Saturday, January 08, 2005

ATTACK POODLE. The Department of Education wants us to believe that Armstrong Williams was the only journalist who was bribed with taxpayer dollars to talk up No Child Left Behind. Perhaps that is technically accurate; but as Josh Marshall notes, in general terms that's not even remotely true. The Bush administration has been paying off commentators from Day One. It's time to find out who else is on the take.

How pernicious is this? Remember last spring, when Secretary of Education Rod Paige called the National Education Association a "terrorist organization"? Look at what Williams wrote in his syndicated column, headlined "The Education Cosa Nostra":

[T]he remark was right (even if it wasn't politically correct).

The two largest unions, the AFT [American Federation of Teachers] and NEA [National Education Association], hold public education system hostage. They are fundamentally opposed to any education reform-like vouchers or the No Child Left Behind Act - that seeks to hold public schools accountable for their failures. They attack such reforms because they know that these plans would mean the likely defections of public school personnel to privatized systems and the birth of competing collective bargaining entities. For the teacher's unions, the idea of competition can only mean giving up leverage and money.

Think about what is going on here. Williams was taking secret payments of a quarter-million dollars of our money in order to defend publicly the very public official who was paying him off. And we were supposed to think Williams was on the level.

Last June, Williams attacked John Kerry on behalf of his secret benefactors at the Education Department - sleaze defined. And here's another Williams attack on the NEA, in which he once again invokes the oh-so-lucrative No Child Left Behind law. I'm going to copy and paste the whole thing, not because it's worth reading in full but because I can: I don't think anyone is going to claim copyright violation for my reproducing a column that you and I helped pay for. Please note the wonderful headline that someone slapped on it - perhaps Williams himself!

The Big Education Sell Out

May 24, 2004

The National Education Association is the nation's largest professional employee organization, representing 2.7 million elementary and secondary teachers. Their professed goal is to make public schools great for every child. The real goal is to increase their own bargaining power by ripping to shreds any education reform that seeks to hold public schools accountable to their failures.

I don't think there is any doubt about this. For example, their most recent anti-voucher edict, it's called "Strategic Plan and Budget, Fiscal Years: 2002-2004, starts out by saying, the NEA's goal is to "focus the energy and resources of our 2.7 million members toward the promotion of public confidence in public education." So, in other words, their top priority is not the oft professed goal of "making public schools great for every child," but rather massaging the perception of public education. It goes on to say, "the success of students is inextricably tied to the success of teachers ... who serve them...." In other words, protecting the perception of public education is inextricably linked to keeping the teachers from being perceived as failing. This is important because it reminds us that the organization exists to advocate for the teachers who pay their dues, not the children. At least one way that the NEA has accomplish this is by sparing public teachers any close scrutiny. They are fundamentally opposed to any education reform-like vouchers or the No Child Left Behind Act - that seeks to hold public schools accountable for their failures.

Of course there is no academic reason why this should necessarily be so. Private school students routinely test better than their public school counterparts. At least part of the success of private school students should be attributed to the fact that private school educators are held highly accountable for their job performance. They have no long-term job security, work only on year-to-year contracts and are held accountable by annual job evaluations. In public schools, by contrast, powerful teachers unions have secured long term tenure for the teachers, thus removing a powerful mechanism for immediate accountability.

Sparing public schools teachers the rigors of accountability only makes sense from a business perspective. The two largest unions, the AFT and NEA, realize that vouchers would mean fewer teachers, fewer membership dues, the likely defections by public school personnel to privatized systems that have traditionally resisted centralized unionization, and the birth of competing collective bargaining entities. For the teacher's unions, the idea of competition can only mean giving up leverage. Since the job of unions is to accumulate leverage and membership dues, the teacher's unions have declared war not just on vouchers, but any meaningful education reform that seeks to hold public school teachers accountable for failing to properly educate our children.

For example, the unions have attacked President Bush's No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB)with the kind of ferocity that only a genuine threat (to the perception of public education) could pose. The NCLB initiative holds entire schools accountable when subsets of students - defined by income, race, etc. - lag behind in test scores. The act would withhold large amounts of federal funding to those educational institutions that are failing to properly educate their students.

Not surprisingly, the NEA's 108th Congress Legislative Program formally announced that they "oppose federally mandated parental option or choice in education programs." In case anyone missed the point, during the 2003 NEA convention delegates approved business item 11, which directs NEA officials not to use the title "No Child Left Behind" Act. In other words the level of opposition is so great that union representatives are barred from even raising the words "No Child Left Behind" to consciousness for examination.

