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Hilary Tone

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  • Watch John Oliver Explain How Standardized Testing Has Gotten Out Of Control

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    Last Week Tonight host John Oliver highlighted the standardized testing environment in many of today's schools, discussing the high stakes and stress often associated with testing in classrooms across the United States.

    In contrast to recent calls for annual testing from some media outlets, Oliver spent nearly 18 minutes covering the current realities of standardized testing on the May 3 edition of HBO's Last Week Tonight, including high-stakes testing and value-added models that can negatively impact teachers and students. He also emphasized the connection to "publishing giant" Pearson, a company whom a Politico investigation found that "public officials often commit to buying from...even when there's little proof its products and services are effective."

    Oliver also drew attention to the recent battle over testing in Florida, and to the stress some students face as a result of standardized testing. He specifically pointed to test instructions in Ohio, which include procedures for students who vomit on the test booklet.

    Watch below:

  • Fox News Figures Blame Baltimore's "Awful," "Worst Schools On Earth" For Riots

    Blog ››› ››› HILARY TONE

    Three Fox News figures touted "school choice" as an appropriate response to the recent riots in Baltimore, faulting the city's "awful" and "worst schools on earth" for the violence. But their allegations ignore evidence that Baltimore public school students have made significant achievement gains over the past several years.

    Protests broke out in Baltimore over the weekend following the funeral of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man who died on April 19 from a spinal cord injury he sustained while in police custody a week earlier. Peaceful protests that devolved into violence led Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake to impose a weeklong, citywide 10 p.m. curfew, and both the Baltimore Police Department and the U.S. Department of Justice are investigating Gray's death.

    On Fox News, contributor Charles Krauthammer, frequent guest Rudy Giuliani, and host Gretchen Carlson touted "school choice" in separate discussions of the riots, insinuating that Baltimore public schools are to blame for the violence. On the April 28 edition of Special Report with Bret Baier, Krauthammer cited "the worst schools on Earth" as one of "two issues in the inner cities," concluding, "If you want to do something, let them choose their school."

  • WSJ Defends Shuttered For-Profit College Despite Evidence Of Fraud

    Blog ››› ››› HILARY TONE

    Everest CollegeThe Wall Street Journal editorial board falsely blamed the Obama administration for the closing of for-profit college company Corinthian Colleges, ignoring mountains of evidence that the company engaged in exploitative practices against its students.

    Corinthian Colleges Inc. announced on April 26 that it would immediately shut down its 28 remaining campuses, following reports that it has been "teetering on the brink of collapse for months." About 16,000 students in five states are affected by the move, which called "the final act of a slow-motion disintegration."

    On April 27, The Wall Street Journal editorial board defended Corinthian, claiming that the "feds and [California Attorney General] Kamala Harris put 16,000 students on the street." The editorial alleged that the Department of Education (ED) "began to drive Corinthian out of business by choking off federal student aid," that Corinthian was held at "government gunpoint," and that an ED "penalty scared away prospective buyers." The editorial concluded:

    Though Corinthian has established an escrow account for refunds, the reserve likely won't be sufficiently capitalized to cover 16,000 students. Maybe there would be more money for students if Corinthian didn't have to spend so much defending itself from the government. But for the Obama Administration, protecting students has always been second to its mission of doing whatever it takes to put for-profit schools out of business.

    The WSJ's attempt to blame the ED for Corinthian's collapse is misguided given that the for-profit company has been under investigation for years for "exploitative practices," including "predatory lending, deception in performance data and job placement rates, and bogus career services." Last summer, the ED cut Corinthian off from receiving federal aid, and penalized them with a $30 million fine earlier this month for 947 confirmed cases of "misrepresentation of job placement rates." California Attorney General Kamala Harris filed a lawsuit against Corinthian in 2013, alleging that the company "targeted some of our state's most particularly vulnerable people -- including low income, single mothers and veterans returning from combat."

