Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Charter Fans Put Bounty on John Oliver's Head

How much did John Oliver's piece on charter schools upset charter cheerleaders?

About $100,000.

Yesterday the Center for Education Reform, Jeanne Allen's pro-charter advocacy group, announced the "Hey John Oliver, Back Off My Charter School" video contest, in which your charter school can win $100,000 for creating a video that will show John Oliver "why making fun of charter schools is no laughing matter..."

The press release from CER, as always, quoting Allen:

$100K if your school can be funnier than this professional comedian
"The program was meant to be funny and provocative entertainment," said CER Founder and Chief Executive Officer Jeanne Allen, "but Oliver went way out of bounds and far beyond simple entertainment when he used examples of a few poorly run schools to paint all charters, and the whole concept of charter schools, as failures."

Or as the contest website puts it

Here is a brief summary of Mr. Oliver’s presentation: “Some charter schools have been mismanaged. Ergo, ipso facto, presto change-o, all charter schools are bad, bad, bad.” 

That's a sloppy misreading of Oliver's piece, which actually bent over backwards to include the opposing views of charters. What Oliver pointed out is that the charter school business is an unregulated playground for folks who are far more interested in making money than educating students. But to refute that would be hard; better to fashion a John Oliver-shaped straw man that can be easily defeated. "He said that all charter schools are bad. Here's one that isn't. Boom!"

There are some rules for this. Here's the basic idea of what your charter school is supposed to create:

Let viewers know why students chose your school over all the others. Help them understand the opportunities charters offer (and which wouldn’t exist without charters).

I, too, would be interested to see what opportunities charters offer that wouldn't exist without charters. Perhaps some videos will highlight charter-only perks like "getting away from Those Children" or "enjoying a constantly churning staff of underpaid unretained teachers" or "the delightful mystery of what exactly is being done with our tax dollars" or "the warm glow of knowing that we've helped some investors make a buck or ten" or even "the suspense of never knowing when my school might suddenly close." Please, somebody, make that video.

The video must be "home made" on a phone or tablet-- slick production values are not allowed because that would just point to the idea that charters are high-profit businesses rather than schools. It can't look like it cost $100,000 to make, because that would draw attention to the fact that charter folks have that kind of money to drop on PR stunts.

Kind of like just pulling $100K out of pocket for a PR generating contest shows that the charter industry and its BFFs can play fast and loose with big chunks of money (most of which comes from the taxpayers). 

The "Our School Is Great" video is a common genre. Public schools all across the country make them-- for free-- all the time. But it's completely in keeping with the charter school industry that, having failed to raise a groundswell of grass roots anger over the Oliver piece (which is now over a week old and yet the righteous indignation over it seems largely confined to people who make their living shilling for charters), the charter cheerleading squad must now pay somebody to stand up for them and help them fight back against this PR disaster. 


  1. Because we know that no charter school cheerleaders would EVER pick & choose examples to paint a farcically incomplete picture to support THEIR side...

    I foresee a plethora of videos springing into being supporting traditional public schools, even without the $100K carrot, just because. :-)

  2. They had better be careful -- Oliver has some damned good researchers working for him!

    1. That's what I was thinking. If they publish the videos as submitted by supporters, they're just going to attract more attention from John Oliver, and that might not go well for them. If they wanted to create positive buzz for Charter Schools, then they should have asked videos that are more open-ended, not responses to John Oliver's segment.

    2. I bet John Oliver could make a pretty good video to submit. *wink wink nudge nudge*

  3. Hope John Oliver does another piece since he only scratched the surface on this one! His piece on the CC was to die for.

  4. The $100,000 contest (notice that it's not a $50 donated Staples/Target gift certificate or free-pizza-day-for-your-class contest, like you might find in a public school) is just another example of everything Oliver describes in his show. I hope he does a follow up about the pro-charter advocacy group's contest.

    Meanwhile, we 'peons' are doing what we do well - our usual grassroots organizing (letter writing, social media etc.)

  5. The problem with their rationale is two-fold.

    One, you can't swing a dead cat in this country and not hit a charter failure/issue. The NLRB just said they aren't "public" schools. The president of Turkey wants the head of the Gulen charter chain sent back to Turkey because the president thinks he created the coup. That's international relations we are talking about with the 2nd largest charter chain involved.

    You don't have to use any "old" bad charter news to support the claim that the charter system is a mess.

  6. He literally says this in the first 2 minutes: "Now for this piece — and I know this is going to make some people on both sides very angry — we’re going to set aside whether or not charter schools are a good idea in principle. Because whether they are or not, in 42 states and D.C. we’re doing them. So instead we’re going to look at how they operate in practice. One group found on average charters have a slight edge over traditional public schools in reading and about the same in math but acknowledged charter quality is uneven across the states and across schools. And that is putting it mildly. Because around the country there have been charter school so flawed they don’t make it through the school year."

    People don't like to listen. At all

  7. "The program was meant to be funny and provocative entertainment..." No, the program, as always, was meant to be social and political satire, truth, and facts.

  8. Personally, I hope the $100K video gets made & comes to JO's show's attention...you don't engage a professional boxer in a fistfight & you don't engage professional comics in comedy.

    The BS included in any such video will be ridiculed without mercy.

  9. Pffffffffff. Like any charter school needs MORE money.

  10. Pffffffffffffff. Like any charter needs MORE money.

  11. Others have tried and failed to go up against John Oliver. https://youtu.be/DQmGMJBHhaI

  12. Oh, my, Valerie Strauss posted about the $100K award and Jeanne Allen is hanging out in the comments section, along with some other charter cheerleaders who apparently also didn't watch the episode themselves.

    I'll make the popcorn, you bring the beer.

  13. Get Bald Piano Guy on this STAT! and if you do not know who he is got to Youtube!

  14. our local charter school has spent thousands on a PR firm!

  15. PR is typically funded by the largest philanthropic organizations on earth. Here in Massachusetts, pro-charter organizations (who are funded by the foundations, who in turn are funded by Hedge Funds and the like) are likely to spend up to $18 Million lobbying to lift the existing cap on new Charter Schools. Part of why we have our current Governor is because he fully supports Charter growth in MA. In MA many (including me) had no clue that lobbying for Charters began back in 2002. Interesting...12% of our Charters have been put on notice by the State for various reasons, including criminal activity.

  16. Do they not see the irony in claiming that it isn't ALL charter schools that are failing and that it isn't fair to focus on those that are to the detriment of those that are doing well!?! So-called reformers have been maligning public schools in this manner for DECADES and now they're crying "foul"?! I guess what goes around really does come around.