Friday, April 7

The Stossel Record

Bullshit Rides, Ten Cents

John Stossel, "I Still Want To Teach," Townhall, April 5

Last month, 500 angry schoolteachers assembled outside my office. The United Federation of Teachers (UFT) was furious that "Stupid in America," a "20/20" show I did on education, suggested that some union teachers were lazy. They shouted that I didn't understand how difficult teaching was, and chanted, "Shame on you!"

It's interesting that Stossel can be found, weekly, among the jetsam of American political thought that is Townhall, but if Dan Rather speaks at a Labor Day celebration it's a federal issue.

Anyhoo, notice that we can't get past the first sentence before Stossel starts having difficulties with the truth. Outside your office? It's the 22-story ABC World Headquarters. So--what?--John Stossel is in a storefront at street level? Five hundred union demonstrators (the union says 1000, take your pick) just went roaming through the corridors at ABC? What?

And if your column is just that much better by making the attack personal, why not double down and claim the uproar is over you accusing teachers of laziness? Nevermind the UFT site has a 22-page, item-by-item rebuttal (.pdf file) of that sordid show of yours; nevermind that the closest you came to accusing anybody of "laziness" was the misrepresentation of classroom hours/day in the contract, which would include everybody. not a selected few.
Randi Weingarten, head of New York City's union, took the microphone and hollered, "Just teach for a week!" She said I could select from many schools. "We got high schools, we got elementary schools, we got junior high schools!"

I accepted. I even said I'd let the union pick the school. I thought I'd learn more about how difficult teaching is. Above all, it was a chance to get our cameras into schools -- something the N.Y. bureaucracy had forbidden -- so we could show you what was really going on.

Now, here's a little bit of insider information for you--teachers can't just throw open the doors of their classrooms and let news cameras in. It's likely whoever does the real work at 20/20 clued Stossel in on this back when he was trying to set up NYC schools like he managed to do with the DC schools. The lesson here being that New York's administrators are a bit more savvy than their counterparts in the nation's capitol.

Regardless, what does getting your cameras inside have to do with teaching a class for a week? Why should that be a part of the deal?
Like most of our dealings with the union, nothing was easy. It took weeks of phone calls to make any sort of progress. I suspect this will not surprise public-school parents.

And I suspect it wouldn't surprise any teevee producers, either. That rally outside "your office" was exactly four weeks before your column. Is that an inordinate amount of time to arrange something like this? Can I drop by your house with a camera crew tomorrow at 2, Johnny?
Finally, the union picked a school: Beacon High. Unfortunately, it's not a typical public school -- it's "special." Beacon doesn't have the full incentives or flexibility of a private school: It can't go out of business, and it is burdened by bureaucratic rules and a union contract. But Beacon offers a limited form of what the union opposes: school choice. As with a private school, you don't have to go there, and they don't have to take you. Applicants must submit portfolios, and if too few chose Beacon, it wouldn't be able to remain special. To remain what it is, it must compete.

Gee, however could it have taken weeks to make progress negotiating with John Stossel? Offered a mutually-agreed-upon selection of school, he says, "No, no, you make the choice," then he bitches about the choice.

What a remarkably inept piece of legerdemain this is. Forget for a moment whether New York City schools were trying to shuttle the Mustache Express to a "special" school--they're entitled, after he sought out the worst of the city's schools for his "student in the street" interviews. Check out the libertoonian language there, and tell me the value of words which mean something different depending on who you aim them at. Let's take it from the top:

The Beacon School was founded in 1993 by two public school educators. It provides an inquiry-based curriculum focusing on technology and the arts, and says its standards exceed New York State requirements.

Now, I don't know how many "special" schools there are in New York City. It's enough so that there's at least one 256-page paperback offering to help parents choose the best public high schools. And I know that poor bureaucratic-laden, union-infested NYC was the first school district in the nation to offer these "limited choice" schools the education establishment seems to hate so much. So perhaps we can put that one to bed: teachers unions have never opposed school choice; they oppose transferring public monies to private schools.

I'm always amused by the easy libertarian notion of "bureaucracy". Anyone who's ever worked for a large corporation or shopped at a department store knows that bureaucracy is not the sole province of governments; the libertarian position merely voices a preference for jumping through hoops held in private hands. But the really curious thing about the above is how at the beginning of the paragraph Beacon School "doesn't have to compete", while at the end it must compete or go out of business.

