This is why I didn’t watch NBC’s propaganda extravaganza starring Arne Duncan, Michelle Rhee, Michael Bloomberg, Joel Klein and a host of others brought to you by Bill Gates and Eli Broad .

First is a press release from Parents Across America and then a description by a teacher of what he experienced as a panelist.


Parents and teachers across America express outrage at NBC’s “Education Nation”

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 dis-invited 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 and the Class Size Matters City Council testimony at

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 children’s 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.  I t 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 doesn’t need the kind of education reform that we’ve 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 children’s 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.

And now:

Education Nation: I Should Have Known Better

By Stephen Lazar

To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day-to-day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

Over the past few days, I have had the unbelievably depressing and deflating experience of being part of NBC’s Education Nation. I was one of the first teachers on stage for Sunday’s Teacher Town Hall, and returned on Monday for a panel entitled, “Good Apples,” taking up a so-called “Oprah Seat” which promised the chance to respond to the panelists, moderated by Times reporter Steven Brill, and including the Waiting for Superman Three: Randi Weingarten, Geoffrey Canada, and Michelle Rhee.

Unlike nearly all the other teachers involved who either worked for charters or had some previous national education recognition or involvement, I was there randomly. I got a call last Tuesday from a friend of my wife’s who works at Scholastic, who seemed to have had primary responsibility for getting teachers to the events. My wife’s friend knew I taught at a Bronx public school and thought I could speak well about my experiences there. She did not know that I was my school’s UFT Chapter Leader or a National Board Certified Teacher. I told her I would not turn down an opportunity to talk on behalf of good teachers everywhere. Thursday I got a call from NBC, who briefly interviewed me about my views on teaching, accountability, recruitment, and retention, and I was invited to be on stage with Brian Williams at the Town Hall.

Arriving at Rockefeller Plaza Sunday morning was a surreal experience. I am going to give NBC credit for two things: they have poured a ton of human and financial resources into having a conversation about education in America, and they built a beautiful setting to do so. I felt like I had entered a dream world where the voices of teachers were actually listened to and respected at the table where major educational decision were made. I should have known better.

After being escorted downstairs and having makeup done for the first time in my life, I had a good hour to talk with the eight other teachers who would be on stage for the Town Hall. While I did not agree with all of them on all issues, I was very impressed by the passion, intelligence, thoughtfulness, and experience of my fellow panelists, and I was looking forward for the country to see intelligent conversation between teachers with varying viewpoints. I should have know better.

The first read flag was when a NBC production assistant came up to us, and told us that while they had all the “experts” lined up to talk Monday and Tuesday, they were excited to have us share our experiences first. We were implicitly encouraged to argue and to make bold, controversial statements while on stage. Despite the disrespect, we were assured that Brian Williams would merely be on stage to start the conversation, and that the majority of each 30 minute block would be made up of conversations between the teachers on stage. Our block was to focus on recruitment and retention of good teachers. We were told audience participation would only be occasional, and would mostly be in response to things we said on stage. I should have known better.

At 11:30, Monica Graves, the young KIPP Dean from Atlanta, and Bonnee Breeze, a Philadelphia teacher there because of some relationship with the National AFT, and I were escorted to the Green Room to be miked and await our journey to the stage. There were buckets of apples everywhere. It was only then that Ms. Graves was told the video would be shown. Ms. Graves and I began a conversation about her experiences at TFA, which I let her know I would probably critique on stage if given the chance. As the three of us began a very good conversation, another NBC person came over and jokingly asked us to save it for the stage. I was really excited at that point to do so. I should have known better.

Our first interaction with Brian Williams was when we walked out on stage. He introduced us, getting my subject wrong, and the program began. All three of us used our first opportunity to speak to lay the ground for key points we assumed we would discuss later. The next thing we knew, they were going to the audience. During the commercial break, I asked Williams if we would have a chance to respond to the audience, and he said we would. He came back to me with the next question, and then before we knew it, we were being ushered off stage. That was it. Not a single chance for any of us to respond to each other or share anything of real substance with the audience of the nation. As the event continued, and it got eaten up by rapid-fire comments from the audience where everyone just tried to get their voice heard without really listening or responding to each other, the nine of us realized that we had just been pawns for the news media that has little interest in intelligent discourse, the very discourse that teachers teach their students and partake in everyday. I should have known better.

