Pretty Campbell Brown and Her Ugly, Misguided Anti-Due-Process Crusade
Over the past several weeks, I have read only a little on the situation of former CNN news anchor Campbell Brown’s sudden interest in forming a nonprofit in order to advance a lawsuit in New York purportedly to “save” public school students of the (surely) inept teachers currently protected behind “tenure” (i.e., due process rights).
I’ll admit, I have only been on the fringes of the affair that is New York’s “Brown vs. Board of Education” (I had to go there, what with hedge-funded nonprofits advancing their takeover of public education as a “civil rights” issue). However, with my second book written and off to the publisher, I am now ready to turn my research and writing attention to this Campbell Brown and her crusade to demolish teacher due process.
Brown has not bothered to demonstrate how, exactly, removal of the due process that promotes job security for good teachers will make the profession attractive to those who are good teachers.
It doesn’t matter. Brown will never feel the effects of her foolishness.
Brown, Her Hedge-Fund Friends, and Suing NY Schools
On June 24, 2014, Brown officially founded the nonprofit Partnership for Educational Justice (PEJ) basically to sue to remove due process job protections from traditional public school teachers in New York. The “nonprofit” has some fine hedge fund and corporate reform philanthropic backing as noted by its board of directors, including the Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO)– the group footing the bill for Louisiana’s pro-Common Core lawsuit— and StudentsFirst and Democrats for Educational Reform (DFER), all of which I wrote about in A Chronicle of Echoes.
Brown’s husband, hedge fund manager Dan Senor, sits on the StudentsFirstNY board with former NYC Chancellor Joel Klein, former DC Chancellor and StudentsFirst founder Michelle Rhee, and Success Academies founder Eva Moskowitz, each of whom also has a chapter in my book, A Chronicle of Echoes.
Brown also notes that she sits on the board of Eva Moskowitz’s heavily hedge-fund-backed Success Academies schools. It really comes as no surprise that Brown, who chooses to support the likes of Moskowitz, should form a nonprofit with a mission to sue traditional public education in the name of hedge-funded “choice.”
(For an excellent post detailing Brown, Senor, and their self-serving corporate connections, see this August 1, 2014, post by fellow blogger, Mother Crusader.)
I wonder if Brown sends her own two children, ages five and six, to Moskowitz’s schools, a place where administrators pride themselves for turning children into “little test taking machines.”
Despite all of that obsessive testing focus, not one student scored well enough for admission to any of New York’s eight elite high schools.
(UPDATE 08-20-14: Fellow blogger Gary Rubinstein wrote that he believes Brown’s children attend the private Jewish school, Heschel, a place where they can escape both Brown’s lawsuit and becoming Eva’s test-taking machines.)
I also wonder if this pathetic Success Academies outcome qualifies as evidence of “the great public schools students deserve” according to the PEJ mission statement. The PEJ mission statement also includes language such as “fixing the policies that are holding our schools and our children back.”
Here’s some more of the now-too-familiar reformerspeak from the PEJ website:
All our children deserve to attend great public schools that can prepare them for success in college and in life. …
Every child deserves great schools and the lifelong opportunities they afford. Yet too often, outdated policies hold back schools and limit families’ options. We challenge unfair education policies and propose common sense solutions through advocacy and legal action. Our first project is in New York, helping students fight laws that deny them access to great teachers. …
We’re committed to reclaiming the promise of public education for all students. Our passionate team of parent leaders, education advocates and legal experts empowers local communities to strengthen their schools by pursuing common sense policy changes. We provide the resources and support families need to get the schools they deserve. …
Education policies should be rooted in evidence and common sense, and they should always make student learning the top priority.
A great education starts with great teaching. Decades of research have proven that teachers have a greater impact on student learning than any other factor a school can control. In fact, even one year with a great teacher can transform students’ lives…. [Emphasis added.]
It all sounds good, doesn’t it? These “choice” folks are just here to help. They only want “great schools.”
