Politics

Is Campbell Brown Too 'Pretty' to File a Historic Lawsuit That Would Make It Easier to Fire Lousy Teachers in New York?

How teachers unions and their defenders are reacting to the latest anti-tenure lawsuit.

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The nonprofit advocacy group, Partnership for Education Justice (PEJ), just filed a lawsuit with the goal of making it easier to remove lousy teachers in New York. The filing comes on the heels of last month's landmark Vergara decision, in which the California Superior Court struck down five statutues that protect teachers in the Golden State from being fired.

The New York lawsuit seeks to overturn several local rules, such as a requirement that teacher layoffs be carried out in order of seniority, and a mandate that schools have to decide whether or not to grant teachers tenure within their first three years on the job. It's also aimed at simplifying the process of firing a teacher, which can take up to 18 months and cost

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taxpayers $250,000, according to the group.

Former CNN anchor Campbell Brown, who is the founder of PEJ, announced the case yesterday on the steps of New York's City Hall. She was joined by Keoni Wright, one of seven plaintiffs, who has a unique perspective on the issue: His twin daughters had widely disparate experiences with two teachers at a public school in East New York.

I was curious to see how teachers unions and their defenders are reacting to the lawsuit (which has been rumored for a while) and to Brown's new career as an education reformer. It's ugly. Here are some highlights:

  • "[Campbell Brown] is a good media figure because of her looks, but she doesn't seem to know or understand anything about teaching and why tenure matters," education activist and historian Diane Ravitch told The Washington Post. "I know it sounds sexist to say that she is pretty, but that makes her telegenic, even if what she has to say is total nonsense."
  • "[Campbell Brown] and her wealthy supporters seem to think that if teachers could be fired for any reason at any time, student achievement in high-poverty schools would miraculously soar," union leader Karen Magee writes, taking the utmost care not to hyperbolize or misrepresent the views of her opponents.
  • "It's a good thing when professionals can't simply be fired on a boss's whim," argues Salon's Gabriel Arana. The piece makes a tortured case (even by Salon standards) that the quality of a teacher doesn't affect student achievement all that much. And "figuring out who's a good teacher is pretty difficult."
  • "[Campbell Brown] failed to disclose…her husband, Dan Senor, sits on the board of the New York affiliate of StudentsFirst, an education lobbying group founded by Michelle Rhee," wrote Mother Jones' Andy Kroll last year in a piece headlined, "Who's Really Behind Campbell Brown's Sneaky Education Outfit." After revealing the horrifying news that Brown and her husband share interests, Kroll uncovered that her organization once patronized a media consulting firm with ties to Republicans. (More recently, Brown hired Obama's former press secretary, Robert Gibbs, to lead her PR campaign.)
  • Campbell Brown must be drinking from the "lucrative Republican-aligned corporate/billionaire-funded anti-union money fire hose," theorized Dave Johnson of the Campaign for America's Future in response to an education op-ed Brown published in The Wall Street Journal. If you can't respond to an argument, promote a conspiracy theory!

The Washington Post forgot to ask Diane Ravitch if the quite telegenic actor, Matt Damon, who she considers a  "true american hero," gets invited to union rallies on the basis of his deep grasp of the issues.

Three years ago, when I asked Damon at one of those events if he really believes all teachers are wonderful and if, say, 10% might be underperformers who should be let go, Damon responded (naturally) by suggesting that I was a shitty cameraman: