unionsCaroline Bermudez is senior writer and press secretary at Education Post, Peter Cunningham's pro-reform rapid response war room created to help Tell the Reformsters' Story. And this week Bermudez took to Real Clear Education to complain that "Uninformed, Irresponsible Journalism Is Killing Needed Education Reform."
Bermudez wants to call out the anti-reform narrative, the "amalgamation of all the myths spewed forth against education reformers." These pieces are "political propaganda as nuanced as a jackhammer drilling into concrete." But those pieces come from people like Valerie Strauss and Jeff Bryant who, she implies, are eminently dismissable, but it makes her really sad when the New Yorker publishes film critic David Denby's "hollow critique" of the general anti-teacher tenor of education reform. And he did it without any data!! Or reliable evidence!! Bermudez's indignation would be more compelling if "No data or reliable evidence" were not the reformster movement's middle name. Can we talk about how Common Core arrived without a stitch of evidence to its name, not even for the very idea of using national standards to improve education, and it's still prancing around naked today? Or the kind of fake research regularly churned out by groups like TNTP or NCTQ?
But Bermudez is not here simply to register her righteous shock and blah-blah-blah over a major magazine pointing out what millions of teachers already know. She would also like to take a moment to mock all articles that disagree with the reformsters. She calls the anti-reform pieces "endemic" and notes that reformsters "utter familiar groans" when they come across these articles that so often "repeat the same sound bites."
And then she lists the things she's tired of hearing:
1. Education reformers disrespect teachers.
2. Reformers solely blame teachers for educational failure.
3. Poverty goes unacknowledged by reformers.
4. Public education is fine. Reformers are hysterical.
5. Charter schools privatize public education.
6. Reformers reflexively hate unions.
So, I guess the good news is that she has been listening, kind of? The bad news is that Bermudez does not offer any research, data or arguments in response to any of these alleged criticisms. But education reformers do disrespect teachers, from their idea that anybody from the right background can become a teacher with five weeks of training, to their insistence that bad teachers are the root of educational evil, to their steady attempts to reduce teachers to simple "content delivery clerks."
Of course, almost no reform critics claim that reformers only blame teachers (and that includes the article she linked to, which also doesn't claim that), just as no serious reform critic claims that reformsters don't acknowledge poverty at all. There are some good conversations to be had about poverty, its effects as an obstacle to education, and how to deal. But Bermudez is hell-bent on overstating her case in order to make a point, so she says silly things like claiming that pro-public education writers say that public ed is fine and that reformsters are hysterical (once again, the article she links to, which actually has a good deal of charts and data, doesn't actually say what she suggests it says).
Not all of her points are overstatements. Lots of pro-public ed writers point out that charter schools privatize public education, which is kind of like pointing out that the sky is blue and water is wet. I don't think I've read all that many reformsters who even try to claim otherwise.
Union hatred? Well, yes. DFER hates unions with the hot, shiny hatred of a hundred suns. Vergara, Friedrichs, Baby Vergara in New York-- all lawsuits brought by big-money reformsters to roll back the union, just like the arguments about removing tenure and other job protections, all rooted in a general philosophy that a school leader CEO should be free to make choices without having to deal with a union. maybe her point is that reformsters don't hate unions "reflexively," but after lots of thought and careful consideration. Fair enough.
Of course, she also doesn't argue that any of these oft-repeated points is wrong. Just that they're of-repeated.
Bermudez has some specific recommendations. "Ambitious, valuable journalism" does not, for instance, use terms like "corporate reform." Not that she thinks reformsters should never be critiqued:
While our opponents believe we prefer to live in an echo chamber, we
would much rather have our work analyzed—even challenged—thoughtfully
and without an obvious agenda.
So says the woman who handles PR for a website launched with $13 million dollars from Eli Broad and other reformsters in order to make sure that they get their message out there.
The irony is that I actually know several thoughtful reformers with whom it is possible to have thoughtful, productive conversations. But they generally don't open by making unsupported mis-statements of pro-public education arguments. Bermudez is not trying to start a conversation; like many reformsters before her, she is arguing that the other side should by and large be silent.
She is also promoting the old subtext that Education Post and some others are fond of-- the notion that pro-public ed folks are some large, well-coordinated conspiracy, passing talking points back and forth and creating swarms that make it hard for the beautiful truth of reformster policy to be heard, and occasionally infecting real journalists with their mean propaganda. I'll give her credit-- she at least doesn't accuse all pro-public ed writers of being tools or paid shills of the teachers unions. You haven't really arrived in the pro-public ed writing world until you've been accused of being a union shill.
I always want to ask the paid reformsters mouthpieces like Bermudez-- just how much do you believe this stuff. If you were not a paid PR flack for this site, how much of your time and effort would you devote to your cause. Because I'm sitting here tapping one more blog post out for free in the morning hours before I head to work (all day rehearsal-- it's school musical season here). In a couple of months the Network for Public Education will have its third annual convention and some of us won't be there because we can't afford it and nobody pays us to go. Sometimes I just don't think that folks like Bermudez get that we are neither well-funded or well-organized-- we just believe that we see something that has to be called out and resisted. I have no idea how much Bermudez is paid to be Education Post's PR flack, and I don't know how much she got to write this particular article, but I'm responding to it for free.
Of course, Bermudez is not arguing against bloggers so much as decrying that a real paid journalist is picking on ed reform, but she tries to dismiss Denby by lumping him in with the rest of us, by treating all anti-reform writing as if it's one big piece of fluff. But at no point in her piece does she explain where she thinks Denby-Bryant-Strauss-Ravitch-Heilig get it wrong. Maybe coming up with the research and data to support such a view would just be too rigorous, or maybe such work has no place in a pro-reform screed. But if Bermudez knew more about teaching, maybe she'd remember that a good technique for teaching is to model the behavior you want to see.