeb Bush in response to his decision to "actively explore" a 2016 presidential bid, even urging more conservative Republicans to run against him.
From the October 1 edition of Fox News' Outnumbered:
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Fox News' morning show Fox & Friends celebrated Back to School week by pushing for armed teachers, rehashing tired myths about healthy school lunches, using slurs for immigrant children, and hosting discredited Fox personality John Stossel without disclosing his problematic history on the issue of education.
On its September 2 broadcast, Fox & Friends hyped the Argyle Independent School District (ISD) in Texas, which has recently armed some of its teachers, hosting a parent with two children enrolled in that school district who supports the program. The segment, which echoed similar Fox & Friends segments on August 27 and August 30, neglected to mention, however, that experts and educators agree that arming teachers is a dangerous practice, a habit the network shares with National Rifle Association.
In keeping with Fox's long-standing tradition of attacking first lady Michelle Obama's healthy school lunch program, co-host Heather Childers reported on Fox & Friends' September 4 broadcast that two New York school districts are pulling out of the program because kids say "the portion sizes are too small and it doesn't taste good."
CHILDERS: Two more schools finding the first lady's healthy lunch program hard to swallow. Two districts in New York are now ditching the menu that Michelle Obama revamped in 2010. The reason? It has increased the cost of the lunches and the number of students buying has drastically dropped. So why are less kids chowing down? They say that the portion sizes are too small and it doesn't taste good.
On September 2, Fox & Friends also hosted a student who is "taking a stand" against these school lunches, with co-host Steve Doocy claiming that students should be able to decide on their own lunches because "they're the customer."
During a "News by the Numbers" segment on September 3, Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade claimed that educating "illegal immigrant children" would cost $761 million and noted that there are "1,000 in my district alone." Unsurprisingly, Kilmeade neglected to point out that undocumented school-aged children in in the United States have a legal right to access public education on equal terms.
On September 4, Fox & Friends turned to Fox Business Network host John Stossel to attack the Common Core State Standards (a practice the network has regularly engaged in) and to push for-profit elementary schools. This discussion, however, made no mention of Stossel's questionable involvement with teaching materials funded by two foundations described as "the dark money ATM of the right."
Curiously missing from Fox & Friends this week was groundbreaking news out of New York City, where the show broadcasts. September 4 marked the first day back to school for New York City students, as well as the first day of expanded pre-kindergarten "for more than 50,000 of the city's very smallest children." CBS New York reported, "City officials said 51,500 full-day pre-K students were enrolled as of Monday, up from 20,000 last year. They said the number will be up to 53,000 by the end of the month."
In his continued crusade against the Common Core education standards, Glenn Beck encouraged people across the country to boycott tests associated with Common Core, later declaring, "The day we're all willing to peacefully go to jail like Martin Luther King, we will win."
In a live broadcast to nearly 700 theaters nationwide, Beck and his fellow anti-Common Core "warriors" joined forces Tuesday night to "make Common Core history" (emphasis original) in a two-hour live movie titled We Will Not Conform. Those "warriors" included conservative commentator and notorious Common Core misinformer Michelle Malkin, hosts Dana Loesch and Pat Gray from Beck's The Blaze, "self-proclaimed historian" David Barton, Townhall columnist Terrence Moore, Jay Spencer of Liberty University (a sponsor of the event), and representatives from state-based groups waging war on Common Core.
The participants also included Matt Kibbe and Ellen Wheeler from FreedomWorks, a group which "started out as the Koch-funded Citizens for a Sound Economy" and came under scrutiny last year "due to bizarre internal feuding and questions about its finances." Former FreedomWorks chairman Dick Armey told Media Matters at the time that "the group wasted money by paying Glenn Beck $1 million ... to fundraise for the organization."
This live event is just the latest salvo in Beck's campaign against the state-based education standards, which were originally adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia. Beck and co-author Kyle Olson released a book in May called Conform, which, in addition to baselessly attacking teachers and public schools for 222 pages, argued that Common Core helps progressives remove parents from their children's lives. The day before the event, Beck compared Common Core to slavery.
From the July 21 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Sean Hannity Show:
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The Daily Signal revealed its biased reporting on education by only covering negative Common Core news since the site's launch one month ago.
On July 1, Education Week reported on a survey it completed with Gallup that showed about two-thirds of school district superintendents said they believe that the Common Core State Standards "will improve the quality of education in their communities," and that the standards were "just about right" in terms of level of difficulty.
This news on the standards from educators was summarily ignored by the Heritage Foundation's new digital news site, The Daily Signal, which has a dedicated section to the subject of Common Core. The Daily Signal purports to provide "straight-down-the-middle journalism" according to Geoffrey Lysaught, vice president of strategic communications at the Heritage Foundation, but one month after its launch, the website's coverage of Common Core has limited its reporting to bad news for the state-based education standards.
Ignoring the positive Gallup and Education Week research on Common Core, The Daily Signal instead published a piece the same day based on findings from the Friedman Foundation, an organization that aims to "amplify the national call for true education reform through school choice."
In the past month, The Daily Signal's Common Core reporting has focused on Common Core opposition from states and governors, like Louisiana Republican Governor Bobby Jindal, and portrayed them in a negative light. Meanwhile, Jindal is a contributor to the site and an outspoken opponent of Common Core.
