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Sunday, October 6, 2013

Why I won't be watching Education Nation this year



In 2010, the first  year of Education Nation, NBC used the occasion to hype the propaganda film "Waiting for Superman" and  told prominent critics there was "no space" for them to speak on panels (Yong Zhao) or refused to make accommodations to enable them to be included (Diane Ravitch). They invited no public school parents, and their panel on teacher quality was moderated by Steve Brill, a journalist who made a second career out of attacking teacher unions and promoting charter schools, in articles full of exaggerated claims and factual errors. (See "Steve Brill's Imperviousness to the Facts.")  We sponsored a petition to NBC News,  urging them to involve more real life parents in the discussion, and I wrote a column in HuffingtonPost when I saw how biased and one-sided this indoctrination fest was threatening to be.

Indeed,  the vast majority of panelists appeared to have been pre-selected by the Gates and Broad Foundations, Education Nation's sponsors, who have spent billions trying to subvert democracy and have successfully imposed their rigid and damaging prescriptions on the nation's urban public schools.

The worst outrage was a panel discussion entitled, "Does Education Need a Katrina?" Though the name of the panel was changed after protests, it was still described to examine "the advantages to the New Orleans school district of starting over post-Katrina."  We even held a protest/press conference in the rain outside Rockefeller Center, where NBC housed the event, and snippets of interviews with the parents outside were used in the brilliant film, Inconvenient Truth Behind Waiting for Superman.

The second year of Education Nation, in 2011, we again sponsored an email campaign to NBC News, asking them to featured a more balanced set of panelists.  This was the only year that Diane Ravitch was included as a speaker,  in a debate with Geoffrey Canada of the Harlem Children’s Zone. Yet most of the panelists were just as doctrinaire as the year before, and almost exclusively corporate reformers drawn from Gates-funded astroturf  organizations. 
I along with a handful of NYC parents were invited to sit in the audience during the panel on “parent advocacy”, which featured Chancellor Walcott and Ben Austin of the Parent Revolution (God help us). I pointed out that the voices of parents have never been shut out as much as they have under Mayor Bloomberg and Walcott.  I said that the Parent Trigger, or as Diane calls it, the Parent Tricker, is really a ruse to allow privatizers to take over the public schools.  In response, Austin accused me of being a puppet of the teachers union.  Mona Davids, head of the NYC Parents Union, strongly defended me. The video is here.
Last year, 2012,  was the worst of all.  This time, Education Nation was intent on promoting the film “Won’t Back Down,” produced by right wing ideologues, Philip Anschutz and Rupert Murdoch, again to convince the public that the Parent Trigger should be adopted in states around the country and that charters were the answer to the ills of inner-city schools.  Thankfully, this time reviewers caught on early how the movie was a naked piece of propaganda,and weren’t fooled like they were by Waiting For Superman.  We handed out our fact sheet on the movie to people waiting on line to get into Education Nation, and “Won’t Back Down” turned out to be a mega-flop with both critics and the public alike.   
While NBC had been offered the wonderful documentary, Brooklyn Castle, to feature instead, that film focused on an middle school in Brooklyn with a terrific chess team threatened by repeated budget cuts from the Bloomberg administration, which refused to pay for their trips to competitions even though they had the #1 chess team in the nation.  Clearly, this message did not resonate with the Gates Foundation or the other corporate reformers who argue that our urban schools are failing, that more resources don’t matter, and that we should turn them into charters instead.
Though I along a few other NYC parents were invited to sit in the audience during what was billed as “a parent engagement town hall” and had been promised we could ask questions, we had to endure an awful hour and a half of Michelle Rhee, Joel Klein and the stars of the movie “Won’t Back Down” spouting nonsense, selling their snake oil of charters and online learning.  Not a single parent in the audience was given an opportunity to speak.
Later than night we along with other parent groups crashed the red carpet premiere of the film, and our protest was mentioned in some of the stories by reporters there to cover the event.  We even got mentioned in the Hollywood Reporter – though they claimed the UFT was involved in the protest, which was false. In any case, I promised myself I would never force myself to listen in agony to the lies spread by one-sided Education Nation panels again.
This year, there were apparently a sprinkling of “dissident” voices of students and teachers at Sunday’s student and teacher Town halls, which is good; but next week, the line-up promises to be more of the same empty rhetoric about how our schools are failing, and what kids need is even more testing, Common Core, charter expansion and online learning.  Not coincidentally, this is the exact same agenda that the Gates foundation has been imposing on America’s schools with the help of their agents in the US Department of Education.   
The panelists will include Arne Duncan AND Michael Bloomberg, Chancellor Walcott AND LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy, David Coleman AND Jonah Edelman of Stand for Children, (or as some like to call it, Stand on Children) Jeb Bush AND Andrew Rotherham, and yes, once more Joel Klein, our former chancellor, hawking online learning as head of Amplify, Rupert Murdoch’s education tech division, all spouting the company line.  Clearly, the producers of Education Nation have proven themselves to be uneducable.
Will Bloomberg or Walcott be asked about how their education agenda has failed, according to the vast majority of New Yorkers, and how Bill de Blasio, the leading NYC candidate for mayor, has promised to reject their policies of privatization and test-based accountability? Will Deasy be asked about the fiasco of LA’s billion dollar  IPad initiative, or Joel Klein about the fact that his Amplify tablets were defective and  recalled by the Guilford schools?   
Will Joel Rose, head of the overhyped and super-expensive School of One, now renamed New Classrooms, be asked about the many studies and reports that show his program has faltered in nearly every school it has been tried?  Will any of them be asked about parents across the country rising up against high-stakes testing and  protesting inBloom, the devious Gates-funded plan to share children’s most private data with for-profit vendors? Don’t hold your breath.  I won’t hold mine, because I won’t be watching.

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