I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Friday, April 25, 2014

Corporate Education Reform Buys Public Broadcasting - Again

A couple of months ago, David Sirota broke the story of how PBS took money from plutocrat John Arnold to push a story touting a non-existent pension crisis. I'll admit that since then my radar has been more finely tuned to corporate-friendly frameworks when watching PBS or listening to NPR.

So, as I was sitting at the kitchen table this evening, my ears perked up at the 5:30 break for WNYC, the NPR outlet here in the greater New York area. The announcer let us know that All Things Considered was proudly sponsored by the Walton Family Foundation, which was supporting (I'm paraphrasing here) educational "choice" for families.

The Walton fortune, of course, was amassed on the backs of workers who have been systemically exploited and denied the opportunity to organize. The Walton Family Foundation takes a small amount of Sam's brood's lucre -- which, considering the pile they're sitting on, is actually a fortune -- and uses it to attack teachers unions while simultaneously promoting an anti-democratic reformy agenda that has no evidence to support it.

Keep that in mind as I describe the story that aired about ten minutes after the Walton's sponsorship tag.

You see, our reformy Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, has decided to pull Washington State's waiver for the federal No Child Left Behind law. Why has our incoherent SecEd decided to punish Washington State? Because the legislature dared to refuse to acquiesce to his demand to include test scores in teacher evaluations.

You can listen to Martin Kaste's story for NPR here -- or you can can read his entry at NPR's blog:
Washington has become the first state to have its "No Child Left Behind" waiver revoked by the Obama administration. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan notified the state of his decision today, which will restrict Washington's flexibility in spending federal education dollars. 
It sounds bureaucratic, but it's an important flare-up in a long-running war between teachers unions and the federal government over standardized testing — and whether students' scores should play a role in evaluating teachers. 
Washington, like every other state with a waiver, had promised to make that happen. But the Legislature balked, in part because of pressure from teachers, but also because of growing "test fatigue" among students and their parents. A standardized-test boycott at Seattle's Garfield High School made national headlines last year. 
In his letter, Duncan made it clear that test scores have to be part of the mix.
"Including student learning growth as a significant factor among the multiple of measures used to determine performance levels is important as an objective measure to differentiate among teachers and principals," he wrote. 
The Washington Education Association — the union — has responded by calling No Child Left Behind a "failed federal law," and it praised the state Legislature for rejecting "Duncan's inflexible and bureaucratic demands." [emphasis mine]
Catch that? See, the problem is the teachers unions. This is all about them asserting their massive power (snort!) over state legislatures. 

What's missing from this story -- and yes, from the radio report as well -- is any mention of the concerns of education researchers and statisticians in the using of test scores to evaluate teachers.

Just this month, the American Statistical Association issued what Diane Ravitch accurately describes as a "stinging statement," cautioning against the use of Value Added Models in teacher evaluation. In the post, Diane also points us to a policy brief issued jointly by the American Education Research Association and National Academy of Education:
With respect to value-added measures of student achievement tied to individual teachers, current research suggests that high-stakes, individual-level decisions, or comparisons across highly dissimilar schools or student populations, should be avoided. Valid interpretations require aggregate-level data and should ensure that background factors – including overall classroom composition – are as similar as possible across groups being compared. In general, such measures should be used only in a low-stakes fashion when they are part of an integrated analysis of what the teacher is doing and who is being taught. [emphasis mine]
You'd think an NPR report would mention this. You'd think that a joint statement by the preeminent education research assocation and the nation's recognized academy of education research would maybe interest a journalist trying to determine the efficacy of test-based teacher evaluation. You'd think maybe an NPR reporter would be curious to know whether there were maybe some valid objections to Duncan's preferred policies, especially since Duncan himself hold no degrees in education, was never a practitioner or a researcher, and left a trail of destruction behind him in Chicago.

You'd think.

When it comes to education, skip most of the corporate media (there are exceptions), and skip most of public broadcasting (there are exceptions). The anti-union, anti-public schools plutocrats have bought and paid for the media, and they are getting a fine return on their investment.
NPR approved!


P. Grunther said...

I listen to NPR every day driving home from my teaching job but I missed this story today. Thank you for "de-coding" it as this insidious way of demonizing teacher unions is standard in most media reporting these days and the vast majority of people have no idea how the stories are being slanted and who may be behind them. I have never heard the Walton family mentioned as a sponsor on WNYC (!!) but I intend to discuss this with the station the next time they hit me up for money.

Giuseppe said...

I love NPR, this is like a knife in the back but of course the Walton money is a powerful lure to sell out and slant the news against unions. There's a Saturday financial show on WHYY, I forgot the name, it's really a disgrace, it's almost CNBC lite at times. CNBC is the absolute worst for biased pro billionaire reporting.
The Waltons and the Kochs also fund PBS, very scary. They have some excellent shows on PBS but all this corporate money from libertarian anti-union billionaires has got to have an eroding effect on news integrity. The once great 60 Minutes has gone down the toilet for the corporate oligarchs; last Sunday's show was another dewy eyed kiss fest by Scott Pelley for the billionaire Paul Tudor Jones, his charter schools and other charities. It was such an uncritical soft soap job that it was vomit inducing. If this guy is so wealthy, why does he take public funds to run his charter school(s)? He's rich enough to not take public funds and to run private schools all with his own money and of his other buddy billionaires.

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