Education Funding

Issues ››› Education Funding
  • Chicago Tribune Compares Teachers Union’s Strike Vote To Rigged Elections Of Infamous Dictators

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    The Chicago Tribune’s editorial board -- which has a long history of launching absurd, misinformed attacks on the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) and its leadership -- targeted its latest editorial against the union’s vote to reauthorize a potential strike should current contract negotiations break down. The board accused union leaders of “intimidat[ing]” members into voting in favor of a strike, comparing the vote by petition to rigged elections of dictators Saddam Hussein and Kim Jung Un.

    The September 21 editorial, headlined “The Chicago Teachers Union’s vote charade,” attacked CTU leadership for conducting a strike reauthorization vote among its members by petition, claiming that the voting approach “falls into the See?-Everyone-Voted-For-Me school of electioneering.”

    The petition vote is actually a reauthorization measure that was designed, the union president explained, to “reinforce the democratic sentiment [the] union made last December when members voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike.” The December vote, which was conducted by secret ballot under stalled contract negotiation circumstances that have since changed little, showed that 88 percent of union members approved of striking. The current petition vote is mostly meant to re-energize members and fend off potential legal action from city or state officials by reinforcing the results of the initial vote, the union explained. The petition approach, which is significantly less costly than a secret ballot measure, was originally proposed by a rules committee of rank-and-file members and is in line with past union voting methods.

    These facts did not factor into the editorial board’s extreme criticism, which included citing “some famous examples” of what it called CTU’s “Big-Brother approach” to voting: 

    • In 1995, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein swept to victory with 99.96 percent of votes cast. (We shudder to think of what happened to the recalcitrant .04 percent.)
    • In 2014, North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un reportedly notched an even more convincing victory — 100 percent — to confirm his leadership in the Supreme People's Assembly. No other name appeared on the ballot. Voters who (bravely or foolishly) sought to reject Kim would have had to do so in an open booth so everyone could see.
    • Even more convincing was the 1927 Liberian presidential triumph of Charles D.B. King with about 240,000 votes. The impressive part: Liberia only had about 15,000 registered voters.

    Suggesting that authorizing a teachers strike in Chicago would be akin to electing dictators and war criminals in rigged elections is irresponsible, illogical, and offensive. It is also just the latest in a years-long editorial smear campaign by the Tribune against CTU.

    The Tribune has repeatedly attacked the union’s members for organizing actions to push for a fair contract in what is now a nearly 18-month-long negotiation process centered around fair pay and adequate funding and resources for Chicago public schools. Since CTU’s long-expired contract was originally negotiated in 2012, the Chicago Tribune has frequently mocked union officials and bizarrely accused educators of undervaluing classroom time and throwing selfishtantrums” that hurt children.

    Image at top via Flickr user Spencer Tweedy using a Creative Commons License.

  • Trump's New Education Transition Team Has Corporate Dark-Money Ties

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    Major education news outlet Education Week reported that Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s campaign has appointed two new staffers to his “presidential transition team for education”: the Hoover Institution’s Williamson Evers and the American Enterprise Institute’s (AEI) Gerard Robinson. Both Evers and Robinson are well-connected in the pro-privatization education policy sphere and affiliated with several groups devoted to weakening public schools.

    In a September 19 article, Education Week reported that multiple sources confirmed the addition of Evers and Robinson to Trump’s education transition team. Both Evers and Robinson have previously served in Republican administrations and are connected to prominent corporate- and dark-money-fueled groups in the education policy landscape. As Education Week explained:

    Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has picked Williamson M. Evers, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, and Gerard Robinson, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, to be on his presidential transition team for education, according to multiple sources.

    Evers served as an assistant secretary for policy at the U.S. Department of Education from 2007 to 2009, and also was an adviser to former U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings in 2007 under President George W. Bush. Robinson served as Florida's education commissioner from 2011 to 2012, and has also served as Virginia's education secretary and as the president of the Black Alliance for Educational Options.

    The policies backed by Trump, Evers, and Robinson -- often cloaked in the language of so-called “school choice” -- have earned the support of corporate and private billionaire funders eager to profit off students, an interest Trump himself has pursued through his now-defunct and allegedly fraudulent Trump University business. Among education groups funded largely by right-wing dark money to drum up support for education privatization are three directly connected to Evers and Robinson.

