More Truth in Teacher-Written Education Blogs Than Corporate Media

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Let’s get one thing straight right from the get go: I am biased.

 

But so are you.

 

So are the parents, students, principals and school directors. So are the policymakers, the corporate donors and professional journalists.

 

Everyone involved in education policy is interested in one side or another of the debate. It’s just that some pretend to practice a kind of objectivity while others are open about their partiality.

 

It’s unavoidable. I’m a public school teacher. Not merely someone who’s taught in a public school for a few years – I’m an educator with more than 15 years experience in the classroom. And I’m still there.

 

I’m not a Teach for America recruit who committed myself to three years in front of children after a few weeks crash course. Where I am now was my goal in the first place. I’m not doing this to get the credentials for my real dream job, being an education policy advisor for a Congressperson or Senator. Nor do I plan to become a Superintendent, Principal or school administrator someday.

 

All along, my goal was to have a classroom of my own where I could help children learn.

 

Moreover, I’m a public school parent. My daughter goes to the same public school my wife and I both attended as children. We could have sent her to a charter or private school. But we made the conscious choice not to, and we’ve never regretted it.

 

Our local district serves a mostly high poverty population. More than half of the students are minorities. The facilities aren’t as up to date as you’ll find in richer neighborhoods. Class sizes are too large. But we decided that being a part of the community school was important, and much of what my child has learned there simply isn’t taught at schools where everyone is the same.

 

So when you read one of my blogs (even this one), it comes from a certain point of view. And I’m okay with that. You should be, too.

 

However, when you read an article in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times or Pittsburgh Tribune Review, there is a presumption of detachment and neutrality. But it’s bogus.

 

Those articles are written by human beings, too, and thus they are likewise biased.

 

The only difference is what exactly that bias is.

 

My preference is plain and on the surface. I am in favor of public schools over privatized ones. I support teachers over corporations making decisions about how to educate. I’m an advocate for children and families.

 

When you read an article in the mainstream media, you frankly have no idea which direction their inclinations swerve.

 

However, you do know that money often plays a major role in their editorial spin.

 

Journalism is a business. Perhaps it should be a public good. We used to look at it that way. We used to try to keep it separate from advertising. It didn’t have to make a profit.

 

But that’s all changed. Now it’s expected to bring in money. It’s expected to generate “value” for the corporation that owns it. However, we rarely stop to think how corrupting an influence that is.

 

For some people, my position as an educator discredits my knowledge of schools. Yet getting paid by huge testing corporations doesn’t discredit journalists!?

 

I speak here from experience, too. I used to be a professional journalist.

 

Before becoming a teacher, I worked full-time at various daily and weekly newspapers in Western Pennsylvania. I can tell you first hand that sometimes editors encouraged or physically rewrote articles to spin the story the way they wanted.

 

I remember writing a story about a local tax collector seeking re-election. I didn’t know him, personally, but I had heard several rumors about unsavory practices he had allegedly engaged in while employed in a different capacity as a public servant. So I did research and found that they were true. I had proof. I even confronted him, personally, with what I had found to give him a chance to explain.

 

However, when I submitted the article, my editor had a conniption. Apparently, the tax collector had called the paper threatening to cause trouble. So the article was completely rewritten to downplay what I had discovered.

 

None of it mattered that much. It was just a local tax collector’s race. Frankly, I can’t even remember if he won re-election. But it was demonstrative of what happens in editorial departments.

 

I’ve seen businesses complain about news articles and threaten to withdraw advertising. I’ve seen colorful, glossy info-packets sent to reporters seeking articles about subjects enticing them with the ease of approaching it from their point of view. I’ve had editors assign me stories that I thought were non-issues and then they tweaked my finished product so it had the implications they intended from the get-go.

 

If that happens at the local level, imagine what happens at the biggest corporate offices.

 

Now don’t get me wrong.

 

I’m not saying that mainstream media is nothing but lies. I’ll leave that claim for the President. But it IS biased. And as smart consumers of media, we need to be aware of it.

