The Daily Beast published a piece by former CNN host Campbell Brown on a controversial California education trial without disclosing Brown's ties to anti-teachers union groups.
Earlier this year, lawyers spent "more than two months" in state court arguing the Vergara v. California trial, a case which The Washington Post's Valerie Strauss called a "deeply misguided lawsuit" that "is ostensibly about one thing -- protecting students -- but is really about attacking teachers unions and the due process rights for teachers." On May 29, The Daily Beast ran a piece by Brown titled, "Vergara v. California: The Most Important Court Case You've Never Heard Of," which asserted that the trial "is about equity" because it "takes aim at laws that go directly to the heart of a good education":
Vergara v. California takes aim at laws that go directly to the heart of a good education: the ability to have, keep, and respect good teachers and dismiss utterly failing ones. Specifically, the suit challenges California laws that create three sets of problems, all of them undermining a school's ability to act in the best interest of students.
What Brown doesn't bother to mention and what The Daily Beast neglects to include in the post is that Brown has multiple conflicts of interest when it comes to matters of education, especially teachers. Brown's husband Dan Senor sits on the board of StudentsFirstNY, a group that actively opposes teachers unions and tenure. In addition, Brown launched a venture last year called the Parents' Transparency Project (PTP), a purported "watchdog group" that Mother Jones' Andy Kroll took a closer look at in October 2013:
Shortly after it was launched in June, PTP trained its sights on the New York mayoral race, asking the candidates to pledge to change the firing process for school employees accused of sexual misconduct. When several Democratic candidates declined, perhaps fearing they'd upset organized labor, PTP spent $100,000 on a television attack ad questioning whether six candidates, including Republican Joe Lhota and Democrats Bill de Blasio and Anthony Weiner, had "the guts to stand up to the teachers' unions."
Another consulting firm working with Brown's group is Tusk Strategies, which helped launch Rhee's StudentsFirst. Advertising disclosure forms filed by PTP list Tusk's phone number, and a copy of PTP's sexual-misconduct pledge--since scrubbed from its website--identified its author as a Tusk employee. (Tusk and Revolution declined to comment. Brown referred all questions to her PR firm--the same one used by StudentsFirst.)
The New York Daily News also reported that Brown recently launched a website to "influence the direction of [New York City's] ongoing contract talks with the teachers union."
Vergara v. California has significant implications for the future of teaching in the state. LA Weekly referred to the case as the "Vergara Time Bomb," asking if "a judge [will] tear down California teacher protection laws," while Daily Kos concluded that "The Vergara lawsuit has nothing to do with a good education for the disadvantaged, and has everything to do with destroying the power of unions. And if it succeeds, it could set a very dangerous precedent across the nation."
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]
According to the National PTA, this week was Teacher Appreciation Week. Right-wing media appear to have missed the memo.
The week started on May 5 with radio host Rush Limbaugh stating that those who advocate for greater diversity among teachers were "pushing for racial quotas" and want to return the U.S. to segregation and "go back to the way it was ... before the Civil Rights Act." Limbaugh was responding to a report from the Center for American Progress and the National Education Association which found, according to the Associated Press, that "U.S. teachers are nowhere near as diverse as their students."
On Fox News' Outnumbered the same day, Fox host Tucker Carlson responded to a story about a female teacher who supposedly gave a "lapdance" to a male student, claiming that men understand that getting sexually harassed by a female teacher is the "greatest thing that ever happened." When co-host Harris Faulkner read a viewer comment that "Whether this woman is hot, of course, is still out," Carlson responded, "She's hot enough." On April 28, Carlson told America to "lighten up" on the issue.
On May 6, Fox & Friends took to calling a Florida public school teacher a "Bible Bully" because a fifth-grade boy at a Broward County school claimed his Bible was taken away during free-reading time. Despite a statement from the county affirming its commitment to students' religious freedom and local reporting that the student was reading his Bible during a "classroom 'accelerated reading' program," Fox hosts nonetheless accused the teacher of being a "Bible Bully" and "humiliat[ing]" the student.
Fox & Friends even hosted Fox radio host Todd Starnes later in the program to discuss the Florida story, who made multiple outlandish claims about teachers:
STARNES: We got to start calling this like it is. We either have a bunch of religious bigots teaching our kids or we have a lot of ignorant people who don't understand the law.