    Evers is a research fellow at the conservative Hoover Institution at Stanford University, which publishes the education policy journal Education Next and has received thousands in funding from the anti-union, right-wing Bradley Foundation to support a K-12 education “taskforce.” Evers’ work at the Hoover Institution has largely focused on his opposition to the Common Core State Standards and his conservative interpretation of the federal government’s limited role in shaping education policies. Trump has both egregiously misrepresented the standards and confused the parameters of federal education policy on the campaign trail, namely by repeatedly and incorrectly asserting that he would abolish the Common Core as president.

    Robinson is a resident fellow at the conservative right-wing think tank AEI, which has received millions in funding from conservative donors such as dark-money conduit DonorsTrust, the Charles Koch Foundation, and the Sarah Scaife Foundation, to support general operations and education-related research. AEI, “one of the country’s main bastions of neoconservatism,” frequently publishes education research defending voucher programs that drain money from public schools (similar to Trump’s recent education policy proposals) and online education programs that allow private companies to profit off students with little oversight. Robinson’s tenure at AEI has included Bradley Foundation-funded work on the “future of American society and the role education plays in it” and efforts to push a conservative view on racial justice in education across mainstream and right-wing media outlets.

    Robinson also previously led the Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO), a group that receives substantial funding from conservative donors to make the case for privatized educational policies as a means for racial equity. Both AEI and BAEO work closely with a number of other pro-privatization nonprofits and think tanks such as the anti-union American Federation for Children and the Koch-affiliated State Policy Network of right-wing think tanks.

    Evers’ and Robinson’s research and affiliations reveal a commitment to pro-education privatization policies that should come as no surprise -- they perfectly align with Trump’s support for expanding opportunities to open up the public school system to market competition and private, for-profit actors with little regulation. These recent appointments reveal the Trump campaign’s active desire to operate solidly within the “education reform” echo chamber built, funded, and fueled by dark-money conservative activists.

  • Journalists, Experts Unimpressed By Trump’s Education Plan

    ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump recently delivered an education-focused speech in Cleveland, OH, coupled with the release of what his campaign calls “new school choice policies.” As they have with Trump’s limited previous statements on education, education reporters and experts are pointing out that his proposals lack specifics, don’t reflect political realities, and show a lack of understanding about the federal government’s role in creating education policy. 

  • Fox News Celebrated Back-To-School Season This Year By Laughing At Students And Attacking Teachers

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    Fox News marked the start of the school year with a predictable mix of attacks on public education, racial justice activism, and progressive policies, often launched by extreme-right commentators and campaign surrogates for Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.

    Fox Villainized “Stalinist” Teachers Unions On Air And Online

    Fox News hosts engaged in education discussions using the network’s typical approach: bashing teachers unions and attempting to drive a nonexistent wedge between educators’ priorities and the best interests of students.

    On Your World With Neil Cavuto, guest host Stuart Varney dismissed guest Tamara Holder’s attempts to substantively discuss a recent story about a state teachers union. The union decided to boycott a back-to-school promotion to draw attention to public school funding disparities. Before Holder, a Fox contributor, could speak about the boycott, Varney combatively accused Holder of wanting to “squash school choice.” Varney repeatedly interrupted Holder during the three-minute segment -- even after she implored, “Why are you so mad at [teachers unions] when they’re not doing anything other than fighting for more resources?” He concluded the segment by saying, “I’m really shocked that you won’t support school choice, that you support the Stalinist bureaucracy of the teachers union.”

    Meanwhile, FoxNews.com ran an opinion piece titled “If your child’s school is failing, thank a union” authored by Richard Berman -- a corporate lobbyist and the executive director of the Center for Union Facts, a dark-money-fueled organization that routinely smears labor unions. Berman rehashed the same tired, inaccurate attacks on both organized labor writ large and teachers unions specifically that have long clogged the airwaves at Fox. The piece equated the political spending of the two major national teachers unions -- the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, which together represent almost 5 million individuals -- with the spending of dark-money PACs funded by a small number of wealthy private donors. Berman’s organization does not publicly disclose its funders, though tax disclosures show the group has received substantial funding from anti-union “dark-money ATM” groups DonorsTrust and Donors Capital Fund, as well as the right-wing Bradley Foundation.

    A second opinion piece on FoxNews.com, written by Fox News “Medical A-Team” member Keith Ablow -- a longtime anti-LGBT “pop psychologist” who has recently attacked transgender teens -- was titled “Are your kids back in school? Time to apologize to them.” Ablow’s op-ed argued -- with zero evidence -- that “antiquated systems of tenure” and resistance to voucher programs have led to subpar schools. Ablow encouraged readers to “follow my lead and apologize to their kids for what passes as primary and secondary education in America.” Meanwhile, the majority of Americans believe their local public schools are performing well.

