Education | Page 2 | Media Matters for America

Education

Issues ››› Education
  • CBS Evening News failed viewers in its DeVos interview on sexual assault protections 

    The show emphasized the "innocent students wrongly punished" without noting how rare false allegations are 

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    On September 7, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced plans to begin dismantling Obama-era protections for survivors of campus sexual assault, seemingly building her case on a common right-wing media argument that so-called “false allegations” are rampant on college campuses across America. Viewers who watched CBS Evening News' exclusive interview with DeVos, however, were provided with little to no context about the inaccurate nature of these claims. 

    In her speech, DeVos talked about the lives of "falsely accused students" who she said were "a victim of a lack of due process." DeVos argued that these students had to cope with having their hopes “dashed” and their futures “lost.” In focusing overwhelmingly on the "lives of the accused," DeVos reinforced right-wing media talking points about the frequency of false sexual assault allegations.

    DeVos also shared her plan to open a public “notice-and-comment” period about campus sexual assault regulations and indicated her intention to invalidate protections for survivors of sexual assault and harassment. Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 prohibits schools receiving federal funding from discriminating against students on the basis of sex. As Inside Higher Ed noted, previous case law had “established sexual violence as an issue of gender-based discrimination under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972”; the guidance instituted during Barack Obama's presidency served as an instruction to “higher ed institutions to do more to meet those obligations.”

    When reporting on the Obama-era guidance and DeVos’ proposed changes, however, CBS Evening News focused on right-wing media talking points that overstate the frequency of false allegations, despite an abundance of evidence of their rarity. During the September 7 segment, CBS’ Jan Crawford claimed that the guidance had disadvantaged those accused of sexual assault or harassment and ultimately created “another class of victims: innocent students wrongly punished.” Although Crawford couched this claim in the language of “opponents say,” she did not offer any evidence for such an allegation nor did she mention that statistics in fact demonstrate the rarity of false allegations.

    False reports are exceptionally rare -- representing between 2 and 10 percent of all reported cases. Meanwhile, according to research by the Rape, Abuse, & Incest Network (RAINN), 66 percent of rapes go unreported to law enforcement. The National Sexual Violence Resource Center found that “one in five women and one in 71 men will be raped at some point in their lives,” while the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey revealed that “nearly half” of survey respondents “were sexually assaulted at some point in their lifetime.”

    Nevertheless, CBS was content to rely on DeVos’ implications, which reflect years of inaccurate right-wing media talking points about sexual assault and harassment. Right-wing media have spent years attacking the credibility of survivors and misrepresenting the severity of sexual assault and harassment cases. Right-wing figures have disputed the veracity of campus sexual assault statistics, called reporting on statutory rape “whiny,” and claimed sexual assault survivors occupy a “coveted status.” These outlets have even gone so far as to suggest that feminism encourages sexual assault and that attempts to address the issue harm men and constitute “a war happening on boys.” Although right-wing media have most consistently made such claims, other outlets have been similarly guilty of sympathetically highlighting past accomplishments of the accused or worrying about the costs to their lives and careers. 

    While DeVos did not explicitly roll back the Obama-era guidance in her speech, her assumption of common right-wing media misinformation as truth, as well as her receptiveness to positions of extremists -- both within and outside her administration -- sends a clear and dangerous signal. For example, in July, DeVos planned a series of meetings with a number of extreme men’s rights groups, many of whom have a history of lobbying to roll back legal protections for survivors and openly attacking survivors of assault.

    When not seeking input from these groups, DeVos can rely on the department’s Office of Civil Rights head, Candice Jackson, to supply inflammatory and inaccurate guidance about sexual assault. Jackson has previously garnered attention for her comments that women who accused President Donald Trump of sexual misconduct were “fake victims,” as well as a statement to The New York Times that “90 percent” of sexual assault allegations occur because the individuals were “both drunk” or “months later” the woman “just decided that our last sleeping together was not quite right.’” Although Jackson later apologized for these comments, the fact remains: These are the opinions DeVos has courted in her quest to upend how campuses investigate sexual assault.

    CBS Evening News had an exclusive interview with DeVos after the announcement. Rather than fact-check her claims or even note the consequences her decision would have for sexual assault survivors, CBS decided to help DeVos spread the harmful misconception that the unheard voices in the fight against campus sexual assault were those of the “falsely accused.” As the National Women’s Law Center explained, DeVos’ announcement may appear “merely procedural,” but in reality it is “a blunt attack on survivors of sexual assault” because it “signals a green light to sweep sexual assault further under the rug.”

