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  • Meet Charlie Kirk, The “Boy Wonder” Trump Ally Behind A Poorly Sourced McCarthy-Like Watchlist Of Professors

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    A new website called Professor Watchlist is soliciting “tips” to help publicly “expose and document” college professors who “advance leftist propaganda in the classroom.” The conservative group Turning Point USA, led by frequent Fox News guest and former Breitbart.com contributor Charlie Kirk, is behind the site.

    Professor Watchlist, which launched on November 21, encourages visitors to “submit a tip” to report professors who “discriminate against conservative students and advance leftist propaganda in the classroom.” (The website originally also solicited reports of professors who “promote anti-American values,” but that language has since been deleted.) The submission form allows visitors to identify professors by name and school, and to submit evidence of perceived bias discovered via “Article/News Report,” “1st Hand Experience,” or simply “Word of Mouth.” It also allows visitors to share optional “Video/Photo Evidence” of alleged transgressions. The site’s “About Us” page notes that it will “only publish profiles on incidents that have already been reported somewhere else,” though it does not provide further information on the quality of previous reporting required or the overall vetting process.

    As of noon on December 1, the site lists 143 professors by name, including photos of the allegedly biased educators, brief details of reported incidents that have warranted their inclusion on the site, and links to “source(s)” that reported the incidents. Of these 143 entries, right-wing student reporter website Campus Reform, operated by the conservative activist training group the Leadership Institute, served as the singular “source” for 75. The conservative student blog The College Fix sourced 10 entries, and the anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant David Horowitz Freedom Center’s website DiscoverTheNetworks, which often cites white nationalist groups, accounted for another 12. Other sources included Glenn Beck’s TheBlaze, FoxNews.com posts, and edited “undercover” videos from conservative activist James O’Keefe’s discredited group Project Veritas. (Even Bill O’Reilly expressed some concern about the legitimacy of these “third-party” reports in a recent interview with Kirk.)

    Kirk’s Professor Watchlist site mimics the M.O. of other “citizen journalist” vigilantes of the far-right, like O’Keefe’s Project Veritas, by promoting “tips” from the public with little accountability for the truth, yet potential real consequences for those caught in the crossfire.

    In fact, O’Keefe was invited to attend the final presidential debate courtesy of Kirk and Turning Point USA. Last year, O’Keefe spoke about “gorilla journalism” (sic) at a Turning Point USA event in West Palm Beach, FL, and Professor Watchlist cites his videos as the sole “source” justifying four entries so far.

    The “alt-right” white nationalist news site Breitbart.com, now predictably defending Kirk’s dangerous watchlist, has previously aligned itself with O’Keefe via exclusive releases and spirited defenses of his “journalism” tactics. Both Kirk and O’Keefe also appear to support Breitbart mouthpiece Milo Yiannopoulos, a racist and sexist media stunt artist who styles himself as a journalist.

    The 23-year-old Kirk has made guest appearances on Fox Business for several years. Kirk was previously a contributor at Breitbart, and he has written pieces for The Washington Times and FoxNews.com, among other right-wing outlets, beginning when he was in high school. On Twitter, Kirk has pushed Clinton conspiracy theories, repeatedly delighted in the failures of “the media,” and targetedleftist” professors and “likely” professors for perceived bias for years.

    In 2015, Kirk was the subject of several puff profiles labeling him a “major player in conservative politics” and a “boy wonder” set to “energize” the Republican Party. His group also hosted multiple “Big Government Sucks” rallies that year, with Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Rand Paul (R-KY) making appearances. In July of this year, Kirk spoke at the Republican National Convention about Turning Point USA, describing its work to push conservative values on college campuses, which he called “the most treacherous terrain imaginable.”

    Apart from “calling back to McCarthyism and making lists of college professors who have offended their conservative sensibilities,” Kirk’s Turning Point USA is classified as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization whose stated mission is to “identify, educate, train, and organize students to promote the principles of fiscal responsibility, free markets, and limited government.” The group claims to have a “presence” on 1,000 college and high school campuses nationally. Another of its projects, Hypeline News, is a “young-adult driven social news site” that employs college-age writers and says it’s “taking back the media.”

