By Denise Tessier
With education reform again on the to-do lists of both the governor and state legislators, it behooves those involved to be alert for outside agendas that might influence the discussion – and any outcomes that might result during this year’s legislative session.
On Jan. 9, Journal education reporter Hayley Heinz did readers a service by doing just that. That morning, the printed version of the Journal carried her straightforward account of the governor’s education plans for the legislative session, as outlined at an education reform event.
But to her credit, Heinz further elaborated on her story by posting on her Journal blog an addendum that revealed the education event was sponsored in part by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, an offshoot of the politically active U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which in 2010 spent $500,000 in New Mexico to defeat Democrats Martin Heinrich and Harry Teague.
In the blog post, “Won’t Back Down, a review and fact check,” Heinz also included a movie review:
What I didn’t mention in the (print-version) story, which was already kinda long, was that the panel happened after a screening of “Won’t Back Down,” a movie starring Maggie Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis. The screening was largely sponsored by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce foundation.
Heinz panned the movie (“with all due respect to Gov. Martinez and Education Secretary-designate Hanna Skandera, who seemed to really like it a lot.”), adding:
I also want to emphasize that my dislike of the movie was not about the ideas it presented, but with its quality as a film.
However, Heinz also had a problem with the film’s presentation of education reform ideas, which were:
. . . shoved into the movie like an ed-reform checklist rather than a cohesive script. Every reform idea that is a darling of the reform movement was shoehorned into the story. Abject failure of public schools? Check. Deadbeat teachers protected by tenure? Check. Nasty unions getting in the way? Check. Teach for America to the rescue? Check. Awesome charter schools without enough space? Check. Parent trigger laws that allow parents to take over failing schools? Check.
Whether you like those ideas or not, “Won’t Back Down” felt like it was written as a position paper by the fellas over at the Fordham Foundation rather than as, you know, a movie script. And just to make sure I wasn’t crazy (about this anyway), I checked in with movie review aggregate site Rotten Tomatoes, which found that reviewers gave it an average ranking of 33 percent. . . . The movie also makes Buzzfeed’s list of 2012 flops. All of which is to say that I feel like I’m not an outlier here.
Then, “having established that this movie was lacking as a piece of art,” Heinz went on to correct two “tropes I hear over and over and over again in my work as an education reporter, which were repeated in the movie.”
The first one is that Albert Shanker, a grandfather of the teachers union movement in this country, once said that he would look out for the interests of students when they started paying union dues. Here’s a debunking of that. Admittedly, the debunkers are pro-Shanker and may have some interest in protecting his legacy, but no one has been able to produce a good source for the quote. So stop repeating it. Just stop it.
The second one is the oft-repeated insistence by people on every side of the ideological spectrum that unspecified “officials” use third-grade reading scores when deciding how many prison beds to plan for. This always quiets a room with horror at the idea of students being written off at such a young age. It also has no basis in reality (other than the obvious fact that students who don’t succeed in school are more likely to end up in prison. But no one plans on that basis). Here is one of a bunch of debunkings on the web. Stop saying this. We have enough demoralizing education statistics in this country without tilting at windmills.
This is useful information, but unless one regularly checks Heinz’s blog, I don’t think it’s likely many readers would see the post. When her straightforward account of the education reform panel appeared in print the morning of Jan. 9, there was no link to the blog post because she hadn’t written it yet. But even when reading that reportage online, there’s no link to the now-written blog, and no reference to it under the “Suggested Reading” links that appear below the online version of the education reform panel story.
Her blog is also an important addendum to the story when one considers that the Journal on Jan. 9 ran an Op-Ed piece, “N.M. Must Set 2013 Education Goals,” written by Margaret Spellings, whom the editors chose to identify in her byline by her former title (Former U.S. Secretary of Education), leaving to the fine print at the end her current title as “president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation.” The end-of-article explanation adds: “This weekend, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for a Competitive Workforce brought its Breaking the Monopoly of Mediocrity tour to Albuquerque.”
Out-of-state ideas have been emphasized with regard to education since Gov. Susana Martinez took office, and after two years, her education secretary still has not been confirmed by the State Legislature. So, it’s important that New Mexicans are made aware of where these ideas originate when discussing policy for the state.
Kudos to Heinz for going beyond the printed page to let readers know about the Chamber of Commerce connection and to debunk education myths.