  • Newt Gingrich used Fox position to push for-profit colleges without disclosing conflict of interest

    Following Media Matters inquiry, FoxNews.com added belated editor’s notes disclosing Gingrich’s for-profit college ties

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI

    Newt Gingrich has been helping the for-profit college industry -- both behind the scenes and through his Fox News platform -- in its attempt to dismantle safeguards designed to protect students from being saddled with debt and targeted with unsavory practices.

    Gingrich’s efforts include FoxNews.com op-eds which, until recently, pushed for-profit college talking points without any disclosure that he works as a consultant for that industry.

    President Barack Obama led a crackdown on fraud and abusive practices within the for-profit college industry. For instance, the administration released regulations to let students "apply to have their federal loans discharged if their college used illegal and deceptive tactics to persuade them to borrow money to attend," as The Washington Post noted. It also made changes to the “gainful employment” rule, which, according to the Post, would have effectively “shut down for-profit programs that repeatedly fail to show, through certain measures, that graduates are earning enough to pay down the loans taken out to attend those programs.”

    Those reform measures were opposed by the for-profit college industry and its main lobbying organization, Career Education Colleges and Universities (CECU). The group states that it represents “more than 600 educational institutions” and “advocates for policies that seek to reduce the regulatory burden of all institutions of higher education.”

    Under President Donald Trump’s administration and Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos' supervision, the for-profit industry is making a comeback. Politico recently reported that “for-profit colleges are winning their battle to dismantle Obama-era restrictions as Education Secretary Betsy DeVos rolls back regulations, grants reprieves to schools at risk of losing their federal funding and stocks her agency with industry insiders.”

    The publication reported that as part of the industry’s efforts, CECU hired Gingrich as a consultant “to make connections inside the Trump world.” CECU is headed by former Rep. Steve Gunderson (R-WI), who is friends with Gingrich and had hired Callista Gingrich -- now nominated as the U.S. ambassador to the Holy See -- as a staffer in his House office. (Callista Gingrich also consulted for CECU, according to her financial disclosure forms.)

    Newt Gingrich has not only been doing the lobbying group’s work behind the scenes -- he’s also been using his position as a Fox News contributor to push for-profit college talking points, writing three FoxNews.com op-eds about the issue since he was hired by CECU.

    Gingrich wrote an August 5, 2016, op-ed in which he criticized the Democratic Party platform for imposing “special regulations targeting private sector colleges, universities and career education programs” and criticized the Obama administration for purportedly punishing “good, law abiding institutions that focus on skills training and career education.” That op-ed included a note that Gingrich “is an advisor to Career Education Colleges and Universities.”

    But two subsequent op-eds did not initially include any disclosure that Gingrich works for CECU.

    Gingrich wrote an op-ed in December in which he criticized the Department of Education for having “forced almost 900 private sector campuses into closure” in the past four years. The op-ed quoted “a recent analysis of Department of Education data by Career Education Colleges and Universities” to show that private sector schools are “critical” to certain industries. He also wrote that “the Trump administration should announce that it intends to make the disastrous Gainful Employment Rule open for review.” (The administration has since halted the rule.)

    He wrote another op-ed in March criticizing the Obama administration for having purportedly “made a mission out of demonizing private for-profit colleges and universities. … Not only will these Obama-led efforts hurt Americans, but without these colleges and career training programs, our ability to fill the jobs President Trump is working to bring to this county will be severely hindered.”

    Media Matters sent requests for comment to Fox News about the lack of disclosures. Fox did not respond but subsequently added editor’s notes about Gingrich’s conflict of interest.

    Gingrich has a history of problems with transparency and ethics ranging from his time as House speaker -- when, as NPR noted, “he was the first speaker of the House, ever, to be punished by the House for ethics violations” -- to his media career at CNN and Fox News.

    FoxNews.com recently initially failed to disclose another conflict of interest with op-ed writer James J. Fotis, who took to the website to defend recently pardoned racist Sheriff Joe Arpaio. That piece initially did not note that Fotis is “paid to run Arpaio's legal defense charity.” As the Post’s Erik Wemple noted about that op-ed, “When it comes to such disclosures, the more information, the better."  

  • For months, pundits have called Trump a populist, but his policies have been about giveaways to the rich

    ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    Several media outlets are suggesting that President Donald Trump’s August 30 speech calling for tax reform was a “populist pitch,” and dozens of media figures and outlets have been calling the president a “populist” since his inauguration. A closer examination of Trump’s policies, however, show a pattern of decisions that will create devastating impacts on Americans, particularly low-income residents, while providing handouts to corporations and the wealthiest citizens.