    Kirk personally publicly supported Trump for the final months of the election season (although during the primaries he called Trump a “statist” and “demagogue” and was “cheering for a slowdown of the Trump train” in March). In 2011, however, Kirk -- then a high school student -- repeatedly tweeted at Trump, encouraging him to run for president. Last week, Kirk reportedly met with undisclosed members of the Trump transition team at Trump Tower to give “advice on young people and millennials and outreach.”

  • 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. 

  • Four Ways Media Attack Organized Labor

    ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    As Labor Day approaches, Media Matters looks back at how media have attacked organized labor over the past year. In the midst of several important battles for labor unions in 2016, media have often pushed misleading information about union membership and fees, attempted to delegitimize the votes of union members, uncritically cited and elevated voices from anti-union dark-money groups without proper disclosure, and claimed that teachers unions’ activism shows that educators do not care about what’s best for their students.

  • 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. 

  • 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.

  • 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.

     

  • Here Are The Corporations And Right-Wing Funders Backing The Education Reform Movement

    A Guide To The Funders Behind A Tangled Network Of Advocacy, Research, Media, And Profiteering That’s Taking Over Public Education

    ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    Media Matters outlines the many overlapping connections in an echo chamber of education privatization advocacy groups, think tanks, and media outlets that are increasingly funded by a handful of conservative billionaires and for-profit education companies -- often without proper disclosure. 

  • Chicago Tribune's Anti-Teachers-Union Crusade Continues Over "Historic" Union Day Of Action

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) is coordinating a "day of action" walkout on April 1, and it will be joined by students from local universities, community activists, and other labor groups in what the union is calling a "historic" moment for the Chicago labor movement. CTU announced the one-day walkout after its membership voted to authorize the action in late March, and it follows months of contract negotiations amid widespread city and state budget issues. In the months since Chicago teachers' contract expired in June, the Chicago Tribune has frequently editorialized its opposition to union actions, mischaracterizing and dismissing educators' concerns and repeatedly accusing teachers of throwing a "tantrum" and abandoning students.

    The one-day walkout is meant to address unfair labor practices, which the union says include the school district's recent decision to stop paying raises based on experience and educational credentials and its proposal to phase out district contributions to teachers' pension plans. These decisions are the latest in an ongoing contract negotiation process that began more than a year ago, before the previous contract expired in June.

    Main points of negotiation for a new contract include class sizes, staffing resources for school nurses and librarians, members' pensions and health care plans, pay cuts and modifications to scheduled pay raises, and school closings. The Chicago Public School district (CPS) says it cannot fund the union's proposals; it is currently facing a $1.1 billion operating deficit. The union proposes generating new revenue by adopting tax reform targeted at the city's wealthiest taxpayers to pay for contract stipulations and to adequately fund schools, putting pressure on CPS, the city of Chicago, and state lawmakers.

    As the Tribune itself reported, union leadership has acknowledged that the day of action is part of a broader "labor-led fight" calling for the state of Illinois to prioritize finding new revenue to fund social services and public education. The action has gained the support of "other labor unions and community organizations" including a local group advocating for a $15 minimum wage, several colleges and universities, which are hosting rallies and teach-ins, a labor union representing faculty at several Illinois universities, and workers protesting layoffs elsewhere in the city.

    But that hasn't stopped the Chicago Tribune, the top daily newspaper in Illinois, from repeatedly publishing editorials that rely on mischaracterizations of CTU's activities to dismiss educators' concerns.

    In its most recent editorial on the walkout, from March 27, the Tribune described CTU leaders as having "spent weeks whipping their members into a froth," and having "stoked members' anger" over Chicago Public Schools' proposal to phase out existing teacher pension plans. The editorial referred to the walkout as a "hastily planned, unfocused Day of Tantrum," lamenting that educators would be "brandishing banners and hollering slogans in the Loop [downtown Chicago] for ... what?" And the Tribune implored Chicago teachers to cross picket lines during the walkout, writing that "gutsy educators" ought to "put their classroom service to Chicago's children first" and "rebel against misguided leadership," echoing the school district's opposition.