STARNES: What if that child had been reading a Quran? I don't think that teacher would have done a single thing.
Breitbart.com blogger Javier Manajarres joined the fun on May 8, claiming the Florida story was indication of a "War on Christ in Florida," outing the teacher as a "registered...wait for it...wait for it...Democrat" and concluding, "Can you imagine if [the teacher] were to have banned a Koran from being read in classroom? All jihad would have broken loose, and she would be canned. The War on Christ is alive and well among the Democrat faithful."
Of course, teacher-bashing rhetoric is nothing new when it comes to conservative media. Limbaugh previously claimed that the idea that teachers contribute to a growing economy is "ignorance." Fox News earlier this year devoted several segments to bashing teachers and teachers unions in a debate over public school space in New York City. And just a few weeks ago, Breitbart Texas launched a transphobic attack on a substitute teacher in Texas who was suspended because of her gender identity, attempting to portray her as mentally disturbed and suggesting that a divorce was what prompted her to become transgender.
Happy Teacher Appreciation Week!
Image at top obtained via Flickr user Cybrarian77 with a Creative Commons license.
Right-wing media have worked themselves into a tizzy over a controversy about a student reading his Bible in a Florida public school, but they aren't telling the whole story.
The CBS affiliate in Miami, FL, reported on May 5 that a fifth-grade boy at a public school in Broward County claimed he was banned from reading his Bible during "free-time reading" in his classroom:
A Broward County boy said he was banned from reading "The Good Book" during free-reading time in school. The boy and his father have hired an attorney, calling this a violation of the boy's Constitutional rights. Meanwhile, the Broward County School District says this is all a big misunderstanding.
The Miami Herald reported that Broward school officials "rejected the accusation" because the student was reading his Bible during a "classroom 'accelerated reading' program," not during a free-reading session. The Herald also noted that the boy's family is being represented by the Liberty Institute, a "conservative religious-rights group" that "targeted Broward County on Monday in an ongoing campaign contending that faith is under attack in America's elementary schools." (Indeed, the Liberty Institute has a "long history of hyperbolic assertions about the impending end of religious freedom.")
A statement from Broward County Public Schools on Monday, May 5, affirmed the county's commitment to religious freedom:
Broward County Public Schools respects and upholds the rights of students to bring personal religious materials to school, including the Bible, and to read these items before school, after school or during any "free reading" time during the school day.
On right-wing media, however, it's a much different story.
Fox News' Fox & Friends discussed the story on May 6, leading with its "Trouble With Schools" chryon. Co-host Steve Doocy claimed that the boy's father had previously been in touch with the school principal about when the boy was allowed to read the Bible in school, which included before and after school, during lunch, and at free time, but that "the teacher didn't like it" when the boy began reading his Bible during "his free time." Doocy continued:
DOOCY: Well the teacher didn't like it, and the kid said, if you have a problem with this, you need to call my dad. Well the dad wasn't there to pick up the phone and instead, the teacher left this embarrassing voicemail.
From the May 5 edition of Fox News' Outnumbered:
From the May 5 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
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Fox News attacked Denver public schools by claiming they were hiring "illegal alien" teachers who are unqualified to teach. But the teachers in question have legal status to work in the U.S., have an alternative license to teach from the state of Colorado, and are working toward being fully licensed.
Three major newspapers in Kansas have ignored the role of funding from the Koch brothers in the passage of legislation that strips teachers in the state of their right to due process before they are fired, a longstanding right that gives teachers the ability to challenge dismissals.
Breitbart Texas launched a transphobic attack on a Texas substitute teacher who was suspended because of her gender identity, depicting the teacher as mentally disturbed and suggesting that she became transgender because she was distraught over her divorce.
On April 8, Lumberton Independent School District suspended Laura Jane Klug, who had worked as a fifth grade substitute teacher, after parents complained to school officials about Klug's gender identity. Breitbart Texas picked up the story on April 9, using scare quotes to mock Klug's gender identity and touting a local conservative writer's claim that Klug is "an emotionally disturbed and confused older man":
A fifth grade substitute teacher was suspended this week by the Lumberton Independent School District (LISD) after it was discovered the teacher is a "transgender" male [sic]. The teacher who was recently hired by the school district now must wait until Friday to find out if "she" will be terminated from employment.
