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Parents and Teachers Across America Express Outrage at NBC's Education Nation

The Good News is that Leonie Haimson has organized this group of parents across the country to issue this strong rebuttal of NBC propaganda.


Parents and teachers in New York City and across America are furious with the way in which NBC has allowed "Education Nation" to become blatant propaganda, and today released a letter of protest to NBC, signed by 350 individuals throughout the country.

Since Saturday, NBC and MSNBC have broadcast a series of shows that have presented an unbalanced and misguided picture of what ails our public schools and how they need to be remade. They have failed to invite a single NYC parent to any of their panels, and in fact, have excluded all parents from all but one of their discussions. In the process, they have allowed their co-sponsors, the Gates and Broad Foundation, to control the agenda and hand-pick the participants, nearly all of whom agree with their narrow and damaging policy prescriptions for our schools.

The latest outrage was a panel discussion this morning, originally entitled, "Does Education Need a Katrina?" Though after protests, the name of the panel was changed, it remained a discussion of "the advantages to the New Orleans school district of starting over post-Katrina."

When Secretary. Duncan made a similar statement about New Orleans schools benefiting from Hurricane Katrina, he was roundly and justifiably criticized. This disaster killed thousands of people, and destroyed hundreds of thousands of lives. Since then, the poorest and neediest students have been increasingly concentrated in the city's public schools, while two-thirds of students are educated in privately run charters schools that enroll the highest achieving students. This two-tier educational system is a pattern we have seen replicated in NYC, Chicago and elsewhere.

NBC has disinvited prominent experts from its panels, including Diane Ravitch and Yong Zhao of Michigan State, and has given up any pretense of providing a fair presentation of views. Instead, the vast majority of panelists have been recipients of funding from Education Nation's co-sponsors, the Gates and Broad Foundations, and are willing to toe their narrow corporate line. NBC also invited the president of the University of Phoenix to participate, the nation's largest for-profit online chain of colleges, which is yet another co-sponsor of Education Nation, although it has been widely criticized for fraudulent practices. As the independent Poynter Institute commented, "it looks like the University of Phoenix bought access" onto the show which "undermines the credibility of the project." It is clear that for NBC, money talks.

Yesterday, Mayor Bloomberg was given 15 minutes of uninterrupted time on MSNBC as part of this program, to make a speech in which he depicted our schools as a model for the rest of the nation. At the very same time, City Council hearings were taking place downtown, at which parents, advocates, and elected officials were criticizing his policies, pointing out how his education record has been based on inflated and fraudulent test scores, and that few if any improvements have occurred under his watch. In fact, black, Hispanic, poor, and non-poor NYC students have all fallen further behind these same students in other cities, showing that the test-based accountability system he has imposed and that Gates and Broad want to replicate elsewhere do not work. (For more on this, see Education Indoctrination at Huffington Post and the Class Size Matters City Council testimony.

Today, at Rockefeller Plaza in front of the Learning Plaza tents erected for Education Nation, parents and teachers from NYC and across the country expressed their outrage against its highly biased and fundamentally flawed reporting:

Said Leonie Haimson, Executive Director of Class Size Matters and a founding member of Parents Across America: "Education Nation has been so one-sided that it should be called Education Indoctrination. Parents are offended about the way in which NBC has refused to invite a single NYC public school parent onto any of their panels. Instead, the network has allowed wealthy billionaires once again to control the agenda. These men, none of whom send their own children to public schools, want to impose policies of privatization, charter school expansion and more high stakes testing on our schools, which have proved so damaging to our children here in NYC, instead of providing them with the beneficial conditions that their own children enjoyed, such as small class size.

"The way NBC has allowed the Gates and Broad foundation to dominate these proceedings is just one more example of how a handful of billionaires have been able to subvert our democracy, by feeding the public distortions and lies, and by making their own contributions to cash-strapped school systems, dependent on giving control over our schools to their favored educrats or politicians, like Michelle Rhee in Washington or Newark's Cory Booker. This must stop now! We do not live in an oligarchy where the privileged few should be able to make all the decisions for our children. The parent voice must be heard once again when it comes to our children̢۪s schools."

Lance Hill, of the Southern Institute for Education and Research at Tulane in New Orleans, said this: "NBC's original title of the event that took place today, 'Does Education need another Katrina' is truly obscene. Katrina damaged 150,000 homes, drowned 1,300 humans, and 100,000 people remain displaced. It is only because the victims of Katrina were primarily poor and black that their suffering is viewed as so lacking in value that it allows certain people to ask if the loss of life and years of suffering was a good trade-off for school reform. No one ever asks 'Does improving Homeland Security mean we need another 9/11?'
It would be insulting to our intelligence and our sense of human decency."

Natalie Beyer, a founding member of Parents Across America and a school board member in Durham, NC: "Strong public schools are our most fundamental public resource and the foundation of our democracy. In recent years, a few wealthy philanthropists have profoundly influenced education policies and programs. Parents Across America believe that our public schools and our children's educations are not for sale. Across this nation, we elect citizens to serve on local Boards of Education, to insure local accountability, transparency and oversight of our public schools. As a public school parent and elected school board member, I am disappointed that NBC's Education Nation has excluded the voices of parents and critics. Your relationship with your sponsors seems to have turned what could have been an important news event into an infomercial. As your program concludes and you dismantle your Learning Plaza, rest assured that those of us who work in public education will continue the important work of challenging students every day."

