You may know Campbell Brown as a former anchorwoman who had regular gigs on CNN and NBC. Brown ended up leaving her job at CNN due to low ratings. Since then, she has kept herself busy writing critical op-eds about President Obama and Planned Parenthood and jumping into the education reform movement. In June 2013, Ms. Brown created the non-profit Parents Transparency Project, an ‘advocacy’ group focused on busting up teachers’ unions in New York. After the Vergara court decision in California, which effectively ended tenure for teachers and gutted the unions in that state, Brown announced a carbon copy lawsuit in New York in the hopes that the same fate would fall upon the state’s teachers.
On Tuesday, Talking Points Memo published an article by Conor P. Williams titled ‘Campbell Brown Is Getting The Same Treatment Michelle Rhee Got.’ His argument in the piece is that Brown is being treated unfairly by ‘anti-reformers.’ In his opinion, Brown is the target of the same type of ad hominem attacks that Michelle Rhee received in the subsequent years after her rise to notoriety as the head of StudentsFirst, an education reform group focused on busting unions and pushing charter schools. (She has since abandoned this post.) Williams, who is a Senior Researcher at New America Foundation’s Education Policy Program, also feels that Brown’s political leanings (she is a registered Republican and married to Dan Senor, who worked on Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign) shouldn’t be questioned when it comes to her true intentions for education reform.
Few issues these days bring the rhetorical heat like education. So I probably shouldn’t have been surprised to see a new attack site purporting to reveal “The Real Campbell Brown” as a right-wing mouthpiece shilling for Wall Streeters. After all, Brown is a leader in an ongoing legal fight in New York — where several lawsuits are seeking to replicate a recent California court’s decision striking down a number of the state’s teacher tenure rules (Vergara v. California).
In other words, the former CNN anchor’s support for the lawsuit established her — in the eyes of education reform’s opponents — as the “new Michelle Rhee.” Whether or not that’s the case, it’s true that Brown’s opponents are following a similar playbook to Rhee’s. Just as Rhee faced ugly rhetoric about her race and gender, Brown’s positions have already been dismissed on account of her looks. And Rhee had an anonymous, union-funded attack site of her own—Rheefirst.com.
I’m far from convinced by everything that gets done today in the name of education reform. But Rhee’s and Brown’s examples are indicative of a troubling pattern for reform opponents: anti-reformers are prone to shooting any reform messenger. Anti-reform has an ad hominem problem. In part this is because the anti-reform crowd is obsessed with who has standing to participate in education debates. Non-teachers don’t count (unless they’re Diane Ravitch). Parents’ voices are only permitted so long as they avoid direct challenges to failing schools.
Williams goes on to argue that Brown is under siege by reform opponents, and they will attempt to take her down in the same method they took down Rhee. In Williams’ opinion, it wasn’t Rhee, her positions, or her own personal shortcomings that led to her leaving the organization she founded. No, it was all based on people saying mean things about her. And that is apparently what is happening with Brown. People are being mean to her, and that just isn’t fair. The funny thing about Williams’ column is that he is arguing about the lack of substance from reform critics, yet his entire piece is amazingly substance-free.
As for Rhee, she has absolutely deserved the level of criticism that has been aimed at her and her (former) organization. She has supported policies and politicians that fly against her so-called ‘progressive’ leanings and Democratic Party registration. StudentsFirst endorsed 15 Republicans in the Michigan legislature that voted for a ‘guns in school’ bill that passed. Only after Gov. Rick Snyder vetoed the bill did Rhee offer her opinion that she was for the bill being vetoed. The reform group called the sponsor of a ‘Don’t Day Gay’ bill in Tennessee their ‘Reformer of the Year.’ Just to keep the anti-gay theme going, Rhee had StudentsFirst direct $70,000 to defend Michigan State Rep. Paul Scott, a Republican, from a recall election. They did this despite Scott’s well known anti-LGBT stance, even while StudentsFirst was simultaneously supporting anti-bullying measures. Another StudentsFirst ‘Reformer of the Year,’ Georgia State Rep. Chip Rogers, sponsored three separate anti-immigration bills at the time he received the honor.
Like Rhee, Brown has secrets and skeletons in the closet that should, by all rights, be brought into the light of day if she is going to be a public advocate for education reform. Brown’s husband is on the board of StudentsFirst. While she is extremely secretive about the people and organizations that help fund her and her groups, it is widely assumed that she shares many of the same backers as StudentsFirst. Basically, a lot of Wall Street and Silicon Valley money. One of the lawyers involved in the New York lawsuit, David Boise, also happens to be on StudentsFirst’s board.
In the end, it is fair to question Brown and her reasons why she is an education reform advocate. It is also entirely fair to bring up her political affiliation, as well as those of her close associates and family. If her husband and lawyer are on the board of StudentsFirst, it seems logical to assume that there is going to be a lot of similarities between her group’s advocacy and theirs. Being that she is a Republican (don’t buy this crap about her being an Independent) who has been extremely critical of Democrats and liberal organizations, shouldn’t she have to answer for a lot of the Republican and conservative education policies and beliefs?
Seriously, the conservative platform for education has a lot of extreme ideas in it. Right-wingers support vouchers, hate science (especially evolution and anything to do with climate change), don’t want anything to do with promoting LGBT acceptance and don’t support pre-K education, among other things. Considering her conservative credentials, she should expect to face a certain amount of skepticism now that she has positioned herself as an ‘education reformer.’ Especially when she is trying to sell herself as ‘independent’ and ‘uncompromised’ in a heavily Democratic state that typically supports liberal causes.
Justin Baragona is the Managing Editor at Politicus Sports as well as Senior Editor at PoliticusUSA. He was a political writer for 411Mania.com before joining PoliticusUSA. Politically, Justin considers himself a liberal but also a realist and pragmatist. Currently, Justin lives in St. Louis, MO and is married. Besides writing, he also runs his own business after spending a number of years in the corporate world. You can follow Justin on Twitter either with his personal handle (@justinbaragona) or the Sports site’s (@PoliticusSports).