So what, exactly, could be the problem with taking up the offer of Beacon? Stossel hand-selected the private academies he touted as success stories.
Recently classes of Beacon students took field trips to France, South Africa, and tellingly, Venezuela and Cuba.

Tellingly, Venezuela and Cuba. Sorry, the free marketplace of ideas has closed.
Beacon has rooms filled with computers, students learn to do PowerPoint demonstrations, and a class I watched had two teachers (one a student-teacher) for 24 students. Ninety percent of Beacon's students graduate, while the average graduation rate for New York City public schools is only 53 percent.

This is a funny objection from the guy who claims that dollars spent and class sizes didn't matter. And yes, Beacon, as a college-prep specialty retailer, has a higher than average graduation rate. So do private schools which, unlike their public "competitors", simply reject students who aren't gonna make the grade.
I guess they didn't want me to look at a normal public school.

And my guess is they don't want anything whatsoever to do with your lyin' ass, and the challenge for you to teach a class, any class mutually chosen, was to show your ass up. Which it did.
I prepped for my history classes. We had more meetings. The school principal had me sit in on a class with a "superstar" teacher. It was supposed to be a history class, but he seemed to teach "victimhood in racist America." On the class door he posted a New York Times column denouncing the president for spending too much money on war. Can we say "left-wing"?

Can we say, "so fucking what?" Maybe you should have paid attention during the lecture on racism; you might have learned something about US history our "educational bureaucracy" keeps from probably 85% of public school students because the truth is "controversial". As for the president and his war spending, that's currently denounced by 2/3 of your fellow citizens, Mr. Reporter. And his general spending practices have been roundly denounced by the right wing that enacted them in the first place.
Then there were more meetings. Finally, four days before what was supposed to be my first day of class, they canceled. Officially, "they" were the public school administrators who said it might be "disruptive" and that it might "set a precedent" that would open their doors to other reporters.

But, unofficially, "they" were union officials who were afraid you'd show them up? Right.
Too bad. Letting cameras into schools would be a good thing. Taxpayers might finally get to see how more than $200,000 per classroom of their money was being spent.

This, by the way, is either an example of how freely Stossel spreads his corporate apologist fertilizer or an example of the dire straits our math education is in. He's made this claim on a national basis--$10,000 per pupil times an imaginary class of 20 equals a $200,000 classroom. But that twenty is purely arbitrary, and $10,000 is high even for New York City, which spends $9300 per pupil in general education; the average per pupil is $11,172 because the average per special education pupil is $32,924. (In case this post engenders another visit from the Stosselians, the link is here.)

Most private schools bear none of the costs of educating students with disabilites. Religious schools are legally exempt from the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and many private schools which do accept some special education students rely on the public schools for specialized instruction. Public schools, of course, must spend whatever it takes to educate every student presented to them. I await the explanation of how private schools, with their track record of rejecting anyone who presents a problem, will not only deal with these students but do so at less cost to taxpayers. By using unqualified, non-union instructors, perhaps?

There really are no words for the hubris of a mediocre teevee talent willing to trash public education for ratings points, for the mustachioed defender of the Poor Forlorn Taxpayer who thinks the cost of Bush's wars is out of bounds. But at a time when the ceiling is about to fall on those who've refused to see the stupidity of the anti-public education agenda of the last five years, I hope one can be forgiven for a brief fantasy of the 20/20 set crashing down on an investigative reporter, one who'll never know that the minimum wage, non-union stagehands hired to cut costs forgot to anchor the thing to the stage.


Anonymous said...

Excellent. Thank you.
Stossel should be grateful they didn't put him in a special needs class and tell him to have at it. By giving him the cream of the crop of students, they would have been doing him a favor, themselves not so much, as he might then have some empathy for what teachers have to go through.

Is he really whining about all the meetings they made him go through to be an unqualified substitute in defiance of rules about cameras in the classroom and the disruption caused by a (however pathetic) celebrity who has just on national TV called the kids stupid?
Does he know how many meetings a week *qualified* teachers have just to teach their classes in the normal way? Does he really think they were deliberately wasting his time?
Yes, of course he does. He's John Stossel, and if things are not made effortless for him, then it's a clear indication he's being persecuted.