 

We need to be aware that corporate media is often going to take the side of big corporations. They’re going to be in favor of standardized testing, Common Core, charter and voucher schools. They’re going to talk up computer-based depersonalized learning. They’re going to uncritically criticize those standing in the way of corporate profits – i.e. teachers.

 

This doesn’t mean readers shouldn’t trust education reporting from professional journalists. There are writers out there who are trying to present both sides of the issue without editorial meddling. There are reporters who understand the big picture and are trying to expose the truth. Moreover, they have resources that bloggers often don’t – copy editors, fact checkers, knowledgeable and experienced colleagues in media, etc.

 

However, they are frankly working with significant limitations that teacher bloggers don’t have.

 

When I want to know how public schools work, I can simply appeal to my first hand experience. When a reporter want to do that, she is often stymied by rules and regulations that keep people like them out.

 

They are rarely permitted inside our schools to see the day-to-day classroom experience. Legal issues about which students may be photographed, filmed or interviewed, the difficulty of getting parental permissions and the possibility of embarrassment to principals and administrators often keeps the doors closed. In many districts, teachers aren’t even allowed to speak on the record to the media or doing so can make them a political target. So reporters are often in the position of being unable to directly experience the very thing they’re reporting on.

 

If I read a book about baseball, I might know a lot of facts about the players. But that can’t compare with someone who’s actually been to the games, been on the field, even played in the World Series!

 

 

At the same time, education blogs aren’t perfect either. For one, you have to be cognizant of who is writing them.

 

You’re currently reading The Gadfly on the Wall Blog. But that’s worlds different than reading the Education Gadfly. The latter site is owned and operated by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. This organization actually runs charter schools in Ohio. They spend millions of dollars spreading propaganda on charter authorization, school choice, standardized curriculum, digital learning, standards, testing, etc.

 

I, on the other hand, am just a school teacher with a laptop. Education Gadfly has a paid staff. No one pays me a dime nor do I even sell advertisements.

 

To be fair, I operate on a free WordPress site and sometimes WordPress puts ads on my page. But I don’t see any of that money. It’s just the cost of having a free site. If I wanted to pay for it, I could get an ad-free site.

 

Also, once in a blue moon a Website that reposts my blog pays me a couple of bucks for the privilege. So maybe I’ve ordered a pizza or two with money from the blog, but I certainly couldn’t survive off the revenue from it. I would literally make more money working one week at WalMart than I’ve ever pulled in from three years of education bloggery.

 

 

These are the reasons why teacher-written education blogs are superior to the competition.

 

They aren’t beholden to corporate money or influence. They have first-hand experience of the subject.

 

Journalists have a hard job and they deserve our respect. But they can’t compare to the expertise of practicing educators.

 

If editors included our voices more, perhaps the mainstream media wouldn’t be so skewed towards corporate interests.

 

But that’s really the goal, in the first place.

The Arrogant Ignorance of Campbell Brown: Education Journalism in Decline

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Apparently facts don’t matter much to Campbell Brown.

 

 

Though her latest “fact” about public schools has once again been shown to be more truthiness than truth, she refuses to retract it.

 

 

During an interview published in Slate where she gave advice to the next president, she said:

 

 

“Two out of three eighth graders in this country cannot read or do math at grade level. We are not preparing our kids for what the future holds.”

 

It’s a scary statistic. The problem is it’s completely unsupported by evidence.

 

And when education experts called her out on it, she complained that SHE was being attacked.

 

When pressed, Brown admitted she got this figure from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) a test given to random samples of students in fourth and eighth grades every two years.

 

However, Brown either misunderstands or misinterprets the scores. If one were to interpret the data in the way Brown suggests, the highest scoring countries in the world would be full of children who can’t read at grade level. Hardly anyone in the world would be literate or could add and subtract. It’s beyond absurd.

