Tuesday, August 5, 2014

What Campbell Brown Won't Ask Teachers

In a recent Twitter exchange, former Assistant Secretary of Education and Campbell Brown backslapper Peter Cunningham paradoxically pleaded for teachers to both speak out for their profession and accept less job security. With the tired cry to "raise the bar" in tow, Cunningham floated the need to "streamline due process," education deformers' kinder, gentler way of demanding an end to hard-earned job protections:

Confronted with a recent statistic from the New
York State Education Department (NYSED) on the average time to settle a teacher disciplinary case (known as a 3020a), Cunningham went silent, likely retreating into his anti-teacher bubble to "fix assignment" (whatever that means) and sort out the other  "issues" he fails to detail throughout the brief exchange. Educators will happily discuss these issues and more with Cunningham, since they actually teach for a living and have everything--and nothing--to lose in the current war on public education. As a self-proclaimed "recovering TV journalist," Campbell Brown can also join the discussion, feeling free to fire off her own questions instead of ignoring teachers' questions.

Six hours after the initial exchange, Cunningham finally surfaced, questioning the NYSED statistic while obliquely championing Arne Duncan's new "
teacher-equity" plan:

At press time, neither Cunningham nor Brown have asked on Twitter or elsewhere what teachers need for success with all students, from at-risk to advanced. Had the discussion not been cut short by his deflection and retreat, Cunningham likely would have continued avowing his support for teachers while hoisting the canard that tenure guarantees a "job for life." Not unlike Brown and other privateers, Cunningham seeks to praise public schools while picking their pockets. These efforts fall short in the face of educators, however, many of whom have grown adept at recognizing the stench of bullshit in the deformers' woodshed. It seems Cunningham, who according to his current bio was "responsible for messaging the President and Secretary's education agenda," needs to discover new ways to mask the odious odor of contempt for workers' rights permeating throughout the country.

Even more perplexing is that Cunningham was a member of Duncan's Department of Education in 2010, the same year the department required and approved changes to New York's teacher evaluation laws (APPR) as part of the state's Race to the Top application. Is Cunningham--who supposedly also "advised the Secretary on education policy development"--really unaware of how New York has "streamlined due process" under his own department's urgent guidance? If so, will Cunningham continue criticizing a system he believes doesn't work, maybe even demanding New York return the $700 million it received from his department four years ago? Teachers would gladly comply if it would also allow them to jettison the standards his boss once proudly touted but no longer even refers to by their copyrighted name (their acronym is CCSS).

If deformers are so concerned about raising the bar in classrooms, why do they continue to ignore everything else happening inside of these classrooms except sex scandals and standardized tests? Why aren't people with less teaching experience than actor Tony Danza, for example, curious to know what high standards and excellent teaching actually looks like? Were Brown and Cunningham to ask this question of educators, they would be flooded with examples of teachers ushering and inspiring students through the complexities of life, complexities unmeasurable by test scores. These stories--not VAM stories--could be publicized and dissected in the media, fostering a discussion about the habits of highly effective teachers. This would no doubt go over much better than the divide and conquer tactics of deformers. After all, America loves stories about inspirational teachers--especially true ones.

Why would anyone legitimately interested in improving education not begin by asking what actually happens in classrooms? Is this the deformers' way of treating teachers like professionals? Stay out of their way until test scores drop? Few things are as destructive as hypocrisy, especially when mixed with education. Education is the search for truth anyway, and truth shrivels in the shadow of the hypocrisy and misinformation spread by the likes of Brown and Cunningham. Educators hold the truth in high regard, but will only flee from a profession in which trust has eroded. 

Unfortunately, teacher turnover is one of the deformers' means to end public education, with experienced, unionized teachers slowly transplanted by underpaid, non-union neophytes.  Teachers therefore have no choice but to keep teaching and keep defending the truth; keep doing everything in their power to tip schools away from the precipice of privatization.

And though Campbell Brown won't ask what great teaching looks like, teachers will keep answering it.


  1. Excellent analysis and excellent debunking of the Brown's talking points. I've got to check out your page more often.
    Now, the media just have to press: why won't Brown open up about her backers. Or would it get to embarrassing for reformer-allied pols, like how Obama administration people backed David Welch's Students Matter.
    Teacher Sounds Off vs. Campbell Brown "No, I Am Not Going to Destroy Society"; Brown's Caginess on her "Education Reform" Funders & Obama Associates' Vergara Links