Actually, a “great education” does not start with “great teaching.” It starts in the home and community, influential factors outside of teacher (and researcher) control. Since controlling the factors that impact student learning and that are external to the classroom is not possible, so-called reformers like Eric Hanushek (he’s in my book, A Chronicle of Echoes) ignore the externals and heap incredible responsibility for student outcomes (often as measured by standardized test scores) upon the individual whom they deem can be measured and controlled: the classroom teacher.
Brown has no experience as a public school teacher.
As for PEJ’s snatching the phrase, “reclaiming the promise”: Brown cannot apply this “reclaiming” to her own upbringing. She is not a product of her local public school system. If she wants to temper her “passion” for education based upon her personal experience, she will have to send New York’s children to private schools out of state.
Time for some detailed Campbell Brown background.
Brown is actually a native of my own state, Louisiana. She is from the small northeastern Louisiana town of Ferriday, located in Concordia Parish, right next to the Mississippi state line. Ferriday is only about 10 miles from Natchez, Mississippi. (The rock singer Jerry Lee Lewis was also from Ferriday.)
According to the 2000 census, the population of Ferriday was only 3,723 people. As to ethnic composition, in 2000, Ferriday was approximately 75% Black and 25% White. The median household income at the time was $14,732 (median individual income at $23,654 for males and $16,725 for females). In 2000, 47.4% of the population lived below the poverty line, including 70.2% of those under 18 years of age.
By 2012, the estimated median household income in Ferriday was was $14,095— down from $14,732 in 2000.
I wonder why Brown has not traveled to Ferriday to spout about the “outdated policies that hold back schools and limit families’ options.” Given the incredibly depressed economy of Ferriday, would the residents just look at her as if she were insane?
On the 2008-12 American Community Survey, Ferriday, Louisiana, earned the distinction of ranking 15th on the list of poorest communities in the United States among locations with populations exceeding 1,000 individuals.
Downtown Ferriday (2008)
Four other Louisiana towns were ahead of Ferriday on the list (Campti, Cullen, Melville, and Clarks).
In 1970, when Brown was two years old, Ferriday (incorporated) was comprised of 5,239 people. By 1980, when Brown was middle-school-age, the population had declined to 4,406 people. (1970 and 1980 census counts can be found on page 20–8 of this report.) In 1989, the median household income for Ferriday was $9,753 (according to the 1990 Census of Population and Housing accessed here.)
Ferriday was and is a poor Louisiana town. However, Ferriday resident Campbell Brown was not raised in poverty. Her father, James Harvey Brown, Jr., graduated from Tulane Law School and had been elected to the Louisiana Senate by the time Brown was four years old, in 1972. James Brown, Jr., served two terms as Louisiana Secretary of State (1980 to 1988).
Factors Outside of Teacher Control: Family Money and Influence
Campbell Brown did not attend the Ferriday public schools. According to a Unapix article, Brown “grew up in Natchez, Mississippi and attended the Trinity Episcopal Day School.” On the contrary, as a Louisiana senator and later secretary of state, Brown’s father was required to reside in Louisiana.
Brown attended school a short drive away, in Natchez, Mississippi. Natchez’s Trinity Episcopal Day School tuition and fees are modest compared to many private schools: In 2012-13, the tuition was as follows:
Pre-Kindergarten 3 & 4 year old (Full Day)
First Child $4,300
Second Child $3,870
Third + Child $3,225
First Child $5,300
Second Child $4,770
Third + Child $3,975
Grades 1 – 4
First Child $5,450
Second Child $4,905
Third + Child $4,088
Grades 5 – 12
First Child $5,600
Second Child $5,040
Third + Child $4,200
Campbell Brown has two sisters. Likely, they did not attend the Ferriday public schools, either. Thus, in 2012 economic terms, the tuition alone for Brown and her two sisters to attend Trinity Episcopal Day School in Natchez would cost roughly $14,000– approximately the entire 2012 median income of a Ferriday household.
I wonder whether Brown would consider it a “child saving” service to society to turn her public school teacher tenure destruction crusade upon the likes of her native Ferriday.
