Campbell Brown refuses to disclose donors and distorts facts on Colbert Report


by Colleen Flaherty

Social media lit up and protesters gathered outside The Colbert Report studio in New York City when the comedian interviewed Campbell Brown, former CNN anchor and a new face of the so-called education “reform” movement aimed at disenfranchising public education.

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Brown, who heads an education reform group with unknown donors called the Partnership for Educational Justice, is going after teacher tenure in New York state. A few days before her appearance on the parody news program, Brown brought forth a lawsuit—similar to the Vergara v California case—citing that teacher quality is compromised by teacher tenure and damaging to students.

“This is a politically motivated attack against every dedicated teacher in New York state. We are highly confident the courts will reject this attack as entirely without merit. We welcome the opportunity to expose the many lies and misrepresentations about tenure laws and establish, once and for all, the plain truth: Tenure is an absolutely necessary safeguard for teachers, for students and for quality public schools,” said New York State United Teachers President Karen E. Magee in a statement.

Under the hashtag #questions4campbell, many public education activists took to Twitter to urge Colbert to ask Brown about her intentions:

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Colbert responded and asked many of the questions thanks to the outpouring online, but Brown evaded questions and presented dubious “facts,” including the idea that teacher tenure makes schools worse for students (hint: it doesn’t).

The biggest question of the night was met with stonewalling—who are her donors? Despite her organization’s claim that they want to “bring transparency” to public education, Brown refused to disclose where her organization’s money comes from.

As reported by Politico, Department of Labor rules require unions to “disclose more than many political groups about their internal operations,” funding and expenditures, unlike the political groups going after public education who are allowed to keep their benefactors a secret. However, occasional leaks have shed light on who is behind these groups, usually billionaires investing in the privatization of education.

In 2012, the Huffington Post reported that “New Jersey hedge funder and Romney backer David Tepper and the Texas-based Laura and John Arnold Foundation [are] among the largest donors” to Students First, an anti-public education group. Additionally, the board of Students First includes hedge fund billionaire Paul Tudor Jones, News Corp. education-technology executive Joel Klein, and Brown’s husband, Dan Senor.

As for her arguments that teacher tenure harms students, Alyssa Hadley Dunn, a professor of teacher education at Michigan State University, went through Campbell Brown’s claims one by one in the Washington Post.

“Quite simply: there is no research demonstrating causation between teacher tenure laws and lower rates of student achievement, which is the entire argument behind the lawsuit,” wrote Hadley.

Here are a few of Brown’s claims from her Colbert Report appearance:

All the research shows the least effective teachers are being centered in the most disadvantaged schools, so the poorest… So what the tenure laws do combined with these dismissal protections is make it almost impossible to fire a teacher who’s been found to be incompetent.

Except that high poverty schools have higher turnover, and a majority of teachers in these schools leave before the three to five years required to get tenure. Also, while less qualified teachers tend to be centered in high-poverty schools, it’s mainly due to first-year teachers working outside their certified fields and many untrained teachers coming from agencies like Teach for America after only six weeks of preparation.

Attrition is more likely due to low pay, lack of resources and an increase in bureaucracy.

If you look at student outcomes in New York, 91 percent of teachers around the state are rated effective or highly effective, and yet 31 percent of our kids are reading, writing, and doing math at grade level. How does that compute? How can you argue that the status quo is okay with stats like that?

Unfortunately, educators are not the most important factor in determining student success. Some reports say that teachers only impact up to 20 percent of student achievement at most, and other factors such as parents’ level of education and income, poverty, segregation and school resources have a larger impact.

As for the status quo, reformers like Brown are making it more difficult for actual reform and creativity by pushing for policies like increased high-stakes testing.

It takes on average 830 days to fire a teacher who’s been found to be incompetent.

That statistic was based on a research brief based on the results of a self-report survey to which only 59 percent of districts responded, and New York City was not even included. Since the data was collected, tenure laws have been reformed and in 2013, disciplinary cases took only 177 days on average statewide to reach a decision.

This is not about blaming teachers… I am blaming the teachers unions because they’re fighting attempts to change laws that are anachronistic, that everybody thinks need to change.

“Those teachers unions she’s blaming? Guess who makes up the membership of those unions? That’s right: teachers. There is no way around it. Whether she wants to admit or not, because she knows the bad press that would result, Ms. Brown is clearly blaming teachers,” wrote Hadley.

See the Colbert Report interview with Campbell Brown here –

Reader Comments

  1. Campbell Brown did a good job of following her husband’s orders to refuse to disclose his organization’s donors. A pretty face just isn’t good enough.

