Why Debate Education Facts When You Can Wax Conspiratorial?

by Frederick Hess

In a Daily Censored blog post titled “Public Education Under Attack by Bay Area Media,” educator and scholar Adam Bessie made clear just how devoid of thought are claims that schools should be protected from responsible belt-tightening. The same day that congressional Democrats are moving to borrow another $10 billion to protect teacher jobs and put off tough choices, Bessie attacked the Oakland Tribune for a story reporting on inefficiencies in California school staffing. Bessie didn’t claim that the numbers were wrong or challenge the analysis. Rather, his hysterics were due to the story quoting me too heavily—and the fact that I hang my hat at AEI.

This is worth checking out, simply to see how vapid the champions of the status quo really are. Bessie wrote:

Today, The Oakland Tribune lead with a cover story Eating away at education: Math doesn’t add up when teacher salaries and budget cuts collide (reprinted by San Jose Mercury News), in which the reporter parrots the neo-conservative think tank The American Enterprise Institute’s party line, that schools are being run inefficiently, and teachers paid too much. The reporter used AEI as the primary source for this major story in a large urban market, but framed it as a nonpartisan source.

While this seems a minor oversight, this one cover story is a front in a larger ideological war—supported by the Republican Party—to dismantle the public school system in favor of a “free enterprise system” of charter schools, with “school choice.” The primary front on this war is waged in the media, in which conservative think tanks like AEI and the Hoover Institute work hard to convince the public mind that our school systems will work better if they are turned into a free-market system.

What follows is a letter I sent to the paper, encouraging them to publish a prominent rebuttal. I hope any of you who agree will do the same, posting comments or writing letters to the paper to point out that this paper has allowed the conservative ideology an unchallenged bully-pulpit this Sunday.

Dear Oakland Tribune/San Jose Mercury News Editors,

As an educator and scholar for Project Censored, I am shocked at the shallow reporting in this article.

The primary scholarly source is a member of the American Enterprise Institute which is a neo-conservative think tank. Newt Gingrich and Jonah Goldberg writer of “Liberal Fascism” are linked to their page. They also post an article in support of the Tea Party.

According to Media Matters, the organization was “closely tied to the second administration of President George W. Bush. A 2006 Washington Post described AEI as ‘a think tank that has had strong influence in staffing the administration and shaping its ideas.’”

Further, looking at the American Enterprise Institute site shows you they have a strong, explicitly stated bias against public services. In soliciting corporate funding, they state: “The government’s authority to tax and regulate represents a growing encroachment on the private sector.” Much more simplistically, taxes—which support teachers—are bad.

Further, Frederick Hess—cited in the article—is actively against small class sizes, as he writes: “Our massive, three-decade national experiment in class-size reduction has exacerbated the challenge of finding enough effective teachers.” In other words, he’s saying small classes sizes don’t work. Wasn’t this the point of the article, that teacher pay was making classes too large?

Even further, Hess is a member of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, and thus, clearly, has a strong bias towards moving towards the “free enterprise” system of charter schools, dismantling the public school system. The neo-con think tank The Hoover Institute, which is a major figure in the charter school movement, has posted many of his articles.

Hess—and the American Enterprise Institute—are presented as non-partisan scholars. This is remarkably misleading to readers, especially as a cover story.

I am not saying that Hess, nor the AEI should be avoided, but rather the reporter should report to us what their background is—for complete disclosure.

Further, the paper should provide a prominent forum for critics to respond. Otherwise, you are merely acting as a PR tool for the conservative, “free market” agenda.

Adam Bessie

Professor of English, Diablo Valley College