Conservative activist James O’Keefe has targeted Common Core with a new video that purports to show that companies embraced the academic standards for their profit-making potential. It shows a woman identified as a textbook publishing employee saying that she “hates kids” and that aligning academic standards is “what they have to do to sell the books.”
“You don’t think that educational publishing companies are in it for the kids, do you?” the employee, identified as Dianne Barrow, an account manager for the publishing company Houghton-Mifflin, said in the heavily edited video released Tuesday by O’Keefe’s Project Veritas. “No, it’s all about the money.”
A woman who identified herself as Barrow, reached by telephone, told The Washington Post that she was fired Tuesday while at a sales meeting in Orlando. She said she was told she had put the company “in a bad light.”
She said she had not yet seen the video, but after being told about the statements attributed to her, she said they had been taken out of context. “None of those statements were standalone statements, and they were completely misconstrued,” she said.
Barrow, who said she began her career as a teacher, said she believes that Common Core is a good thing for children because it creates consistent academic expectations across the country. As for the statement about hating kids? “I said that as a joke,” she said. “Who hates kids?”
Linda Zecher, chief executive of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, moved quickly to distance the company from the video and the statements Barrow is shown making.
“Houghton Mifflin Harcourt is as appalled by these comments as we expect readers will be. These statements in no way reflect the views of HMH and the commitment of our over 4,000 employees who dedicate their lives to serving teachers and students every day,” Zecher said in a statement Tuesday. “The individual who made these comments is a former employee who was with HMH for less than a year.”
O’Keefe, whose previous undercover videos have targeted Planned Parenthood and the left-leaning advocacy organization ACORN, has been accused of editing footage in order to promote his point of view. The new video is framed as evidence that Common Core was designed to be good for corporations, not for students — a common charge among anti-Common Core activists.
Common Core supporters condemned the statements in the video, saying that they weren’t representative of the movement to adopt common academic standards across the country.
“While there are bad actors in every profession, it would be wrong and irresponsible to suggest that a few isolated incidents are representative of the tens of thousands of dedicated teachers and educators who support high academic standards and devote themselves daily to ensuring kids are prepared for success after high school,” said Blair Mann, spokeswoman for the Collaborative for Student Success, a pro-Common Core advocacy group, in a statement.
Blair added: “Still this incident, however isolated it may be, underscores the importance of states and local school districts exercising fully their local control over decisions involving books and curriculum. Common Core Standards are state-initiated, state-created, state-adopted and completely voluntary K-12 standards in math and English that are comparable across state lines. And while these education goals allow parents to compare student progress, they do not put any entity – including textbook publishers or the federal government – in charge of local decision making.”
The film shows undercover activists posing as political consultants and speaking to Barrow about textbook publishing and apparently about Common Core, the national academic standards that have been adopted by more than 40 states. The standards are a frequent target for many conservatives, who say they are evidence of federal overreach in education.
Barrow never says the words “Common Core” in the 7-minute video. But she alludes to the fact that common academic standards are good for publishers, whose bottom lines benefit when they don’t have to tailor their textbooks to 50 different sets of state standards: “The fact that they have to align the educational standards is what they have to do to sell the books,” Barrow says in the video.
“You know it’s just like any business. If you’re selling t-shirts, you want your t-shirts to fit everybody.”
Barrow appears to criticize the publishing giant Pearson in the video, saying she used to work for that company. “It owns the world. You know? They just do underhanded things,” she said.
Pearson spokeswoman Laura Howe issued a statement in response Tuesday: “The comments in this video in no way represent Pearson’s values or business practices. They are offensive to our 40,000 employees, many of whom are parents, former teachers, or students themselves, and are dedicated to working each and every day to help people make more of their lives through learning.”