    Fox Figures Repurposed Racial Justice Arguments To Attack Progressives On Education

    On Hannity, frequent Fox guest and Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke -- a right-wing extremist who has previously called members of the Black Lives Matter movement “garbage” and Hillary Clinton a “cop hater” -- argued that progressive policies such as opposition to increasingly unpopular school voucher programs “have herded black people… onto that plantation called the American ghetto.”

    On The Five, co-hosts Kimberly Guilfoyle, Juan Williams, and Dana Perino, and guest co-host Jesse Watters, concluded that viable solutions to “social pathologies” in Milwaukee’s communities of color include African-Americans “step[ping] up to the plate” rather than playing “victims of Democratic policies,” and pushing efforts to “hold teachers accountable.” Perino mentioned that the NAACP opposed privately managed charter schools, prompting Williams to declare the position “unbelievable,” and Guilfoyle to conclude, “I don’t get that.”

    Days later, the co-hosts pivoted a discussion about Trump’s tweet about the Chicago shooting death of basketball star Dwyane Wade’s cousin to push right-wing myths. They used it to claim that even "school choice" cannot address challenges facing the black community, including the right-wing canard of “black-on-black crime.” They also dismissed the NAACP’s recent resolution calling for a halt in the expansion of privately managed charter schools.

    On The Record With Greta Van Susteren interviewed Trump surrogate and frequent Fox guest Rudy Giuliani about Trump’s attempted outreach to the African-American community, allowing Giuliani to spend nearly five minutes attacking the education stances of teachers unions and progressives and touting his own record on pushing privatization measures in New York City schools as mayor.

    Fox Hosts And Guests Laughed At Students’ Activism On Offensive Terminology: Should An Injured Horse “Get A Lawyer, Because The Horse Is Offended” By Being Called “Lame”?

    Fox host Kimberly Guilfoyle guest-hosted On The Record and interviewed a student leader at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee about students’ efforts to highlight offensive terms. After student Mike Fortello explained why using terms like “lame” or “gay” as negative descriptors can be hurtful to others, Guilfoyle bizarrely questioned whether Fortello’s logic would somehow mean a hypothetical horse with broken legs “should get a lawyer, because the horse is offended” by being called “lame.” Guilfoyle and her other guest, Ben Shapiro, ended the segment by talking over the student repeatedly, laughing, and insulting the university. In another On The Record guest host stint the following day, Guilfoyle gleefully reported on the University of Chicago’s rejection of trigger warning and safe space use, beginning a segment on the story by jokingly asking a network correspondent if he was “in a safe space to report this.”

    Later that week, campus sexual assault denier George Will joined Bret Baier in a panel discussion on Special Report to celebrate the University of Chicago’s decision not to “appease” students “we now call snowflakes, these fragile little creatures who melt at the first sign of the heat of controversy.” Panel members laughed at Will’s example of “committing cultural appropriation by wearing a sombrero or something of the sort.” Will was disinvited from a college campus speaking engagement and protested at several other campuses in 2014 following his comments that those who experience sexual assault enjoy “a coveted status” in society. He identified himself in the segment as “someone who’s been disinvited from a college campus, I’m delighted to say.”

    None of these segments acknowledged the serious reasons students -- particularly increasing numbers of students of color, women students, and first-generation college students -- may be seeking out safe spaces or conversations within campus learning environments.

  • Here Are The Details Media Ought To Report About Trump’s Cleveland School Visit 

    ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump delivered remarks on education policy at a Cleveland, OH, charter school September 8. Although Trump’s statements seemed to reflect somewhat vague centrist stances in favor of so-called "school choice" and accountability measures, media should pay attention to the context of Trump’s visit. The nominee appeared at a struggling school privately managed by a for-profit company led by an education privatization proponent with ties to the right-wing American Legislative Education Council (ALEC) and a track record that’s been criticized by even national charter school advocates. 

  • WSJ Pushes Flawed Talking Point That Teachers Unions Hurt Students Of Color

    ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    The Wall Street Journal editorial board’s response to a California court decision that declined to review a challenge to state teacher tenure laws framed support for educators’ labor rights as a move to “deny upward mobility to poor black and Hispanic children.” The editorial ignores ample evidence that strong unions benefit low-income students of color and their neighborhood schools by boosting teacher quality and contributing to more equitable school funding, and that teachers unions routinely support efforts to combat racial and class inequality beyond the classroom. 

