We are seeing a concerted and organized effort to make the new film "Waiting for Superman" the means of defining the discussion on education. When combined with the corporate sponsorship and interconnections with NBC's Education Nation effort, it is perhaps worthwhile to examine some of the interconnections which are tying all this together.
I will apologize in advance for the sketchy nature of this particular posting - it has been a very busy time at school, I have had only 13 hours sleep in the past 3 nights, but felt it was important to get some of this information out there before (1) NBC's efforts sucks up all of the oxygen about education and (2) before the movie goes into "general" release, which it will on October 1.
I will review the movie sometime in October. This is not intended as a review.
But please stay with me for a little while as I explore a bit.
This week we had an event on the Oprah Winfrey show which featured Bill Gates and Michelle Rhee. Please note the combination, Gates as a major funder of a particular set of "reform" proposals and Rhee as the poster child of how to do that kind of reform - anyone remember the picture on the cover of Time, feature in this anti-Rhee blog post? Keep in mind that both Rhee and Gates are scheduled to play prominent roles in NBC's effort, and that Rhee is featured in the movie (despite the fact that a careful examination of her record in DC does not demonstrate any meaningful success, even by her preferred measure of test scores).
Let me add a couple of other things to consider, before I lay out the worrisome additional connections.
- Those who arrogate to them and their kind the label of "reform' are strong advocates of charters.
- Despite being a supposed bastion of progressive thought, the Center for American Progress is very much in the camp of "reform."
- Education is part of the brief of Melodie Barnes, as head of the White House Domestic Policy Council - she came to the White House from CAP.
- KIPP (Knowledge is Progress Program) Charter schools, founded by two former TFA teachers, is an especial favorite of many of those in the 'reform' camp, and has been heavily touted by among other Jay Mathews, formerly the principal education writer of the Washington Post, who has written a book that views the KIPP program very positively.
- One company that seems never to go away and is always trying to find yet another way to make a profit out of public schools is Chris Whittle's Edison Schools, which in fact lost a number of management contracts and was in danger of being delisted from NASDAQ as its stock was plummeting towards penny status when the price got propped up when then Governor Jeb Bush of Florida in his capacity as a trustee of the pension funds of Florida Teachers used that money (!!!) to buy a chunk of Edison stock and prop up its value.
- We have already seen the role of Time Magazine in all of this, with flattering cover story on Rhee and now its touting of the movie.
That's all preference.
Now consider the following.
The Oprah Winfrey Show is distributed by CBS Television Studios (subsidiary of Viacom/National Amusements) and "Waiting for Superman" (W4S) is distributed by Paramount vantage (subsidiary of Viacom/National Amusements). Winfrey has been heavily touting the movie on her show.
Winfrey has just announced that she is giving $1 million to each of ten charter schools. Yet often charter schools already are getting money from outside sources which enables them to spend far more than an ordinary public school does. I am unaware that Winfrey has ever made a similar donation to inner city public schools. I also note that when Jason Kamrad was National Teacher of the Year, from DC, he was a person who came through Teach for America (funded in part by the Gates Foundation) and he has since moved on to things related to educational policy, including having served as one key advisor on education to then candidate Barack Obama.
Last week, Phillippe Dauman, President and CEO of Viacom was appointed to KIPP’s Board of Directors
Courtesy of a friend who is concerned about some of these interconnections, ere is his bio:
Mr. Dauman is President and Chief Executive Officer of Viacom and has served on the Company's Board of Directors since 1987. Viacom is the world's leading entertainment content company. Under Mr. Dauman's leadership, in 2009 Viacom partnered with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to launch the "Get Schooled" initiative, which aims to increase high school and college graduation rates, improve postsecondary readiness and promote the fundamental importance of education.
Mr. Dauman earned his bachelor's degree from Yale College and his law degree from Columbia University Law School. He is a director of National Amusements, Inc. and Lafarge S.A. He is also a member of the Business Roundtabl and serves on the Executive Committee of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, the Board of Trustees for The Paley Center for Media and the Dean's Council of Columbia University Law School.
Oh, and remember CAP? Then there's this tidbit, which may mean nothing, but is at least worth noting. The head of CAP is John Podesta. His brother Tony is married to Heather. And Heather Podesta apparently is the chief lobbyist for Edison.
I am not alleging any corruption. I am seeing consistent overlaps and interconnections.