I don’t think so. There is just not enough prestige in such a campaign. Plus, the hedge fund folk– from which her current husband, Dan Senor, yields– simply wouldn’t get the financial mileage out of wiping out teacher due process in a town of some 3,700 individuals and with a median household income prohibitive of even Brown’s 2006 Vera Wang wedding dress.
Brown and husband Dan Senor. Photo by Dennis Reggie/People
(An aside: Senor is described in this 2006 New York Times wedding article as “loving” venture capitalism for its “cushiness.”)
The next school that Brown attended was the Madeira School for girls, located next to Washington, DC, in McLean, Virginia. The Madeira School boasts a student-to-faculty ratio of 8 to 1 and a class size of 12 students. Approximately half of the students board.
Here is some of what Madeira advertises regarding its students:
In 2012-13, 306 students representing 14 countries and 18 states (including DC); 32% students of color; 16% international students.
Madeira School, McLean, Virginia
As for the campus:
A 376-acre campus in McLean, Virginia, just outside Washington, D.C.
Encompasses a student center, classroom buildings, art and dance studios, dormitories and faculty housing, a 590-seat auditorium, indoor and outdoor athletic facilities, playing fields, horse stable, indoor riding ring, indoor pool, and the Inner Quest ropes challenge course
Overlooks the Potomac River
And cost and available financial aid:
Tuition and Financial Aid
COST OF ATTENDANCE (2014–2015)
Comprehensive boarding fee: $54,555
Comprehensive day student fee: $41,224
26% of students receive Madeira financial assistance
Total aid available: $2,776,000
Average grant size: $33,964
Apparently, Brown was not there for long. At age 16, she was expelled for leaving campus to attend a party.
Sometimes students squander amazing opportunities and it has nothing to do with their teachers.
Sometimes influences external to the classroom– such as the prospect of an off-campus party– render students as being classified as “noncompleters.”
As a Madeira “noncompleter,” Brown landed on her well-positioned feet.
At the time of Brown’s expulsion, her father was Louisiana secretary of state. There is no mention of another school that Brown attended; just a convenient jump to her attending Louisiana State University for two years and then “fleeing” to Colorado to finish her degree in political science at Regis University.
From “Without Much Direction” to New York Misdirection
After graduating from Regis, and after Communism collapsed in the Soviet Union, Brown spent two years teaching English in Prague. She returned home, according to New York Times writer Warren St. John, “without much direction.”
On the advice of a priest at Regis, Brown moved to Washington and interned at local television stations. Not able to land a job in DC, Brown moved to Kansas and Virginia to do reporting, which led to her preference for covering politics.
And since politics and education reform are now inseparable, it seems that Brown views herself as qualified to attempt to regulate teacher due process in the name of defending “greatness” in an American public education system with which she has absolutely no firsthand experience, neither as a student nor as a teacher.
For Brown, there is no “promise” to “reclaim” when it comes to her own nonexistent K-12 public education.
Instead of using her fame, beauty (let’s not pretend it is not influential), and hedge-fund connections in stripping New York teachers of due process rights, Brown’s PEJ would be put to better use if it concentrated its efforts upon improving quality of life in economically depressed towns such as the Ferriday from which Brown’s family hails.
It’s Not Too Late for Campbell Brown
Brown escaped the economic depression of Ferriday and its public schools, but most residents haven’t the family connections to do so.
Eva can handle terrorizing New York on her own.
Why not turn PEJ energies to investigating what “common sense solutions” that economically-distressed, small-town public school teachers need in order to truly help their students have the “lifelong opportunities”?
I’ll tell you what, though, Campbell Brown: Student success does not begin and end with the school. External factors, such as family economic viability, are much more important and have an undeniable bearing upon educational opportunity. The daughter of a former state senator and secretary of state should readily recognize as much.
Like my writing? Read my newly-released ed “reform” whistle blower, A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who in the Implosion of American Public Education
NOW AVAILABLE ON KINDLE.