  • TV News Misses Golden Opportunity To Recognize Title IX During Rio Olympics

    Blog ››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON

    As thousands of athletes from around the world descended on Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, this summer to compete in the 2016 Summer Olympics, broadcast and cable news programming missed a golden opportunity to discuss the incredible legacy of the legislative reform largely responsible for the growth and success of women’s sports in the United States and around the world -- Title IX.

    One of the biggest stories coming out of the 2016 Summer Olympics was the sheer dominance of American athletes in general, and American women in particular. American swimmer Katie Ledecky and gymnast Simone Biles finished the games with four gold medals each (and five medals overall) and, at just 19 years old, they both are widely considered the most dominant athletes in their respective sports. Meanwhile, as the United States men’s basketball team struggled before coalescing in the gold medal match, the American women’s team blasted every opponent en route to a sixth consecutive Olympic championship.

    According to The New York Times, the United States brought home 121 medals from Rio, far outpacing China (70) and Great Britain (67) for first place, and became the first nation in 40 years to lead all nations in each medal category: gold, silver, and bronze. As was the case in 2012, more than half of that total medal haul (61) was won by American women, whose unparalleled athletic success would have been unlikely without the unique progressive legacy of the Title IX provision in federal education policy, which prevents sex discrimination in federally funded programs like school sports. From the Times:

    The United States is one of the few countries to embed sports within the public education system. And equal access to sports for women comes with legal protections, gained with the education amendment known as Title IX in 1972 and the Olympic and Amateur Sports Act in 1978.

    About one of every two American girls participates in sports in high school. Of the 213 American medalists in individual and team sports in Rio, according to the [United States Olympic Committee], nearly 85 percent participated in university-funded sports.

    “Those things don’t exist elsewhere in the world,” said Donna Lopiano, a former executive director of the Women’s Sports Foundation. “We have the largest base of athletic development. Our women are going to dominate, not only because of their legal rights but because women in other parts of the world are discriminated against.”

    Broadcast And Cable News Ignored Importance Of Title IX Despite Flood Of Olympic Coverage

    A Media Matters review of broadcast evening news coverage on ABC, CBS, NBC, and PBS, as well as cable evening and prime-time coverage on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC between the days of the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2016 Summer Olympics revealed only two substantive mentions of Title IX as it relates to current or former American or international Olympians. A similar lack of interest was on display on the major Sunday political talk shows on ABC, CBS, CNN, Fox Broadcasting, and NBC.**

    A review of available Nexis transcripts from August 5 through August 21 returned 259 results mentioning the Olympics in Rio, including just two references to Title IX’s role in encouraging and supporting female athletes and women’s sports: NBC Nightly News and PBS NewsHour each mentioned the legislation during Olympic segments on August 18 and August 19, respectively. By contrast, there were dozens of mentions of American swimmer Ryan Lochte’s infamous and unsubstantiated story of being robbed at gunpoint outside a Rio gas station.

    Major print outlets including like The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and USA Today gave Title IX special attention in 2016, but their television counterparts once again dropped the ball. Title IX was also conspicuously absent from print and television coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympics, according to a February 2014 Media Matters analysis.

    Title IX’s Global Legacy At The Olympic Games

    As noted above, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which was authored by Sen. Birch Bayh (D-IN) and Rep. Patsy Mink (D-HI) and signed into law by President Richard Nixon, has left an indelible mark on women's sports over the past 44 years. But American women aren't the only beneficiaries of the legislation; Title IX’s prohibition against gender discrimination at most educational institutions is a major contributing factor in making American universities a magnet for athletes from around the world.

    Stanford University, the most successful athletic institution in the world this year in terms of Olympic medals, produced a number of American women medalists -- including burgeoning swimming stars Ledecky, Maya DiRado, and Simone Manuel. It also produced Greek pole vault gold medalist Katerina Stefanidi. If not for Ledecky, the most successful women’s swimmer of the summer would have been Hungary’s Katinka Hosszu, an alumna of the University of Southern California. (Controversial Russian swimmer and two-time silver medalist Yulia Efimova, though not an alumna of the school, is coached by Southern Cal head coach Dave Salo.) Bahamian sprinter Shaunae Miller, an alumna of the University of Georgia, edged out former Southern Cal sprinter Allyson Felix to win gold in the women’s 400-meter. Canadian swimmer Chantal van Landeghem, another Georgia alum, took home a bronze medal in the women’s 4x100-meter freestyle relay alongside teammate and Ohio State University graduate Michelle Williams. Canadian track and field star Brianne Theisen-Eaton, who won a bronze medal in the heptathlon, attended the University of Oregon.