The issue of Laura Jane Klug's "gender identity" came up after parents became aware of students talking about it in school. Mr. Klug was asked by school officials not to return to "her" classroom until the school board could be convened to consider the matter according to KFDM TV.
David Bellow raises other concerns about Klug's mental state in an article posted today on TexasGOPVote.com.
"I looked [Klug] up on Facebook," Bellows wrote, "and what I found was an emotionally disturbed and confused older man. He has not always wanted to be a woman. According to a note he posted on his Facebook page on July 7th, 2011 titled "How Much More Can I Take?" Kurt Klug was emotionally distraught and seemingly ready to give in with his life because of the pain of his female wife leaving him. The pain and distraught of his wife leaving him must have driven him to decide that he wanted to become a woman. From 2011 until now, Kurt changed his name to Laura Jane Klug and started dressing up like a woman and acting like a woman."
Bellow and Breitbart's smears against Klug rely on the discredited trope that transgender people are inherently disturbed and disordered. Medical experts reject this notion. Being transgender, in the words of one expert, is "part of the human condition," and gender identity is an ingrained, intrinsic part of a person's identity. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, gender identity is usually established by the age of four. In 2012, the American Psychiatric Association revised the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders to drop the diagnosis of "gender identity disorder," replacing it with gender dysphoria, the possible emotional distress that can come from "a marked incongruence" between one's assigned sex at birth and one's gender identity.
But Breitbart has little use for such facts. The website -- which employs the rabid anti-LGBT extremist Austin Ruse --has previously mocked transgender people by running a trans-related article with a photo of a cross-dressing South Park character, betraying an embarrassing ignorance about what it even means to be transgender.
Launched along with Breitbart London in February, followed by Breitbart California on April 6, Breitbart Texas' transphobic attack on Klug comes days after Breitbart California came under fierce criticism for a sexist image of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi's (D-CA) face transposed onto a scantily clad woman's body.
Fox News has an enemy in the education debate, and that enemy is teachers unions.
In the weeks since New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that he would block three charter schools from using public school space rent-free, conservative media have sent themselves into a tizzy distorting the mayor's record, accusing him of waging a "war on children" and calling him "Comrade Bill." Perhaps no outlet was more indignant about de Blasio's decision than Fox News, whose hosts and pundits seemed incapable of discussing the story without blaming teachers unions, devoid of any evidence or support.
Watch below for Fox's "All Speculation, No Corroboration" approach to blaming teachers:
Fox's misguided outrage is unsurprising given the network's track record on unions. Its hosts and commentators have previously asked if "teachers unions [are] ruining your kids' education" and referred to labor unions as "parasites" that are "not doing anything" for workers. Fox host Dana Perino even suggested earlier this year that instead of making an "anti-NRA" film, filmmaker Harvey Weinstein could better "tackle gun violence if he would take on the teachers unions."
From the December 4 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
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From the September 10 edition of Fox Business' Lou Dobbs Tonight:
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Fox News host Mike Huckabee argued today that creating jobs for teachers for the sake of boosting U.S. employment would be "nonsensical." In doing so, he ignored the sustained massive layoffs of teachers across the country since the end of the recession and the subsequent ramifications. In fact, there is every need to hire teachers during this recovery and not just because "you want to make some jobs," as Huckabee claimed.
Huckabee was responding to comments by President Obama calling on Republicans to pass his jobs plan, which Obama said "could create a million new jobs right now," including jobs for teachers and construction workers. Huckabee replied by saying:
HUCKABEE: The federal government doesn't hire teachers. Where do teachers get hired? Local school boards. Education is a local function not a federal function. It is not the job of the federal government to hire teachers.
And the other question is: Do you hire teachers 'cause you just want to make some jobs or do you hire teachers 'cause you actually need them 'cause you have more kids in the classroom than you had last year? That's a nonsensical kind of approach to job creation -- let's make some work, and let's just go into more debt to do it.
