5 of the Worst Examples of Biased and Distorted Media Coverage of Education in 2015

By Pam Vogel. Originally published at Media Matters

2015 was an important year in education policy, with the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the beginning of the 2016 election campaigns, and local fights for teachers and public schools making national headlines. In an important year for students and teachers across the education spectrum, however, some media outlets used their platforms to push falsehoods. Here are five of the worst media failures on public education this year.

5. Campbell Brown Hired Transphobic, Sexist, Racially Insensitive Writer To “Fact-Check” Education Policy Reporting

This summer, teachers union opponent and former journalist Campbell Brown launched a “non-profit, non-partisan news site about education,” called The Seventy Four. In spite of the site’s stated mission to combat “misinformation and political spin” with “investigation, expertise, and experience,” Brown hired Eric Owens, who has a long history of attacks on students and teachers, to write for the site. Owens has a long history of attacking and mocking teachers and students with transphobic, sexistvictim-blaming, and racially insensitive rhetoric as the education editor at the Daily Caller.

4. National Newspaper Editorials Promoted Anti-Teachers Union Myths 

This year, The Wall Street Journal continued its campaign of misinformation on teachers unions, pushing harmful, union-opposed policies such as a Louisiana voucher program that was found to violate desegregation requirements and a Washington, D.C. voucher program reported to waste federal dollars on “unsuitable learning environments.” The WSJ editorial board often explicitly attributed its support of these unsuccessful policies to combating teachers unions. In an October editorial, for example, the board wrote that being “unpopular with unions… ought to be a requirement for any education leadership position,” ignoring the troubling realities of the programs they attempted to defend in spite of well-founded union concerns.

As ESSA moved through Congress in late November, the editorial board doubled down on its teacher-blaming rhetoric, claiming that the new legislation was favored by “teachers unions who want less accountability,” and advocating for the continuation of unpopular high-stakes testing and voucher policies in the states.

The Washington Post editorial board similarly advocated for continuing the extensive testing requirements of the No Child Left Behind legislation, lending support to a high-stakes testing policy with questionable public or research support, and villainized teachers unions in the process. In its February editorial on the issue, the Post claimed that teachers unions “give lip service to accountability as long as their members aren’t the ones held to account,” and cited this self-interest as the source of unions’ opposition to flawed teacher evaluation models that utilize students’ standardized test scores to punish teachers.

3. Fox News Continued Their Assault On Public Schools, Educators, And Unions

Fox News featured offensive and often inaccurate commentary on public education and the teaching profession throughout the year — in some cases doubling down on the anti-teacher rhetoric many Fox figures pushed in 2014.

In February, Outnumbered co-host Kennedy kicked off the teacher-bashing by arguing that “there really shouldn’t be public schools,” before the hosts agreed that the federal Department of Education ought to be abolished. In April, Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy slurred prospective bilingual educators, referring to immigrants with legal permission to work in the United States as “illegals” during a segment highlighting an initiative to boost language learning in schools.

In August, Fox & Friends included a segment where Fox News regular Frank Luntz conducted a live focus group segment about public education. Questions for the focus group included “Who here has issue with teachers unions?” and “Doesn’t it make you angry that you’re putting all this money into public schools?” Luntz followed up his leading question about teachers unions by singling out a teacher from the group and asking him to “defend” himself.

In an October discussion about New York City schools on Fox’s The Five, the co-hosts implored the city’s public school teachers to “become a better teacher” and “don’t suck at your job.” That same month, co-host Juan Williams attacked unions’ endorsement of Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential race, asserting that an “unholy alliance between education unions and Democrats” would be “dangerous for our kids” and would “hurt” “minority communities” and “poor people.”

2. Moderators And Candidates Overlooked K-12 Education Issues Throughout The 2015 Debate Season

This year also marked the launch of the 2016 presidential campaign season, with five Republican and three Democratic debates held this fall. While candidates outlined their positions time and again on national security issues, women’s health care, and taxes, the debates barely mentioned education issues. A Media Matterssearch of all eight full debate transcripts found only nine mentions of any variation of the term “teach.” In fact, according to this review, no candidate or moderator uttered the phrases “No Child Left Behind,” “Race To The Top,” or “Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA)” throughout the 2015 debate season, despite the recent passage of the landmark ESSA legislation replacing No Child Left Behind.

Moderators did discuss schools and teachers a handful of times throughout the debate season, mostly in relation to national security. In the August 6 Republican debate on Fox News, moderator Bret Baier questioned former Governor Jeb Bush (R-FL) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) on their disagreement on the Common Core state standards and asked former Governor Mike Huckabee (R-AR) whether he would abolish the Department of Education, among other federal agencies. The moderators of the October 28 CNBC Republican debate also mentioned teachers once, when moderator Carlos Quintanilla asked Donald Trump about his comments that educators ought to be armed. And on CNN’s December 15 Republican debate, moderator Wolf Blitzer asked candidates about the closure of the Los Angeles Unified school district following an email threat.

The other five debates did not feature questions regarding K-12 education policy.

1. State Newspapers Baselessly Attacked Teachers Unions Across The Country

Public school educators and their unions in major cities made national headlines in 2015 following strikes, contentious contract negotiations, school board elections, and school funding battles. While research shows that teachers unions not only protect the rights of educators but also benefit students and their communities, state newspapers editorializing on union activities framed unions and educators as selfishly seeking higher pay at the expense of others.

Amidst a victory year for teachers unions on several fronts, Media Matters found that state newspapers in New York, Pennsylvania, New Mexico, California, and Washington published editorials distorting the facts to question the motives of teachers and attack their right to organize.

In Buffalo, New York, The Buffalo News repeatedly claimed that teachers unions supporting a parent-led movement against standardized testing want to maintain “the wretched, costly, dysfunctional status quo” and require children to “pay the price.” In Scranton, Pennsylvania, The Scranton Times-Tribune lamented that teachers unions had the ability to strike and dismissed teachers’ calls to be treated with respect and dignity. In Albuquerque, New Mexico, The Albuquerque Journal mocked teachers’ concerns over an unfair evaluation method that was subsequently struck down by a district court that agreed with the unions. In Los Angeles, California, the Los Angeles Times dismissed unions’ worries that a charter expansion plan created by one of the paper’s education reporting funders would financially jeopardize local public schools, telling those who opposed the plan to “quit whining.” And in Seattle, Washington, The Seattle Times repeatedly attacked the local union for “using their students as pawns,” as they advocated for fair pay, guaranteed recess time, more funding for schools, and greater equity in school discipline policies.

