MEDIA WATCH: Education Week — 'American Education's Newspaper of Record' —makes sure the party line still rings out on coverage of AFT convention

Anyone who has been subscribing, as I have, to Education Week since its inception a quarter century (or so) ago appreciates the fact that its primary value is not as a source of actual news about public schools (despite its pretentious subtitle "American Education's Newspaper of Record"), but as a way of learning the latest spin the ruling class (and Ed Week's billionaire and plutocratic masters) puts on the realities. There hasn't been an expensive (and failing) fad in corporate "school reform" since the 1990s that Ed Week hasn't trumpeted, then discarded when the next trumpeted reform came along. "Small Schools"? Best thing for the urban poor. Until they weren't. After that, eventually, we got "teacher reform" and all that stuff about creating a better teacher (while somehow paying her less and breaking her unions). All the stuff pimped out and pumped out by corporate reform will find its way into Education Week, so it becomes part of the official record of sucklike stuff.

Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis was prominent on the floor of the AFT convention in Detroit. Above, Lewis spoke in favor of the AFT Solidarity Resolution, which had been introduced as a Special Order of Business, just before Joe Biden's speech. Biden's media handlers threatened to confiscate Substance's camera when this photograph was taken, as part of the silly attempts to manipulate press coverage of the convention by the representatives of the Obama-Biden campaign office out of Chicago. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.A recent great example of the way Ed Week spins the news comes in its front page report (August 8, 2012 edition) on the recent American Federation of Teachers (AFT) convention in Detroit. Clearly Ed Week got one thing right: the new leadership at the Chicago Teachers Union — and CORE — have had a major impact on the AFT since the Seattle convention in July 2010.

The story, headlined "Tension Builds Over AFT Reform Agenda" (by Stephen Sawchuk) at least gets a few facts straight.

The AFT is facing a great deal of internal critique. Sawchuk reports: "Though the AFT has in recent years, beeb viewed [by whom we don't learn] as the less militant of the two national teachers' unions, its delegates spoke forcefully against attacks on unions that have been couched in the guise of education reform, took a stand against the high-stakes use of standardized testing, and passed a 'solidarity pledge' on behalf of local affiliates it asserts have been subject to unjust bargaining situations."

The beginning of the text of the AFT Solidarity Resolution, which passed unanimously. Substance photo by Kati Gilson.This shift has a history and a context, and it's not the corporate context promoted in the pontifications on behalf of the plutocracy planted as "news" by reporters for the likes of Ed Week (and locally in Chicago, outfits like Catalyst). By the time of the Seattle AFT convention 2010, when AFT President Randi Weingarten featured billionaire plutocrat (and major funder of AFT projects) Bill Gates, there were some serious disagreements within AFT over how far the union was going to go in taking in billions from Billionaire Bill to fund projects that amount to institutionalized teacher bashing. Back in 2008, when the torch of AFT leadership was passed from Ed McElroy to Randi, the question of how far the AFT would sell out its members (and its militant histories) wasn't even a question. The whole convention, which was held in Chicago in July 2008, was an orgy of corporate "reform" teacher bashing, it featured all of the sellout programs that were then prominent and on display from then CTU President Marilyn Stewart, including "Fresh Start" and the merit pay scam. Looking back on it, an attentive reporter might have noted that the projects AFT was praising Stewart for in July 2008 were precisely the things that cost her (and her "United Progressive Caucus") the May and June 2010 Chicago elections.

But the truncated version of union history shared by Ed Week wouldn't dig that deep. Instead, a few fatuous oversimplificatIons will do for the ruling class's version of WHAT TO WATCH OUT FOR. As a result, Ed Week notes the importance of the new Chicago Teachers Union leadership to the shifting in AFT praxis, but somehow can't locate any of the officers of the Chicago Teachers Union to quote in their article. Instead, the intrepid "newspaper of record" quotes a couple of (very good) rank-and-file delegates and leave out Karen Lewis, Jesse Sharkey, Kristine Mayle, and Michael Brunson — almost as if the four people currently leading the CTU weren't even at the convention Ed Week is propagandizing about.

Ed Week doesn't get everything wrong, as the following indicates: "The tenor of the convention contrasted sharply with that of the AFT's last such gathering, in 2010. That previous convention, in Seattle, featured the philanthropist Bill Gates, whose positions on such policies as teacher evaluation have been hotly contested among rank-and-file members. By contrast, this year, the education historian Diane Ravitch, one of Mr. Gates' most vocal critics, held a prime speaking spot at the convention."

But at that point in its story, instead of quoting Ravitch or Weingarten, Ed Week quotes an outsider, historian Richard Kahlenberg.

Alix Guevara Gonzalez was one of dozens of CTU delegates who handed out copies of the Chicago leaflet opposing Race To The Top before and after the Biden speech. Substance photo by Kati Gilson.Readers who know the players — AFT President Randi Weingarten, CTU President Karen Lewis (and her team), and other critics of corporate education reform — including but not limited to Diane Ravitch — across the USA — might expect that at least one of them would be quoted. But it is as if Ed Week were not even at the convention, or couldn't find a phone number for Weingarten, Ravitch, or Lewis. Two Chicago delegates (Drew Heiserman and Rivanna Jihan) are quoted, but if Ed Week tried to locate any of the union's officers, it isn't reported.

And of course the wrap up for the sermonette on ed reform goes to one of the most prominent Astroturf groups in the USA, the "New Teacher Project." According to New Teacher Project chieftain Timothy Daly, things will continue to be difficult for teacher unions if the union doesn't get back to cuddling up to corporate school reform. To the surprise of no one following the realities of the class struggle in Chicago, at the same time Education Week was placing the New Teacher Project in the center of the AFT convention debates (even though the outfit wasn't there), Chicago's corporate media discovered the New Teacher Project, too, and began publishing sermons about how a major job of the Chicago Board of Education is to save young teachers who are leaving teaching — not by having decent working conditions, higher salaries for everyone, and safer schools — but by singling out and overpaying what the Chicago Tribune has now dubbed the "irreplaceables". In one two day period, the Tribune intoned editorially about how The New Teacher Project has produced a "study" showing what the Tribune wants, while the Sun-Times gave one of the self-promoting irreplaceables a half page of Op Ed space.

And how can you know who they are? Just as Ed Week and The New Teachers Project.


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