common core cartoon

Last fall, I asked whether MSNBC hosts like Rachel Maddow and Chris Hayes (my two favorite) are pressured not to cover issues like hydrofracking or GMO foods by their bosses (see “Is Rachel Maddow Going Easy on MSNBC Advertisers?“). No one knows whether or not they had to sign confidentiality agreements governing editorial control of their shows, or what, if any influence there may be by new ownership. Media watchdog FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting) notes that Maddow’s history of reporting on the shady dealings of ALEC becomes awkward as MSNBC’s new parent Comcast is a celebrated corporate member of ALEC with plans to exploit the Common Core “juggernaut” selling their wares to schools.

As a teacher, I’ve watched the charter/Common Core debates go mainstream of late, including reports on CNN, ABC, CBS, the Washington Post, Newsweek, Stephen Colbert, The Nation, Mother Jones and many more. But NBC and MSNBC are different because they were previously involved in promoting Common Core. Researching the record of MSNBC hosts, I soon learned of their divisions (which could be a good thing). Let’s go through it:

It started with MSNBC blogsman Trymaine Lee. I thought it odd that he wrote so articulately about the charter school controversy, while Morning Joe gives obvious preference to charter school principals with air time and promotion.

CHRIS HAYES: had a real teacher on the air one time (a BadAss Teacher from the 45,000+ member Facebook group) in a balanced debate against a charter proponent, while Hayes stayed neutral. Hayes noted keen interest in “Common Core” as an issue held against Jeb Bush’s by his competitors, but misspoke about Common Core’s component parts. He did interview Diane Ravitch here and reported on Michelle Rhee’s “bombshell” cheating cover-up here. But why would his news instinct take him away from Common Core, the latest tea party stampede, and subject of Glenn Beck’s next book?

[Update: Hayes ran segments on Common Core both Thursday and Friday, see addendum below]

RACHEL MADDOW: Noticeably absent on the issue of Common Core, charters and #Rheeform in general, but has concerns about career readiness and smartness deficits. In thoughts about raising expectations made at a 2013 appearance at her alma mater Stanford, Rachel asked “who is going to write the stuff that goes into Wikipedia?”

This is the first part of the classic Common Core pitch — we’re so “low” we need to do something. The second part is the Common Core lobby’s assertion that changing standards helps, a claim in major dispute. So Rachel avoids the subject on her show, but basically can’t believe how poor the resumes of her job applicants are.

JOE SCARBOROUGH: a charter school true believer, Morning Joe’s show is the on-air home for Eva Moskowitz of Harlem Success Academy. The only example found of Common Core coverage was an article on the Morning Joe web page which spoke of the “botched” rollout, top-down inflexibility, lack of teacher input and data mining.

ED SCHULTZ: Ed also didn’t wade into Common Core waters but spoke out here for public schools, calling the charter school vacuum of student talent and funding the “new segregation”.

STEVE KORNACKI: Did a panel on Common Core but concentrated on GOP infighting and attacks against Obama instead of the nuts and bolts of the policy. You’d think wonks like Steve Kornacki or Chris Hayes might delve into the bipartisan affront to accuracy with Common Core’s evaluations, if they had a green light. But not so far.

In a different segment, Kornacki stood mute as former VA governor Jim Douglas parroted the specious claim that a standards overhaul somehow will improve performance. The data was there to obliterate the assertion, had Kornacki been read up:

Higher standards are the goal, but without in-classroom, hands-on support (particularly tackling non-academic obstacles to learning), little will change. After a decade of corporate pork spending, the achievement gap only worsened, right up to last year – so say the tests.

LAWRENCE O’DONNELL: A definite charter guy, @lawrence is a longtime board member at Codman Academy, a charter school in Dorcester, run by his former Harvard classmate.

AL SHARPTON: Also mum on Common Core, the Rev continues to praise charters today but has a sordid past, accepting half a mil to endorse NYC’s charter expansion with the tacit help of the Bloomberg administration. Not his best moment, because most of the money reportedly went to just one person on his staff, a well-connected state Democratic party official. Yeeech. But Rev Al did speak out against charter maven Eva Moskowitz for eclipsing Bill de Blasio’s pre-K rally in Albany with a decisively bigger counter-rally (which we learned was secretly hatched by Governor Cuomo).

MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY (herself a teacher): Hosted a highly staged live forum Oct 2013 on MSNBC starring David Coleman of The College Board, the Common Core’s top developer. Coleman spoke persuasively to a live audience stacked with school kids. Amid the softball questions, Harris-Perry hinted at ‘controversy’ but was mostly decoration as Coleman expounded at length, as seen in this clip.

ANDREA MITCHELL: Radio silent on Common Core other than one post on her MSNBC web page, promoting an anti-Common Core letter signed by authors like Maya Angelou. Mitchell interviewed US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan here about charters and teacher unions, but tellingly, faulted the Secretary for not fighting harder to back up Michelle Rhee. Ugh…

CHRIS MATTHEWS: Got a thrill up his leg while interviewing Eva Moskowitz. On her feud with the new mayor Bill de Blasio, he asked “Why are you being nice to him and he’s being so tough on you?” But one of Matthews’ questions was a legitimate “hardball,” asking Moskowitz if charter schools are better because the parents are more involved. Matthews bought whole her reply that they have plenty of at-risk kids (thanks to a shaky definition of “at-risk”) and their lottery system makes it fair (in fact, the pro-active application needed to be in the lottery is a de facto screening process which discriminates against kids with less savvy parents).