These editorial board attacks on educators — because of the readers they serve and the prominence of local priorities on education policy — have the dangerous potential to shift public conversation away from the facts and to pit communities against the teachers who advocate for them. After a year where the importance of education policy has become more critical than ever, hopefully this disturbing trend will not continue in 2016.

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  1. 1 kings

    As usual we are offered the choice between the insanity that is FOX and today’s Republicans and defending teachers(and firefighters and police) to the very last stand. Yes, public education is one of the foundations of our country, and should never be ‘privatized'(um, stolen) to a political bidder. But also, teachers(and f’s and p’s) generally make outstanding salaries, paid for by property taxes, and have their retirement funded, and are allowed to strike to add more whenever they like. Oh, then they can retire after 20-30 years and still receive significant pension benefits.
    The ‘everyone pays’ for the select few is a problem in this country, and is never discussed in any media that I see.

    1. abynormal

      “…a 2010 survey by the National School Supply & Equipment Association found that 92 percent of teachers spend their own money on supplies and 85 percent buy instructional materials for the people they teach. Perhaps more surprising, the study concluded that, “Teachers’ personal money is the most common source of funding for classroom projects. On average, teachers spent a total of $398 on school supplies in 2009-2010 and an additional $538 on educational materials.” The total expended that year by the nation’s 3.7 million teachers? A whopping $3.5 billion.

      And it’s not just teachers. According to the Summer 2012 issue of NEA Today, the newsmagazine of the National Education Association, 66 percent of education support professionals – a category that includes bus drivers, custodians, lunchroom staff, secretaries, security guards and skilled trades people – dig into their pockets to help kids in need. Their expenditures? An average of $216 per employee per year.”

      (sigh) too often i hear people complain about property taxes & schools…now dayz i suggest we all stop paying the tax and enjoy the short life span the bored & uneducated kids will rein on us!

    2. jgordon

      I have a general antipathy towards teachers; no matter how well intentioned they are, ultimately they’re still responsible for indoctrinating the world-view and cultural myths required for children to become good corporate state consumers/employees. No matter how progressive and enlightened the curriculum, nor how lavish the facilities and small the class sizes, Howard Zinn won’t be taught.

      I won’t say that all education is bad–but compared to what passes for education now in America, I believe that our students and society would be better off if we had no education at all, since what we have now is leading society and humanity off a cliff. Therefore the only real problem I have with breaking up teachers unions and closing schools is that they’ll probably be replaced with something even more corporate and soul-destroying.

      1. Uahsenaa

        I think you’re blaming the wrong people for this. Sure the myth of meritocracy and American exceptionalism is all over public education, however, I’m not sure this is the fault of teachers themselves. Public curriculum is now mostly controlled from without, and teachers are largely constrained as to what they can teach, when they can teach it, and how. The constant battery of tests really limits the freedom teachers have in offering a variety of materials, because if those kids don’t produce exactly what the test maker is looking for, it could be their job on the line. You can’t teach bell hooks, if you don’t have a teaching job to begin with.

        1. jgordon

          teachers are largely constrained as to what they can teach

          Well that’s exactly my point. Teachers are ultimately servants to the corporate state. They have little to no free will themselves. They will train their students to be model employees and insatiable consumers–who love America because patriotism, or they will be fired.

          I’m not blaming them for their lot. Teaching is certainly a crappy, and unappreciated job in this society–and there is something admirable about someone who chooses to wear such a hair shirt, even if there is no point to it. I’m saying that the whole apparatus of public education in America should be radically redone, and until it’s redone this whole institutional (public and private) education debacle should be suspended immediately. The cultural/social monoculture it’s creating is a genuine danger to humanity.

          1. Torsten

            Too true!

            I keep returning to Paul Goodman’s classic screed, Compulsory Miseducation. 1964. Crapification has been with us a long time.

            We are now harvesting its rotten fruits. All the Trump supporters (and let us not forget, e.g., Spiro Agnew, superhero vanquisher of the nattering nabobs, and his minions), all those B and C and D and F students who now can vote away the pensions of the teachers who gave the voters those grades. .

            There’s lots of revenge voting going on.

          2. Torsten

            Late to the party, I posted a reply to jgordon that included a link to Wikipedia.
            I guess I should have learned long ago that including a link banishes one to moderation. sigh. Nobody wants link spam. But a link to Wikpedia?? Should be innocuous.

            Anyway, I don’t expect Lambert or Yves to moderate on New Year’s Eve (nor many others to read this comment), but . . .

            Too true, jgordon! Readers who haven’t read Paul Goodman’s classic Compulsory Mis-Education should do so. You can get the gist on Wikipedia.

      2. Inverness

        Jgordon, your comment begs a lot of questions. I’ll try to address them. As a former New York City teacher, I’d like to share my views.

        I only wish American teachers had anywhere near as much agency as you think they do! Are you aware who controls the curriculum, and how politicized this is? While I taught in the nation’s largest public school system, it was under mayoral control. His education chancellors were mostly non-educators (a lawyer, and, most briefly and notoriously, a publisher), and hired private contractors and spent millions of public money on charters.

        Since you mentioned it, what about what is taught, and who controls that? The curriculum has been hijacked by the Common Core, which dictates which materials can be covered, and how it can be covered. This was developed by many non-educators who don’t have a clue about how children and adolescents learn, and this is reflected by the abysmally low test scores, even in regions where there were no problems before. Even before the Common Core, you have the New York States Regents exams, which trivializes history, making it impossible to teach properly, unless you want to risk your job (remember, low test scores, bad ratings).

        Furthermore, you mention that teachers don’t teach Howard Zinn. Well, I’m shocked at how many enlightened, left-leaning teachers I met in the States, considering the huge propaganda campaign waged against progressive thinking, that most certainly did not end with the McCarthy era in the 1950’s! So you’re working in a nation which has actively tried to target, and even destroy, the careers of people left-leaning or sympathetic to “enemies of the State.” I always felt like I was one unpopular move away from becoming a New York Post headline, for daring to challenge the mainstream perception of Hugo Chavez and for discussing why many consider Bush a war criminal. I have had to deal with complaints from principals and parents. I soldiered on for years, but after awhile, your health suffers.