 

And when she was notified of her error by authorities in the field including Carol Burris, Tom Loveless and Diane Ravitch – who, by the way, served on the NAEP Governing Board for seven years – Brown responded by likening her critics to Donald Trump.

 

She wrote:

 

“That the people who disagree with my characterization would react by attacking me personally… speaks volumes. Those feigning outrage over the difference between “grade level” and “grade level proficiency” are the people who profit off the system’s failure and feel compelled to defend it at all costs. Sadly, in the age of Donald Trump and Diane Ravitch, this is what constitutes discourse.”

 

I especially like the bit where she attacks experts, teachers, and PhDs because they “profit off the system’s failure.” It’s pretty rich stuff coming from Brown who makes a pretty penny retelling the fairytale of “failing public schools.”

 

Once upon a time, Brown was a respected reported for NBC and anchorperson for CNN.

 

 

Now she’s a paid Internet troll.

 

 

I’m sorry if that sounds harsh, but it’s true.

 

 

She co-founded and edits a Website called The Seventy Four – a reference to the 74 million children across the country who are 18 or younger.

 

 

It might be more honest to call it The Four, instead, for the $4 million she receives annually from the mega-rich backers of school privatization to bankroll the endeavor.

 

 

She claims her site is “nonpartisan.” Funny. I guess that explains why she continually backs every cause and campaign championed by her donors.

 

 

Change all public schools to private charter schools? Check.

 

Block teachers unions from collectively bargaining? Check.

 

 

Ignore the overwhelming preponderance of stories about charter schools cheating the public and their students? Check.

 

 

When called out on her bias, she proudly proclaimed, “I have learned that not every story has two sides… Is The Seventy Four journalism or advocacy? For 74 million reasons, we are both.”

 

 

Pithy. Yet it remains unclear exactly how the nation’s school children will benefit from Bill Gates and the Walton Family having an even larger say in education policy.

 

Brown has sold her image and rep as a journalist so it can be used to purposefully mislead the public into thinking she is still dedicated to those endeavors. She’s not. What she’s offering these days is not News. It’s bought-and-paid-for public relations meant to destroy our nation’s public schools.

 

If anyone thought Brown retained even a shred of journalistic integrity left, she should have removed it when she called herself, “a soldier in Eva’s army.” This is a reference to Eva Moskowitz, the founder and CEO of a New York City charter school chain – Success Academy – where children are put under such pressure they wet themselves during testing and kids in first grade are shamed and berated for math mistakes.

 

As a public school teacher, myself, this makes me sad.

 

John Merrow, one of the elder statesmen of education journalism, recently proclaimed that we live in the “golden age of education reporting.”

 

I must respectfully disagree.

 

Yes, there is more being written about education policy and public schools than ever before.

 

But most of it is just paid advertisements from the standardization and privatization industry.

 

Look who’s funding these stories.

 

 

TV Networks such as NBC, MSNBC and Telemundo have broadcast various education segments on “Nightly News” and “Today” underwritten by Bill Gates and Eli Broad.

 

 

The Education Writers Association – which boasts more than 3,00 members – receives money from Gates and Walton. The L.A. Times receives funds from Broad for its Education Matters Digital initiative.

 

On-line publications also have been infiltrated. The Education Post took $12 million in start-up funds provided by Broad, Bloomberg and the Waltons. The site focuses on “K-12 academic standards, high-quality charter schools and how best to hold teachers and schools accountable for educating students,” according to the Washington Post.

 

Even well-respected education blogs including Chalkbeat and Education Week are funded in part by the Waltons (in the latter case, specifically for “coverage of school choice and [so-called] parent-empowerment issues.”) Education Week even tweets out paid advertisements for Teach for America as if they were news stories!

 

 

We’ve all seen “Waiting for Superman,” the infamous union bashing, charter loving propaganda film packaged as a documentary. Its popularity was helped with outreach and engagement funds by the Waltons and a host of other privatizers. It’s far from the only effort by market-driven billionaires to infiltrate popular culture with corporate education reform. They tried to sell the parent trigger law with “Won’t Back Down,” but no one was buying. Efforts continue in Marvel Studios television shows.

