With guest, Louder Than a Bomb poet Nate Marshall

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Washington Post's Jay Mathews is a union-basher

He's also a self-admitted apologist for KIPP, the nation's largest chain of business-model charter schools and one noted for its high teacher turnover rates and for its efforts to drive up test scores by pushing out low-scoring kids.

In the past Mathews has admitted overlooking such critical data to "make KIPP sound like more than it is." Now he's doing it again. Only this time, it's at the expense of the very teachers who are responsible for whatever successes KIPP has had. He's even threatening them if they dare "mess with" KIPP

An example of his union bashing: In Monday's WaPO, "Don't Mess With Success at This High Achieving Charter Middle School," Mathews quotes KIPP founder Jason Botel who charges that an unnamed union member responded unsympathetically to Botel's scare tactics. Botel claimed that KIPP, the wealthiest charter operator in the nation, wouldn't be able to afford to pay teachers overtime for working their typical 16-hour day, if those teachers dared to unionize.

"That's not my problem," the unnamed official supposedly tells Botel. The president of the union denies that anyone said that. But Mathews puts it out there anyway.
"Such stories," writes Mathews, "heat the blood of union critics. It is, they contend, a sign of how unions dumb down public education by focusing on salaries, not learning."
This type of journalism is nothing new for Mathews. He's become an important part of a national campaign aimed at discouraging and defeating activist KIPP teachers, who are finally standing up to abuse from Botel and company and organizing for collective barganing rights.

KIPP-AMP teachers in New York, for example, are currently part of a new movement among charter school teachers, asking for the union recognition long denied them. They got a majority of KIPP teachers to sign union cards only to have their pro-union colleagues fired, threatened and intimidated by KIPP management. The teachers want an end to 16-hour teacher work days (which Mathews thinks are good for kids), lousy pay and benefits (while KIPP founders rake in millions), and firings of pro-union teachers.

Botel claims that KIPP can't afford to pay teachers properly. He claims that African-American kids learn better with overworked teachers who burn out in three years. A good journalist would question those claims. A good journalist would fact-check the "not my problem" quote, find out who supposedly said it, name them and ask them if they really said it. He would also do some investigation and ask for some evidence before drinking the KIPP kool-aid. But a good journalist wasn't writing the "don't mess" story.


  1. Looks like poor Jay Mathews will be the one to turn out the lights on the failed corporate effort to destroy the public schools. Sad to see a learned man cling to conceptions so thoroughly discredited by real life.

    The Business Roundtable, which led the attack on public education is now deeply enmeshed in an existential struggle to save the global economy. The CEO's have turned their public schools campaign over to the US government and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. Duncan soldiers on with the corporate catechism. Charter schools are good, public school teachers are bad, and their unions are greedy and evil. Duncan is going to use billions of taxpayers money to close inner-city public schools and make sure those bad teachers finally get their comeuppance.

    But Duncan will fail just as the Business Roundtable, Gates, Broad, and the Waltons have failed because these forces have tried to hold back the tide of history. Ultimately, teachers will takeover the public schools and dictate educational policy in the US. Those teachers will have to work through faux-unions like the WTU where figurehead George Parker simply carries out policies handed down by labor aristocrats like Randi Weingarten. But teachers will achieve that in time.

    Ironically, when the teachers do run the schools, the "bad teachers" will be gone soon thereafter along with the standarized tests they love so. Their lips will just have to be detached from administrators backsides across the country. The worst teachers love standardized testing and mindless data collection, they crave to be told what to do minute-by-minute in the classroom, they beg for rules to follow and rules to enforce. The worst teachers seek refuge from the classroom in administration. The worst teachers have a missionary mindset and spend a couple of years in an inner-city charter school like KIPP Ujima Village before they get on with their lives work.

    The best teachers are in the classroom by choice. They care for their students and want them to learn skills that will serve them in the real world not test taking skills. And concern for these children causes good teachers to guide them away from becoming cannon fodder in wars for oil in Iraq or Afghanistan. And concern for these children compels good teachers to guide them away from competition with Chinese children and Indian children and other children of the world to see who can work for less in sweatshops and farm fields. And good teachers do not lie to them about success and a wonderful job in a failed global economy if they will just do well on some meaningless test. Good teachers will not lie to them, like they are lied to everyday now!

  2. I hate to say this because I like him, but Jay Mathews directly benefits from boosting KIPP in the Post's news columns. His new book about KIPP, "Work Hard, Be Nice," is really quite high-profile for a book about education policy -- and he has said he plans to write a second one. There's truly no market for a book about an education model if it's not being hyped as a big success. He shoots himself in the foot if he looks too hard at the asterisks and confounding factors and "yes buts" in the KIPP picture.

    And, by the way, with the news business collapsing rapidly, don't be too surprised to see education reporters career-switching to go where the money is -- charter schools. Here in the San Francisco Bay Area, the San Francisco Examiner's former education reporter became a top executive for the California Charter Schools Association, and the Oakland Tribune's former education reporter went to work for KIPP (I believe he's now working elsewhere in the charter world). Doing hard-hitting coverage of charter schools would cut off that career path at a time when newspeople desperately need a new career path; just keep that in mind when you read another unquestioning puff piece.

    It's a shame, because in a collapsing industry, their professional integrity may be all journalists have to cling to.

  3. Damn, natturner, that was one of the best comments I have ever read on an education blog. Bravo.


  4. this is all fair comment, but i hope you also read the column and see the praise i heaped onto AFT president Randi Weingarten. that doesnt look like union bashing to me.--Jay Mathews

  5. Really, Jay, do you think one pleasant comment about a union official means you're not a union basher? And that we'd fall for that?

    I'm so disappointed in you - not because our views sometimes differ, but because you misrepresent the facts and mislead your readers. You're a journalist. I thought you had higher standards.

    If you really think this is "all fair comment" and you are really Jay Mathews (it sounds like you), then I think you should apologize for and correct some of your published remarks.
    Pleasantries about a union person doesn't substitute for the truth.


Agree? Disagree? Let me hear from you.