    This is just a snapshot of the Title IX impact that was on display at the 2016 Summer Olympics, but broadcast and cable news almost completely ignored the success story, despite offering a torrent of Olympic-centered stories and features.

    Methodology

    Media Matters conducted a Nexis search of transcripts of evening and prime-time (defined as 5 p.m. through 11 p.m.) weekday programs on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC, and network broadcast news (ABC, CBS, NBC, and PBS) from August 5, 2016, through August 21, 2016. Media Matters also reviewed Sunday political talk shows on ABC, CBS, CNN, Fox Broadcasting, and NBC during the same time period. We identified and reviewed all segments that included any of the following keywords: olympics or rio or title nine or title 9 or title ix.

    The following programs were included in the data: World News Tonight, This Week with George Stephanopoulos, CBS Evening News, Face the Nation, NBC Nightly News, Meet the Press**, PBS NewsHour, The Situation Room, Erin Burnett OutFront, Anderson Cooper 360, CNN Tonight, The Five, Special Report, On the Record with Greta Van Susteren, The O'Reilly Factor, The Kelly File, Hannity, MTP Daily, With All Due Respect, Hardball with Chris Matthews, All In with Chris Hayes, The Rachel Maddow Show, and The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell. For shows that air reruns, only the first airing was included in data retrieval.

    **NBCUniversal pre-empted Meet the Press on August 14 and August 21 to air exclusive coverage of the Olympics on NBC.

  • Mike Pence Set To Strengthen Ties To ALEC And Corporate-Driven Education Reform

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    Republican vice presidential nominee and Indiana Gov. Mike Pence is reportedly scheduled to speak Friday at the annual meeting for the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which takes place in Indianapolis, IN, this year. The meeting, which typically determines the legislative priorities of the corporate-funded bill mill for the coming year, runs from July 27 through July 29. Pence was originally scheduled to speak at a July 27 ALEC event co-sponsored by the conservative-leaning Center for Education Reform but later pulled out, citing conflicts with the Trump-Pence campaign schedule. The Indianapolis Star reported that Pence rescheduled his ALEC appearance, however, and will speak at the annual meeting on July 29.

    ALEC is a corporate-fundedmembership organization that connects right-wing state legislators across the country with model legislation that represents “the principles of limited government, free markets and federalism” and corresponds with corporate interests on a given policy issue. ALEC’s corporate-minded -- and conservative -- model policies tackle issues from K-12 education to “academic freedom” in higher education, as well as tax reform, social programs, environmental and infrastructure policies, and health care. Its corporate-sponsored model legislation on education issues is heavily focused on scholarship tax credits, vouchers, and other “school choice” programs that would lessen support for traditional public school systems. In line with the right-wing agenda, ALEC is also behind so-called “right to work” legislation that severely weakens unions -- including teachers unions -- and has so far been adopted in 26 states, although the law was struck down as unconstitutional by a Wisconsin state court in April.

    ALEC is funded by several philanthropic organizations founded or supported by the oil billionaires David and Charles Koch -- including the Charles Koch Foundation, “dark money ATM" DonorsTrust, and Donors Capital Fund -- as well as several other staunchly right-wing private foundations. It boasts having “nearly 300 corporate and private foundation members,” who pay for memberships in order to influence the proposed model policies, and lists partnerships with several right-wing education privatization groups.

    Image by Sarah Wasko.

    Pence’s education policies as Indiana governor have closely mirrored ALEC priorities. In fact, Pence wrote the introduction to ALEC’s annual “Report Card on American Education” in 2014, which graded Indiana highest in the nation for education policy that year. In his introduction, Pence touted Indiana’s school voucher system, which boosts federal funding for students to attend private schools, a long-standing ALEC priority. A recent study, however, pegged Indiana’s voucher program -- now one of the largest in the country -- as an example where “negative effects of vouchers” were apparent in student performance.

    Pence also pointed to increased attendance at charter schools, which are publicly funded but independently operated, sometimes by private management companies with little oversight. ALEC supports policies, reflected in Pence’s education agenda, that boost charter funding and enrollment caps but can financially threaten traditional public schools. The group is reportedly focusing on legislative efforts to make charter school closures more difficult in the coming year.

    Pence has spoken at ALEC and other right-wing corporate reform events in the past, including delivering a keynote address at ALEC’s 2013 policy summit. In 2015, Pence spoke at an Indiana education rally held by the state political action committee Hoosiers for Quality Education. The rally was sponsored by controversial online charter company K12 Inc. (also a “proud” ALEC member) and several national education privatization groups -- some affiliated with the Kochs. These connections to right-wing education reform efforts represent only a facet of Pence’s reportedly close relationship with the Kochs and of his commitment to corporate-backed policies.