In addition to The Daily Signal's skewed reporting on Common Core, the outlet also misinforms on the actual standards by referring to them as "national standards" when in fact, the Common Core is a set of state standards that were developed by education commissioners, governors, the Council of Chief State School Officers, and state leaders. It comes as no surprise that The Daily Signal is distorting Common Core given the Heritage Foundation's mission to push conservative, though apparently misinformed, education policies.
Right-wing media outlets ran misleading headlines about Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal's recent move against Common Core, erroneously claiming that he has withdrawn the state from the education standards. Jindal may be able to block a standardized test connected to Common Core, but he can't eliminate the standards entirely without help from the state legislature or the state school board.
On June 18, the New Orleans Times-Picayune reported that Jindal announced plans "to try and roll back Louisiana" from the Common Core State Standards, a set of education standards adopted in 2010 by 45 states and the District of Columbia. Recent "political turbulence," fueled by misplaced conservative media outrage, has led a few states to withdraw from Common Core.
The Times-Picayune noted that the Louisiana legislature, the state school board, and "almost all other high-ranking state education officials" have said they want to keep Common Core. It also reported that while Jindal may be able to block the standardized test, developed by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), Jindal himself acknowledged he can't unilaterally abandon Common Core.
Nevertheless, conservative media outlets, many of whom have been leading the anti-Common Core rage machine, deceptively spun Jindal's announcement as "withdrawing" Louisiana from the standards. The Washington Times, for example, ran a headline that read, "Bobby Jindal pulls Louisiana out of Common Core." A post at Erick Erickson's RedState.com also claimed that Jindal was "pull[ing] Louisiana out of Common Core," while Michelle Malkin's Twitchy posted "Jindal withdraws La. from Common Core standards."
The Times-Picayune also reported that "Jindal also notified the National Governors Association that he was removing Louisiana from the Common Core development group. That does not end the use of the standards but is more of a symbolic gesture."
Jindal's announcement was especially notable given that he was initially considered a "staunch supporter when Louisiana signed on [to Common Core] four years ago." As the New America Foundation's Anne Hyslop pointed out, "most of Jindal's objections appear to stem not from the quality of the standards or tests or from the bidding process, but from concerns over federal overreach."
Notorious misinformer Glenn Beck appeared on Fox News to push various myths about the Common Core education standards while promoting his upcoming live movie We Will Not Conform.
On June 12, Fox's Sean Hannity hosted Beck, a former Fox host and founder of The Blaze network, to discuss the Common Core State Standards, which were adopted in 2010 by 45 states and the District of Columbia. "Political turbulence" surrounding the standards, however, has led a few states to opt out of Common Core, following months-long smear campaigns from right-wing media figures, including Beck and Fox. Beck even wrote an "angry and ignorant" book titled Conform, which spent 222 pages lobbing ridiculous attacks against the standards and public education in general.
On Hannity, Beck plugged his July 22 live movie, which will also feature fellow Common Core misinformer and conservative columnist Michelle Malkin. After Hannity explained that Beck was "going to show in this movie how to defeat Common Core," Beck claimed that Common Core opponents are "winning on this." He then propagated a series of myths about the standards, including that Common Core is about "control, manipulation, [and] propaganda" and that it takes away freedom from teachers, despite polls showing that teachers support it. Beck even likened Common Core to education in China because it "use[s] propaganda in the classroom" to "shape these minds to get them to be good little boys and girls for the state."
Given that he launched his campaign against Common Core by stating, "We will not save our country unless we save it first from this attack," Beck's live movie promises to be yet another absurd ruse in his constant, fact-free crusade again Common Core.
Glenn Beck released a new book last week on everything that is supposedly wrong with education in America. The title, Conform: Exposing the Truth about Common Core and Public Education, gives most of it away.
Most people know Glenn Beck from his previous stint on Fox News or from the various media outlets associated with his network, The Blaze. His co-author Kyle Olson, on the other hand, appears to be up-and-coming in the right-wing media sphere. Currently, he is the publisher, founder, and CEO of EAGnews.org, a "news service dedicated to education reform and school spending research, reporting, analysis and commentary." He is also a contributor to Townhall, and just last week launched a new conservative website called Progressives Today with "Dumbest Man on the Internet" Jim Hoft.
In Conform, Beck and Olson take on everything from teachers unions' to the Common Core State Standards to school lunches to abortion in a book characterized by anecdotal evidence, sweeping generalizations, and quotes from anonymous bloggers. The focus of their ire is what they call the "controllists," defined as "the teachers' unions and their progressive friends in the media and the state legislatures." In 222 pages, Beck and Olson lob a number of outlandish attacks against the various evils they perceive in public education, relying on such conservative actors as Michelle Malkin, the Heritage Foundation, National Review, The Wall Street Journal, and the Heartland Institute to do so.
Here are the eight most ridiculous attacks from Conform:
1. Longer School Days Help Teachers Encourage "Teen Sexual Activity."
Beck and Olson seem convinced that teachers are not only "promot[ing] sexual activity among children," but would use longer school days to "encourage teen sexual activity," among other radical ideas (emphasis added):
Educators back then knew that some parents were too shy or awkward to broach the subject, so schools made sure kids would have basic knowledge to build on as they grew and developed their own points of view.
Today the trend seems to be to promote sexual activity among children, rather than gradually preparing kids for the facts of adult life.
There's also the issue of what our kids would learn with even more hours at school. Many of these educators would relish the opportunity to spend more time feeding students a steady stream of radical, anti-American political ideas, encouraging teen sexual activity, and deemphasizing the importance of traditional values and religion. [Conform, pgs. 126 & 138]