        Also, keep in mind that history teachers in New York must somehow manage to teach a ridiculously overloaded curriculum. They cannot choose to stop everything and really teach in a more meaningful way, because they are judged by their students’ test scores. They mustn’t anger their administrators and superintendents, who are scared of politicians and parents. I would love to have had more freedom to teach the way I wanted to, most of the time. To cover a worthwhile secondary source like Zinn means having the time and resources to do that. Also, it means that you will be supported by your administrators and parents. This is extremely difficult, even in a state like New York, which is not nearly as open-minded as it claims to be.

        Covering historians like Zinn would also be easier if we had some control over our classroom materials. Who do chooses and writes the textbooks? Many textbook authors must please Texas, the largest state. This does not exactly encourage, shall we say, the most progressive thinking. Teachers often have to fight to just get their photocopies done, and straight lecturing is forbidden. So they have to rely on the texts their buildings provide them. Teachers also get a bit paranoid, since anything — ANYTHING can get them smeared in papers like the New York Post and the The New York Daily News. So I agree that Zinn’s views should be a part of the curriculum, but much of TPTB aren’t exactly on my side.

        You also need to understand that if the US doesn’t produce mostly progressive economists, university presidents, politicians, lawyers and citizens…why would teachers be so different? The US, with a mainstream press that promotes Hillary Clinton as the ideal presidential candidate, is not exactly a hotbed of innovative thinking. Teachers aren’t magical people, despite what Hollywood tells us, which features teachers that can somehow transform poor, hungry students into academic stars, fueled by charisma, sugary snacks, and iron will alone.

        Thank you for bearing with me this far (if you that’s the case). I know so many talented teachers in New York who seemed to work themselves so hard, so it kind of kills me to read these kinds of blanket statements. Forget Hollywood’s hackneyed portrayal of teachers. For me, the real miracle is that after all of the hatred, union-busting, conservative propaganda, deprofessionalisation, …the real miracle is that there still are some fantastic teachers in the field.

        1. katenka

          Hooray and well said! Also, for what it’s worth, my son’s Chicago public high school DID teach Howard Zinn (though I imagine the teachers might have had more leeway there, as it is a selective enrollment school; they certainly had more resources…and they’ve had all sorts of funding cuts and a new principal in the few years since then, so it might all be over now).

          1. Inverness

            Katenka, thank you, and I’m thrilled to hear that your son is getting a solid education in Chicago. It can be easier to teach more enlightened texts in selective schools ( I also taught in a few elite, public NYC specialized schools). The parents tend to be more educated and open, and the teachers might (depending on their admin, of course) have more leeway.

        2. shinola

          I would like to take this opportunity to thank you, Inverness, and all other current & former public school teachers for your service.
          It’s an under-appreciated & under-paid job that y’all do.

          Wishing you a very happy New Year!

        3. jgordon

          Actually, I agree with everything you said. And it does not contradict anything I said–as you’ll see from my 11:19AM comment to someone else I think.

          First, I strongly dislike teachers because my own experiences in public schools was deeply traumatic. When I was a small child I went to school scared shitless every day because when I inevitably got home with bad grades I’d be beaten. And when I was a bit older I went to school seething with anger because I was being forced to do something I didn’t want to do, and because I didn’t like or agree with most of my teachers. Whenever I tried to be the least bit creative and intelligent I was punished with crappy grades–which illustrated to me very clearly the value of intelligence and creativity in our society.

          I will be completely honest here: when I was in fifth grade, in public schools in Pinellas County Florida–my teachers thought that I was retarded and had me sent to a psychiatrist for evaluation so they could figure out just how special my classes needed to be. This was probably because I never paid attention in class nor listened to anything they said, nor completed any of my assigned work. Actually thought I scored 145 on their IQ test because the psychiatrist was rather interesting and engaging. Directly after that I was put into the another class with high-achievers–and when my behavior still didn’t change I was eventually put back into the regular class where I continued being disgruntled. Actually, the more I think about it the more pissed off I become. The system could have managed something worthwhile with me had they the right approach, but they had no idea what to do with me and consequently my opportunities for learning were truncated. Aside from basic reading skills, everything else I learned in public schools was a waste of time. Even as a child I intuited that it was more of an indoctrination/control scheme than anything else, and I resisted it.

          Anyway, American society isn’t set up to create a genuinely enlightening and revealing learning experience that improves the soul. It’s all about base motives of greedy grasping, consumption and indoctrination. The end products of such a system are flawed human beings who are a danger to themselves and the long term survival of humanity. So I say: no education is preferable to what we have now.

          1. Inverness

            I’m truly sorry you had such a lousy experience in school. You could have benefited from a more progressive school environment. Sadly, those kinds of schools are often reserved for the elite. The smaller teacher to student ratios and flexible curricula are often not available to public school teachers, who must manage huge class sizes and greater and greater standardization.

            1. JohnParks

              JGordon and Inverness
              As we’ve seen by this discussion there are no simple answers and a lot to be learned from each other. I was fortunate (you may also read “privileged”) to have won my own personal lottery to be born into a family that valued education.
              There are a lot of critical points in life that can lead us or enable us to go in different directions and achieve different outcomes. I’ll just say that I was lucky.
              I am very concerned that we are wasting the lives and potential of the populations of not only our own country but the future of the world. I will point the finger (pick one!) to the policy makers that set our domestic and international priorities.

              “I am somehow less interested in the weight and convolutions of Einstein’s
              brain than in the near certainty that people of equal talent have lived and
              died in cotton fields and sweatshops.”
              Stephen Jay Gould
              So much waste is literally a crying shame.

          2. tongorad

            First, I strongly dislike teachers because my own experiences in public schools was deeply traumatic.

            Sorry to hear that. But this doesn’t follow:

            So I say: no education is preferable to what we have now.

            It seems to me that’s not a rational position. Understandable, given your experiences, but still an irrational over-generalization.