Matthews too, has not been mentioning Common Core and here demonstrates he has no idea what it is as Ted Cruz referred to it just two weeks ago.

JOY REID: In uncommon reporting on Common Core for the network, Reid highlighted 30,000 cases of parents opting their kids out of standardized tests in protest, complaints about botched implementation of Common Core, wide dissatisfaction and a primer on the difference between No Child Left Behind and Race To The Top. Kudos for a fair treatment presenting the issue.

NBC CORPORATE: It’s ugly. MSNBC’s parent company NBC is all up in the Common Core. Their “Common Core Teacher Institute” is a web page hosting a slew of Common Core video testimonials and speeches. Many don’t know NBC had special access to NYC public school teachers this school year after the DOE allowed them to offer up their “NBC Learn” content through the city’s official email system.

COMCAST CORPORATE: Yeesh. Comcast also produces and distributes original pro-Common Core content, this video for example proclaiming Common Core a success in Birmingham, or this video questioning a critical Republican official in PA.

We see how MSNBC hosts differ on air, but we will never see the back-room wrangling over what will get covered, how guests are chosen, or learn whether layers of bosses direct the dialogue. MSNBC is slow to cover a diverse national pushback happening now, passing on stories that haven’t yet been told widely.

For example, no major media has reported how Common Core was accepted before being written or seen, when states needed budget “bailouts” during the worst of the 2008-2009 Wall Street implosion. Obama’s stimulus money was the “carrot”, coercing states to commit without consent of legislatures, school boards, parents, or education experts. The “stick” was the threat of withheld NCLB waivers, which every state needs because nobody could possibly meet the mandate of 100% of students making annual yearly progress towards proficiency.

Wholly whitewashed in media as well is how “accountability” now applies to tests scores, including those taken outside of a teacher’s subject area. Even if you believed test scores accurately reflect teacher proficiency in the first place, most teachers are now beholden to student scores on Math and English tests, even if they teach Music, Art, Technology, Dance, a foreign language, gym or anything else. This is an obvious waste of money and resources, diverted out of schools to Pearson, but sadly is now an integral part of the Common Core implementation in NY and elsewhere.

State Legislators Copy ALEC’s Homework

The idea of linking test scores to teacher measurement is prominent in model legislation offered by ALEC, such as their “Great Teachers and Leaders Act“. But ALEC’s hopes to corporatize education dollars also resulted in draft bills pushing vouchers, merit pay, virtual learning, parent triggers, home schooling, anti-tenure and most famously seen in Wisconsin, anti-collective bargaining policies.

New Jersey adopted tenure, evaluation and charter school policies that mirrored ALEC bills during Chris Christie’s reform crusade. Other states who have already used ALEC bills in whole or part include TN, AZ, IN, LA, OK, GA with pending education legislation in almost every state, a total of 139 bills just for 2013.

Concerned parents and taxpayers should be wary of corporate news, even if they have a few good journalists. For the sharpest advocacy, look to Diane Ravitch’s blog, and for informative reporting, read Valerie Strauss in the Washington Post. Her column The Answer Sheet regularly features Carol Burris, a high school principal from Long Island who has done more for taxpayer transparency and understanding standardized testing in her spare time than Arne Duncan and the entire US Department of Education with it’s $54 million annual budget.

Update: Chris Hayes snuck in not one but two segments about Common Core late last week. First, he hosted AFT President Randi Weingarten who approves of the standards but wants them divorced from testing and “high stakes”. Hayes seemingly agreed that the Common Core cannot improve things unless in-classroom supports become part of it (they are not). Hayes also said that corporate contracting has mushroomed out of control.

But the following night, Hayes hosted two pro-Common Core state senators in Georgia, who expressed the belief that the Common Core will improve standards. Hayes just agreed the night before that the policy is but a facade because if it lacks resourcing of anything to tangibly help struggling learners, instead asking a question about growing protest and exploding privatization – which was immediately ignored. The guests also refused to acknowledge any criticism from the left.

Hayes then actually changed topics, making his segment billed as “Georgia’s Common Core War” more about the imbalance in the legislature. Locals on Twitter panned the choice of guests, outing them as notorious “Conservadems”, one of whom was running for schools superintendent on a privatization platform, but Hayes surprised them with an answer tweeting:

Christopher Hayes: I actually did know all that. We had 5 min total for that segment.”

Which begs the question, if the guests were only going to support the Common Core yet avoid tough questions, who wanted them on the air? Hayes recently tweeted about Common Core:

“I think this the most undercovered political battle in the country right now”

We know Chris Hayes is super-smart, so how come he’s not getting to the core of the issue?

Follow me on Twitter at @amerigus.

Originally posted at

See Also: “Learning the Hard Way: The False Promises of Standardized Tests