  2. The notion that public school teachers are the problem is short-sighted and superficial. The difficulties in our schools are systemic and range from lack of effective discipline support and enforcement of attendance to micromanaging teachers to the degree that we are unable to use our God-given skills, creativity, and training. Some cases of the Highly Effective/Effective evals that Campbell finds out of sync with test scores illustrate the lack of validity of the criterion by which we are judged. Good teachers, will always seek to improve our strategies and develop pedagogy. As realists we are aware that there is room for improvement, and as idealists we will strive to perfect the art and science of that which we do. My point is yes teachers can do better, but it is futile to target teachers as the source of the issues in our schools without intelligent review of the deeper challenges across state, local, and national systems.

  3. Typical of Rapepublican ‘reformers’ that they refuse to divulge just who is paying them to destroy what the country has built over that last couple hundred years. That public education is a right has nothing to do with the Rapepublican agenda — all they want to do is ‘rape-the-public’ as they ‘reform education to steal all the public dollars they can to line their private pockets. Appalling but not surprising.

  4. Tenure laws were meant to protect teachers and communities from inconsistent administration and the unfair and unfounded personal feelings of new administrators and parents who feel their children can do no wrong. It also protects teachers from what is called “ease of operation” from administrators and superintendents who would rather just quickly fire a person because it is easier for them. The laws of due process contained in teacher contracts are there for the protection of everyone. I would hope a day would come when we could get rid of politicians easier who are incompetent in their job or who do not do the job they are elected to do. It is the teachers of a school district that are the backbone of most districts. In my over forty years of involvement in education I do not remember a time when students would return to visit a school and look to connect with a principal or superintendent. Students return to reconnect with teachers who made a difference in their lives. Teachers who made students feel safe and helped them to love school and learning. Tenure laws make teaching a profession rather than just a job, helping teachers know that if they perform their jobs according to the contract they must follow they can continue in a profession they chose and love. The groups who want tax breaks and then want to feed off public education by siphoning off funding for public schools are just what we do NOT need in public education.

  5. I noticed on “Morning Joe” Brown was joined by the nationally-recognized lawyer, David Boies, who commented about the Teach for America recruits that he hosts at his annual bbq. It is appalling that this man, as impressively educated as he is, couldn’t hear himself extolling the virtues of these “young and enthusiastic” teachers. He assumed that we old and in-the-way, pro-union teachers are intimidated by these youngsters, who don’t need the formal training or unions to do their jobs. Wait until they start having families and can’t work 70 hours per week; wait until they inves a few years and have some actual ideas that might piss-off an administrator; wait until their before and after school hours are swallowed up by never ending meetings that they can’t attend — I bet a union will start looking pretty good then. It’s amazing that Brown and Boies, whose only qualifications are they went to school at one time, can condemn an entire profession.

  6. I have been a highly effective teacher in Title 1 schools for many years and I have seen the successes these children can make. I find it interesting that she will protect her supporters but will attack teachers just for personal political agenda. Go Colbert!

  7. It seems obvious that Ms. Brown is merely a celebrity hired to shill for the privatization of public education. Their real goals are to destroy a major union and monetize public education. If CB’s backer were serious they would reveal themselves. Otherwise they are merely malicious and cowardly opponents of public education hiding in the shadows

  8. It is not surprising that Campbell Brown has been transformed by her right wing husband, Dan Senor. Only when all public funds for education get into the hands of the private sector will these people be happy. There is corporate money to be made, but not if teachers continue to be well compensated.

    1. I am sick and tires of people who know nothing of what happens on a day to day basis in a public school, and that includes NJ governor Christie, whose own kids attend private school, blame the money troubles of the country on unions, teachers, firemen and policemen. What good is a teaching environment that is lead by all “rookies.” Districts have 3-5 years to let go an ineffective teacher. Administrators, are doing their jobs so Campbell Brown, get off our backs. Thanks Steve Colbert for getting the discussion going!

  9. Republican union busting & privatization of public property & public services are destroying American civil society. Rich families can send their kids to good schools. Kids from poor families can get trained to work in warehouses or fast food or big box part time jobs.

  10. I suggested on The Colbert Report Facebook timeline that the show get Diane Ravitch, nonpartisan renowned educational research historian and analyst, be invited to the show to give the REAL reasons for disparity in educational achievement. If others did the same, maybe this would happen.

  11. The Campbell Brown’s of the world are “for teachers” but against teacher unions. Whom do her ilk believe are the members of those teacher unions and who do they think vote for the leaders of those teacher unions? Will someone please explain how eliminating teacher rights and making it easier to fire teachers will result in “better” teachers in low performing schools?

  12. The ignorance demonstrated by Ms. Brown is appalling! Tenure means one thing–and one thing only–that a teacher will receive a hearing BEFORE she is fired–that’s it–just a hearing! Teachers can be fired in every school district any day of the year for . . . insubordination. “Insubordination” can be interpreted as a teacher who gives too many low grades to students; “insubordination” can be perceived as a teacher who disciplines a student with a missed recess for not completing homework; “insubordination” can be viewed as a teacher who is also a coach and doesn’t play one of the athletes enough for his parents to be satisfied. Tenure is responsible for protecting female teachers from being fired when they get pregnant; tenure protects teachers from irrational parents; tenure protects teachers from administrators and school board members who dislike how a teacher votes in national and state elections!