    A group of former Corinthian students also announced earlier this year that they would "not repay any federal student loans they took out to attend Corinthian's schools," calling it a "debt strike." Officials from the ED, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and Department of the Treasury met with those former students last month and listened to claims that "they were either lured into taking out loans with bogus promises of future job prospects or were simply signed up for loans by their school's staff without their consent." Think Progress further noted in its "inside story" on Corinthian:

    The company's bait-and-switch approach to recruiting students -- or making sales to customers -- lured many ambitious people who thought they were investing in future economic security, workplace dignity, or job satisfaction. But ultimately, many of them were just buying a meaningless degree at a very high price.

    This isn't the first time the WSJ has used faulty arguments to defend for-profit colleges, or even its first foray into deceptive reporting on higher education and student debt. This editorial echoes a larger trend within conservative media to ignore the realities of America's student debt crisis.

    Image at top via Flickr user Jeramey Jannene using a Creative Commons license.

  • Washington Times Column Claims Common Core Is "Islamic Infiltration Of America"

    Blog ››› ››› HILARY TONE

    The conservative Washington Times published a series of bizarre conspiracy theories and claims about the Common Core State Standards, alleging that the educational standards amount to "Islamic infiltration of America."

    On April 7, The Washington Times published a piece by columnist and Fox News Radio analyst Bethany Blankley titled, "Common Core ties to Libya, Qatar, Saudi Arabia." Blankley conflated several stories unrelated to Common Core throughout the article, including the addition of two Muslim holy days to the New York City public school calendar and "public-school sponsored trips to mosques via taxpayer expense," to allege that the state standards are "but one of many parts of an intricate plan to infiltrate every area of American society with Islam." She also included a passage supposedly demonstrating Common Core's connection to foreign countries, relying on right-wing birther website WorldNetDaily for evidence:

    Globally, Common Core originated from the "One World Education" concept, a global goal orchestrated by the Connect All Schools program. Its origin is funded by the Qatar Foundation International (QFI). The director of QFI's Research Center for Islamic Legislation and Ethics is Tariq Ramadan, grandson of Muslim Brotherhood founder, Hassan al-Banna.

    According to the WND website, in 2011, QFI "partnered with the Department of State and the U.S. Department of Education to facilitate matchmaking between classrooms in the U.S. and international schools through ... the 'Connect All Schools' project." QFI states on its website that the initiative was founded in response to Mr. Obama's infamous 2009 Cairo speech, during which the Muslim Brotherhood was seated in the front row.

    Mr. Obama's mentor, domestic terrorist Bill Ayers, received $49.2 million from Vartan Gregorian, a board member of the Qatar Foundation, who also is involved with Mr. Obama's White House Fellowships Commission. Gregorian is an integral part of Connect All Schools, through which Qatar invested $5 million to teach Arabic in American public schools

    Such inexplicable conspiracy theories about Common Core, however, don't come as much of a surprise given Blankley's anti-Islamic agenda. On her personal website, Blankley has published several pieces supposedly uncovering "The Muslim Brotherhood's Infiltration of the American Government," in a series titled, "The Betrayal Papers," where she implicates everything from Common Core to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to the Department of Homeland Security.

    Blankley's piece is just the latest in a long history of Common Core misinformation from right-wing media. Multiple conservative outlets have promoted tired myths to stoke fears about this set of state-based education standards in math and English voluntarily adopted by 45 states in 2010. The conservative media outrage machine has turned Common Core into something of a "rallying cry" over the past few years, thanks to the loud and often misinformed voices telling audiences to be angry or in some cases, to boycott the tests associated with the standards.

    For more on the lies and misinformation about Common Core often propagated by conservative media, watch below:

  • New Study Highlights Lack Of Education Experts In Print And Online Media

    Blog ››› ››› HILARY TONE

    A new study finds that the "education experts" often cited in print and online news stories may have little expertise in education policy.

    In the most recent issue of the journal Education Policy Analysis Archives, authors Joel R. Malin and Christopher Lubienski at the University of Illinois published a study in which they "hypothesize that media impact is loosely coupled with educational expertise." The study, titled "Educational Expertise, Advocacy, and Media Influence," analyzed print and online media outlets, including some that focus exclusively on education, between January 1 and December 31, 2013. According to a February 20 post from ScienceDaily, the results found that the "people most often cited as 'education experts' in blogs and news stories may have the backing of influential organizations -- but have little background in education and education policy." The post continued (emphasis added):

    The findings are cause for concern because some prominent interest groups are promoting reform agendas and striving to influence policymakers and public opinion using individuals who have substantial media relations skills but little or no expertise in education research, say the authors of the study, Joel R. Malin and Christopher Lubienski, both at the University of Illinois.