I figured that was the end of my experience there, but I got a call Sunday night to go be a part of the “expert” panel on teacher recruitment, retention, and evaluation. I was not invited to be on the panel, but was told I would be in the first row and would have the chance to respond. Since I could attend without missing a class and it was on my way home anyway, I agreed to attend. After the Town Hall, i had low expectations, but figured I would at least have a chance to speak up for the support and training new teachers need to be successful. I should have known better.

The panel itself was an embarrassment to everyone involved. Steven Brill, the moderator, clearly had an anti-union agenda to push; Randi, Michelle, and Geoffrey continued to make the same points we’ve all heard them make 87 times this past year. There was a representative of the Gates Foundation who had a couple good points to make based on the Foundation’s research, but he hardly had a chance to speak. I admire the guts of the East Harlem public school teacher to attempt to defend public schools, but ultimately he came across as combative and couldn’t go toe-to-toe with the talking heads. Despite Randi’s continuous pleas to ask the four of us in the audience who worked in schools what we need to fix our schools, no one bothered to stop bickering long enough to ask us anything. Ms. Groves, one of the four, did ask the panel what they thought we could do to invest in the development of new teachers, but no one bothered to answer her question. By the end, the question I wanted to ask the panel was simply, “Why am I here?” but of course, no one called on me. I should have known better.

At that point, I was a fairly depressed about my whole experience, but the two most insulting and demeaning moments were yet to come. First, I turned to the young woman who sat next to me the entire event. She had introduced herself earlier as an Assistant Principal at Harlem Success Academy, a well publicized charter run by Eva Moskowitz. At one point during the panel, Brill, in order to back up a pro-charter point made by a panelist, asked the young woman to stand and tell everyone what she did. She talked about how she got to spend all day every day giving “real time” feedback to teachers. After the panel, I turned to her, and told her I wish my public school could afford to have someone like that. Her response: “That’s why you should cone work for us.” My response: “I’m sorry, but I teach wonderful students who need me too.”

I then went up to Mr. Canada. During the panel, in a conversation about having a longer school day, he said that he thought all teachers should work “until the job is done.” I asked him if he would be willing to go to the NYPD and ask them to do the same in order to protect my students who are regularly jumped and robbed in their four block walk from the subway to school by the YG Gang that has infiltrated the neighborhood in the past two years. His response, “Thats why we do the Zone; we had the same problem.” My response: well, it didn’t happen, because after he made the comment someone grabbed his arm to introduce him to some bigwig in the audience, and he completely ignored me. I left the room in despair.

I admit, I should have known better than to expect anything positive to come out of NBC’s Education Nation. It became abundantly clear that while well-intentioned, NBC really knew very little about the topic they decided to cover, and instead of any real conversation or reporting, relied on the most famous faces in education to argue over the same old points that get us nowhere. I hoped the conversation would change, but with the people they had involved, I should have known there was little hope for that.

With that said, I’ve had a lot educators, in person and online, say to me things Iike “that’s why I didn’t bother watching or participating.” I don’t think that those of us who are good, committed, public educators can afford to do that. It would make us just like the teachers who say, “these students can’t learn, so what’s the point of engaging them?” Despite my despair at the end, I know those of us who are actually in real schools everyday can’t stop talking about what we need to improve and what we know works, in hopes that, just like our students who almost always come around in the end, eventually people will listen and realize that we are already the change they have been waiting for.

And if absolutely nothing else, it made my students’ day to see their teacher on TV. My students aren’t dumb, they know that with 25-30% annual turnover they’re not always getting the most highly desired teachers. It was good for them to see that we are all good enough to have a national news anchor ask us what we think. I might have sacrificed some dignity to be NBC’s pawn and a good proportion of what little innocence I had left, but it was good for my students, which at the end of the day, is all that matters.

Update September 29, 2010

And this from Yong Zhao

Who will invent the next Apple or Google: My (imaginary) speech at NBC’s Education Summit

September 26, 2010

I received an invitation to NBC’s Education Nation summit last week (September 20) by email. The letter has a date of July 22, 2010 and I was told it was sent via USPS. Somehow I never received the letter in the mail. I became aware of the invitation only through an email response to Leonie Haimson (for Parents Across America), who has been writing to NBC recommending me on September 19th. The invitation asked me to call a number and confirm my participation. Upon confirmation, “editorial team will reach out to you to review the details of your participation.” So I confirmed but was told that there is no space on any panel for me to speak.

Thank you, Leonie and many others, thank you, NBC. I would really like to be there to share my thoughts. But since there is no place, this is what I would like to say.


Who is most likely to come up with the next Apple or Google?

Not China, not even Asia. Most probably the United States of America, according to Dr. Kaifu Lee, founding president of Google China and former vice president of Interactive Services of Microsoft, who also worked at Apple as a research and development executive.