By deciding that the very words "No Child Left Behind" do not deserve to be heard, the NEA goes beyond regulating education reform, and seeks to regulate the dialogue itself. Of course, genuine reform is never accomplished this way. More not less discussion facilitates learning. The best way to discredit bad ideas and combat distortions about education reform is to raise them to consciousness for public examination. By restricting the dialogue on this important issues, the NEA attacks a symptom, rather than the problem of underachieving public schools.

Of course this should not come as a surprise to anyone who has read their literature. Remember, their stated goal is to protect the "perception" of public education. The NEA's budget is constructed accordingly. Far and away, the majority of their money is funneled into improving government relations and corralling new members. According to their 2002-2004 budget summary, the NEA dedicated $13,532 million to "governance and policy," $19,582 million to "government relations," and $14,114 million to "state affiliate relations." By contrast, they spent $2,699 million on "Student achievement." Get it? The NEA isn't using their money to help our kids, or to make our schools better. They're using it to increase their own collective bargaining strength-that's their real mission-by doing everything they can to prevent public schools from being held accountable.

On a political front, the NEA is engaged in a full court legislative press. Last year, they lined the Democrats coffers with $20 million in donations, second only to the American Federation of State/City/municipal employees. Receiving a large part of your campaign money directly from the teacher's unions means the Democrats are obliged to repay the debt in some form. Maybe that's why the same Democratic representatives who send their own children to private school, are up in arms each session crying about how extending that same right to the poor would destroy the public education system.

Meanwhile our public schools are deteriorating, our children are being demoralized before they even have a chance, and our supposed leaders are refusing to even discuss the real problem. This is a crime. This is a shame. This needs to change now.

Try to wrap your mind around the hypocrisy of that next-to-last paragraph, in which Williams ripped the Democrats for accepting publicly reported campaign donations from the NEA while at the same time he was furtively stuffing his pockets with cash from the DOE.


Anonymous said...

You mention Gawker; also hosted on, Wonkette's take on Armstrong Williams No Armstrong Williams Left Behind is priceless. Short and well written; "political payola" is almost as funny as the punch line, which I won't spoil since it relies on the flow. Includes links to USA-Today and CNN coverage too.

- Bill R

Anonymous said...

You don't need to take a payoff from the Bush administration to make the obvious comment that America's public schools truly and profoundly suck. In fact, I just did.

Maybe if the alleged "educators" spent more time figuring out how to make young people semi-literate and less time scheming how to maximize their own grant dollars, we would have a chance of rescuing public education in this country. Don't hold your breath.

Anonymous said...

The Question here isn't Williams' views on public education. He can be as negetive as he wants. He shouldn't be paid in Tax dollars [or any kind of loot]to give his dubious opinions.
I'm sure Charles Krauthammer thinks the Army is in great shape in Iraq. But how would you feel about him if he was taking a stipend to say so,by the Defense Dept?

Anonymous said...

I'm reminded of the old legal maxim that "if the law is on your side, pound on it; if the facts are on your side, pound on them; if neither are on your side, pound on the table". Crossfire and Begala did a pretty good job showing that Williams used lousy judgement accepting the ads and that he should provide context for them-fair enough. Left unsaid however is the fundamental validity of his NEA criticisms. Does this mean we should not give credence to an excellent journalist/pundit who happens to work for a publication advertising thinly-veiled prostitution? Let's get back to the core issue, people- Johnny can't read!

Dan Kennedy said...

Yes - let's not forget what the real issue is here. I am absolutely no fan of the teachers' unions. The most dangerous place to stand in our town is in the exit from the teachers' parking lot at 2:05 p.m. Gee, why can't I get hours like that?

But come on, folks. The issue here is bribery.

Anonymous said...

Whoring for DollarsThere is an inverse relationship between the shrillness of right-wing propagandists and their own personal moral hypocrisy, whether it's Bill "Loofah" O'Reilly, Bill "Bellagio" Bennett or Andrew "Bareback" Sullivan.
When their deviant behavior is exposed, they have more excuses than Rush Limbaugh has pills.

Armstrong Williams payola scandal shouldn't surprise anyone; it's widely recognized as the world's oldest profession.

~Anthony G.