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Campbell Brown, Facebook’s new head of news partnerships, has ties to Trump’s education nominee

Campbell Brown at the Clinton Global Initiative 2012 in New York. (Andrew Burton/Reuters)

Campbell Brown, a former CNN anchorwoman-turned-education advocate, will be Facebook’s new director for news partnerships, ending her editorial leadership of The 74, an education website.

Brown, a journalist at NBC News before moving to CNN, entered the world of education advocacy several years ago, working to end teacher tenure and in support of charter schools. She served on the board of directors of the controversial “no-excuses” Success Academy Charter Schools network in New York and co-founded The 74. She has become a prominent — and sometimes combative — voice in education reform.

Although Brown will remain on the board of The 74, she will take on a new full-time role with Facebook that she described in a Facebook post:

“This month I will be joining Facebook to lead its News Partnerships team. This is a different role for me, but one where I will be tapping my newsroom experience to help news organizations and journalists work more closely and more effectively with Facebook. I will be working directly with our partners to help them understand how Facebook can expand the reach of their journalism, and contribute value to their businesses. That also means making sure there is ongoing feedback from publishers as Facebook develops new products and tools for news organizations.”

Brown did not respond to a request for comment.

Facebook has been blasted for fake news stories appearing on its site, and the social networking giant has been trying to improve the flow of news content that users post. A Facebook spokeswoman said that Brown would not be involved in an editorial capacity and would have no role in making content decisions for the social media site but would be taking a business-focused role. She said that Brown was being hired because of her experience in — and understanding of — how news operations function.

In her Facebook post about her new job, Brown said that journalism “has been the most defining part of my professional life” and that it is thrilling for her to work on the complex issues facing the news industry as it undergoes a major transformation in the way news is disseminated and consumed.

The New York Times described her new position as a way for Facebook “to help smooth over its strained ties to the news media.”

During her leadership of The 74, Brown sometimes engaged in email and social media fights with journalists and others who did not agree or took issue with her advocacy positions.

The 74 has been funded by a number of school reformers, including the Walton Family Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Dick and Betsy DeVos Family Foundation.

Trump picks billionaire Betsy DeVos, school voucher advocate, as education secretary

Betsy DeVos, a Michigan billionaire seen by public school advocates as one of the country’s most prominent proponents of the privatization of public education, has been tapped by President-elect Donald Trump as his nominee to run the Education Department. Brown also sits on the board of directors of the American Federation for Children, which DeVos founded and chaired before Trump nominated her.

Stories on The 74 that mention DeVos declare her family foundation’s philanthropic support and note that Brown sits on the board of the American Federation for Children, which also sponsored The 74’s 2015 New Hampshire education summit. That includes a piece Brown recently wrote in support of DeVos — whom she called her friend — saying that DeVos was being “misleadingly caricatured” on social media by her critics.

Campbell Brown has a new education-focused site: Is it news or advocacy?

The Washington’s Post’s Paul Farhi reported in 2015 about Brown’s leadership of The 74, questioning whether it reported news or advocacy and citing Brown’s statement that she felt no need to cover both sides of every story. She has — rightly — taken exception to sexist comments about her appearance. She also has fought with critics taking issue with the validity of some of her education claims.

An exchange Brown had last year on social media about her claim that two-thirds of U.S. eighth-graders are below grade level in reading and math is illustrative of some of her interactions with critics. Tom Loveless, a former Harvard professor and teacher who researches student achievement, tweeted that he has never seen data showing that, and asked Brown to explain her sourcing. She said that she was referring to proficiency rates on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a test sometimes called “the nation’s report card.” Loveless told her that NAEP proficiency scores do not refer to grade level, but she did not concede the error, and a social media fight ensued.

Why a social media fight between Campbell Brown and her critics matters

Here is some of the exchange, which I wrote about in a post at the time:

Asked to comment about her statement that two out of three eighth-graders cannot read or do math at grade level and why she thinks NAEP proficiency means grade level, she emailed me the following in May.

“The histrionic reaction to the distinction between “grade level” and “grade level proficiency” begs the question: is this all you’ve got? You’ve lost the debate on charter schools. You’ve lost the debate on special protections you want for abusive teachers. You’ve lost the debate on tenure. Again, this reaction screams desperation. If I were trying to be completely and utterly precise then I would have specified “grade-level proficiency”, instead of “grade level” in the context of NAEP scores. But any reasonable person or parent can rightly assume that if their child is not reading at grade level, then their child is not proficient. Any reasonable person or parent knows exactly what I meant in that statement. That the people who disagree with my characterization would react by attacking me personally with sexist insults speaks volumes. Those feigning outrage over the difference between “grade level” and “grade level proficiency” are the people who profit off the system’s failure and feel compelled to defend it at all costs. Sadly, in the age of Donald Trump and Diane Ravitch, this is what constitutes discourse.”