 

A plethora of teachers, academics and other grassroots bloggers have taken to the Internet to correct the record. But they are often ignored or drowned out by the white noise of the same corporate education reform narratives being told again-and-again without any firm footing in reality. In fact, after blogger and former teacher Anthony Cody won first prize from the Education Writers Association in 2014 for his criticism of Gates, the organization banned bloggers from subsequent consideration.

 

We bloggers are almost completely unpaid. We do it because we care about our profession. Meanwhile the so-called “news” sources are funded by corporate special interests, yet it is bloggers that are looked at as if they were somehow reprehensibly compromised and biased.

 

Education journalism is not going through a golden age. It’s a sham, a farce.

 

When we allow our news to be funded by private interests, we lose all objectivity. The stories are spun to meet the demands of the big foundations, the billionaires bankrolling them. And the real experts in the field are either not consulted or left to quixotically do whatever they can on their own time.

 

Education journalism isn’t about what’s best for children. It’s about how best to monetize the system to wring as many taxpayer dollars out of our schools as possible for corporate interests.

 

It goes something like this: reduce the quality to reduce the cost and swallow the savings as profit. But it’s sold to the public in propaganda that we call journalism.

 

As famed cartoonist and counter-culture figure Robert Crumb wrote in 2015:

 

“You don’t have journalists [in America] anymore. What they have is public relations people. Two-hundred and fifty thousand people in public relations. And a dwindling number of actual reporters and journalists.”

 

Nowhere is this as obvious as with Brown.

 

Just as Broad was initiating a plan in February to double the number of charter schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District, Brown’s site, the Seventy Four, was given control of the LA School Report, an on-line news site focusing on the second largest district in the country. Brown was expected to run interference for the takeover. She was running the propaganda arm of the privatization push.

 

And that’s really what’s happening with our education journalism.

 

I’m not saying there aren’t actual journalists out there trying to tell unbiased stories. But they are few and far between. They are beset by corporate interests. And anyone who wants to tell the truth is silenced or marginalized.

 

As we’ve seen, when you actually try to point out errors like Brown’s ridiculous assertions about eighth grade students, the media treats it as a he-said-she-said.

 

They say, “Wow! Teachers really hate Brown.” Shrug.

 

Meanwhile the truth is left murdered on the floor as our schools are pillaged and sacked.

Should Teachers Have Strong Opinions?

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I am an opinionated person. I am also a public school teacher.

 

Those two things should not be mutually exclusive.

 

You should not have to give up the one to be able to do the other.

 

Teachers should not have to relinquish their judgment in order to run an effective classroom. In fact, you might expect good judgment to be a prerequisite to doing the job well.

 

Yet it seems many people disagree. They like their teachers tame, docile and opinion-free.

 

That’s just not me.

 

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying teachers should instruct their students to think just like them. I’m not saying they should indoctrinate or unduly influence the young people in their care.

 

Just the opposite. They should spur their students to think for themselves. They should teach the young how to entertain an idea without immediately accepting it.

 

But they have no business telling students, “This is what I believe.” They have no business misusing their authority to make their views seem normative.

 

So I agree that teachers should be careful about expressing their opinions in the classroom. The problem comes after the school day is through.

 

When a teacher goes home, all bets are off. When a teacher is not in front of a class of impressionable children, he or she should be afforded the same rights and privileges of any other citizen – and that includes the right to form an opinion and express it publicly.

 

I am an educator. Hear me roar.

 

That’s why – like many people in my field – I write an education blog.

 

I’m sick of the media reporting on K-12 schools but never asking classroom teachers their opinions.

 

Almost all major education policy in our country is made with little-to-no input from teachers: Common Core, high-stakes testing, value added measures, charter schools, Teach for America, school funding – the list goes on and on.

