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Peter Cunningham, former deputy to Arne Duncan, accused Carol Burris and me of “attacking” Campbell Brown. He says we “attack” anyone who disagrees with us. Peter now runs a website called Education Post, where he received $12 million from various billionaires (including Walton and Bloomberg) to defend the corporate reform movement of high stakes testing, VAM, and privatization of public schools.


Anyone who reads my post about Campbell will see that there was no attack. I was doing my best to educate her about what grade level means and why NAEP proficient is not and should not be used as a “passing mark.”


Carol tweeted with Campbell. So did Tom Loveless of Brookings, who told her that she was wrong and urged her to correct her error. For some reason, Peter did not include Tom in the list of people who were “attacking” Campbell.


Obviously, neither she nor Peter bothered to read the links to scholarly studies and government websites included in my post.  They should. They might learn something and stop bashing American public schools and their teachers. I served seven years on the NAEP governing board. I could help them if they are willing to learn.


As for calling Campbell “telegenic,” that’s no insult, that’s a compliment. If you call me telegenic, I would say thank you.



The rheeform leadership has changed. Michelle Rhee was once the cover girl for test-and-punish reform, and now it is Campbell Brown. The telegenic Brown used to read the news on television but now she has taken Rhee’s place in the reformy firmament. Since she launched her career as an education expert with an op-ed attacking the teachers’ union in New York City for protecting sexual predators, Brown has become increasingly active in the world of education punditry. She received $4 million from various billionaires to launch a news site called “The 74,” which was supposed to refer to the number of school-age children in the United States. However, there are 50 million school-age children, but then why quibble? Brown organized candidate debates for both parties last fall. Three Republicans showed up, and no Democrats. Yesterday, she moderated a panel at the Harvard Graduate School of Education at a symposium on poverty and schooling.


Now Brown, having established her bona fides as an expert on education, has prepared a memo for the next president. 


Unfortunately her memo begins with a false statement. She starts by saying that 2/3 of American students in eighth grade are “below grade level” in reading and math. Apparently she refers to the National Assessment of Education Progress, the only national assessment of student skills. She confuses NAEP proficiency, a specific achievement level, with grade level.


To begin with, “grade level” is a median. Fifty percent are always above grade level, and fifty percent are always below.


But the NAEP achievement levels do not measure “grade level.” They are defined in the NAEP reports thus: “basic” represents partial mastery of skills; “proficiency” represents mastery; “advanced” represents extraordinary performance. “Below basic” is very poor performance.


Here are the definitions on the NAEP website:



Achievement Level Policy Definitions


Partial mastery of prerequisite knowledge and skills that are fundamental for proficient work at each grade.

Solid academic performance for each grade assessed. Students reaching this level have demonstrated competency over challenging subject matter, including subject-matter knowledge, application of such knowledge to real-world situations, and analytical skills appropriate to the subject matter.


Superior performance.


Here is a statement on the U.S. Department of Education (National Center for Education Statistics) website:

The statement, “Proficient is not synonymous with grade-level performance.”


The NAEP website says that the Governing Board thinks that the goal should be “proficient,” not “basic,” but the reality is that these achievement levels have been in place since 1992, and in no state or district has 100% of students ever achieved NAEP proficiency. In only one state, Massachusetts, has as much as 50% of students reached proficiency. If you believe, as Campbell Brown and the NAGB board does, that 100% of students should reach proficiency, then you believe that somewhere there is a baseball team that never loses a game, or an entire school district in which all children get grades of all As. It has never happened, not even in the wealthiest, most successful schools and districts. When elephants can fly, that is when “all” students will reach NAEP proficiency. Be it noted that the standard (the passing mark or cut score) for the Common Core tests is aligned with NAEP proficient, which is why 65-70% of students consistently “fail.”


I was a member of the National Assessment Governing Board for seven years. I read questions before they were administered to samples of students across the nation and in every state. The greatest number of students are scored as “basic,” which I consider to be the equivalent of a B or C. Those who register as “proficient” are the equivalent of an A performance. Advanced is for superstars. Typically, only 5-10% of students are “advanced.” About a third are proficient or advanced. The remaining 65% are basic or below basic. (These are my definitions, not the government’s or the NAGB board.)


To expect that most students will score the equivalent of an A is nonsensical.


Ms. Brown has been engaged in a Twitter debate with Tom Loveless of the Brookings Institution. Loveless, a real expert with years of teaching experience (elementary school) and a doctorate, has been studying and writing about NAEP and student performance for many years. He chastised Brown on Twitter for saying that 2/3 of students are “below grade level.” He encouraged her to check her facts, because he assumed that her journalistic background had taught her to do so. Carol Burris, director of the Network for Public Education, and veteran educator, jumped into the exchange.