    "Our findings suggest that individuals with less expertise can often have greater success in media penetration," said Malin, a curriculum specialist with the Pathways Resource Center and a doctoral candidate in educational administration and leadership at the university. "Although some individuals might not have formal training in research methods for analyzing the issues about which they are speaking, they possess skills and orientations that make them accessible and appealing to the media. And when these people are affiliated with organizations that have strong media arms or outreach efforts, they have the support and the incentive to engage broader and policy audiences."

    "Newer forms of media offer particularly useful opportunities for directly engaging audiences, while bypassing traditional forms of quality checks on expertise," said Lubienski, a professor of education policy and director of the Forum on the Future of Public Education at the university. "We believe caution and consideration of individuals' expertise are warranted when reporters and bloggers are researching topics and seeking insights -- and when policymakers and laypersons are consuming media."

    Similarly, a Media Matters report in November 2014 found that only 9 percent of guests discussing education on evening cable news were educators. Media Matters conducted an analysis of weeknight cable-news education segments from January 1 through October 31, 2014, and found that educators comprised 4 percent of education guests on CNN, 5 percent on Fox News, and 14 percent on MSNBC.

    Cable News Education Guests Bar Chart

    Cable News Education Guests Pie Chart

  • On Oklahoma AP History Controversy, Wash. Post's The Fix Uses Right-Wing Common Core Smear

    Blog ››› ››› HILARY TONE

    Washington Post's The Fix falsely referred to the Common Core State Standards as "federal" and "national," a scare tactic often used by right-wing media to smear the education standards.

    Earlier this week, the Oklahoma House Education Committee voted to ban Advanced Placement (AP) U.S. History, "persuaded by the argument that it only teaches students 'what is bad about America.'" According to Think Progress, the bill banning AP U.S. History "would also require schools to instruct students in a long list of 'foundational documents,' including the Ten Commandments, two sermons and three speeches by Ronald Reagan." As Tulsa World pointed out, the committee hearing also included discussion about the "legality" of teaching any AP courses in the state's public schools, largely from opponents of Common Core.

    In a February 17 post at The Washington Post's The Fix blog, Hunter Schwarz wrote that Oklahoma lawmakers "are considering dumping the Advanced Placement program because of its similarities to Common Core," and falsely referred to the standards as both "federal" and "national" (emphasis added):

    It's more controversial in a red state like Oklahoma that's more distrustful of federal standards being imposed; the poll found Republicans are more likely to view Common Core negatively than Democrats, 58 percent to 23 percent.

    But there are some major differences between AP and Common Core. For one, schools aren't required to offer AP courses and students aren't required to take them to graduate. Even without banning the program statewide, AP can be a local community decision.

    AP is also well-established. About one-third of public high school students in the class of 2013 took an AP exam, and the class of 2013 also scored a 3 or higher on more than a million tests -- a score typically accepted by colleges for credit, according to the College Board, which oversees the program. The University of Oklahoma accepts scores of 3 or higher in nearly 40 subject areas.

    Although fighting against national education standards has become popular among some Republicans, equating Common Core to AP isn't a direct comparison, and it's likely to be a tougher slog because of it.

    The myth that the Common Core State Standards are a federal initiative has been long debunked, despite its frequent use by conservative media to stoke fears about the standards. Voluntarily adopted in 2010 by 45 states and the District of Columbia, the Common Core is a set of standards in math and English that was developed by a bipartisan group of governors, state school chiefs, and teachers, among others. As the standards have taken hold in many states, some controversy has surrounded their rollout, with even Common Core supporters calling its implementation "botched."

    The right-wing media outrage machine, however, has turned Common Core into something of a "rallying cry" over the past few years, thanks to the loud and often misinformed voices telling audiences to be angry or in some cases, to boycott the tests associated with the standards. The misguided notion that Common Core is a federal program comes as no surprise from conservative media voices, but is an unfortunate find in The Fix's education coverage.

