Former news anchor and current education reform advocate Campbell Brown has found a way to combine her interests in journalism and education reform with her new venture, a nonprofit news site focused on K-12 education.
Brown's news site, called The Seventy Four, for the 74 million children in U.S. public schools, is scheduled to launch in mid-July. She hopes the new site will further stimulate the conversation about the need to improve U.S. public education, a system she sees as captive to teachers unions and other interest groups.
The Seventy Four's team includes some serious journalistic chops. The site's editorial director is Steven Snyder, a former assistant managing editor at Time magazine. Contributors include Cynthia Tucker, a former Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution; researcher Conor Williams of the New America Foundation's Early Education Initiative; and Michelle Bernard, president and CEO of the Bernard Center for Women, Politics, and Public Policy.
In the past, Brown has received some flak for failing to disclose the names of donors to her other education reform organizations, saying she wishes to protect them from criticism. But she's being more forthcoming in this case. The Seventy Four will have an annual budget of about $4 million and plans to rely on philanthropic donations. It will not sell advertising. According to Education Week, funders include Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Walton Family Foundation, investor Jonathan Sackler, and the Peter and Carmen Lucia Buck (PCLB) Foundation. Bloomberg, Walton, and PCLB have all supported charter schools and other reforms. Sackler serves on the board of the New Schools Venture Fund and has been active in other charter school organizations. This is not Walton's first foray into education journalism. It also supports Education Week's coverage of parent empowerment issues.
Considering this array of funders, as well as Brown's pro-reform stance, you can bet this new site will cover issues in K-12 education from the pro-reform perspective that has made Brown the target of criticism from teachers unions and their allies, who have branded Brown's past activities as thinly veiled efforts at union-busting. Brown denies the charge.
A former NBC and CNN anchor, Brown is the founder of the Parents Transparency Project (PTP), an education watchdog group, and the Partnership for Educational Justice (PEJ), which began in 2014 and is based in New York City. The partnership advocates for charter schools and is especially noted for its support of changing teacher tenure laws, which Brown and her allies believe protect too many ineffective teachers, thus shortchanging many children of a quality education.
Brown worked with a group of parents in New York to challenge that state's laws governing teacher tenure and seniority in a case she hopes will have an outcome similar to the case of Vergara v. California, in which a Los Angeles Superior Court judge ruled that California teacher tenure laws violated that state's constitution by retaining too many ineffective teachers. Brown has called Vergara "the most important court case you've never heard of."
The disclosure of major funders behind The Seventy Four will inevitably fuel speculation over whether they're the undisclosed funders behind PTP or PEJ. Brown has said only that her donors represent a broad ideological spectrum.
Agree or disagree with Brown's stance on public education, The Seventy Four has the potential to be an important addition to the debate over public education. It also comes at an appropriate time, as the field of 2016 presidential hopefuls continues to grow. Here's hoping Brown's new site will hold these candidates' feet to the fire and press them for their ideas on what to do to improve K-12 schooling.