Mona Davids, head of the NY Charter Parents Association, said: "Contrary to the claims made by NBC's Education Nation, charter schools are not a magic bullet to improve our public school system. Too many of them have very high student and teacher attrition, exclude special education students, feature abusive disciplinary practices, and demonstrate disappointing levels of student achievement. What we need in this city and elsewhere is to learn from the practices of our best charter schools, and apply them to all public schools, including small class sizes, a supportive and welcoming environment for parents and teachers, and a well-rounded curriculum, featuring art, music science, all of which are being driven out of our public schools by Bloomberg and Klein, and the other so-called 'experts' featured on these panels."

Lisa Donlan, NYC public school parent leader in lower Manhattan: "It is outrageous that NBC is allowing Joel Klein and our Mayor to portray our public schools as a model for reform, given the never-ending scandals, reorganizations and failed experiments that have damaged our kids over the last eight years. Charter schools, merit pay, competition among schools for students and resources, high stakes standardized tests as the basis for teacher bonuses, student promotions and school closings --none of these things have worked in NYC, or anywhere else in the country for that matter. Bloomberg's experiments on our children have not improved teaching and learning, have not narrowed the achievement gap, have not increased equity of access to quality schools for most families, and any claims to the contrary are simply lies."

Karran Harper Royal, New Orleans parent leader and member of the Community Education Coalition: "The entire premise of this show is very offensive. The rest of America does not need another Hurricane Katrina, and certainly doesn̢۪t need the kind of education reform that we̢۪ve had in New Orleans. Parents are largely left out of the decisions being made by the State of Louisiana, and the claims of success of our Public Schools are being greatly exaggerated. In a recent report, the Brookings Institute and the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center admitted that 'Statistically, academic growth has not been correlated with reforms.' And despite Paul Vallas' claims to the contrary on MSNBC's panel discussion today, charter schools in New Orleans often push out students with disabilities or do not serve them well, and there have been many instances where such children have been turned away. We resent NBC using our tragedy to promote an agenda financed by big business, and that does not include the very people who use our public schools."

Jaye Bea Smalley, a NYC parent of two special education students and a member of the Citywide Council on Special Education: "One of my children won the lottery for a seat at the Harlem Success Academy charter school. Yet she was excluded from the school because they refused to create a 12:1:1 self contained class and will not acknowledge the need for this or any other self-contained model. To this day, this school and other charters claim that they do not discriminate against students with disabilities."

Julie Cavanagh, Brooklyn teacher and a member of the Grassroots Education Movement (GEM), "Educators, parents, students and communities must mobilize to defend public education. Too many current corporate and government policies seek to underfund, undermine and privatize our public school system. It is disappointing that NBC has given voice, almost exclusively, to these same corporate and government interests. We should all be resisting the problems caused by the incessant push for charter schools, the attack on union rights, the focus on high-stakes standardized testing, school closures, and the failure to address the racism and inequities that pervade the system. For far too long, parents and teachers have been shut out of education decision making. NBC's error in judgment, or worse, their capitulation to corporate influence, only reinforces the subordinate role we have. If this country is truly interested in real education reform, the conversation must be broadened to include the actual stakeholders in public education."

John Battis, Brooklyn parent and a founder of Concerned Advocates for Public Education (CAPE): "Our urban schools can and do accomplish greatness when provided with sufficient resources. For starters, let's cap our class sizes! I know of no union rule preventing this, and yet our Chancellor has refused to take any meaningful action to address the expanding class sizes in our public schools. It is appalling to me that my children̢۪s educational opportunities could be determined by a lottery ticket. We must defend the promise of a quality education for every child, regardless of community, color, place of birth or income level."

Julie Woestehoff , Executive Director, Parents United for Responsible Education, in Chicago and founding member of Parents Across America: "Over the past few days, NBC, Oprah, "Waiting for Superman" promoters and other corporate-funded propagandists have waged war against public school parents and teachers, hoping to break their traditionally strong ties, to vilify, label, and destroy public schools, and to fool the nation into accepting a vision of education that consists of replacing open, democratically-run school systems designed to serve all children with a system of strip mall franchise schools where families are forced to 'shop' for education and children are served differently depending on how they score on standardized tests. That's not the vision of education that will lift our nation or give our children a strong future. We reject NBC's corporate vision of education and instead support and dedicate ourselves to the rich, well-rounded, ennobling vision of education offered by true school reformers, beginning with John Dewey and embodied today by the millions of dedicated, hard-working teachers who are doing their best under ever-worsening circumstances. We choose to listen to our teachers first, and support their efforts rather than join corporate media's war against them."


Leonie Haimson
Executive Director
Class Size Matters
124 Waverly Pl.
New York, NY 10011

— Press Release
Parents Across America




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