I've always found the libertarian argument that government bureacracy is bad and corporate bureaucracy is good to be stunning in its lack of logic. Even a moment's thought should reveal that if a government can't, for example, teach kids for (let's pretend he's right about something for once) twenty thousand dollars each a year, it would be impossible for anyone else to do it for less money *and* make a profit.

I long for the day when everyone realizes what an asshole Stossel is and simply refuses to be his target anymore. You cannot win. He is a huckster, and his game is rigged in advance, dishonest in action, and edited to fit his agenda afterwards.
Why he has even the shallowest gloss of respectability is beyond me.

Anonymous said...

Um, the school administration cancelled his appearance in the classroom, but it's the union's fault?

Reading this, I am missing the part where the school district exerts its own authority to protect its interest and the students.

Fact of life, anything involving a school requires a lot of bureaucratic paperwork. You have to fill out a lot of forms just to volunteer in the classroom as a parent. For someone to film in a classroom, I would think the school district's Public Information people would have a heckuva lot more restrictions and conditions than the teachers' union would.

Not to mention the fact that many parents, including me, would object to having their child's education interrupted by this kind of stunt.

Anonymous said...

Yes, excellent as usual. It's amazing how Stossel exploits a natural skepticism of the public for pretty much anyone or anything that costs them money, and tries to inflame it into suspicion or outright paranoia about his non-corporate target du jour. we could show you what was really going on.

This captures the foundation of Stossel's entire all-too-typical schtick, and is the purest of lies. The idea that there is something else "really going on" that you don't know about makes scandal a fait accompli. At the same time, Stossel has no intention, ever, of showing what is "really going on," but only what will support his already determined agenda. Would any non-libertarian (i.e., thinking) person expect that if Stossel found that schools were actually doing their best with inadequate funding, or that teachers are hard-working and diligent custodians of education, that he would show it? Give me a break!

As you demonstrate with your itemization of the other costs of public education, it's also patently dishonest to pretend that there is a meaningful comparison between average private school tuition and average public school expenditure per pupil. There is simply no data available on average per pupil expenditures by private schools. As such, even the NCES says that any valid comparison of costs of public and private elementary and secondary education is not possible. This is why you will always see this framed by Stosselites as average private tuition vs. per pupil public expenditure, but they are simply not the same thing. (And this doesn't even get into the disparity in funding between public schools even within one state.)

Anonymous said...

I would pay good money to see Stossel try to teach a classroom full of special needs students, with no one to help him except one frazzled aid. Or an inner city school, or a crocodile pit, or Iraq, etc. etc.

You'd think that someone who wants to expose the problems with public schools would spend a little time talking to actual teachers, but that'd be research. We can't have that.

Anonymous said...

I am so down with that crocodile pit thing.

It's worse than "research is hard work", though. Research would come up with facts that are not surprising to anyone with common sense, that don't make people feel, as r. porrofatto astutely points out, like Johnny's giving them the straight dope (Well, he is a--but never mind), and that they're actually, in this case, helping kids by voting down school bonds.

Stossel doesn't like taxes. He doesn't want to pay them. And because refusing to shell out For The Children would ordinarily make you a cheap and short-sighted asshole, you probably need a way to make it a virtue.

I expect the same logic applies to welfare, just as a side note. It's a trait that both conservatives and libertarians seem to share, and it's one of their least charming.
"Screw the poor, it's for their own good!"

Guys like Marvin Olasky and Ronald Reagan and Grover Norquist (and on a local level here in Washington State, Tim Eyman) have a lot to answer for.

Anonymous said...

I would pay good money to see Stossel try to teach a classroom full of special needs students

As an old friend said, "I would pay good money - and when I say good money, I mean my money -...."

Anonymous said...

"Taxpayers might finally get to see..."

To piggyback on porrofatto, this just irks me. I teach in a public school and, if any taxpayer wants to come in and "finally get to see" how their tax money is being spent, all they have to do is stop by the front office and get a visitor's pass. They can look at my lesson plans and my 10-year-old textbooks to their heart's content.

It ain't no secret fortress.

And, yes, Stossell is an asshat.

eRobin said...

He's John Stossel, and if things are not made effortless for him, then it's a clear indication he's being persecuted.