How Will Campbell Brown's '74' Cover Education?

How Will Campbell Brown's '74' Cover Education?

Today marked the launch of The 74, an education-focused news organization created by former CNN host Campbell Brown. (The title refers to the 74 million school-age children in the U.S.)

The education community is cautiously waiting to determine how the site’s content should be judged. Funded solely by philanthropies—Bloomberg and the Walton Family Foundation among others—many are ambivalent about the site’s stated mission to produce independent, judicious journalism; The 74 has many close connections with education reform organizations, and Campbell Brown, a major proponent of charter schools, said in her opening letter that she plans to put forth advocacy, too.

It’s too soon to say what the coverage and content will be like, but I think they’ve published some pretty encouraging material on their first day. I especially like how they’re monitoring the 2016 presidential candidates on education issues. As Alexander Russo pointed out at his blog, The Grade, not many education-focused sites have used videos very effectively, and The 74 plans to create some video-based coverage. This is welcome, especially since it can be hard for readers to get a sense of what things actually look like in the classroom.

However, one area I know that I will be paying close attention to here on Tapped is The 74’s seemingly innocuous agenda of putting “children first.” (You’ll recognize this as similar to title of the ed-reform organization, StudentsFirst, founded by former D.C. Chancellor Michelle Rhee.)

This popular mantra of putting kids first sounds perfectly harmless on its face. No one would disagree that kids should have high-quality opportunities so they can grow and learn and thrive. However, what does this mean for everyone else who works in a school? Teachers come second? School nurses third? By painting this false picture where the needs of kids can so simply be extricated from the needs of adults—we’re setting our conversations and policy prescriptions up for failure. Education advocates on all sides of the spectrum understand that there’s a strong need to attract a more diverse teaching workforce, to provide greater professional supports for teachers and to keep high-quality educators in the classroom. We’re not going to help build up the prestige and professionalization of teachers by proclaiming their needs and working conditions are less important.

Moreover, what may be good for one student in one classroom might in fact hurt other students in other classrooms. This is certainly the case in cash-strapped districts where spending money to open new schools often has the adverse effect of hurting existing institutions. In New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, a decision to fire thousands of teachers was justified in part by doing what was best for children—but now New Orleans has lost significant numbers of black educators and 5 percent of its middle class. Whether or not this was worth it is a matter of debate, and one that hasn’t really occurred to the degree that it should. These policy decisions are interconnected and have reinforcing consequences; they deserve thoughtful consideration, and reconsideration, every time.

Anyway, I’m looking forward to seeing what else the journalists at The 74 are working on. These are greatly important issues and too many areas of education lack sufficient oversight, resources, and attention. I hope, though, that the writers will interrogate the idea of “kids first” and welcome a more holistic view of what a school can be for all members of its community.