Just yesterday, Brown responded with this comment:


Campbell Brown ‏@campbell_brown 
@carolburris @tomloveless99 this is why parents dont listen to u. U play semantics while 2/3 kids arent where they should be. I call BS


Since Brown thinks that NAEP proficiency is the same as “grade level,” she would profit by reading this report on the meaning of NAEP achievement levels. It gives a good overview of them and points out that they do not refer to grade levels. The report also usefully reviews the numerous critiques of the achievement levels, by experts who consider them “fundamentally flawed” and an inaccurate measure of student achievement.


I can only hope that Ms. Brown, education expert, gets a quick tutorial about what NAEP achievement levels are.


And I invite her to take the NAEP eighth-grade test, composed of released questions in reading and math, and release her scores. In a supervised setting, of course. I think she will be surprised. I will be interested to see if she is “proficient,” since she believes that anyone who is not proficient is a failure.



Mercedes Schneider writes here about Campbell Brown and the Vergara case. The lower court decision became an opportunity for the telegenic former TV correspondent to launch a new career as a tenure-fighting, union-busting vigilante.


Riding the Vergara wave, she created an organization called the “Partnership for Educational Justice,” funded by the usual billionaires.  PEJ filed a copy-cat Vergara lawsuit in New York and just week filed a similar lawsuit in Minnesota. Bad timing, to say the least.


On a roll, Brown launched a news site, “The 74,” to chronicle the struggle for corporate-style reform of public education. The 74 refers to the 74 million children of school age, many allegedly trapped in schools with unions and tenure. It was reported that the billionaires (Bloomberg, Walton and others) gave her $4 million for The 74).


So what did Campbell say about the overturning of the Vergara by a unanimous three-judge Court of Appeal? Nothing. A deafening silence.


Meanwhile, Mercedes examines a curious incident in the night at the Los Angeles Times, where education coverage is funded by billionaire Eli Broad. The original story about the decision by Howard Blume was mysteriously rewritten. Whole sections were dropped or revised to make them , well, less problematic to the funder. Accidental? Your guess is as good as mine.


Read the post for the details.


And remember to thank the Constitution for checks and balances and an independent judiciary (at least in California).


Paul Farhi, a veteran reporter at the Washington Post, wrote an article recently about Campbell Brown’s new “news site” called “The 74,” which is a vehicle for her ongoing campaign against teachers’ unions and tenure and for charters and vouchers. Brown, who has no experience as a teacher, scholar, or researcher, who attended a private high school (her own children attend a private religious school), has become the new face of the corporate reform movement since Michelle Rhee stepped out of the limelight. Last year, Farhi wrote about Brown’s transition from TV talking head to advocate for vouchers, charters, and the elimination of teacher tenure. (You will notice in the earlier article that Brown takes great umbrage to my having described her as telegenic and pretty; well, she IS telegenic and pretty, and I would be happy if anyone said that about me! I consider it a compliment.)

Farhi reports the funding behind “The 74”:

As it happens, Brown raised the funds for the Seventy Four from some of the biggest and wealthiest advocates of the restructuring that the Seventy Four appears to be espousing. The funders include the Dick and Betsy DeVos Family Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation and Bloomberg Philanthropies, all of which have opposed teachers unions and supported various school-privatization initiatives. (Her co-founder, Romy Drucker, was an education adviser to billionaire and former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg.)

This would be just another garden-variety profile of a controversial figure, but blogger Alexander Russo blasted Farhi as biased against Brown. Although Farhi does not quote another corporate reformer, he quotes Brown herself extensively. Russo questioned Farhi’s objectivity as a journalist. He complained that there was no outside voice supporting Brown, and that Farhi ended the article with skeptical quotes from Washington insider Jack Jennings and AFT President Randi Weingarten. Russo says that Farhi should have allowed Brown to respond to the critics, and he should have found “another outside voice — a journalist, academic, or education leader of some kind — to express support” for Brown. He also wrote that “the overview was inaccurate or misleading” by stating that Brown’s views are supported by conservative politicians and business interests.

In an earlier post, Russo candidly disclosed that he had hoped to join Campbell Brown’s “team,” but didn’t make the cut:

Disclosures: This blog is funded in part by Education Post, which shares several funders with The Seventy-Four. Last summer and Fall, I spoke with Brown and others on the team about partnering with them but nothing came of it.

The curious aspect of this particular flap is that Russo’s blog is jointly funded by the American Federation of Teachers and Education Post (which is funded by the Broad Foundation, the Bloomberg Foundation, and the Walton Family Foundation).

Randi Weingarten tweeted:

Randi Weingarten (@rweingarten)
7/26/15, 1:14 PM
Russo’s criticism of Farhi is off base. Farhi’s piece is smart, effective journalism:…


Randi Weingarten (@rweingarten)
7/26/15, 3:27 PM
@alexanderrusso do u really believe Campbell Brown is no longer ideological or are u acting this way b/c of funding…

Campbell Brown, the pretty and telegenic face of the “reform” movement, was interviewed by Fortune magazine about her new website, funded by rightwing billionaires like the Walton Foundation.