    ALEC’s annual meeting has sparked protests from Indiana teachers and lawmakers. State Rep. Robin Shackleford, a Democrat, explained, “For too many years, this organization has destroyed the character of public education in the name of choice at the detriment of our community.”

  • Conservative Media Attack Clinton Child Care Plan As Wasteful Spending, Ignoring Economic Boost For Working Families

    ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    Conservative media have mischaracterized Hillary Clinton’s policy plan to expand funding and support for child care and early education programs, suggesting the presidential nominee is offering voters “goodies,” fearmongering about government overreach in preschool programs, and ignoring the economic boost that quality early learning programs can offer. Here are the facts about the short- and long-term economic benefits of supporting greater access to quality early education programs, particularly for single mothers and low-income families. 

  • Latest Editorial Proves The Wall Street Journal Will Defend Almost Any For-Profit Education Company 
     

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    The Wall Street Journal continued its streak of defending for-profit schools with track records of questionable practices and “abysmal results,” this time shifting its focus away from fraudulent for-profit colleges to attempt to sugarcoat the failing online charter company K12 Inc.

    The virtual charter school company K12 Inc. recently reached a $168.5 million settlement with the state of California following an investigation into the company’s marketing and management practices. At the same time, the state’s Education Department has announced an audit of a California virtual charter network managed by K12. The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board was, once again, ready to dismiss facts and defend the for-profit education company against what the board views as a politically motivated attack, baselessly claiming that recently substantiated allegations against K12 are “trumped up.”

    The California state investigation into K12, launched by state Attorney General Kamala Harris, alleged that the company had engaged in a number of misleading advertising practices about the quality of its online schools, pushed unfair contracts on public charter partners, and inflated student attendance numbers in order to receive more state funding. It was spurred, at least in part, by a whistleblower report and complaints from educators formerly employed by a California charter network managed by K12. Educators at the K12-managed network moved to unionize in 2014, citing excessive workloads and inability to “effectively advocate for students without the threat of retaliation or job loss.”

    An investigative series at the San Jose Mercury News earlier this year concluded that K12’s network of schools “is failing key tests used to measure educational success,” that K12-affiliated “teachers have been asked to inflate attendance and enrollment records used to determine taxpayer funding,” and that the company “exploits charter [and] charity laws for money.” An online education expert explained to The Mercury News that K12 “has shown an inordinate level of failure, yet it’s continually given lifelines by policymakers who have irresponsibly ignored what’s going on.”

    Yet the Journal contended that another audit of K12’s management practices “looks trumped up” in a July 17 editorial. Complaining about K12’s settlement with the state of California, the editorial board characterized the investigation of K12 as part of a larger “coordinated assault” on for-profit colleges and education companies and claimed that “Democrats are ambushing” the virtual charter school company. According to the editorial board, the further audit of K12 means “Thuggish government marches on.”

    The disastrous results of K12’s schooling model have also been well-documented in media investigations and in research from left-leaning and right-leaning organizations. A New York Times investigation raised red flags about K12’s practices as early as 2011, concluding about the company:

    A look at the company’s operations, based on interviews and a review of school finances and performance records, raises serious questions about whether K12 schools — and full-time online schools in general — benefit children or taxpayers, particularly as state education budgets are being slashed.

    Instead, a portrait emerges of a company that tries to squeeze profits from public school dollars by raising enrollment, increasing teacher workload and lowering standards.

    A 2011 Washington Post report singled out K12’s early lobbying efforts and political contributions, pointing to limited data on the effectiveness of virtual charter schools even as the company successfully opened up state markets for its products through political involvement. In 2012, PolitiFact concluded that a Tennessee politician’s assertion that K12’s results were “the bottom of the bottom” was true.

    The most recent reports from Mathematica Policy Research, Stanford University’s Center for Research in Education Outcomes, and the Center on Reinventing Public Education concluded that “students of online charter schools had significantly weaker academic performance in math and reading, compared with their counterparts in conventional schools.” BuzzFeed News’ coverage of the reports concluded that “Both Sides Of The Education Debate Are United In Scorn” for online charters like K12 due to “abysmal results” for students.

    But K12 has the corporate and conservative credentials to warrant a healthy defense from The Wall Street Journal.