    A week earlier, the editorial board argued that "the teachers' tantrum" would be a "reckless action" that pits the union against "most workers in Chicago," who "don't have the luxury of stepping out for a day on a whim." The Tribune asked, "how does cheating kids of a precious day of education generate sympathy for the teachers' cause?"

    On March 11, the editorial board wrote, "If teachers walk, students would learn an acrid lesson about the teachers union's astonishing disrespect for the value of classroom instruction," bizarrely suggesting that educators somehow fail to understand the importance of classroom learning. The Tribune went on to accuse teachers of "abandon[ing] their students," throwing a "tantrum," and teaching students "that when money and education are in play, some adults put education second to their real priority."

    In December, the Tribune editorial board reacted to an initial strike authorization vote by the union by announcing, "Chicago teachers made the official announcement Monday. They're ready to walk out of their classrooms, to abandon their students as early as March," and characterizing CTU's contract negotiation priorities as "grenades." In another December editorial discussing a CPS contract proposal, the Tribune mocked CTU's response, asking, "What planet are you on?"

    The previous month, the editorial board conceded that layoffs, of which more were still to come, warranted a strike from CTU -- before mockingly outlining a "compromise" plan that shifted blame away from the school district, neglected CTU's stated priorities completely, and advocated for "compromises" in "reform[ing] ... labor policies" on the state level.

    The Chicago Tribune's commitment to opposing CTU's every move relies largely on misrepresentation. In characterizing CTU's day of action as a "tantrum," the Tribune fails to recognize the realities of the walkout.

    Tantrums are typically unplanned and sudden; the possibility of a strike has loomed over contract negotiations between the teachers union and the school district for months. In December, an overwhelming 88 percent of eligible union members voted to authorize leadership to call for a strike, according to the union. Union leadership had been publicly discussing the possibility of a strike since November, and contract negotiations have been underway for more than a year.

    Tantrums are typically responses that are unwarranted or disproportionate to the stimulus; the growing number of students, higher education faculty, activist groups, and other labor unions that are joining the union in its day of action suggests that the issue at hand resonates with the larger Chicago community. In fact, a poll released by the Tribune itself in February found that 60 percent of Chicagoans agreed with the teachers union on needed reforms in Chicago public schools. Among households with students attending Chicago public schools, low-income households, and black and Hispanic respondents, union support was even stronger.

    To suggest the walkout cheats students at the expense of teacher pay also ignores the circumstances of the action.

    Confusingly, the Tribune failed to recognize, in its lamentations of lost classroom time, that one of the major factors influencing the April 1 walkout was the "abrupt" announcement from CPS that teachers and staff would be asked to take three unpaid furlough days in an attempt to alleviate the district's budget problems. The Tribune editorial board did not criticize these furlough days, which would also result in at least one fewer regular school day for students.

    And in accusing the union of having "disrespect for the value of classroom instruction," the Tribune grazed over the many factors beyond teacher compensation that have led to the walkout. The union's initial vote to authorize a strike in December outlined its major demands, which incorporated a number of priorities related to both classroom experiences for students and members' job protections and supports. These included reducing standardized testing; allowing more teacher autonomy in grading; supporting counseling, nursing, and library staff; reducing class sizes; ensuring instruction in art, music, and technology; implementing restorative justice programs in select schools; and supporting translation and bilingual services.

    The Tribune's attacks on CTU are nothing new. The paper attacked CTU and its members back in 2012 when the union went on strike for seven days, before agreeing to the contract that expired in June. As CTU signaled its impending action, the Tribune immediately and repeatedly attacked the union's motives and suggested a contrast between what's best for students and what's best for teachers. "Let's make no mistake," the editorial board wrote in September of that year. "The union is not going to abandon those children because it's fighting for the best way to educate those children. It's fighting to protect the jobs of adults, the union members."

