THE BLOG
08/19/2014 09:32 am ET | Updated Oct 19, 2014

Campbell Brown's Education Reform Isn't Good for Children

When it comes to fear-mongering, vocal Republicans have no equal.

Even though the only legislation passed during the Obama administration regarding gun rights actually expanded those rights, that doesn't stop the NRA from claiming the president is trying to take guns away.

Even though the Affordable Care Act has never been responsible for euthanizing a single grandparent as part of the "death panel" provision, that doesn't stop Republicans, most prominently Sarah Palin, from believing it is does.

Even though renewable energy is adding jobs faster than coal is losing them and the jobs lost in the coal industry are due to competition from other energy sources many still believe Democratic energy policies are killing jobs.

If there is one thing Republicans hate more than anything else, it is a successful government program. So it comes as no surprise that Republicans are leading the charge in the manufactured "crisis in education." The latest vocal Republican to pick up the "broken education" pitchfork is former CNN and NBC news anchor Campbell Brown.

According to Brown, when determining which education improvements to support we should always ask, "Is this good for a child"?

With that in mind, what revolutionary ideas are Campbell Brown and her organization offering? More charter schools, eliminate unions and kill teacher tenure.

Perhaps Brown would be interested in knowing that charter schools, non-union schools and schools without tenure protections actually don't outperform their counterparts.

If the goal is to improve educational outcomes for children and these "solutions" don't do that, it starts to look like reformers have ulterior motives. That's where we are with Brown.

Imagine if a salesman walked into the corporate office at Ford Motor Company and told them he had a solution to fix their lagging sales -- a plan that would result in no additional sales.

Does anyone think a multimillion-dollar corporation would make wholesales changes for zero improvements? Absolutely not. So why would these people, who worship at the altar of the free market, make these decades-old failed ideas the crux of their education utopia? Follow the money and you will see it has nothing to do with what's good for the children.

Take tenure, for example. The complaint is that firing a bad teacher is costly and takes a long time. So how will ending tenure change this and improve education? It will give administrators the opportunity to remove underperforming teachers without the hassle of proper documentation and due process. But will that really save money and end protracted legal battles? Probably not.

Without such a system, teachers will be forced to sue school districts for wrongful termination. For one New York teacher, that meant an award of $3.5 million on top of court costs. Given that the estimates for firing a tenured teacher come in at about $220,000 and districts could afford to fire around 16 tenured teachers for every instance of wrongful termination.

Since when did Republicans support making changes that would lead to more lawsuits? When it comes to health care, Republicans are adamant that the threat of legal action causes doctors to practice defensive medicine which increases costs. By that same token, after one big loss administrators and school boards would become gun shy when it comes to removing teachers. No matter how legitimate the defense, many believe our court system to be rife with frivolous lawsuits that supposedly cost millions. If the reason for removing tenure protections is to limit the costs and time involved, our health care system suggests such a change would do neither and may actually make matters worse.

It should also be noted that less than a third of teachers in the U.S. have tenure protections while top performing countries such as Finland, Korea, and Singapore have much higher rates. Perhaps the answer to the fictitious crisis in education is more tenure not less.

In a recent interview with Stephen Colbert in which she was asked to reveal who is funding her organization, Brown said she would not expose these people to the public for fear of retribution. The irony of this statement is astounding.

Let's say a teacher has a personality conflict with an administrator, vocally supported a losing school board candidate, or fails a prominent citizen's child -- shouldn't that teacher have some sort of protection that prevents a retaliatory dismissal? A system that forces those in power to be accountable for their actions? Apparently, only those who agree with Brown deserve a shield from reprisal.

While tenure may not be a perfect system, when did we become a country that simply discards everything that has a minor flaw? Congress is clearly more broken than our education system, yet few rational people would consider scrapping our democratic republic.

Corporations have lied, cheated and stolen money, harming millions of people over the years, yet hardly anyone suggests we should abandon our free market principles.

The U.S. is one of the world leaders in gun deaths per year, yet only a small fraction of the people argue for a repeal of the Second Amendment. Suggesting that the only way to fix the perceived issues with tenure is a complete elimination represents a childish and uneducated position.

The reality is that reformers like Brown aren't serious about improving education. If they were, they would admit that even if every reform idea they supported were adopted, they would still fall woefully short of the improvements in educational outcomes of reducing poverty.

For all of the attention the racial achievement gap gets, the gap between poor and well off students is far more pronounced.

A study by Harvard University found that a small boost in income for a family living in poverty raised a child's score to that of a child whose family makes twice as much.

Data also shows, in the US and across the world, that the more impoverished students a school, has the lower its test scores. Other statics show that when adjusted for poverty the U.S. already has the best education system in the world.

All of the attention education reform has received recently is a good thing. Now what we need is for Brown and others like her to take her advice and ask "is this good for the child?"

Because the real answer to that question would lead them in a completely different direction.

Previously published in the Detroit News.