 

No one asks us what we think so many teachers scribble down their private musings and send them adrift on the Nile of the Internet.

 

This makes some people very angry.

 

These folks often respond: How dare they!? No one asked their opinion!

 

EXACTLY.

 

Some of us, teachers, even dare to address issues that don’t directly affect the classroom: racism, sexism, police brutality, the prison system, parenting – Heaven forbid – POLITICS!

 

Those who criticize us for commenting on such disparate matters have a very narrow view of relevance. Just because a subject doesn’t include the word “school” doesn’t make it irrelevant to the classroom. Most of my students are impoverished and minorities. You think racism doesn’t impact their lives? You think I see nothing of the effects of poverty? You think I have nothing to say about my children’s relationship with the police?

 

Still, few things upset some readers as much as the knowledge that I both teach and think.

 

“I’m glad my child doesn’t have a teacher like you,” some of them say. Or “No one who feels the way you do should be allowed in a classroom.” Or “This is why I homeschool.”

 

It’s funny. You never hear people speak this way of any other profession. Only teachers. We are demanded to pass a purity test from which even the priesthood is exempt.

 

The clergy are rarely instructed to keep their noses out of politics. They’re even invited to do so from the pulpit. But teachers? No way! Not even on our off hours.

 

It’s almost as if some folks think teachers are incapable of forming an opinion and not blurting it out in class. “Stop coloring, children! I must regale you with the inadequacies of former Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia!”

 

It’s ridiculous. But it makes me wonder. How much of this restraint do these critics practice in their own homes?

 

Do these same people who fear a teacher’s opinion stop themselves from influencing the views of their own children? Do they let their little ones make up their own minds about the world or do they tell them what to think?

 

It’s not surprising that most people hold the same religion as their parents. Do we all start with an unbiased view of faith and just magically find the beliefs of our fathers the most suited to our own lives? Or do most parents stack the deck? Don’t most of us actively teach our children THIS is the way to believe?

 

I wonder if these critics of teachers are really just afraid educators will disrupt their own work. How many parents want their own children to believe the same way they do? How many are afraid the schools will allow children to come to different conclusions? How many are afraid of being alienated from their own progeny?

 

I’ll let you in on a little secret. I’m a parent, too.

 

And, yes, I say things to my own child that I would not tell my students. If she asks a question, I give her a full answer including what I think about it. That’s a parent’s prerogative.

 

However, I don’t insist she believe as I do. My daughter knows I want her to make up her own mind. I appreciate our differences and love her even more because of them.

 

I don’t want her to be a carbon copy of me. Nor do I want that of my students or my readers.

 

I just want a fair hearing.

 

Hello, World! This is what I think! This is why I think it!

 

And I wait for the world to answer back.
I send my little message in a bottle onto the waves of the Interwebs.

 

I just wish it sometimes didn’t return with a note telling me to shut up because I’m a teacher.


NOTE: This article was also discussed on Diane Ravitch’s blog.

 

Here Comes Everyone – a Day of Inspiration and Advocacy at the Network for Public Education Conference

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Let me ask you a hypothetical question:

If you could have dinner with any five people in the world, who would they be?

You don’t have to ask me that question. I not only had dinner with them, I spent the whole freaking day with them at the Network for Public Education Conference!

And there were more like 500 of those folks!

Imagine everyone you’ve ever read about in the resistance to corporate education reform.

Imagine them all in one place, standing in line all around you waiting to select a Danish.

Yeah. That was breakfast.

I invited the amazing Pennsylvania blogger Russ Walsh to my table to chat over bagels and coffee.

I told him that I’d been so inspired by his criticism of the Dibels test that I refused to allow my own daughter to take it. He laughed and said it was a mighty responsibility.

We hung out. No big deal.

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And then I saw Peter Greene of the Curmudgucation blog. We sat together during a break out session and talked shop. He told me how it was frustrating sometimes to feed the beast – to keep writing articles after one of yours had made an impression. I laughed because I knew exactly what he was talking about.