    The Tribune's treatment of CTU and its members has signaled a willingness to ignore the facts and a belief that educators' concerns ought to be dismissed. The paper's tone hasn't shifted in years, even as students, community activists, and other labor groups continue to join the union's organizing efforts, indicating more widespread local frustration with the financial hardships facing the city and state.

    Yet the Tribune, the most-read daily newspaper serving Chicago, continues to deliver its anti-union editorial crusade to Chicagoans' doorsteps.

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

  • Right-Wing Media Fearmonger About Nonexistent Forced Union Membership Following Supreme Court Decision

    ››› ››› DAYANITA RAMESH & DINA RADTKE

    On March 29, the Supreme Court announced a split vote in the public sector union case Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, upholding a decades-old practice that allows the union to collect a smaller "agency fee" from nonmembers who benefit from the union's collective bargaining efforts but don't pay full membership dues. Right-wing media reacted by mischaracterizing the fees and falsely claiming that the ruling forces employees to join unions and pay membership dues "whether [they] want to or not."

  • Why Media Should Be Skeptical Of Koch Brothers' New Anti-Poverty Group

    ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    Officials from the Koch brothers' funding arm have announced a new "venture philanthropy" project called Stand Together, with aims of "strengthening the fabric of American society," and focusing on "poverty" and "educational quality," according to USA Today. Media should know that: previous Koch-backed poverty and education efforts have been coupled with ideological proselytizing, Stand Together's executive director is a Koch veteran and former Republican congressional candidate who repeatedly fearmongered about the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and the group's top collaborator is associated with U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan's sham "anti-poverty" efforts.

  • WSJ Lines Up Behind Conservative "Web Of Dark Money" Pushing SCOTUS Case To Weaken Public-Sector Unions

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    The Wall Street Journal's editorial board predictably lined up behind the conservative establishment's interests by arguing in favor of a Supreme Court decision that would deal a blow to unions representing teachers, social workers, EMTs, firefighters, and other public employees.

    On January 11, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, a case calling into question a California state teachers union's right to charge an "agency fee" or "fair share fee" to non-members who benefit from the union's collective bargaining efforts despite not paying full membership dues. Media have noted that if the case results in the court overturning a previous decision, it would weaken all public-sector unions -- and a "who's who" of conservative anti-union backers have been instrumental in bringing it before the Supreme Court as quickly as possible.

    The "agency fee" principle was established in a 1977 Supreme Court case, Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, and was designed to prevent non-union employees from freely enjoying the substantial benefits negotiated by unions on behalf of their members. This so-called "free rider" problem would otherwise force unions to operate on smaller budgets but continue to bargain and organize on behalf of the same number of people. As The Atlantic reports:

    Under federal law, if a majority of employees decide to form a union, the union must represent all employees for bargaining purposes. But if some people decide not to join (whether because of genuine political disagreement or merely to save money on the fees), the union has less leverage because it represents fewer members. It also has less money to pay for the things that keep it strong, like bargaining and organizing. But it still has an obligation to do things such as bargaining and organizing since, in many states, public employers are required to bargain with unions.

    The Supreme Court's most recent decision on agency fees in the 2014 case Harris v. Quinn, which the Wall Street Journal also advocated for and celebrated, signaled the conservative majority's desire to revisit and potentially overturn Abood, and thus decades of labor law that are "vital to the very concept of public employee unionism" -- an opportunity Friedrichs now provides.

    Of course, the Wall Street Journal predictably jumped at the chance to fall in line with conservative interest groups pushing for a case like Friedrichs that could give the court -- in particular, Justice Samuel Alito, who seemingly asked for such a case in his Harris opinion -- the chance to overturn Abood. On January 10, the Journal's editorial board celebrated Friedrichs as "a rare and splendid opportunity to repair damage to the First Amendment done by the Court itself" -- at best, minimizing the implications for public-sector unions and public employees and, at worst, enjoying the prospect that institutions of organized labor could be dealt a serious blow with the decision. The editorial pushed several incorrect claims related to the case before concluding that Abood ought to be sent "to the mistake file" with the Friedrichs decision:

    But as the teachers point out, collective bargaining in government is impossible to separate from matters of ideological speech. For public teachers, collective bargaining involves wages and benefits that inevitably implicate fiscal policy and the tax burden. It also includes such controversial political matters as teacher evaluations and tenure. Individual teachers who object to the union's positions on these issues must nonetheless subsidize them.

