Education

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  • 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. 

  • ProPublica Reporter Calls For Journalists To Be "More Skeptical" Of Researchers Backed By Corporate Interests

    ProPublica's Faturechi: Media Should "Ask Harder Questions" Before Quoting Or Publishing Corporate-Backed Research

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    ProPublica reporter Robert Faturechi is calling for journalists to “be more skeptical” and “ask harder questions” about the corporate funding and influence behind pundits and research organizations passing themselves off as independent.

    In an August 10 post published on The New York Times’ Room for Debate blog, Faturechi proclaimed: “It’s our job as journalists to make sure that lawmakers and the public aren’t making major policy decisions based on compromised studies." He added that journalists should "ask harder questions" about think tank researchers' corporate backing "[b]efore we quote them or their studies, or publish their op-eds." His post comes days after the Times published an investigative series about how think tank scholars offering themselves as independent arbiters “have become part of the corporate influence machine” affecting policy in Washington. One article examined 75 think tanks and found that many researchers “had simultaneously worked as registered lobbyists, members of corporate boards or outside consultants in litigation and regulatory disputes, with only intermittent disclosure of their dual roles.” Another explained that think tanks scholars are “pushing agendas important to corporate donors," which “blur[s] the line between researchers and lobbyists," and they're often doing it without disclosing their connections.

    Several Media Matters analyses have found that fossil fuel-funded pundits passing themselves off as independent experts often publish op-eds or are quoted in the news without disclosing their industry ties, and a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has found that oil-funded organizations are “more likely to have written and disseminated texts meant to polarize the climate change issue." Media Matters has also outlined how for-profit education companies and other corporations have backed a broad network of think tanks to influence education policy in their favor.

    From Faturechi’s Room for Debate post:

    It’s our job as journalists to make sure that lawmakers and the public aren’t making major policy decisions based on compromised studies. Big name universities and prestigious think tanks provide researchers with an imprimatur of independence. But as The New York Times and other outlets have shown, their work is often funded, and sometimes shaped, by special interests with a rooting interest in particular findings. Reporters and editors need to be more skeptical of experts, and the false sense of security that their name brand affiliations provide. Before we quote them or their studies, or publish their op-eds, we have to ask harder questions about their funding and their outside employment.

    Oftentimes simply asking won’t be enough. When the research is being done at a public university, we have an easier time digging up undisclosed conflicts. Emails between professors and their funders are typically subject to public records requests. Those communications can be revelatory, but they’re harder to come by when the researchers are working for private think tanks. In those cases, we have to rely on less straightforward entry points, like think tank researchers happening to communicate with government officials who are subject to FOIA. Or we have to hope for leaks. Neither method is particularly reliable.

    Research that is funded by a corporation, or any other special interest for that matter, isn’t necessarily flawed. And researchers who are moonlighting for outside groups aren’t necessarily untrustworthy. But lawmakers and the public deserve more visibility into the research that is shaping policy in Washington and in statehouses across the country. Investigative reporting is one remedy. Another would be stricter transparency rules.

  • 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.

  • Three Things Right-Wing Media Still Don’t Understand About Affirmative Action In Education
     

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    Right-wing media figures are shocked by the Supreme Court decision in Fisher v. University of Texas II, which reaffirmed that the consideration of race as a factor in college admissions is constitutional under the Equal Protection Clause. Conservative media have been questioning the validity of affirmative action policies for years, appearing equally baffled by the Supreme Court’s decision in 2013 on the same matter. This time around, the confusion was again amplified as right-wing media attempted to cast race-conscious college admissions as “racist,” misrepresent the strict legal scrutiny already in place for these types of policies, and dismiss the numerous educational and economic benefits of diverse colleges.

