Campbell Brown is winning the education PR war


Much of the education reform movement has become a battle for public opinion. And news personality Campbell Brown is posing challenges for teachers union leaders in ways that her predecessor, Michelle Rhee, never could.

Brown has been making the rounds on news and talk shows pitching the idea of overturning teacher tenure laws. Her strategy is to attack the unions on two fronts: legally in the halls of justice, and by taking her cause to the media. The strategy seems to be working.

Her husband’s law firm just filed one of two suits in New York arguing that the tenure law hurts the educational prospects of children because it protects the jobs prospects of adults — namely incompetent teachers.

Chris Matthews, host of "Hardball" on MSNBC, tossed Brown nothing but softballs in a recent interview.

And Brown’s PR team must have been thrilled with her recent appearance with comic Stephen Colbert. Where Rhee always seemed a bit edgy and contentious, Brown has likability working in her favor. She’s smart, charming, and a bit maternal. She can deliver hard news, and moments later sell Girl Scout cookies. When Colbert sent a few union-busting zingers her way, she giggled politely and went right back to her talking points.

Why the anti-union camp seems to be winning the PR war even among Democrats is sometimes baffling. For instance, Alyssa Hadley Dunn, an assistant professor at Michigan State, did some fact-checking for the Washington Post regarding Brown’s claims on Colbert and found that most were nuanced, while others were simply not true.

And considering Brown’s newsroom experience, her lack of transparency is more troubling. Her unwillingness to reveal who is donating to her organization, Partnership for Educational Justice, makes you wonder what she's hiding. 

A recent blog by education historian Diane Ravitch suggests that there’s a lot more to Brown’s back story than the fact that her husband, Dan Senor, is on the board of Rhee’s EducationFirstNY organization. Senor's connection to Wall Street hedge fund manager Paul Singer and how Singer has used his money to influence the GOP is a good read.

As a city school board member said to me recently, it seems that lately, a lot of people who have never set foot in a classroom, have never taught, or have no scientific understanding about how children learn sure have a lot of solutions to sell.