The education reform website founded by former CNN anchor Campbell Brown is supporting Donald Trump’s education secretary nominee Betsy DeVos with the disclaimer that DeVos’ family foundation provides funding for the site.
Education Week writer Mark Walsh recently observed DeVos “has a friend” in Brown, who founded education news site The 74. He adds DeVos’ selection puts Brown in “an awkward position” in that The 74 is advertised as an independent education news site. Brown herself, however, advocates for school choice and charter schools – exactly the main causes DeVos espouses.
The disclaimer on Brown’s site reads as follows:
The Dick & Betsy DeVos Family Foundation provides funding to The 74, and the site’s Editor-in-Chief, Campbell Brown, sits on the American Federation for Children’s board of directors, which was formerly chaired by Betsy DeVos. Brown played no part in the reporting or editing of this article. The American Federation for Children also sponsored The 74’s 2015 New Hampshire education summit.
In a recent column at The 74, Brown writes:
Social media attacks aren’t famous for accuracy, but it’s a pity that Betsy DeVos has been so misleadingly caricatured since Donald Trump asked her to serve as secretary of education last week.
Not just because she’s a friend. Also because her attackers needlessly reopen late-NCLB fault lines and deepen the clamor that follows Trump everywhere.
Brown adds that DeVos will work hard at “pushing to improve whatever model is working — traditional or charter or voucher or something we haven’t yet imagined.”
In February of 2015, Brown penned a column at the Washington Post in which she defended former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and the Common Core standards. Brown wrote:
Meanwhile, former Florida governor Jeb Bush has become a target for standing by Common Core as a voluntary minimum level of rigor for all states. His message to governors: Go ahead and set your own standards if you want; just make them at least as rigorous.
Let’s be clear about what Common Core is. It spells out what students should know at the end of each grade. The goal is to ensure that our students are sound in math and literacy and that our schools have some basic consistency nationwide. But the standards do not dictate a national curriculum, and teachers are not told how or what to teach.
Heather Crossin, co-founder of Hoosiers Against Common Core, responded to Breitbart News about Brown’s remarks at the time:
Campbell Brown makes the same, tired mistakes so many out of touch reporters and politicians do — wishfully dismissing the complaints of tens of thousands of parents across the country as being politically motivated or the result of misinformation. Politicians who turn such a blind eye to the fierce and growing band of parents opposing Common Core, as Brown would have them do, do so at their own peril.
Bush’s decision to exit the GOP primary race had much to do with conservatives’ ire over his continued propping up of Common Core, as well as his soft approach to illegal immigration.
Upon her nomination as secretary of education, DeVos herself denied she supports Common Core, though the organizations she has funded and served as either a board member or chairman have promoted the controversial standards.
Joining President-elect Donald Trump at a “Thank You” tour rally in her home state of Michigan last week, DeVos said in prepared remarks she would be “finally putting an end to the federalized Common Core.”
However, in another recent article at The 74, Allison Crean Davis, a senior advisor at Bellwether Education Partners, bemoans, “Promising, well-intended initiatives, like the Common Core Standards, burn and struggle to survive even before there is a shared understanding of their potential, much less evidence of their impact.”
Davis continues in support as well of the integration of social emotional learning (SEL) into schools and criticizes Federalist writers Jane Robbins and Karen Effrem for their warning about the dangers of including psychological learning as part of the curriculum children are exposed to at school.
This article is the journalistic equivalent of yelling “fire” in a theater, designed to have folks crawling across the floor to the nearest exit. It’s as if the authors are saying: Don’t think. There’s danger. Escape! To which I say: Calm down. Harness one of the “subjective” social emotional skills in question, self-management. Instead of panicking, work to understand the rationale behind the push for more social emotional learning in schools and how the still-emerging science presents some limits to the work.
Characterizing the inclusion of SEL into curriculum as another “march of science,” Davis encourages the “exploration of the value of social emotional characteristics in schools.”
Robbins and Effrem, who assert the teaching of social and emotional qualities belongs not to the government, but firmly to parents who may be assisted by faith communities, respond:
Davis is firmly in the “government” camp. (So are the pro-Common Core and pro-SEL organizations working with her employer, Bellwether Education Partners, such as the Philanthropy Roundtable—chaired by Betsy DeVos—the Gates Foundation, and Jeb Bush’s ExcelinEd.) Her article mentions parents only once, in connection with paraphrasing and dismissing our arguments. Instead, she emphasizes the need to focus on “science” uber alles.
Robbins, a senior fellow at American Principles Project, explains further at Townhall how philanthropists often support private foundations that fund “scientific” research that promotes their ideas.
“Jeb Bush and his ideological compatriots, including DeVos, advance what could be called a ‘government-foundation cartel’ model of educational policy-making,” she writes. “Private foundations funded by wealthy individuals (who themselves may be dilettantes with no real experience in education) contribute ideas, and frequently personnel, to the government to achieve their policy goals.”
While Robbins notes Congress or state lawmakers may rely on “research” funded by such foundations to make policy decisions, she also observes that often the actual decisions are made by the administrative state, i.e., unelected federal and state executive agencies. This state of affairs explains why so many parents and citizens want to see the U.S. Department of Education eliminated.
“This process neatly excises the American public from education policy and ensures that children will be guinea pigs for elitist experimentation,” Robbins says.