In fact, Obama was not asking the federal government to hire teachers; he was accurately noting the role government can play in staving off public sector job losses, which experts contend have played an especially detrimental role in swelling unemployment. From the Wall Street Journal:
The unemployment rate would be far lower if it hadn't been for those cuts: If there were as many people working in government as there were in December 2008, the unemployment rate in April would have been 7.1%, not 8.1%.
Ceteris is rarely paribus, of course: If there were more government jobs now, for example, it's likely that not as many people would have left the labor force, and so the actual unemployment rate would be north of 7.1%.
According to the Hamilton Project, teachers accounted for 220,000 of these public sector job loses from 2009 to 2011, a decline of 5.6 percent.
The Economy Policy Institute estimated that had the Jobs Act been enacted, "[a]id to state governments for rehiring teachers and first responders would have boosted employment by an additional 210,000 jobs," and that "[i]n total, full passage of the American Jobs Act would have increased employment by more than 1.6 million jobs."
Today, Fox's The Five suggested teachers' pensions have led to budget problems for school districts and are to blame for the increased yearly school supplies spending parents are seeing this year. But decreased revenues and state and local budget cuts are causing school funding to shrink, not pensions.
The National Retail Federation released a survey last month estimating that parents of K-12 students will spend around $688 on their children's back-to-school supplies, up from $603 the year before. The hosts of The Five used this news to launch Fox's latest assault on pensions for public employees.
During the August 22 edition of the show, co-host Dana Perino suggested the reason parents are being required to provide more school supplies for their children is partly because of "the squeeze that a lot of school districts feel because of pensions." Co-host Eric Bolling continued this line of attack by claiming that "the school districts are getting crushed by pensions" because teachers "stay on tenure, they continue to get benefits," and the school districts "can't keep up."
However, public pensions are not the cause of local school districts' budget woes.
A May 2011 report by the Center for Budget Policy and Priorities (CBPP) explicitly showed that "long-term pension shortfalls are not the cause of current state fiscal problems" and explained "[s]tate economies and budgets continue to struggle because of shrunken revenues and higher needs."
Additionally, the report noted:
The long-term nature of the problem means that most state and local governments can fashion a plan that postpones significant additional pressure on state budgets for a few years until revenues have recovered from the current downturn.
Former CNN anchor Campbell Brown criticized New York teachers unions in a Wall Street Journal op-ed over the weekend without disclosing a possible conflict of interest -- her husband, Dan Senor, is a board member of an organization that opposes teachers unions.
On July 29, Brown criticized the New York teachers unions' handling of teachers accused of sexual misconduct:
Under current New York law, an accusation is first vetted by an independent investigator. (In New York City, that's the special commissioner of investigation; elsewhere in the state, it can be an independent law firm or the local school superintendent.) Then the case goes before an employment arbitrator. The local teachers union and school district together choose the arbitrators, who in turn are paid up to $1,400 per day. And therein lies the problem.
For many arbitrators, their livelihood depends on pleasing the unions (whether the United Federation of Teachers in New York City, or other local unions). And the unions--believing that they are helping the cause of teachers by being weak on sexual predators--prefer suspensions and fines, and not dismissal, for teachers charged with inappropriate sexual conduct.
But in her op-ed, Brown never disclosed that her husband, Dan Senor, is a board member of the anti-teachers union organization StudentFirstNY. This disclosure is even more important given the fact that one of the two teachers quoted in her piece, Michael Loeb, has blogged for StudentsFirst.org.
When confronted over the issue of her husband's work on Twitter and her lack of disclosure in her Wall Street Journal op-ed, Brown wrote: "B/c protecting kids from sex predator teacher is a partisan issue?"
This is at odds with a New York Times op-ed she wrote in May that was critical of President Obama, where she included the following statement:
I should disclose here that my husband is an adviser to Mr. Romney; I have no involvement with any campaign, and have been an independent journalist throughout my career.
Questions of disclosure over her husband's work for Mitt Romney also surfaced when she was a panelist during a Democratic presidential debate in 2007.
In contrast to Brown's attitude about disclosure over her husband's job, Washington Post education columnist Jay Matthews included the following statement about his wife's work in a July 27 post about declining test scores:
Disclosure: My wife, Linda Mathews, led USA TODAY's investigation of erasures, published in March 2011.