The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

A Time magazine cover enrages teachers — again

(2nd Update: Petition gets more than 100,000 signatures and Time invites critics to write responses on its website)

Time magazine has done it again: It published a cover that has enraged teachers around the country, triggering protesting e-mails and tweets, a petition demanding an apology, and a call for a boycott.

The first time Time was hit with such a backlash from teachers was in 2008, when its cover showed then-D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee standing in a classroom holding a broom, with the headline, “How To Fix America’s Schools” and a blurb that said “Michelle Rhee is the head of Washington, D.C., schools. Her battle against bad teachers has earned her admirers and enemies — and could transform public education.”

Rhee was the vanguard of a wave of “corporate school reform” that has used standardized test scores as the chief metric for school “accountability,” promoted charter schools and vouchers, and sought to minimize or eliminate the power of teachers unions and change the way teachers are trained. Rhee was chancellor from 2007-2010, during which she fired hundreds of teachers and principals and started a program that used test scores to evaluate every adult in the building — including, for several years, the custodians. She also collected enormous sums of donations from private philanthropists to start a merit pay system for teachers (even though merit pay systems in education have a long history of failure). The achievement gap, which she said she wanted to close, didn’t budge (and remains wide). When she quit in 2010, she started StudentsFirst, an organization that funded political candidates who promoted her style of reform.

For obvious reasons, teachers were infuriated by Time’s cover.

And now, they are furious about  the Nov. 3  Time cover, with the title “Rotten Apples.” The blurb under it says, “It is nearly impossible to fire a bad teacher”(which Rhee proved isn’t actually true as she fired teacher after teacher). The accompanying story is about the latest effort by school reformers to reduce or end teacher job protections (and therefore reduce or destroy the power of the teachers unions), highlighted best in a recent case titled Vergara v. California, in which a judge threw out state statutes giving tenure and other job protections to teachers. Campbell Brown, the former CNN anchor, has emerged as a leader of these new efforts to sue individual states with strong job protections for teachers.

Time’s article looks at wealthy philanthropists who have become involved in school reform, focusing on Silicon Valley entrepreneur David Welch, who started an organization called Students Matter, which started and funded the Vergara case. Teachers are furious, especially at the magazine cover, which they see as sending the message that there are loads of “rotten apples” that only “tech millionaires” know how remove from the classroom. Yet again, wealthy philanthropists and businessman are being cast as the saviors of public education when, in fact, they aren’t.

The American Federation of Teachers, the second largest teachers union in the country, started a petition demanding that Time apologize to teachers for its cover — not the accompanying article. It says in part:

…Time magazine is about to use its cover to blame teachers for the problems in America’s schools…   Time’s cover doesn’t even reflect its own reporting. The Time article itself looks at the wealthy sponsors of these efforts. And while it looks critically at tenure, it also questions the testing industry’s connections to Silicon Valley and the motives of these players.
The cover is particularly disappointing because the articles inside the magazine present a much more balanced view of the issue. But for millions of Americans, all they’ll see is the cover and a misleading attack on teachers.

So far more than 100,000 have signed the petition.

Then there was this from Mark Naison, a Fordham University professor, who co-founded a group called the Badass Teachers Association that was formed to fight against corporate school reformers, and wrote on his blog:

…What is going on here? Why is a campaign against High Stakes Testing by respected educators not worthy of coverage while a campaign by a billionaire against tenure from someone who has no experience teaching or administering a public school becomes the lead story of the week?
Time’s campaign epitomizes everything wrong with the crusade for “School Reform” that has become a national obsession since the passage of No Child Left Behind. It is financed and driven by business leaders, not educators. It has no support from teachers and school administrators and systematically ignores their voices. It chooses to totally disregard the best education research when it fails to support the application of a business model to classroom teaching and educational administration.
Demonizing teachers, and anointing CEO’s and billionaires as saviors of public education, the way Time Magazine does, is not only a sure path to weakening public education, it creates momentum for a campaign to privatize public education a policy from which those attacking public education, especially those in the tech industry, are likely to profit.

Naison called for a boycott by principals and teachers of Time Magazine and Time for Kids.

And here are a few of numerous tweets on the cover:

As the public backlash rose, Time invited critics to submit short pieces that it will post on its website Monday.

One of the bottom lines from all of this: All the press Time is receiving (including, obviously, this post) can only help fuel sales and website page views.