            Perhaps there’s a bit of bias in my own perspective: I’m a teacher. Here’s my case – My field of interest/passion is fine arts. I teach at a title 1 (economically disadvantaged) high school in Texas. At my school, we have the highest student fine arts participation percentage in the our district. Students are exposed to, express themselves, and gain mastery in all the arts. I think that is a valuable and good thing – a very good thing. And apparently, the kids do too – hence the high interest/participation rates.

            Where else but public school are the students going to have these creative experiences? Especially kids who are economically disadvantaged? How precisely is “no education” a better option for those kids?


        4. Central Scrutinizer

          Do you refer to the same New York School system that maintains several “Rubber Rooms” throughout the city,to accommodate suspected teacher child molesters?

          The same system that no matter how bad a teacher is,for whatever reason,can NEVER be fired.

          Not s system ANYONE should support

    3. socrates

      I’d like to know in what state you can retire after 20-30 years, presently NY State, which has an excellent teacher retirement , tier 6 teachers can retire at 63 and put in between 3-6% for their pension, I believe that is closer to 40-41 years of teaching (assuming you start teaching out of college) . There is quite a bit of misrepresentation and outright fabrication about teacher benefits (by the way your 20-30 applies to police and firemen in many locations but for some reason no one has a problem with the benefits of police and firemen , why teachers?)

      1. Katniss Everdeen

        Spot on.

        Union membership does not seem to impede the brave firefighters’ ability to protect TPTB’s property or the ability of the selfless police to clear TPTB’s streets of the “dangerous” criminal element and homeless rabble that threaten their “safety” and “quality of life.” If one or two innocents get killed along the way, well, sh*t happens.

        It seems to be a unique characteristic of the teacher’s union that it protects slackers and encourages incompetence and sloth in its members.

        And injures the children. At least the ones whose parents are not well-heeled enough to avoid the public schools. In other words, not campbell brown and dan senor’s kids.

        1. Uahsenaa

          While in principle I think you’re assessment is correct–police and firefighters don’t come in for nearly as much invective as teachers–I do periodically see the argument forwarded on leftish sites and among libertarians that the police would be so less awful, in light of recent publicity surrounding police violence, if their unions were weaker or non-existent. This argument then somehow bleeds into “all unions are corrupt and bad.”

          Rarely do these types take account of the fact that fraternal orders are a very different kind of union that, historically, tend to support right-wing causes and political movements, where trade unions tend to do precisely the opposite.

          1. bob

            In NY, and with a tie in to past labor battles- Sheriffs deputies are expressly forbidden to unionize. It was too easy for the “new” city police to side with labor. They needed another, subsidized, group of non-urbanized scabs to start all the labor “riots”.

            1. Uahsenaa

              In the Midwest the political landscape is rather different. In Wisconsin, for instance, during the battle between public sector employees and Scott Walker, police and firefighters were mysteriously exempt from his reforms. Also “mysterious” was the vocal and financial support those constituencies offered to his election campaigns.

              I can only speak from what I know, and I do admit I’m less familiar with the situation outside the Midwest.

              1. bob

                I remember that. I also remember hearing that he was going to call up the national guard. I’d love to see the look on his face when he realized that most guard units are made up of civil servants. They’re the only one who can get the time off. Scratch that idea.

                I’ve done some reading on labor disputes in the early 1900’s. I’m not saying the city cops were wobblies, but they were a whole lot better than the “private security” that ended up taking over and, ultimately, making things violent.

                They also had to answer to the local pols.

              2. Left in Wisconsin

                Not mysterious at all. This was an explicit part of Walker’s divide-and-conquer strategy. Walker ludicrously argued that police and fire needed to be exempted from Act 10 because it was too risky to public order to attack their wages and benefits at the same time they were attacking other public sector workers. They might need to bust a few protesters heads, don’t you know.

                Nevertheless, the Madison cops refused to provide routine backup to the State Capitol cops monitoring the protesters and the firefighters were a regular presence among the protesters.

                That said, many cop unions are rightwing. That’s going to happen if unions support the interests of their members, and their members are disproportionately right-wingers, which many cops are. Firefighters much much much less so.

        2. Inverness

          Sign. Unions do not protect incompetent teachers nearly as often as reported. In New York City, and accusation against a teacher leads to the infamous rubber room. Furthermore, after a few unsatisfactory ratings, tenured teachers may get fired.

          Teacher unions provide due process. There are hostile administrators out there. Diane Ravitch speaks eloquently about this. How my union encouraged sloth in NYC is anyone’s guess; would love some real data to back up that claim. What I know is that there were countless givebacks during the Bloomberg and Guiliani eras.

          Teaching isn’t a job for the lazy. The slothful don’t thrive in this profession, which requires a lot of energy, patience, creativity, and the ability to get insulted on a frequent basis, especially if you teach poor, inner-city students.

          Interesting to see teachers compared to police officers. Police officers have managed to keep their jobs after killing innocent civilians. Teachers have been fired over low test scores, and been publicly shamed in the New York Post because their low-income students didn’t perform high enough on the New York tests.

          Obviously there are lousy, or just merely mediocre teachers out there. Same goes for every single other profession. But teachers are always held to a different standard.

          1. tongorad

            Teacher unions provide due process.

            A great point. I have a hard time understanding why anyone who works for a living would want to deny due process to another worker. If people were organized and had their heads screwed on straight, it seems to me that they would be pushing for due process protections for everyone.

            But, as Mark Ames pointed out, it’s not all that hard, in America especially, to get people organized around spite rather than mutual benefit and solidarity.

            WE, THE SPITEFUL – Mark Ames

      2. Central Scrutinizer

        While the public is being told that we have got to work until at least 70 years old,because Social Security is bankrupt,we allow police and firemen to retire at 50-55 years old.To collect pension checks from funds that are essentially bankrupt.

        Do as I say,not as I do?

    4. mike

      I often wonder if among the first responders is a shill for one viewpoint or another. Paid to disseminate propaganda.

      I can’t decide this time. There’s a lot of misinformation mixed up with the opinion. But it seems to be the opinion of a real person. So…..

