Former CNN and NBC anchor Campbell Brown has co-founded a new “online education newsroom” that seeks to drive national conversation about America’s education system at a time when the 2016 presidential campaigns are revving up.
The site’s title, The Seventy Four, refers to the 74 million children in the United States.
Launched on Monday, a press release about the education news site highlights initial stories about a search-and-rescue pilot for the Coast Guard who became a second-grade teacher at a charter school in Newark, NJ; a column about the necessity of addressing the relationship between educational inequality and income inequality; and an investigative piece that focuses on “the forces and scare tactics behind the opt-out movement” in Montclair, New Jersey.
To draw attention to its mission to make education a primary issue of the 2016 presidential race, The Seventy Four will feature “presidential baseball cards,” with information voters can use to know about each candidate’s position on education issues.
Additionally, the news site announced that it will host a series of live forums in New Hampshire and Iowa, moderated by Brown and others, that will feature prominent elected officials, political experts, and education leaders to discuss the challenges facing America’s education system.
The Seventy Four’s first political forum, the New Hampshire Education Summit, sponsored by the American Federation for Children, will be held on August 19 in New Hampshire and livestreamed on the website. Confirmed participants thus far include former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.
In October, The Seventy Four will join with the Des Moines Register for the 2015 Iowa Education Summit, where voices from the Democrat Party will have an opportunity to share their view of education reform.
In an interview with Breitbart News, Brown said, “This presidential campaign I think is a real moment where education has the potential to be front and center in a way that it hasn’t been before for a number of reasons.”
“You have a candidate on the Republican side, Jeb Bush, who had long been passionate about education reform, you have this debate going on about Common Core among the different Republicans,” she continued, “and then you have Hillary Clinton being pulled to the left by the teachers’ union – getting the endorsement of the AFT… and basically seeming to at this point reject a lot of the reforms that were implemented by President Obama.”
Brown, an advocate for school choice and the founder of the Partnership for Educational Justice, states that one of the primary ways the American education system has failed is in “institutional inequality.”
“Parental choice in this country is only available to people who have resources. And so there’s inherent discrimination in the system,” she explained. “I’m in a position because I’ve been lucky in my life, because I get to choose where my kids go to school…I can afford to send them there. But that’s not the case for most people. And sadly, the education we get is largely defined by our zip code and the neighborhood we live in.”
Brown said she has friends who live in lower income neighborhoods, but can’t afford to move and are “stuck” with that school for their child as their only choice.
“We believe education in this country is a fundamental right, and [a mom who can’t afford to move] should have the same choices I should have,” she continues. “And that explains why you have a million people on charter school waiting lists at the national level in this country. Parents want that choice and there are forces in this country, big special interests, are trying to prevent parents from having a say and making decisions about what’s best for their children.”
The former news anchor said the centerpiece of any debate about income inequality should be education.
“Everyone keeps talking about how we’re going to solve income inequality, and they’re talking about it as if it’s an economic problem, and we’re not giving nearly enough attention and focus to the fundamentals,” she said. “If you believe education is a catalyst for social mobility, then this is what we should be talking about. This is what every presidential candidate, every leader should be talking about every single day – education and school choice, and how we get those opportunities to more people.”
A supporter of the Common Core standards, Brown believes the controversy over the education initiative has come about mainly because of confusion and poor implementation in some states.
“When we talk about what’s going on with Common Core with testing…we sort of talk about it at the national level with big, sweeping generalizations,” she explained. “But there are different things going on in different states around this debate. And in some places where Common Core has been implemented really poorly, there has been a strong reaction from parents and teachers that is really justified because of how it was implemented.”
Brown says she views the Common Core standards, the testing associated with them, and the curricula used to implement the standards as “three different things.”
“For some people, Common Core is the test and they’re against the test, for others it’s a Common Core-aligned curriculum,” she observed. “For some, it’s the fact that it’s nationalized. Common Core means something different in every state. Usually people are talking about how it’s been implemented. Where it’s been implemented poorly, Common Core is controversial.”
“What we’re trying to do at our site is separate things out and bring nuance and thoughtfulness back into the conversation, and look at the debates happening in different states as individual things,” Brown explained. “My hope is The Seventy Four will be a source of information and thoughtful reporting for people – whether you’re for or against Common Core – who want to have an honest debate, who want to examine it, see what’s good about it, what’s bad about it, but to be honest about what it is in that debate.”