    In her dissent in Harris, Justice Elena Kagan justified this state coercion for unions on grounds that the government has an interest in labor peace. But no great harm to the state or the public is caused by letting teachers exercise their free-speech right. The union won't vanish, or even lose its monopoly bargaining power. It will merely have less money to spend to influence politicians.

    The board claimed that "no great harm to the state or the public" would result from a decision overturning Abood, and that the California teachers' union "won't vanish, or even lose its monopoly bargaining power," but would "merely have less money to spend to influence politicians."

    The Journal's anti-union argument managed to be wrong on just about all counts: research shows that unions are severely weakened when they are no longer allowed to charge agency fees for collective bargaining activities, and the economy suffers as a result. In so-called "right-to-work" states, where unions cannot charge agency fees, unions have notably decreased in size and potential leverage, and public employees are earning less and enjoying fewer benefits. And as economist Larry Mishel, president of the Economic Policy Institute, points out, "a decline in unionization on the national level has caused wage stagnation, growing inequality, and the overall slippage of the American middle class."

    The Journal also mischaracterized the premise of agency fees, arguing that paying such fees requires public employees who do not agree with a union's political stances to "nonetheless subsidize them." The Abood decision establishing agency fees prevents exactly that, drawing a distinction that limits agency fee revenue to subsidize only collective bargaining activities, not political advocacy. The Journal's claim ignores that distinction to back the plaintiff's flawed argument that all union activity constitutes free speech -- even bargaining and organizing that directly benefit employees and prevent costly, escalated labor disputes.

    The Wall Street Journal's factually challenged opinion on the Friedrichs case should come as no surprise; the Journal has a long history of advocating for measures that would weaken organized labor, and members of its board are tied to the "web of dark money" responsible for pushing Friedrichs to the Supreme Court.

    The plaintiffs in Friedrichs, ten California public school teachers, are represented by conservative legal group the Center for Individual Rights (CIR), a pro-bono legal organization known for its work on cases dismantling affirmative action and civil rights protections, with donors connected to "the web of dark money" associated with anti-labor billionaires Charles and David Koch. CIR attorneys declined to argue the case in lower courts, instead pushing for the courts to issue decisions that would allow the case to move exceptionally quickly to the Supreme Court level. The CIR's funders constitute "a who's who of the right's opposition to organized labor." As The American Prospect reported:

    Koch-linked groups known to have made grants to CIR, according to the Center for Media and Democracy, include DonorsTrust, the Donors Capital Fund, and the Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation. Other CIR funders belong to the Koch donor network. Among them are the Dick and Betsy DeVos Family Foundation, as well as the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, which was instrumental in the legislative attack on labor in Wisconsin...

    Think tanks and groups that receive either direct funding from Koch entities or are linked to the Koch brothers' funding network also filed amicus briefs in favor of the Friedrichs plaintiffs. They include the Cato Institute, the National Right to Work Legal Defense Fund, and the Mackinac Center, a major force behind the 2012 anti-union legislation enacted in Michigan.

    According to journalist Laura Flanders, earlier in its history CIR also enjoyed the support of the Pioneer Fund, a white supremacist organization devoted to the promotion of eugenics.

    It's clear the "phony grass-roots support" behind Friedrichs is well-funded by the anti-labor conservative establishment, and propped up by research written by institutions and individuals receiving that funding. The Wall Street Journal editorial board's flimsy argument to overturn Abood may be no exception -- several members of the board have received large grants from the Bradley Foundation, one of the foundations involved in Wisconsin's "right-to-work" push in 2014 and a funder of the CIR. According to the Center for Media and Democracy, two of the foundation's annual $250,000 "Bradley Prizes" for journalism were awarded to Wall Street Journal columnists in 2014 -- one of whom sits on the paper's editorial board. In 2010, Paul A. Gigot, the editorial pages editor at the Journal, also received the Bradley prize.