      Why shouldn’t professionals make good salaries? Or have decent pensions? In many states the state has elected to opt out of Social Security. So the pension is all they get. (When they’re old and broken down.) The 20 years to retirement isn’t true. At least not for teachers. If you exclude union contracts, can you come up with a system to fairly compensate them as a group. Remember, you get what you pay for. If you don’t pay enough. You’ll get someone like me who graduated high school. Never got past year one in “Kolledge”. And likes kids. But not enough to keep the monkeyhouse focused and on task for 7 hours a day. Nine months a year.

      And I agree, “The ‘everyone pays’ for the select few is a problem in this country”. But I suspect our idea of the select few differs.

      1. Inverness

        Thank you, Mike. People seem to forget or be ignorant of the fact that more unionized and public workers mean better overall salaries for the general public.

        Many teachers actually are not paid so well, though. And even salaries that seem high, are not, when you take cost of living into consideration, since rents are exorbitant in certain parts of the country.

        But let’s take that librarian or teacher who makes a modest-high salary. I would also rather a dedicated public servant, who contributes to the greater good of society, make a low-six figure salary than somebody a hedge fund guy, whose work is actually detrimental. Although, who am I kidding? But better the hedge guy rakes in in, than somebody who actually serves the public, who, if she’s VERY lucky, will end up in the very low six figures.

    5. bob

      “Oh, then they can retire after 20-30 years and still receive significant pension benefits.
      The ‘everyone pays’ for the select few is a problem in this country, and is never discussed in any media that I see.”

      You can’t see too well huh? There’s a whole list of the worst of the worst of this “seeing” right above your comment. See all those words?

    6. Michael Fiorillo

      In New York State, it is illegal for teachers to strike, and the paper tiger UFT, always and wrongfully referred to in news reports as “the politically powerful teachers’ union,” has not done so in forty years. In fact, the current UFT misleadership uses the threat of a strike to intimidate members into ratifying the sell-out contracts they’ve negotiated over the past generation. They have taken on the “obligations” previously reserved for the Boss.

      It’s usually the Boss who tries to intimidate workers with the threat of privations resulting from a strike; in NYC and New York State (the UFT effectively controls the statewide teacher’s union federation, as well as the national union), the union misleadership pushes every anti-teacher and vehicle-for-looting scheme upon it’s demoralized and apathetic membership, and actually brags about their collaboration – their term, not mine – with the edu-privateers.

      As for the worst educational reporting of the year, add this Alternet piece to the list, since it manages to focus on the carnival barkers at Fox News, while saying absolutely nothing about the Gates Foundation (which essentially owns NPR and public broadcasting, which serve as little more than loudspeakers for so-called education reform) and its funding of the hostile takeover of the public schools.

      There is also no mention of how how school privatization would not be possible without captive Democrats (who have the chutzpah to call their privateering “the civil rights movement of our time”) allying with Republicans to divvy up those potential school budget honey pots.

      1. Inverness

        Michael, excellent point. The most powerful man in American education is probably Bill Gates, who single-handedly promoted flawed metrics for teacher evaluation, pushed his products in classrooms, and promoted the Common Core. Sure, he has no background in education. Who cares. It’s America, and billionaire businessmen are God.

    7. Min

      Teachers’, police, and firefighters’ unions are doing their best to hold the line against the evisceration of the middle class. They only appear to be highly paid because everybody else is getting screwed. Screwing them to is not the solution.

      1. Central Scrutinizer

        Trouble is,it’s the “screwed” that are paying the ones still living in the past middle class America.

        I could lose my house to property taxes to maintain their middle classhood.I haven’t gone to a restaurant in 2 years,in order to have my property tax money.

        It would be different if school taxes were paid by the multi-national corporations or the hedge fund guys,but they’re not.

        So what about us?

        1. Lambert Strether

          I agree on the property taxes. The best part for me, as a small landlord in a university town, is that the town has permitted a number of privatized dorms, owned by out-of-state private equity. So my taxes go up, because the private equity guys got a tax break and still need more services, while at the same time the town has set a ceiling on my income, because the privatized dorms now drive prices. It’s beautiful, in a way.

          Of course, there’s a meta-issue with private property here, but that won’t get solved this year, or the next.

  2. TomDority

    1 Kings, sounds like teachers are getting a fair deal for their negotiations and work contracts. Sounds to me like more unions are needed and, a proper revenue system.

    1. 1 Kings

      Yes, I agree, more unions are needed. But none of those unions will be paid by property taxes from people who supposedly ‘own’ their own homes.
      Example:A relative in a suburban school system(in over 20 years) makes $120,000. An adjoning school district just ‘struck’ and received a pay raise. The librarian makes $109,000, plus benefits and retirement. But Tom, do you understand my point? None of these salaries are paid by the so-called ‘market’, they are paid by you and I.

      Having said that, let me reiterate, ‘privatization’ just switches the cash flow from the administrators and teachers, and districts, to a private hand, which obviously is much worse, and the definition of corruption.

      1. mike

        Mr. 1 Kings,

        I gotcha now. You consider the education “Market” to be closed. And that there is effectively no way to set a market based wage scale. I apologize for thinking that you might be a shill.

        That being said. The examples you use, are they the standard pay rates? Or are they outliers that you are using to most forcefully make your point? Does your relative have a Phd? (Are they being paid based on education level? Knowing they could make probably make as much in the “Private Sector”) And what exactly does an adjoining school district striking and receiving a pay raise have to do with your relatives wages? Your relative is not employed by them.

        1. bob

          “We, the spiteful, do endeavor to create a more perfect market….”

          What “market” did your education come out of? I’d say you got shorted on reading comprehension, and an overdose of spite.

          Just how TPTB like it.

              1. 1 kings

                I never said one negative thing about teachers or their profession. I respect the work they do, but the fact is that me, you, everyone who lives and breathes, rents or owns in this country pays for your salary and a % of your benefits.
                And the so called ‘market’ did establish teachers salaries in the 1800’s up until relatively recently, and it was a pittance, and wrong. But I just feel that the pendulum has swung completely in the other direction, and property taxes are out of control for paying teachers, police, and fire departments, but also all other city workers and council people.

                And I apologize for the statement that teachers can retire in 20-30 years. That is for police and fire, and that is wrong as well. Teachers also have significant time off from their job, which no one else who works can claim.