  • Children’s books about gender identity prompt right-wing media freakout over trans-inclusive education

    ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN

    Right-wing media figures have attacked a California elementary school teacher for reading two children’s books about gender identity to her kindergarten classroom after a transgender student brought one in to share. Despite the unique challenges for transgender students in schools, including increased risk of violence and a lack of resources, conservative figures highlighted “frightened” parents and asserted that “schools have become indoctrination grounds for the LGBT agenda.”

  • DeVos continues carrying out ALEC’s agenda by dismantling for-profit college accountability

    Blog ››› ››› BRETT ROBERTSON

    In a little-noticed action, on August 18, the Department of Education announced a rule change that will further loosen accountability of for-profit colleges. The move signals a continuation of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ American Legislative Exchange Council-inspired agenda: favoring the interests of fraudulent for-profit colleges over victimized students, and dismantling higher education accountability structures.

    In 2010, the administration of then-President Barack Obama announced new rules designed to ensure that for-profit career preparatory colleges yielded appropriate levels of “gainful employment” for their graduates. According to The Washington Post, the rule “effectively would shut down for-profit programs that repeatedly fail to show, through certain measures, that graduates are earning enough to pay down the loans taken out to attend those programs.” After a series of court challenges, and a process of negotiated rulemaking, the final guidelines were set to be instituted on July 1, 2017. Even before the rules were implemented, evidence indicated that the pending gainful employment regulations were already having an impact, with many colleges proactively shutting down programs that might have been noncompliant.

    Back in 2010, right-wing media were up in arms over Obama’s efforts to make changes to gainful employment rules. For instance, Breitbart.com claimed it was a sign that “for-profit education” was “under assault” and that Obama was “intentionally targeting job-creating schools.” The Daily Caller asserted that the Department of Education couldn’t be trusted to fairly renegotiate these rules.

    On July 20, DeVos spoke before the annual convention of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a corporate bill mill that shares model right-wing legislation with sympathetic state legislators. In her speech, she outlined a vision of higher education that includes changes to the gainful employment rule. DeVos characterized the Obama administration rewrite of the rule as “textbook overreach,” claiming it was part of an “administration-wide war on every type of organization they didn’t like.” Several for-profit colleges and trade groups are past or current members of ALEC, including the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities (the trade association of for-profit schools), Bridgepoint Education, Corinthian Colleges, and Kaplan Higher Education.

    One month later, on August 18, the Department of Education published new revisions to the gainful employment rule, circumventing the normal rulemaking process. The revisions change the process by which colleges can appeal violations of the gainful employment rule, and according to Consumerist, they “appear to tip the appeals process in the college’s favor.” The new rules eliminate guidelines specifying what data would be considered representative of the student body. Now a college can appeal using any data it chooses, and “DeVos would determine what is reliable on her own.”

    The new rule will likely make it easier for for-profit colleges to successfully avoid being sanctioned under the gainful employment rules. Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), the ranking Democrat on the Senate education committee, responded to the change by stating, “It’s clear Secretary DeVos has no intention of enforcing rules that protect students and instead is once again prioritizing predatory corporations and for-profit colleges.”

    In addition to the gainful employment rule change, DeVos has made other rule changes that benefit for-profit colleges. She elected to delay implementation of the borrower’s defense provision, which would have provided debt relief to students who were defrauded by for-profit universities. As of July 26, she had failed to approve a single application from over 65,000 students who applied for relief from debt accrued while attending now-shuttered for-profit colleges.

    The New York Times questioned whether DeVos’ Department of Education could be impartial about for-profit colleges when she appointed Richard Eitel, who had worked for a company that runs the troubled for-profit college chain Ashford University, to a special adviser position. DeVos also hired Taylor Hansen, a for-profit college lobbyist, onto her transition team. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) questioned DeVos over Hansen’s many conflicts of interest, and he resigned the same day. In addition, there are a substantial number of Education Department staffers with ties to dark-money “education reform” echo chamber groups that seek less accountability for for-profit institutions.

  • Charlottesville reveals dangerous new phase in right-wing assault on college campuses

    ››› ››› BRETT ROBERTSON

    The white supremacist rally this past weekend in Charlottesville, VA, which began on the campus of the University of Virginia, has raised concerns about similar activities happening at other colleges. Higher education media report college officials are growing concerned as white nationalist groups seek to hold similar events on more campuses throughout the U.S. These attempts represent an escalation of an ongoing right-wing assault on colleges.

  • Education Week reports on how DeVos' investment in "brain performance" company raises questions about her ethics and competence

    Blog ››› ››› BRETT ROBERTSON


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Despite “ethical questions,” Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos continues to invest money in the scientifically dubious company Neurocore, according to Education Week.

