Media Advisory: NBC’s “Education Nation” Confuses More Federal Meddling for Real Reform

Published September 27, 2010

NBC News this week is giving unprecedented televised attention to the crisis in the U.S. public education system. Unfortunately, the solutions the network is touting would mean more bureaucracy, more federal control, less accountability, and ultimately less parental choice.

Today Show host Matt Lauer spent half an hour Monday interviewing President Barack Obama about education, which both men agreed may be the most important policy issue facing the nation today regarding global economic competitiveness. Yet the president’s solutions, including $100 billion in federal stimulus aid to states and another $10 billion teacher union bailout, put more power and authority, not less as he tried to claim, in the hands of federal bureaucrats.

The MSNBC network on Sunday spent much of the day on education topics, with highlights including a two-hour “Teacher Summit” hosted by NBC News anchorman Brian Williams and an hour-long special devoted to Davis Guggenheim’s new documentary, Waiting for ‘Superman.’ Although the teacher unions’ role in preserving the status quo has come in for some scrutiny, the unions and their bosses emerged largely unscathed.

NBC can be commended for giving a week’s worth attention to the policies and politics of public education. The Heartland Institute’s policy studies and other scholarship have been at the forefront of school reform issues throughout the United States for more than 25 years. In your coverage you may quote from the experts’ comments below, or you may contact them directly for more information.

Visit The Heartland Institute’s School Reform News Web site for news, research, and commentary on education reform efforts:

“The kickoff of NBC’s week-long ‘Education Nation’ extravaganza indicated that this liberal-oriented network will devote little if any attention to the proven power of private school choice to bring about public school reform. Virtually all of the focus is on the potential of within-the-system change. The Today Show’s Matt Lauer, who was more cheerleader than hard-nosed interviewer, muffed an opportunity to press President Obama on why he snuffed out an effective voucher program in Washington, DC that was helping low-income families have the private school choice that his own family enjoys.

“However, on a hopeful note, public charter school teachers and directors are strongly speaking out against monopolistic, union-enforced rules, such as tenure, that keep incompetent teachers on the payroll. As the Waiting for ‘Superman’ documentary opens in theaters across the country this fall, more Americans should come to realize that both public charters and private scholarships are essential to breaking the K-12 monopoly and giving all families the choice of well-run, accountable schools.”

Robert Holland
Senior Fellow for Education Policy
The Heartland Institute
[email protected]

“NBC blocked off 30 minutes to discuss education with President Obama on Monday morning. The takeaway, for anyone who watched, was that Obama can talk in high-flown clichés and generalizations about inspiring reforms ‘clearing the bureaucratic underbrush’ and parents encouraging their kids to turn off the TV and read a bit more. But only at the end of the interview, when Lauer asked about the upcoming midterm elections, did Obama get into details.

“It’s telling how the president can talk all day about what’s wrong with this or that Republican policy proposal, but he seems uninterested in the real-world impacts of his own education policies.

“When the Obama administration decided to cancel the $13 million DC Opportunity Scholarship Program, that had real consequences for hundreds of low-income, mostly black families in the nation’s capital. When the Obama administration pushed for more than $100 billion in education ‘stimulus’ to the states, it made states more dependent on federal aid in the increasingly difficult task of balancing their budgets. When the administration this year fought for $10 billion to save teachers from layoffs, the real effect was to keep dues flowing into the coffers of the teachers unions.

“President Obama says he isn’t interested in preserving the status quo. His policies say otherwise.”

Ben Boychuk
Managing Editor, School Reform News
The Heartland Institute
[email protected]

“While President Obama says it’s ‘heartbreaking’ and ‘disgraceful’ that parents with children in bad schools didn’t have other good options, he said nothing about his own decision to diminish the choices of families living within miles of the White House by canceling the urgently needed DC Opportunity Scholarship Program. The president insists parents be held accountable for helping in the education of their children, but he continues to deny them any effective role in choosing the school—public or private—that would be best for them.

“If reading is a problem for children in schools today, it also seems to be a problem for the president and his education advisors. He told Matt Lauer on the Today Show: ‘Once we find out something that works, we want to import that into every school, not just charter schools.’ He and his advisors could do worse than to read School Reform News every month. For the past decade we have been writing about the same features of successful schools the president mentioned to Lauer: Building a culture of excellence, hiring high-quality teachers, and inspiring students to work harder.

“The problem is not that we don’t know what to do—we’ve known for years what to do. It’s that the people in charge don’t want to do it. That’s why we need to put parents in charge, not just ‘hold them accountable.'”

What Makes a School Good?
Is it just more money?
By School Reform News Staff, February 2000

What Makes a Good School?
Everybody wants them, but what’s the recipe for making them?
By George Clowes, School Reform News, February 2001

MATCH School Shows Poverty Isn’t Destiny
By George Clowes, School Reform News, October 2003

George Clowes
Senior Fellow for Education Policy
The Heartland Institute
[email protected]