    K12 Inc., until recently, called itself a “proud” member of the corporate-driven bill mill American Legislative Education Council (ALEC), which has pushed virtual schools legislation that would create greater demand for products like those produced by K12. K12 has also contributed financially to the Foundation for Excellence in Education, a pro-privatization think tank founded by Jeb Bush that also frequently touts digital learning tools in its policy recommendations. The majority of K12’s executives hail from the corporate world or from other for-profit education companies, and the head of K12’s “curriculum and products organization” previously spearheaded product development at Pearson Publishing.

    The Journal has a long history of defending the sometimes indefensible when it comes to for-profit educational companies, often relying on violent analogies to make its point.

    The paper stood by shuttered for-profit college chain Corinthian Colleges, even as the company faced multiple state and federal investigations related to its allegedly fraudulent marketing practices and its efforts to facilitate predatory private lending. In fact, the Journal’s editorial board characterized the numerous investigations, launched because of consumer complaints, as “political revenge” by “California job killer” Kamala Harris and a “drive-by shooting” and “contract hit” by the Obama administration. In April 2015, as the company closed its last remaining campuses, The Wall Street Journal wrote a “last rites” editorial lamenting that “the feds and Kamala Harris put 16,000 students on the street.” The now-defunct company has been held legally responsible for its practices, with several investigations and legal actions concluding that Corinthian had, indeed, misled its students about job placement rates and private loan terms, and that former students were owed debt relief.

    The Journal has also repeatedly characterized efforts to address these types of fraudulent practices at other for-profit institutions as “regulatory assault,” a “ploy to win over millennials,” a “contract hit” (again), and a political “stealth attack” akin to “drone strikes,” dismissing evidence that these types of schools have taken advantage of veterans and servicemembers, as well as other innocent students, on the taxpayers’ dime.

  • What Attacks On Bilingual Education Get Wrong

    ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    Conservative radio host Laura Ingraham has spent months repeatedly issuing xenophobic rants against the perceived dangers of bilingual education in U.S. schools, asserting that teaching students in more than one language -- in particular immigrant students whose home language is Spanish -- somehow contributes to a decline in school quality at a high cost. But Ingraham’s claims about dual-language learning ignore the wide body of research showing that fostering bilingualism and multilingualism in schools and teaching students in their home language as well as English can have lasting positive impacts for individuals and for the economy.

  • Review-Journal Drums Up College Debt Myths To Blame Borrowers For Student Debt Crisis

    ››› ››› JARED HOLT

    An editorial published by the Las Vegas Review-Journal insisted that student debt is “manageable for most students” and recycled previously debunked conservative talking points to fault student loan forgiveness programs and federal aid for America’s college debt crisis. The paper also echoed right-wing myths to argue that tuition “costs inevitably go up” in response to low-interest federal loans and dismiss progressive concerns about for-profit schools.

  • Fact-Checkers And Education Writers Were Never Fooled By Trump’s Education Lies

    ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    Likely Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has made hardly any statements about his policy positions on education issues. But the claims he has made, mostly about the Common Core state standards and the federal role in education policy, have been routinely debunked by fact-checkers, education reporters, and prominent education scholars.

     

  • Meet The Utah Columnist Shining A Light On Fossil Fuel Front Groups

    Blog ››› ››› DENISE ROBBINS

    In recent decades, fossil fuel interests have been funding front groups to advance their ideological and political goals, and key to these groups’ success is concealing their industry backing. But Utah columnist Paul Rolly has been working to shine a light on the industry backing behind the most influential front groups in his state. In an interview with Media Matters, Rolly discussed the importance of following the money.

    Rolly has been a columnist at The Salt Lake Tribune for the last 20 years, and he has stood out because of his work exposing fossil fuel front groups operating in Utah. He has uncovered the oil industry fingerprints behind campaigns to seize public lands from the federal government, attack renewable energy, and promote an industry-friendly agenda in higher education.

    Why is it so important to Rolly to educate his readers about Big Oil’s involvement in these fights? “It’s our job,” he said, explaining that it’s vital that readers know “what the sources of bills are, where they’re coming from, who they benefit, who’s behind them, who’s making money, and who’s making campaign contributions.” He hopes this information will give his readers the ability to “make informed decisions when they vote.”

    Utah is ground zero for many of the fossil fuel industry’s campaigns, making Rolly’s work invaluable. One of the most prominent fossil fuel-backed campaigns in recent years has been the effort to transfer control of federal lands to state governments, which would greatly benefit fossil fuel interests, as states would likely open up more areas to oil and gas drilling and coal mining.

