Saturday, February 20, 2016

Awful Mean Naughty Journalism

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.


  1. Ah yes, Bermudez trots the good ol' straw man argument. Criticize the critics of her shaky credentials, and the empty "data", supporting her argument, to shift the onus of proof on the critics. It would be laughable if this argument wasn't the main way our countries leaders get elected and impose their empty policies on very real people with very real lives... What a load of crap!

    1. Regarding the shifting the onus of proof on the critics:

      Russell's teapot, sometimes called the celestial teapot or cosmic teapot, is an analogy first coined by the philosopher Bertrand Russell (1872–1970) to illustrate that the philosophic burden of proof lies upon a person making scientifically unfalsifiable claims rather than shifting the burden of proof to others. Russell wrote that, if he claims that a teapot orbits the Sun somewhere in space between the Earth and Mars, it is nonsensical for him to expect others to believe him on the ground that they cannot prove him wrong. Russell's teapot is still referred to in discussions concerning the existence of God.

      The burden of proof regarding college and career readiness, higher order thinking skills, and closing the learning gap is just as preposterous as the claim of an orbiting teacup.
      We have no obligation to disprove these scientifically unfalsifiable claims. Nor do we have any obligation to offer alternatives to their FAILED policies.

    2. I like the Bertrand Russell reference.

  2. I could put forth dozens of quotes where reformers bash teachers.

    Here's one:

    KATI HAYCOCK: “But what we need to do is change the idea that education is the only career that needs to be done for life. There are a lot of smart people who change careers every six or seven years, while education ends up with a bunch of people on the low end of the pile who don’t want to compete in the job market.”

    So Kati divides public school teachers into two categories:

    1) HIGH QUALITY: that small minority — the elite “smart people” (TFA & others) who, over a lifetime, “change careers every six or seven years”— with just one career being teaching, and the other five or six being non-teaching careers—and who, albeit briefly, deliver the highest quality of education to their students before moving on…

    … OR…

    2) LOW QUALITY: the vast majority — the “low-end-of-the-pile” slackers who make teaching a long-time career, merely to avoid having “to compete in the job market,” with teaching being a place to hide out and be lazy… and, in the process, willfully destroy the academic and career potential of millions of students… and who do so without the slightest twinge of conscience.

    In Kati’s deranged mind, if you teaching in classroom for more than five years—ten years at the absolute most—you’re guilty-as-charged of being one of those “low-end-of-the-pile” slackers that are driving our country to ruin.

    Seriously, teaching is “the only career done for life”? What is she smoking?

  3. Here's Ravitch with some of the list:

    “Let’s start with anti-corporate reformer Leonie Haimson:


    LEONIIE HAIMSON: Scapegoating teachers has become the mantra of the so-called reformers. From Katie Haycock claiming (with no evidence) that the problems of low-performing schools are primarily due to poor teaching, to the recent cover of Newsweek, proclaiming that the ” Key to saving American education” is to “fire bad teachers,” with these words repeated over and over on the blackboard, this simplistic notion notion infects nearly every blog, magazine, and DC think tank, including this one.

    In what other sphere would we make this claim? Is the key to reforming our inequitable health care system firing bad doctors? Or the key to reducing inner city crime firing bad cops? No. But somehow this inherently destructive perspective is the delivered wisdom among the privateers who populate and dominate thinking in this country.


    From corporate reformer Kati Haycock: (originally at NEWSWEEK—since deleted by NEWSWEEK) but still available at


    KATI HAYCOCK: But what we need to do is change the idea that education is the only career that needs to be done for life. There are a lot of smart people who change careers every six or seven years, while education ends up with a bunch of people on the low end of the pile who don’t want to compete in the job market. Kati Haycock, President of Education Trust, (Newsweek, 9/1/08)


    From Corporate Reformer & hedge fund guru Whitney Tilson:


    WHITNEY TILSON : (Public school teachers are) gutless weasels and completely disgraced themselves in siding with the unions against meaningful reforms of a public school system that systematically, all over the country, gives black and Latino students the very worst teachers and schools, thereby trapping black and Latino communities in multi-generational cycles of poverty, violence and despair. (July 30, 2011 blog post)

    CONTINUED on next post:

  4. ————————————————————-

    And finally… From Michelle Rhee


    ATLANTIC MONTHLY: One of the other concerns I’ve heard voiced about alternative selection models is that the teachers aren’t making a thirty-year, or even a ten-year commitment.

    MICHELLE RHEE: Nobody makes a thirty-year or ten-year commitment to a single profession. Name one profession where the assumption is that when you go in, right out of graduating college, that the majority of people are going to stay in that profession. It’s not the reality anymore, maybe with the exception of medicine. But short of that, people don’t go into jobs and stay there forever anymore.

    ATLANTIC MONTHLY: So you feel like teachers can be effective even within a short term?

    MICHELLE RHEE: Absolutely, and I’d rather have a really effective teacher for two years than a mediocre or ineffective one for twenty years.

    ATLANTIC MONTHLY: One thing that I’ve encountered personally in talking to a lot of veteran teachers is this idea that programs like Teach for America or the D.C. Teaching Fellows de-professionalize education. They see it as a kind of glorified internship.

    MICHELLE RHEE: I’ll tell you what de-professionalizes education. It’s when we have people sitting in the classrooms—whether they’re certified or not, whether they’ve taught for two months or 22 years—that are not teaching kids. And whom we cannot remove from the classroom, and whom parents know are not good. Those are the things that de-professionalize the teaching corp. Not Teach for America, not D.C. Teaching Fellows. That, I think, is a ridiculous argument.


    Put yourself in the shoes of a university student. Are you going to spend and/or incur debt in a range of $100,000 – 300,000 for tuition/room & board/other expenses, then face all of that?

  5. Hard to take a writer (I cannot call her a "journalist") seriously who responds to "screeds masked as journalism" with a screed masked as journalism.