    Research On Educational Benefits Of Diversity Is “Overwhelming” And “Compelling”

    On his radio show immediately following the release of the new Fisher decision, host Rush Limbaugh read from the synopsis of the majority opinion authored by Justice Anthony Kennedy, in particular focusing on a line stating that schools have a “compelling interest” to seek the benefits of a diverse student body through means other than impermissible racial quotas. Limbaugh was so baffled by the “stunning,” “unbelievable,” and “absurd” reasoning, he had to read the line several times and was left speechless, before exclaiming, “This is so bad, I don’t know how to describe it.” Limbaugh then labeled the numerous and proven educational benefits of student body diversity a “liberal concept, perverted and corrupt as it is,” and an “absolutely vacuous argument that the left has been advancing for years.”

    Perhaps if Limbaugh had read more of the opinion, he would better understand how the Supreme Court could deem “the educational benefits that flow from student body diversity” a “compelling interest.” In fact, the American Educational Research Association and “nine other scientific societies” filed an amicus brief in the Fisher case, “urging the court to consider an overwhelming body of evidence” showing “that student body diversity promotes cross-racial understanding, educational and classroom benefits, and professional development,” and “prevents the harms of racial isolation.” A wide range of businesses, public institutions, and educational leadership once again filed amicus briefs in the case, arguing for the value of race-conscious admissions policies. Coalitions of Fortune 100 CEOs and other major business leaders, former senior military officials, several top professional associations for college professors and admissions staff, and the federal government all filed briefs in support of policies like the University of Texas’ admissions approach.

    Race-Conscious Admissions Do Not “Mismatch” Black And Hispanic Students With Schools

    During the Fisher oral arguments in December, the late Justice Antonin Scalia made headlines for referencing the discredited “mismatch theory” that affirmative action policies place underprepared students of color in schools that are too challenging for them. The flawed assumptions that underscore this theory have likewise pervaded right-wing media’s reactions to the Supreme Court’s decision.

    Several conservative media figures have expressed their confusion and concern that black and Latino students might somehow be disserved by race-conscious admissions policies in social or emotional ways, in addition to struggling with academic “mismatch.” Commentator Heather Mac Donald, for example, denounced the decision, asserting that “race-based admissions preferences” allow students to “come into environments for which they’re not prepared,” leading to academic failure, “the sort of insanity that this country went through last year with the Black Lives Matter protests on campuses,” and a “growing victimology on campuses.”

    But here are the facts: Numerous studies have shown students of color do better in more selective schools, and experts have discredited what little research backs “mismatch theory.” In fact, a brief filed with the Supreme Court in the Fisher case by experts in methodology and statistics urged the court to disregard the most highly cited study supporting the debunked theory, writing that the study “fails to satisfy the basic standards of good empirical social science research.”

    The Court Has Consistently Applied Strict Legal Scrutiny To Federal Affirmative Action Programs

    The facts haven’t stopped conservative media from once again incorrectly characterizing the ongoing legality of narrowly tailored affirmative action programs as a major shift in legal precedent amounting to reverse racism. This time around, right-wing media figures lamented the Fisher decision as propping up “another kind of discrimination” that might be “equally wrong,” “reverse discrimination” or “racist,” and incorrectly suggested that the decision is related to setting impermissible racial quotas for admissions. Rush Limbaugh, in particular, appeared deeply confused, first insisting that the decision relates to racial quotas specifically. Then, after reading a portion of the majority opinion that highlighted the holistic review process at the University of Texas several times, Limbaugh concluded that affirmative action, which he previously understood as a “glorified quota program,” has shifted to something “even worse.” Conservative commentator Ben Shapiro also asserted that Justice Kennedy had “flipped” in his ruling and that “our freedoms are decided” based on whether the Supreme Court justice “had his Metamucil that morning.”

    But the court’s reaffirmation of the University of Texas’ race-conscious admissions policy, while a surprising decision for many court experts and affirmative action advocates who feared the court had shifted irrevocably to the right, does not break new legal ground. In fact, Kennedy’s opinion specifically represents a continued belief that properly tailored affirmative action programs remain constitutional under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment -- a line of reasoning he has espoused for nearly a decade. The narrow ruling on the Texas holistic admissions approach is the latest Supreme Court opinion to reaffirm what has been a guiding principle since 1978, further detailed in 2003: that the use of race as one factor among many in individualized and holistic considerations of applicants to institutions of higher education remains both necessary and constitutional to ensure the diversity of America's future leaders.