    State Rep. Ken Ivory (R-UT) has played a leading role in the public land grab movement in the west, and Rolly has been paying close attention. In 2012, Ivory co-founded a group called the American Lands Council (ALC), which aims to “secure local control of western public lands by transferring federal public lands to willing States.” Utah, Rolly explained, is the only state that has passed legislation setting aside taxpayer funds to sue the federal government over control of public lands, like those managed by the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service. The lawsuit was recommended by a legal team hired by a Republican-dominated commission of Utah legislators, even though the lawyers acknowledged that the lawsuit “could cost up to $14 million, take years to play out in the courts,” and is “far from a sure victory,” according to the Associated Press.

    Rolly has repeatedly pointed out that Ivory has taken a six-figure annual salary from the ALC, which is largely funded by counties in Western states. The ALC’s tax forms reportedly indicate that Ivory and his wife have pocketed almost half of the group’s total revenue. Rolly believes that the negative attention Ivory received over his salary at ALC may explain why he stepped down as the organization’s president in December. (He remains an unpaid member of its executive committee).

    Rolly has devoted several columns to exposing the fossil funding behind ALC and other groups that are engaged in the public lands campaign. He's pointed out that Federalism in Action, where Ivory currently heads the “Free the Lands” project, is affiliated with the oil billionaires Charles and David Koch. And he's documented that the firm hired by the Utah legislature to promote the land transfer agenda, Strata Policy, also has financial ties to the Koch brothers. As the Los Angeles Times has noted, ALC has also received financial support from Americans for Prosperity, which was co-founded by the Kochs and continues to spearhead their agenda.

    The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a corporate front group that connects fossil fuel executives with legislators to push model bills that serve industry interests, is also highly influential in Utah and has a heavy hand in the public land grab movement. And, as Rolly told Media Matters, “the Koch brothers are a big deep-pocket force behind ALEC.” Ivory is an ALEC member and was even awarded the group’s “Legislator Of The Year” award in 2014.

    In addition to the public lands battle, Rolly has turned his attention to the Kochs’ influence in local universities. He said national stories about the Kochs' investments in higher education led him to examine their efforts at Utah State University, where Strata co-founder Randy Simmons was previously the Charles G. Koch professor of political economy and currently supervises a Koch-funded scholarship program. As Rolly reported: “The Kochs have extended influence to institutions of higher education, setting up grants at universities to hire professors that teach the Kochs' anti-tax, anti-regulation business and political philosophies to mold young minds to fall in step with the Kochs' industrial wishes going forward through the 21st Century.”

    Too often, media fail to disclose these important ties, Rolly noted. ALEC, for one, “probably doesn’t get the attention it should” in the national media, nor do its “ties to the Koch brothers, and their deep-pocket influence, and what happens to state legislatures.” Many valuable resources that provide context are “underused,” in Rolly’s opinion, including legislators’ conflict-of-interest and financial disclosure forms, which he examines to see if there’s any connection between “who’s giving them money” and “what they’re doing as a legislator.” He said he also examines the tax filings of nonprofits such as ALC.

    But he also noted the difficulties that newsrooms face as the journalism industry struggles financially, resulting in increased pressure and reduced resources. Newspapers have been shutting down all over the country, and the ones that remain have had to greatly cut down on staff (including the Salt Lake Tribune). When that happens, Rolly noted, “the first thing to suffer is investigative reporting” because it requires so much time and staff resources. He added: “The industry is in peril right now.”

    There are also structural difficulties that further complicate the task of investigative journalism, Rolly noted, such as Citizens United v. FEC, the 2010 Supreme Court ruling that protects a corporation's right to make unlimited expenditures in support of political candidates as a form of speech. Because of that ruling, Rolly said, super PACs can “basically take over [political] campaigns” and “you have no idea who’s contributing the money.”

    It’s worth keeping in mind that even as newspapers are facing increased financial pressures, reporting like Rolly’s can be good for business. His columns are among the newspaper’s most viewed pieces online, he says. And he recently received the “Making Democracy Work” award from the League of Women Voters for his work at the Tribune.

    The need for the media to disclose the industry backing that’s behind fossil fuel front groups is clear. Dark money groups like DonorsTrust and Donors Capital Fund exist solely to hide these funds. And research shows that organizations funded by Exxon and the Koch brothers are “more likely to have written and disseminated texts meant to polarize the climate change issue." Yet Media Matters has shown time and time again that fossil fuel front groups are getting away with promoting anti-environmental agendas while hiding the real voices behind their misleading messages.

    In the words of the Tribune, Rolly told the League of Women Voters that “democracy best works when the public is informed.” Reporters would do well to follow Rolly’s example by digging a little deeper to uncover the dark money behind special interest campaigns occurring all around the country.