The Wall Street Journal published an editorial defending the latest report by StudentsFirst, an education reform group run by former Washington, D.C., schools superintendent Michelle Rhee, and failed to disclose the education interests of its parent company, News Corp., and its reported financial link to the advocacy organization.
In an editorial titled, “Where Failure Is a Virtue,” the Journal is critical of Richard Zeiger, California's chief deputy superintendent, for making light of his state's “F” grade on the StudentsFirst report and calling it a “badge of honor.” StudentsFirst ranked and graded each state's education policy on categories such as “value effective teachers” and “empower parents with information.” California was one of 11 states to receive an “F.” From the editorial:
Mr. Zeiger claimed to be elated by the failure. He called StudentsFirst “an organization that frankly makes its living by asserting that schools are failing,” adding to the New York Times that “I would have been surprised if we had got anything else.”
Mr. Zeiger is a factotum of the teachers unions that dominate California politics, so he naturally dislikes StudentsFirst because it advocates evaluating teachers based in part on student performance on standardized tests. Ms. Rhee and her reform group also want teacher evaluations to be made available to parents, among other policies to improve accountability. Unions don't like accountability.
In coming to Rhee's defense, the Journal failed to disclose links between News Corp. and the education reform industry. CEO Rupert Murdoch, who has expanded his media empire to include a digital education company, has reportedly donated to StudentsFirst. According to journalist Steve Brill's book Class Warfare: Inside the Fight to Fix America's Schools, Rhee “had gathered more than $100 million in donations or pledges from heavy hitters such as ... Rupert Murdoch.” Fox News' Neil Cavuto has similarly reported that Murdoch is a StudentsFirst donor. Murdoch has also publicly supported Rhee in her advocacy efforts, reportedly calling her “a bona fide reformer.”
News Corp.'s digital education arm, Amplify, is headed by former New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, who is also on the board of StudentsFirst. Following the release of the StudentsFirst report on January 7, Klein, who also holds the title of News Corp. executive vice president, and Rhee jointly authored a column for CNN.com touting the “first-of-its-kind report card.”
Murdoch has not been shy about his interest in the for-profit education industry, previously calling it a "$500 billion sector in the U.S. alone that is waiting desperately to be transformed."
As a 501(c)(4) organization, StudentsFirst has been able to largely keep its donors anonymous, and the organization has a policy of not commenting on its sources of funding. Last June, the group released IRS forms that showed it raised $7.6 million in its first nine months.