    In an August 7 report, Education Week reported that DeVos has “significantly increased her family’s financial stake” in the “brain performance” company Neurocore, which “makes questionable claims” about its ability to treat a number of neurological conditions in children and adults.

    According to Education Week, there are several concerns surrounding DeVos’ increasing investment in Neurocore: “ethical questions” about potential conflicts of interest and “fresh worries from some researchers about DeVos’s commitment to rigorous scientific research.” From the August 7 report:

    Neurocore purports to treat patients by analyzing their brainwaves and other biological signs, then providing “neurofeedback sessions” through which they can train their brains to function better. The company often uses such treatments with both adults and children. It charges as much as $2,200 for a 30-session cycle.

    Overall, the evidence base for neurofeedback is weak, experts say.

    Still, Neurocore has claimed that its technology can “fix” problems such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and has “proven and long-lasting” positive effects on children with autism. In January, Education Week reported that the American Academy of Pediatrics and leading researchers all said there was limited evidence to support such assertions.

    Now, the company is touting new research on its website. In a March press release, for example, Neurocore CEO Mark Murrison said a recently published study showed that Neurocore’s technology is a “viable treatment option for people dealing with anxiety or depression.”

    Three experts consulted by Education Week all questioned the legitimacy of such claims, citing serious flaws with the study’s design that prevented it from generating credible evidence.

    “They’re misleading, at best,” said Rebecca A. Maynard, a professor of education and social policy at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education.

    “It bothers me to see anyone misusing evidence and promoting things that mislead the public,” said Maynard, a former commissioner at the Institute of Education Sciences, the research arm of the federal education department that DeVos now heads.

    [...]

    Raising her financial stake in Neurocore does not cross any clear ethical lines, and federal ethics officials signed off on the moves, said Larry Noble, the senior director and general counsel at the Campaign Legal Center, a Washington nonprofit staffed by election-law experts who promote public participation in democratic processes.

    But the transactions do raise some new ethical questions for DeVos and the public moving forward, Noble said.

    “I would want to watch very carefully if there is anything the department of education is doing that one could argue is going to help that company,” he said. “Also, if she had any inside information about anything that could have influenced the value of that stock, and she increased her holdings because of that, it would be a problem.”

  • Fox News uses misleading statistics to suggest that white students are underrepresented in college

    Blog ››› ››› BRETT ROBERTSON


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    On August 1, The New York Times reported that the Department of Justice would be “investigating and suing universities over affirmative action admissions policies deemed to discriminate against white applicants.” On August 2, during a discussion on affirmative action, Fox News used misleading statistics to suggest that white students enroll in college at lower rates than black and Hispanic students.

    During a segment discussing the Times’ report, America’s Newsroom co-host Shannon Bream presented two tables, first the table on the left, then the right, stating:



    OK, I want to put up some numbers here just so people have a little bit of data in front of them to look at the official population estimates [left table]. This is the overall U.S. population. You can see the statistics there and you have the white population at 61.3 percent, and then a breakdown between black, Hispanic, and Asian and Pacific Islanders. Now when you look at those [right table] the racial makeup of U.S. undergraduate students, it’s about 5 percent lower for white students and slightly higher for each of the other groups represented there.

    By presenting these charts together, Bream is comparing apples to oranges. The racial composition of the entire U.S. population (shown in the left table) is substantially different from the racial makeup of 18- to 24-year-olds, the predominant undergraduate college-age population (right table). The median age of the white population in the United States is 12 years older than the median age of minority groups, the Pew Research Center has recently reported.

    According to the Department of Education, the 18- to 24-year-old population in the United States in 2015 was estimated to be 55.7 percent white, 14.2 percent black, 22.3 percent Hispanic, and 4.5 percent Asian or Pacific Islander. While it is unclear what Education Department data Fox News was citing to describe the “racial makeup of U.S. undergraduates” in “Fall 2015,” the National Center for Education Statistics indicates that the demographic breakdown of enrolled college students in 2015 was fairly closely aligned with the demographic makeup of all college-age students: 57.6 percent of students were white, 14.1 percent were black, 17.3 percent were Hispanic, and 6.8 percent were Asian/Pacific Islander. According to these figures, whites were overrepresented in college by about 2 percent and Hispanics were underrepresented by 5 percent.

    Research has shown that affirmative action does not impact the overall rate at which racial minority students enroll in college; rather, it helps minority students get into more selective colleges. According to a Brookings Institution study of state affirmative-action policies, “Affirmative action bans primarily shift minority student enrollment from more selective to less selective public universities while not reducing total enrollment.”