    See the book, Why America’s Public Schools Are the Best Place for Kids: Reality vs. Negative Perceptions available in all formats at

    1. EXCELLENT POINTS that are NOT given the light of day by the likes of Students First and Ms Brown. Let’s not forget the basic principle in the quest to rid public schools of teacher unions and being public schools: to circumvent Brown vs the Board of Education and to make very sure that only the best teachers work in the wealthiest schools. Take the elimination of PERMANENT STATUS (as only some college professors achieve tenure status) to its logical conclusion. A teacher can be summarily dismissed for ANY reason, and two things will surely follow. First, fewer people will even consider the profession much less actually run the gauntlet it takes to become a teacher. Second, this system of firing teachers WITHOUT CAUSE at any time during their service to a school district frees all teachers to try to move to a higher paying or “nicer” school district because they have NOTHING TO LOSE by moving. This will inevitably lead to the best teachers working only in the best (paid and funded) school districts and will ensure that the poorest schools and communities are left to accept what is left over.
      Please notice also, this appears to be a “market solution” to a government program. Isn’t it just wonderful that the “market solution” does a great job of leaving those with no market power with what’s left over or, in all likelihood, nothing. Isn’t it also wonderful that Ms Brown and the “Students First” group claim to be so concerned for students while their “solution” is to disenfranchise the vast majority of them!

  13. From where did the statistic that teachers have only a 20% impact on student achievement come? This is a significant point especially in the wake of the new teacher evaluations which include student achievement as a major component! I don’t know the answer on how to accomplish this, but we educators have to take control of the education conversation. Personalities such as Colbert or even Matt Damon have spoken on behalf of education reform in an authentic manner but this support is randomly generated. Unfortunately the listening in our country is not for the facts but for the drama! Several years ago, there was a clip of an elderly woman who was a bus monitor on a school bus filled with middle school students. In the video, several students rudely harass here, even suggesting that her child committed suicide to get away from her. The clip went viral and someone started a fund for the lady which raised over half a million dollars. The general public was rightly inflamed and the boys’ parents insisted their sons apologized. As a teacher who taught in a middle school for 13 years, what I saw on the video was NOT abnormal. We need to publicize the truth and know that the American people still have a commitment to good public education and will support us.

    1. The 20% report can be found cited now in a variety of sites, including the Kappan, the NEA website, etc. I don’t have it bookmarked, so would have to google for it, but that is something anyone can do.

  14. Thank goodness for Colbert. He can illustrate our absurdities so well. I appreciate his stepping in on this and making it a more widespread conversation than Campbell Brown and her team would want.

  15. Thank goodness for Colbert. He can illustrate our absurdities so well. I appreciate his stepping in on this and making it a more widespread conversation than Campbell Brown and her team would want.

  16. Campbell Brown is another women that makes the women in education so upset!
    She speaks as if she is an authority….but she needs to do more research on the Tenure issue. People have fought for this for years to PROTECT the rights of teachers…many who are WOMEN!!
    I have been in education for over 40 years and I have seen attempts by the administration to remove a teacher that did not always speak the same language as their administer because SOME TIMES the administration is bullying their own staff!
    It is life…that is why we the people have a constitution to live by. Tenure is the teaching profession’s constitution to live by!!
    Do your Research, Campbell….talk to real teachers that can explain why it was established and why they fight to keep it.

    1. I saw the interview with Campbell Brown and she clearly did not understand what she was talking about. She was asked if it was a move to get teachers fired and she said no it is about the children. She was asked is teachers are to blame in our public education system because our test scores are not as high as other countries. She said she firmly believed that bad teachers should be dismissed and then turned around and said she thought teachers should be paid more money. When asked why she was doing this representative job and for whom, she declined except to say it is for the children. I do not understand why these people are given a forum of any kind when they have not trained to be educators and in reality know nothing about the profession. She does not understand teacher tenure that was completely obvious. She doesn’t understand “fair hearing process.” Her facts appeared to have been given to her on a “cheat” sheet and she could not reveal who she was working with. I say, let us put sweet Campbell in a classroom for a month and see if she can do it and then perhaps we might listen to her comments. Parents and the general populace do not have a clue what teachers really do and have no idea of what to do except complain. I would venture to say Ms. Campbell is enjoying her salary as a spokesman by some large influence out to further destroy public education more than she does the real facts.

    2. If she did her research, I assure you she’d arrive at the exact same conclusion: that the money she is being paid by the people funding their cause through her is much better than any factual or well thought out policy! I do love it in our “ALL ABOUT THE MONEY” society, that really important issues and policies are being now only a matter of the BOTTOM LINE for some corporation or wealthy individual.

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