  • The Problem With The Media’s ‘Trump Is Pivoting’ Narrative

    Blog ››› ››› TYLER CHERRY

    Media figures have repeatedly claimed that presumptive Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is “pivoting” to the general election every time he does something that they think makes him look or sound “presidential.” Media’s constant search for Trump’s “pivot” effectively whitewashes all of the racist, sexist, slanderous, and conspiratorial attacks Trump has doled out, and mainstreams the idea that Trump’s past diatribes can be forgiven so long as he assumes a veneer of conventional, tempered behavior.

    Throughout the presidential campaign, Trump and the media have engaged in a cycle wherein Trump launches offensive broadsides and character attacks; He gets bad press; Republican leaders clamor for Trump to tone down his rhetoric; Trump obliges, often using a teleprompter to restrain himself; Media figures claim Trump has “pivoted” and is “becoming more presidential”; and repeat.

    As MSNBC’s Nicolle Wallace said, Trump constantly shatters the “pivot” narrative “by trotting out conspiracy theories” -- or, as others have noted, outrageous insults -- within hours of being lauded as “presidential.” 

    In following this pattern, the media are both applauding Trump for having simply mastered “campaign 101,” as CNN’s David Gregory noted, and excusing his past remarks as political maneuvering and electoral showmanship.

    In early June, after Trump launched a multiday racist crusade against Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who is presiding over Trump University lawsuits, Republican leaders beseeched Trump to “get on message” and “quit attacking … various minority groups in the country.” That very night, Trump delivered a speech -- devoid of any attacks and with the aid of a teleprompter -- that “sought to calm fretful Republicans bolting from his side over his latest controversy,” CNN reported.

    Media figures immediately claimed that Trump’s restraint showed he was “pivoting.” NBC News reporter Ali Vitali wrote that Trump “acted presidential” in the speech, which “finalized his pivot to the general election.” CNN host Don Lemon said the “new, more presidential Donald Trump” is what “people in Washington wanted to see.” Unsurprisingly, Trump also received praise from right-wing media for sounding “more presidential than ever.”

    CNN political commentator Marc Lamont Hill explained the phenomenon:

    “It's kind of a good outcome for Trump, because we're not talking about a Mexican judge anymore. We're not talking about something controversial. We're talking about Trump changing the direction of his campaign. That can only be good news for him, based on what the last three weeks have been.”

    GOP leaders condemned Trump’s repeated “offensive” suggestions that President Obama had sympathies for terrorists, but changed their tune once Trump delivered his next teleprompter-guided speech following the mass shooting in Orlando, FL. Some media figures said Trump sounded “more presidential” and was “behaving like general election nominees behave,” and Trump’s slanderous accusations against the president quickly fell out of the news cycle.

    The “pivot” claim, which has repeatedly surfaced since at least February, has also helped wash away many of Trump’s past actions and comments: his doubling down on his proposed Muslim ban, his accusations that Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-TX) father was involved in the John F. Kennedy assassination, and his questioning of presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s faith.

    Some media figures have noted the journalistic malpractice associated with the constant fallback on the “pivot” narrative. New York Times Magazine correspondent Mark Leibovich, calling the narrative “absurd,” wrote:

    But really, how do you pivot away from saying that Mexicans are rapists? (Will he negotiate “great deals” with more moderate Mexican rapists?) If your campaign is a cult of personality, how can you modulate that personality and still have the cult? In Trump’s case, a “pivot” would constitute a complete overhaul of his very essence.

    Similarly, Washington Post opinion writer Kathleen Parker lambasted media’s “softening of criticism” of Trump and warned “the commentariat,” “Nothing makes Trump more acceptable today than yesterday or last week — or six months ago.”

    The "pivot" narrative has become a reset button, allowing media to excuse or forget all of Trump’s past rhetorical assaults. Media figures are essentially condoning all of his racism, sexism, and conspiracies, so long as he sounds and acts subdued and presidential.

    Image by Dayanita Ramesh and Sarah Wasko.