                Lastly, I could not reply to your comments because I was at work. Irony?…

                1. marym

                  The pendulum that’s swung too far is the one that’s stripping decent jobs, decent pay, workplace protections, union organizing rights, health and retirement benefits, from all workers, private and public – all the progress workers had made since those 1800’s of which you speak.

                2. bob

                  So, you admit that you are a victim of the propaganda above, but that propaganda doesn’t go far enough?

                  Teachers in the 1800’s? Completely different time and illiterate, disparate population, leading to ‘local markets’ (aka boss hog) deciding how much everyone was worth.

                  And you keep blaming the “property taxes” on teachers. Again, propaganda. It depends very much on where you live, and how local, state and federal money is distributed. Blanket statements about teachers in the US being overpaid!!!taxes!! is quite simply bullshit.

                  But, then again, that’s the thesis of this post. Why should you be expected to understand that?

                3. bob

                  “Teachers also have significant time off from their job, which no one else who works can claim.”

                  And you hate them for that! Admit it! Welcome to the dark side, in case you haven’t been notified.

                  Instead of arguing for higher wages and more time off, you take ill-informed pot shots at teachers with your time off. Maybe you should be back at work.

                  1. 1 kings

                    Three months off a year is a significant amount of time.
                    And teacher salaries etc are only a percentage vs police and fire and other public employees, which I admitted earlier, and do again now. The whole system is depending on property taxes, which a homeowner has no control over, and which have grown many fold in the last 30 years. And if you don’t pay, you lose your house. Sounds a wee bit like extortion. The pendulum has swung, but does that make it right that my taxes go up nearly every year to pay for others income?

                    I said teacher salaries from 1800’s till RECENTLY were terribly unfair, more likely criminal. And police and fire depts were historically payola for the politically connected, which I agree.

                    For anyone else reading this and thinking I am excusing the criminal bankers, insurers, military, multinationals, etc, etc for destroying the county, I am not. They are the problem, and the reason our country is now nearing third world status. And in my original post I said ‘privatization’ is corruption, and is obviously what FOX, Rebubs, and many Democrats are all about now. They want this money for themselves.

      2. mike

        I apologize for sounding blunt. It’s hard to have a conversation when you can’t pick up non verbal cues from the other party. Especially when a lot of information or opinion has to be exchanged.

  3. PQS

    Don’t want to accuse anyone around here, but I often feel that a great deal of the animosity towards teachers is not a little misogynistic. How dare those (still, mostly women, lets face it), TEACHERS demand anything. All they’re doing is babysitting, after all! Anybody can do it! It’s not a “serious” “Real” job!

    You get the idea. As if sitting in front of spreadsheets all day, or sales, or insurance, or any other desk-jockey type of job is somehow more deserving of pay.

    And I get the idea of 1Kings that “the market” doesn’t determine teacher salaries, and that this is an annoyance to the public. However, don’t kid yourself that “the market” determines anyone else’s salary, either. There is always nepotism, the good old boy network, your father’s rich friends, the golf course, the sports team, etc., etc. Furthermore, if you don’t like the teacher’s salaries (which are public and published information, unlike private salaries), you can lobby as a citizen to change them. Not so with private industry. At base, it just seems like this complaint is not very far removed from the petulant whining of someone who thinks “taxes are theft” or other libertarian nonsense.

    1. Inverness

      Yes. Teachers require high levels of training and education. Many states require advanced degrees. Yet, we are seen as glorified babysitters.

      A liberal arts degree is viewed as inferior to a business degree. Why?

      In the States, it never ceases to shock me how little teachers are respected. Yet clownish businessmen like Trump can flaunt his legacy degrees, and many Americans accept him as both smart and accomplished.

      It is hard for me to imagine people complaining en masse about their banker making a modest-good salary. But a lucky librarian or teacher, with at least a Master’s degree and who does one of society’s most important jobs? You mean, she might afford a car and a home, and send her kids to college? The horror.

    2. Uahsenaa

      This is a common problem with what are often referred to as “feminized” professions: teachers, nurses, librarians, etc. As Inverness points out, all of which require extensive education, training, and certification. My sister-in-law is a nurse, and it astounds me how desperately needed nurses are and how completely unwilling most hospitals are to pay them appropriately for the extremely high stress work they perform, often for very long hours. There is great need for many more people to join these professions, yet the invisible hand (slapping you in the face) never seems to find any money to entice people into taking those jobs.

      I mean, who wants to get a master’s degree to be paid 30K a year?

      1. Central Scrutinizer

        or guaranteed pensions for life,or $35,000 per year health insurance with $5 co-pays?

        dig a little deeper into compensation.In my community teachers are among the wealthiest in our population.Firemen,cops,and administrators are the others.

        The rest of us are trying like hell to keep the houses we worked for,from the jobs that no longer exist.

        gonna get ugly in a minute!

  4. TarheelDem

    Not many have noted that No Child Left Behind and Common Core Curriculum and Race to the Top tie curriculum to annual tests rejiggered politically at the state level. This creates major recurring markets for textbooks, annual tests, annual test preparation materials, audio-visual and software products, and a whole lot of other folderol that must be purchased a more frequent intervals than textbooks were in, say, the 1950s. The textbook and educational materials publishers and test processors have hit a legislatively-created windfall while teachers are demonized and have their salary and benefits deflated even further. And given the reporting that Yves Smith has been doing on public pension funds, teachers should be wary of thinking that any of those supposed benefits will actually be there in the promised payouts.

    The best teachers left the profession in a lot of districts when teachers ceased to be paid actual professional salaries. Professional as equivalent to other workers who are in effect working 24-7 as needed by their clients (in this case, students). The demeaning by salary discrimination also caused a change in attitudes of some teachers who now saw the job as just a job.

    Why did it happen? Desegregation cause flight from public (government) schools; everything public was suddenly devalued because public institutions enforced desegregation. The ideological slam against public services that socialism never works and that government services inherently disincentivize performance gained public popularity against the background of the Cold War and desegregation.

    And notice which schools are being defunded and why. And notice the consequences of fifty years of segregation academies and Christian schools dodging desegregation in all parts of the country. Who is it that listens to Rush Limbaugh and believes the biased and distorted media coverage of education? The very people whose parents made sure that they didn’t have to sit next to anybody different from them even if it sacrificed the quality of their education. And who sought out the teachers who agreed with them.