I am seeing a disturbing pattern. I have previously written about voices being excluded by NBC. Let me explore Education Nation a bit more.
In the mission statement, we read the following from NBC:
We believe that providing quality news and information to the public - the hallmark of journalistic excellence - will help Americans make decisions about how best to improve our education system. NBC News is committed to gathering policymakers and thought-leaders annually for an informed, enlightened discussion of the challenges, potential solutions and innovations spanning the education landscape. This discussion will be highlighted for a national audience across all NBC News platforms. We will continue our coverage to hold our leaders and communities accountable for improving outcomes in the near and long terms. NBC News will follow this story until this mission is fulfilled.
Yet until there was major pushback at the exclusion of the voices of teachers, we were not seeing teachers among the speakers. Nor were we seeing the presence of those critical of what the self-styled "reformer" are proposing.
Now there are teachers who are being included in some of the panels on the 2nd Day (Monday, September 27) of the Summit. But then consider this: a significant proportion of those teachers who have been invited to participate come through Teach for America. Given the small percentage of the American teaching corps represented by TFA one might question that. Of greater interest, one is a teacher from New Orleans who claims to have advanced students 3 years progress in one year. Unfortunately, according to someone who tracks very closely what goes on in New Orleans it didn't happen, and by the way, the next year those students who had apparently learned so much under this "wonderful" teacher? Over 80% of them failed.
I still see an exclusion of dissenting voices. I know the concerns I and other have raised are being noticed both at NBC and by those responsible for inviting participants to the Summit. I know some good people who have been added. I know one significant teaching figure who declined to participate because s/he was disgusted by the amount of corporate influence and the lack of meaningful participation of current teachers.
Critics have largely been excluded. People posting on the Facebook Page have had their posts removed and been banned.
They are paying some attention to critics. One of the people responsible for inviting participants in one email actually quoted from this diary which I posted Saturday, and I am now followed on Twitter by @EducationNation.
I have decided I will NOT lend my approval by registering for Education Nation. I do not want to allow my registration to be part of NBC claiming that teachers are supporting what they are doing.
I know in talking with teachers in my building in my capacity as union rep I do not detect much interest in what will happen.
I suppose I will have to watch the Town Hall - people here and elsewhere will want to know my reaction.
I can offer you reactions by others - to the movie, to what NBC is planning.
Increasingly professional organizations of educators, administrators as well as teachers, are becoming more vocal with their concern. For example, consider the widely distributed text of n open letter sent by Gene Carter, executive director of the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (of which I have been a member, although for financial reasons my membership has temporarily lapsed), to Oprah Winfrey. I quote:
September 21, 2010
Dear Ms. Oprah Winfrey:
Thank you for choosing to move education to the forefront of the
national conversation. The film Waiting for "Superman" is one of many
documentaries being released this fall on the state of our nation's
schools, and I hope these films encourage viewers to work with schools
in their local communities to ensure that every student in America has
the opportunity to learn and achieve.
As a career educator and the executive director of ASCD, an education
association of 160,000 educators worldwide, I was dismayed that your
show on education reform excluded a key demographic from the dialogue:
teachers. Yet the research---and your high-profile guests---say a
child's teacher is the most important factor to determining his or her
Moreover, simplistically dividing a profession of 5 million people into
"good teachers" and "bad teachers" misses an important opportunity to
show how all educators must continue to learn, develop, and grow
throughout their careers. Would we ask a proficient doctor to stop
learning new technologies or strategies that may help save a life? No.
Our most effective teachers are the ones who pursue professional
development not only to sustain student achievement, but also to help
teach other educators.
In international comparisons, the United States' education system is
often viewed as substandard or lacking. I've seen successful
international education systems, such as that in Finland, where there is
a direct correlation between student achievement and teacher respect.
Perhaps we need to focus on how our country, our individual states, and
our local communities can better value this high-risk, high-reward
What if filmmakers, politicians, philanthropists, and high-profile
school leaders demanded that our educators receive the ongoing support
they need to help each student in every classroom in America succeed to
his or her greatest potential? Now that would make a great focus for
your Friday follow-up show.
Dr. Gene R. Carter
Carter notes that W4S is but one of a number of films on education being released. As time allows, I will point people at some of the others, so that they can realize that the dominant narrative which may crowd out other voices is in fact not the only voice.
Sorry for the rambling nature of this post. Thought there was information worth putting together and posting.
Do with it what you will.