We’re best friends now.

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I was walking down a hallway and there was Diane Ravich right behind me.

Yes! Right. Behind. Me.

I tried to collect myself before walking up to her.

Don’t blow this, Singer! I warned myself, but I kinda’ did anyway.

I introduced myself and shook her hand. She knew exactly who I was and said, “I love your blog.”

SIGH.

She loves my blog.

But then I opened my mouth to respond, and all that came out were unrelated syllables. Something like, “blllurgghh.”

But there were more people waiting to talk to her. She probably didn’t notice. Right?

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And really I could go on like this for days.

However, it wasn’t just the opportunity to meet and talk with education heroes. The breakout sessions were amazing:

The Opening Symposium

Brother Jitu Brown of NPE and Tanasia Brown from the Newark Student Union were inspiration personified. Though she’s only a student, Tanasia lead the assembly like a seasoned preacher on Sunday. And Jitu’s words just made you want to rush out of those doors and renew the fight.

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Debunking Myths:

It may not be the zombie apocalypse yet, but some decaying half-dead arguments continue to shamble across the scene. They’ve been disproven repeatedly but some people refused to accept it. Media Matters Hilary Tone and People for the American Way’s Diallo Brooks gave some excellent tips for putting these zombie arguments to rest:

Six Tips For Debunking Myths

1) Familiarize facts – minimize falsity. Start with the truth, not what’s wrong.

2) People believe what they hear. Warn them about it. “You’ll probably hear the Koch Bros. say…”

3) Don’t just debunk – retell. After dispelling a lie, make sure to give a new narrative to replace it.

4) Use graphics. People love visuals.

5) Make things easy to understand. Don’t use jargon. Expect no prior knowledge.

6) Messengers matter. Credible and unexpected sources can be very convincing. When someone you’d expect to disagree with you actually agrees, it makes people think, “Even THIS guy gets it.”

Other tidbits include:

-Call out false progressives. If they don’t understand the real problems, they can’t come up with real solutions.

-The media only talks about education policy with actual education experts 9% of the time.

 

America’s Suicidal Quest for Educational Excellence:

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Author Yong Zhao brought down the house with an amazing and hilarious presentation. He argued that America’s corporate educational reform movement is destroying the very things about our education system that makes it great.

The goal of increased standardized test scores is ill conceived. Countries with high test scores produce graduates who are less creative and interested in education. Why is this something we want to emulate?

Other tidbits:

-Standardization isn’t a reform. China’s been doing it since 600 AD.

-Our schools aren’t getting worse on standardized tests. They’ve always been bad at them. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

-We’re working to weed out and select kids. If children do what some few people want, they’re gifted. If not, they’re special ed. But does that mean our requirements are any good?

-Societies aren’t murdered. They commit suicide. Focusing on standardization instead of creativity and difference, is suicide. We’re destroying our most cherished virtues.

-One of the amazing things about US education is we accept everyone for 12 years. This doesn’t happen everywhere in the world.

-If you spend 10,000 hours working at something you’re already good at, you’ll become great. If you force kids to spend that amount of time on something they don’t like, they’ll only become mediocre.

-WARNING: Common Core may increase standardized test scores but it will make your child hate reading for life.

-We do not instill creativity in our students better than Asian systems. We just kill it less successfully.

-Standardization is preparing kids for jobs being replaced by machines and outsourced. We should not compete with China. We should create new opportunities.

-Do not fit your kids in to the future. Let them create it.

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And so much more!

This has easily been one of the best days of my life. Top 10 for sure.

And there’s still a half day to look forward to tomorrow.

So many burning questions:

-Which education luminary will I eat breakfast with in the morning?

-Will my BFFs Walsh and Greene sign my program book?

-Will I get a chance to express a meaningful sentence to Diane?

Find out in our next exciting episode!

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NOTE: This article also was published on the Badass Teachers Association blog and mentioned on Diane Ravich’s site.