Brown’s first foray into “education reform” was her campaign against sexual predators in the public schools. So far as I can tell, she never attended a public school and neither do her children, but somehow she concluded that a significant number of teachers in New York’s public schools are sexual predators.

She went from there to the big time, leading a campaign to save children from tenured teachers (who might be sexual predators). The case against tenure has never been clear, since high-performing districts have tenured teachers as well as low-performing districts. Brown seems to think that getting rid of tenure will lead to a better education for all children. It would be helpful if  she offered some evidence for this belief.

She claims that she is not opposed to teachers’ unions but she is quick to claim that anyone who disagrees with her is fronting for unions.

I offered her some friendly advice recently. I offered to join with her in a crusade to help the nation’s neediest students, whose biggest disadvantage is poverty, not tenured teachers. We could campaign together for more resources for the schools they attend, the restoration of teachers of the arts, the full funding of the band and physical education and foreign languages. She hasn’t answered.

Campbell Brown, the pretty, telegenic journalist who was once a talking head for CNN, has launched her website and news service to report and opine on education issues with a strong point of view. It is called The 74 Million, referring to the 74 million children below the age of 18. You can expect to read and hear about the glories of charter schools, vouchers, privatization, and Teach for America. You should not expect to see any good news about public education, unions, or veteran teachers.

Its funders include Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Dick and Betsy DeVos Foundation, Daniel S. Loeb, Jon Sackler, and the Walton Foundation. All of these are well-known supporters of vouchers and charters. Loeb, a billionaire hedge-funder, is the chair of the Board of Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academies; Sackler started a charter chain; the Walton Foundation pours about $150 million a year into vouchers and charters and Teach for America; Betsy DeVos founded American Federation for Children, which zealously advocates for vouchers; Jonathan Sackler, a wealthy equity investor, is a leader in the Connecticut and national charter school movement.

Two of our best bloggers have reacted to The 74 Million.

Jennifer Berkshire, aka EduShyster, got a tip about a journalist who applied for a job with The 74. She was told that the 74 news service needed investigative journalists but they would not cover subject of charter school scandals. She shared her story with EduShyster but insisted on anonymity as revealing her name would be “career suicide.” EduShyster repeatedly reached out to a high-level official at The 74. Eventually he responded and insisted that he could not comment based on a report from an anonymous source. And of course, the site will be “fair and balanced.” Where have we heard that before?

Peter Greene also received the news blast about the arrival of the Campbell Brown news service. Greene is impressed by the professional look of the site and the journalists hired to write for it. Its budget is $4 million but he says it is far slicker than Peter Cunningham’s Ed Post, which was funded by same of the same sources with $12 million.

He observes:

This is an advocacy site, and “advocacy” is our nice name for PR. It has a point of view that it wants to push, and whether that’s because Brown is a clueless rich dilettante who doesn’t know what she’s talking about or an evil mastermind who’s fronting for her husband and his disaster capitalist friends, either way, this is a site that has a point of view to push. This is no more nor less than we expected. That’s evident just in the choice of topics. One good way to be subtle in slanting news is to provide fairly level coverage– but only of the things you want to talk about….

We’ll see how things play out. If Brown can convince candidates to cue up for her educational summits, she may start looking like a real player in the ed debates, or at least a good mouthpiece for candidates who want to say educationy things without being challenged on their baloney.

But if you had the slightest thought that there would be any surprises at The 74, banish such foolish notions. It’s a slicker package and better buns, but it’s the same old pro-charter, anti-union, pro-privatization, anti-public ed meal inside. I can’t wait till they start covering Brown’s heroic fight to destroy tenure in New York, but I definitely won’t hold my breath waiting for a hard-hitting expose of a charter school scandal.

There is no such thing as advocacy journalism. You cannot, as Brown promises we will, have both. Either you have a journalist’s interest in pursuing the truth, wherever the path leads you, or you have an advocate’s interest in finding support for the position that you have already committed yourself to. It’s one or the other, and for all the journalistic trappings, Brown has chosen the path of the advocate.

Why is the media so excited about school choice and so indifferent to the defunding of public education?

How did telegenic Campbell Brown, with no experience or background in education, become the face of teacher-bashing, anti-union, anti-public school advocacy? Why is she obsessed with the idea that public schools (but not charter schools or voucher schools) are filled with sexual predators, who prey on “our children” (not hers, actually, because they don’t attend a public school)?


Who pays for the attacks on public education and teachers? The linked article digs deep and answers almost all these questions. I say “almost” because it does not explain why Campbell Brown is obsessed with sexual predators in the public schools.