  5. Wayne Gersen

    One story that is underreported is the status of suits brought against legislatures because of inequitable funding formulas. These stories don’t fit the narrative that “teachers are the problem” and DO reinforce the notion that money makes a difference. If money DIDN’T make a difference the affluent suburbs would be paying the same salaries, providing the same facilities, and offering the same programs as their urban neighbors and/or their poor rural cousins.

  6. Paul Tioxon

    I don’t know in what little isolated podunk of Dogpatch most of the critics of public education live in, but outside of Big Cities with Big Unions and smaller Rust Belt cities and other cannibalized towns and burgs, suburban American school districts are not screaming for privatization. If you went into Bucks or Montgomery Counties in PA and tried to privatized Central Bucks West or Lower Merion School districts you would see soccer moms performing beheadings of charter school hustlers. Not that every suburb is gold plated and inner ring suburbs don’t have their problems, but when people leave cities with young school age children, they head to the suburbs where the schools are not just well run, they are not the warehouses of the poor with the drugs and drinking, and violence and abuse and depression that comes with having absolutely no money to live on.

    Public Schools in cities are schools for the poor by and large. The ones that aren’t are in the areas of cities where the middle class still has enough paycheck at the end of the month not to feel like the walls are closing in on them. The once Mighty Catholic School systems in the big cities are all but gone and the remaining ones are too expensive for average working people to afford. The Catholic subsidy to public schools in places like Philadelphia are gone. When over a 100,000 kids from k-12 went to Arch Diocese schools in past decades, the parents still paid real estate taxes that funded the public schools. All of the resources of the Philadelphia school district used to focus on those kids not in Parochial or the many other private school systems, such as the very large Quaker school network, the Friends schools in the city and throughout the suburbs. The city still collected the real estate taxes from the people who sent their kids to school outside of the public system, but now, that huge population has dwindled and the public school system is the only alternative for average working people.

    Pricing serves to segregate the population by income stratification. The non-elite Catholic HS can cost about $10k/yr now and the elite prep schools can easily cost 2-4x as much. Public school is the only alternative for people in the city or the suburbs. And suburban housing costs serves to further segregate by income stratification which children will sit next to one another. The warehouses of the poor will be easy targets for privatization hustlers to point out weakness and poor academic performance. But then in the warehouses of the poor, the police, the trash pick up, the closed libraries the abandoned factories all perform at the same level.

    But now, as report after report has indicated the only people left sending their children to the Philadelphia school district are either elites within the city that can steer their kids into the stellar programs of Central HS or Masterman or Saul Agricultural HS and a few others here and there. Many people who can’t afford the Ivy League caliber costs of the private academies just move to the suburbs where the school districts are treated like gold treasure. Again, no one is attacking the bulk of suburban school districts, it’s mostly the big city school districts that are demonized as lazy teachers unwilling to accept the challenge to teach in the warehouse district of the poor.

    1. PQS

      you would see soccer moms performing beheadings of charter school hustlers.

      Agree, hilariously. Another reason I am so very suspicious of the entire charter school movement is that we’ve simultaneously heard for at least 30 years how awful public schools are, yet when parents are polled, they think the school where their kids go is fantastic. These are the suburban parents and school districts you so eloquently outlined above. Certainly I am not above criticizing school districts and “results”, neither am I above criticizing the specialization and ridiculous and bloated administrative costs of many school districts, and there are legitimate arguments around school reform….(one of the most interesting I’ve heard is that districts should just get rid of sports programs and use the money from them for other pursuits). But the “Charter School/Privatization/Grifters Anonymous Guild hasn’t come up with any good ones.

      I think the problems with “overpaid” teachers and suchlike are just reflections of larger class anxieties in America today about jobs, job security, retirement security, and the nagging feeling that we’re being gypped. Which we are, just not by Ms. So and So in front of 4th Grade at YourTown Elementary.

      1. Left in Wisconsin

        This is going to be one of the really interesting political battles of the next few decades. The Republican Party is now completely committed to school privatization but the suburban voting base is still completely attached to their public schools.

        1. Paul Tioxon

          Yes, the local politics of school boards and real estate taxes to support public schools has more democratic structure that allows for participation in direct decision making over what happens to your children than most other areas of your life. It is political power and control over your children’s learning experience and the quality of that experience. Unlike your job which can pick up and go far away, local school boards are elected by parents who plan budgets and propose taxes as needed for local councils or commissioners to vote on.

          Schools districts in the suburbs are one of the few areas where people really have power over their lives in many ways and power over an institution expressly created for their children. Giving this away to a corporation means your local school could go away just as any factory can pick up and leave because it is someone’s property, someone’s business and only they have to right to manage it as they see fit. Local control over public schools is a part of American democracy, that if taken away, just disestablishes another reason for patriotic attachment. You can not love a nation when it has become nothing more than property owned by a set of corporations for the sake of profit taking. What is there to love? What is community connection that bonds people together into a national identity other than larger public works such as education, health care, transportation and communication linkage? Private property does not bond people together and reducing a nation into one giant market place destroys all social relationships other than immediate family ties.

        2. Central Scrutinizer

          because we can’t afford to pay pensions for 40 years or $35,000 per year health insurance.

          it’s just math

      2. 1 kings

        I completely agree, it is a reflection of anxiety on all the things you mention. But maybe you should ask you 4th gradetownelementary what she gets per year. You might be surprised.

        1. PQS

          Our school district salaries are public record around here and not hard to find. The median wage of teachers in our district is about $40K a year, plus benefits – medical and retirement, since they aren’t in Social Security. I believe the average amount is around $20K for both items, which isn’t out of line for what gets taken out of my check for both those items. I don’t live in the boondocks, rather a bedroom community outside of Seattle. (Talk about way too expensive – I understand many teachers in Seattle are eligible for public housing and SNAP benefits, because the COL in Seattle is so ridiculously out of whack.)

          I suppose we just have different ways of looking at the issue. Thanks for providing your input. This is one of the reasons I hang around NC – polite conversation, always well informed, not always delicate!

          1. 1 kings

            Thanks to you as well. Appreciate polite conversation vs. attack mode. I am not advocating not having property taxes for public salaries, I just think it’s got out of whack for all public employees, but teachers deserve it more than all the rest.