  • Teachers On Trial: 5 Times The Media Failed Educators In 2014

    Blog ››› ››› HILARY TONE

    Teachers faced an unprecedented level of scrutiny in 2014, thanks to a landmark legal case dismantling teacher tenure in California, which is likely to spark copycats lawsuits across the country. In part due to this increased scrutiny, educators also encountered various attacks from mainstream and conservative media over the year, five of which were particularly egregious.

    In June, a California Superior Court handed down the decision in the Vergara v. California trial, a case in which "a group of student plaintiffs ... argued that state tenure laws had deprived them of a decent education by leaving bad teachers in place." Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rolf M. Treu sided with the students, in a ruling that Teacher Wars author Dana Goldstein wrote "has the potential to overturn five state laws governing" how tenure, which helps guarantee due process to prevent "capricious firings," operates in the state. The lawsuit became something of a model for media attacks -- sparking reactions that ranged from outraged to elated -- and prompted extensive media discussion about the positives and negatives to reform of the public education system.

    Unfortunately, much of this discussion featured direct attacks on educators in 2014. They came from all facets of the media sphere, and were often rooted in conservative misinformation, though some rang louder, stronger, and more abhorrent than others.

    Here are the top five times media failed educators in 2014.

    5. The Coverage Of Time Magazine's "Rotten Apples" Cover.

    Time CoverThe November 3 cover story of Time magazine, titled "The War on Teacher Tenure" and promoted on the cover as "Rotten Apples," spurred significant backlash, particularly among teachers, who were dismayed at the portrayal of their profession as "rotten." The backlash led to a petition calling for an apology from Time that garnered more than 70,000 signatures. In their coverage of the Time backlash, however, several media outlets, including MSNBC's Morning Joe, Fox News' Outnumbered, and The Weekly Standard's blog failed to discuss what was at the heart of the controversy: due process for teachers. These media outlets instead took to doubling down on the allegations of "rotten," and making outlandish claims. 

    4. Fox News' Misplaced Blame On Teachers Unions.

    If Fox News can find a way to blame any education controversy on teachers or teachers unions, it will do so. Two such instances in 2014 were particularly egregious. When hundreds of Colorado high school students walked out of class to protest a "conservative-led school board proposal" to change their history curriculum, Fox hosted the country board of education president to falsely allege that "teachers [were] using students" as "pawns" not over the history proposal, but over an upcoming teachers union contract. And in March, when New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that he would block three charter schools from using public school space rent-free, Fox figures took to speculating and attacking teachers and teachers unions, arguing, among other things, that de Blasio was trying to "kiss back butt on the unions" and wage a "war on children."

    3. Glenn Beck's Book On Public Education.

    Glenn Beck's book Conform, released in May and co-authored with Kyle Olson, lobbed a number of laughable attacks against public schools, the Common Core State Standards, and in particular, teachers. His ridiculous attacks on teachers included claiming that:

    • Longer school days help teachers encourage "teen sexual activity."
    • "Most teachers get a raise for not dying over the summer."
    • Teachers' colleges are "not very hard" to get into and are "Marxist brainwashing factories."
    • "Radical educators" use civil rights to "further their Marxist agenda."

    Glenn Beck & Book

    2. The Koch Connection To A Kansas Law Dismantling Teachers Rights.

    In April, the Kansas State Legislature passed a bill in a whirlwind weekend session that "kill[ed] long-held teacher rights" in the state, namely the right to due process. In addition to being pushed by the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity, the bill was also introduced by a committee whose chairman had ties to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which has received "untold sums of cash" from the Koch brothers. None of the three major newspapers in Kansas, however, made the connection between the legislation and the Koch brothers in their original reporting.

    Kansas Papers

    1. Lack Of Educator Voices In Cable Evening News Education Coverage.

    Media Matters conducted an analysis of education coverage on weeknight cable news programs from January 1 to October 31, 2014, to determine how many of the shows' guests who discussed the topic were educators. The report found that across CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC, educators made up only 9 percent of guests during education segments, with each network only hosting a total of one, four, and eleven educators, respectively.

    Cable News Coverage Chart

    This post has been updated for accuracy.