“This is because American entrepreneurs can think outside the box because of their education,” said Dr. Lee at the World Economic Forum’s Summer Davos held in Tianjin, China last week (September 13-15, 2010). Lee, an immigrant from Taiwan, attended high school in the US, received his undergraduate education at Columbia and earned a Ph.D. from Carnegie Mellon University. After resigning from Google last year, Lee established a venture capital firm to stimulate hi-tech innovations in China.

Lee was using Apple and Google as examples of big innovations. China may not be able to come up with an Apple or Google in 50 or 100 years because “it requires a completely new education system,” said the very influential icon of innovation in China.

I would agree with Lee’s observation if not for the education reform efforts China and the US have undertaken recently. The degree to which their respective efforts become successful will determine the accuracy of Lee’s prediction.

Keenly aware of how a nationally centralized and standardized education system coupled with high-stakes testing squelches creativity, reduces diversity of talents, and destroys passion and hope–all essential ingredients of an innovation-based economy, China has launched comprehensive efforts to reform its education system. These efforts include broadening the curriculum, increasing local autonomy, reducing student academic burden, minimizing the use of test scores in teacher and school evaluation, and diversifying the definition of achievement.

The US has been reforming its education too, but toward the opposite direction. Through No Child Left Behind and now Race to the Top, the US has been working on increasing the power and frequency of testing, standardizing and narrowing the curriculum, simplifying teacher and school evaluation, centralizing education decision making, and reducing the definition of achievement and success to test scores.

In essence, what China wants is what the U.S. has and is eager to throw away, while what the US wants is what has and is eager to cast away.

The success of either country’s reform will prove Dr. Lee wrong. If China succeeds in its education reform, it could become a powerful innovative economy and thus increases the likelihood to come up with major innovations such as the next Google, hence proving Dr. Lee’s prediction wrong. If the US succeeds in its education reform, it will lose its capacity for innovation, also proving Dr. Lee wrong.

Judging from existing evidence, China’s reform does not seem to have much success because testing has been in place for so many years that it has become part of the education culture and developed many social and business institutions that reap tremendous benefits from supporting a testing-oriented education.

But the reform in the US is going very strong and gaining tremendous success: test scores have already been used nationally as the only indicator of quality of schools and soon teacher performance and compensation; national standards and assessment are in the works; and states and local communities have already been stripped of much of their authority in policy making. With billions of dollars of borrowed money, the Federal government is pushing for more testing, standardization, and centralization.

American reform proponents claim these efforts are necessary to ensure America’s global competitiveness and provide a world-class education to all its citizens. But their claims are not backed up by evidence. National standards and curriculum neither raises achievement nor closes gaps. Test scores are hardly indicators of what students have learned and what they can do in the future, nor are the predictors of a nation’s economic prosperity or livability. Using student test scores to assess teacher performance evaluation and determine compensation does not improve student test scores. Charter schools do not necessarily do better than public schools.

Their damages however have been clearly documented. High stakes testing results in rampant cheating, demoralization of teachers, narrowed curriculum, and teaching to the tests (hence learning what is tested). Curriculum standardization and standardized testing stifles creativity, reduces talent diversity, and constraints educational innovation.

In other words, the reform efforts in the US threaten to destroy the strengths of American education. As I have written in my book, Catching Up or Leading the Way: American Education in the Age of Globalization, American education is far from perfect, but it has a few unique characteristics that makes it a system that cherishes individual talents, cultivates creativity, celebrates diversity, and inspires curiosity and a system that many other countries are working hard to emulate. The characteristics include: a broad definition of education, broad definition of talent, multiple criteria for judging success, decentralized decision making, and a strong belief in individual differences.

Unfortunately, these features have been precisely the target of the current reform. The definition of what education means has been reduced to what is tested—reading and math. Talent in schools has been reduced to the ability to obtain good test scores. Decentralized decision making and local autonomy have been viewed as the source of inequality and inefficiency. Respect for individual differences has been criticized as holding low expectations of students.

The more successful the current US education reform becomes, the more likely these features will be gone.  In its place will be national standards, national curriculum, and national assessment, just as the Obama administration has been pushing through the Race to the Top program, although these are called common core and viewed as voluntary by states (but the voluntary action of states was in response to billions of dollars). In the end, the US will have China’s education system and that will prove Dr. Lee wrong.

The next Apple or Google may not be invented in the United States.

And to wrap this up, John Merrow’s post on September 29, 2010.

Four Days IN Education Nation