            The salaries you mention sound about right for the median, but that means the older teachers make a great deal more, and reasonably do not want to give it back. Actually the relative I mentioned in my first post helped her son get a teaching job last year, but then cuts came, so last in, first to go.
            And the cost of living in all the big cities is insane because of the policies of the big banks, govt, etc and their financialization.

    2. Michael Fiorillo

      In urban areas, the Catholic schools have largely been destroyed by charter schools, not their tuition costs, another example of how charters, when not a vehicle for straight-out looting (for proof, take a look at the charter school rioting and looting in Ohio, Michigan and Florida, to name just a few) are an extreme example of neoliberal parasitism and social vandalism.

  7. Ray Phenicie

    An important consideration about public education is that the institution known by that name has many facets and levels. School systems that are identified by a city name and then community or public and paid for with property taxes ( in most states) have to take all who show up at the front door and have proof they live in the district. So, Portland Public Schools, just to arrive at one random example, relies on the property taxes it collects from a local millage vote and any bond issues that may be voted on to hire teachers, janitors, bus drivers and pay utility bills-in short to keep the doors open. No matter if the student is sent off to school with little or no support from home, no matter what the cognitive abilities of the student-the system is obligated to attempt to fit the student into a classroom of peers (of all about the same age) and present to the student a standard curriculum and we, as a society, are expectant as to the outcome-all must be well on the achievement front.

    The problems inherent in this scenario:
    (I’ve only sketched with a cat’s whisker -please fill in the empty spaces with your own student’s background)
    is that it pushes towards averages. If the student does not adjust to the average expectation there is a problem. Grades are used to align everyone along the average. Way above average grades mean only that the student won at the numbers game; there is no indication that learning occurred. In fact we may be sure that learning did not occur. The reason for this is manifold but some rambling thoughts:

    Classroom size forces teachers to spend 45/ 30 minutes on each student (30 students in the class, 45 minutes on each ‘Hour’ or class) – change the ratio given the situation, some schools would have ratios of 45/50 minutes meaning the teacher has about 55 seconds with each student or that students have about that much time to participate in the class. Without meaningful dialogue between the people in the classroom, learning will not occur. Leaning cannot occur in the present system because it relies too heavily on objectification of subject matter. To see what I mean think about the types of tests given-multiple choice and/or true and false questions. How many school systems allow time for teachers to sit with the individual student and have the student talk about the topic for some 10 or 15 minutes each week? Again I maintain that unless this occurs, the student is not learning but is merely being trained to perform across a grid off empty bubbles and filling in blank spaces on an answer sheet.
    Change the base of operations in public education. Classrooms should have two or more adults (or older peers) in them to interact with the students who would total at most about twelve to fifteen. Classroom activities should relegate textbooks to the background. Allow students to steep themselves in the written materials but engage the students in writing, speaking, rhetoric and research while in the classroom. So for example, to ‘teach’ American history, have the students break into small groups, prepare a lecture on a chosen topic of say the controversy over tariffs during the early 19th century and then deliver it to the class. The class would then critique the ‘lecture’ and offer suggestions, criticisms.

    Other ideas:
    So that kids don’t have to try to tough it out until lunch on an empty stomach, open the school cafeteria an hour before school and have a hearty meal available to any student who wanted one.
    Stop segregation.
    Keeping students segregated on a narrow age of about 18-24 months is stupendously crippling to intellectual growth. Classrooms need to have as wide a range of ages as possible. This could include any and all adults.

    Should be enough radicalism in this random ramble to keep our education system busy for about two decades working on the changes.

  8. Ray Phenicie

    Wanted to edit my own post, lost a race with the clock
    In fact we may be sure that learning did not occur”
    Should be modified to state, any learning that occurred was accomplished in spite of the system, not because of it. Students who do well on the current system maybe have learned to work the system and may have innate abilities that are not really being developed. Just to give one example.


    Share it: John Adams on Public Education

    John Adams
    On the government’s role in education Adams offered unambiguously that, “The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves.”
    [66] Adams, Letter to John Jebb, Vol. 9, p. 540.

    Research compliments:
    Bruce E. Woych

  10. Adam Eran

    Teachers have some of the last good jobs, and last defined-benefit pensions, so they are the target of our plutocratic masters’ ire. One additional symptom, besides those mentioned above: Michelle Rhee’s “Students First” organization that promotes three tactics to improve educational outcomes: 1. Merit pay, 2. (Union-busting) charter schools, and 3. testing, testing, testing.

    Rhee’s promoters (like Dinesh D’Sousa) got the money for a propaganda film promoting those tactics, and the Finnish schools as the model for how to improve those results in education. Some significant omissions in the film: Finnish teachers are well-paid, tenured, and unionized.

    But does science actually confirm those three items produce better educations. Nope. What does correlate heavily with better outcomes? Lower levels of childhood poverty. That’s 2% in Finland, and 23% in the U.S.

    So…besides capitalizing on the natural resentment of lots of people toward teachers (or their memories of teachers…this anti-education movement also misdirects attention from the American income inequities… Sort of like the xenophobia, racism, etc. that divides and conquers the American public.

    1. Central Scrutinizer

      nope,we just don’t have the money to pay them anymore
      the plutocrats don’t sign the checks
      plain,simple,and without anger

  11. Fred

    The problem with discussions of public education is the breadth of the subject. K – 12 covers a lot of territory.

    My knowledge is of the teaching of reading in K – 3. Everyone can remember high school and for some reason believe they can teach high school classes. (And maybe some can.) But it’s for this reason that most
    of the controversaries and criticism are at the high school level. Everyone has an opinion and thinks they’re an expert.

    But as to teaching reading in K – 3, no one can remember what it was like and everyone thinks that all that has to be done is to read to the child. For instance, no one has any idea what a leveled reading room is or what a running record is. Yes there is extensive testing during K – 3, but it is exclusively diagnostic. Most parents have no idea their child is being tested, except when retention is being considered.

    The controversaries in high school have nothing to do with the teaching of reading in K – 3, except that oftentimes the resolutions of these controversaries can hurt the teaching of reading.

    Sometimes I wish these people would just shut up, because if a child is able to read independently by the end of 3rd grade, what happens afterwards, whether good or bad, is just not that important.

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