Campbell Brown Takes Tenure Fight to ‘Colbert Report’

By Mark Walsh — August 01, 2014 2 min read
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Former TV journalist Campbell Brown, who has become an education activist and the face of the fight against teacher tenure, took her campaign to one of the few shows to offer, um, serious discussion of education topics.

That would be “The Colbert Report” on Comedy Central, where host Stephen Colbert, in his persona as an ersatz conservative blowhard, has skewered the Common Core State Standards and interviewed U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

Brown, a former anchorwoman for CNN and NBC News, appeared with Colbert on Thursday night to discuss the Partnership for Educational Justice. That’s the non-profit group that was behind the lawsuit filed this week challenging New York state’s laws on teacher tenure, layoffs, and dismissals. It is modeled on the successful (so far) Vergara v. California suit, in which a trial judge struck down the Golden State’s laws in that area because they disproportionately affected poor and minority schoolchildren.

The Colbert Report

Colbert, as always, keeps humor at the ready even as he allows a more-or-less earnest discussion of the issue.

“Now I’m no fan of unions, but why do you have your guns out for these people?” Colbert said. “Is it the same reason I am, so they can quit their lavish lifestyle of their 1983 Honda Civics driving around town?”

Brown said the plaintiffs in the New York suit are trying to “change a public education system in this country that people across the political spectrum believe is in crisis and needs to change.”

“If you look at student outcomes in New York, 91 percent of teachers around the state of New York are rated effective or highly effective, and yet 31 percent of our kids are reading, writing, and doing math at grade level,” Brown added. “How does that compute?”

Without skipping a beat, Colbert replied: “I went to public school in South Carolina, and 31 percent sounds like a majority to me.”

“Why are we blaming the teachers, though?” he added. “Maybe we cut the kids loose and put them back in the bobbin factories. Have you thought about that?”

Brown said: “This is not about blaming teachers. I am blaming the teachers’ unions, because they are fighting attempts to change laws that are anachronistic, that everybody thinks need to change.”

The Washington Post profiled the 46-year-old Brown and her anti-tenure campaign in July. She left her CNN evening anchor position in 2010 amid declining ratings, to spend more time with her young children. She got involved with education and teacher issues in last year’s New York City mayoral campaign and later formed the Partnership for Educational Justice.

The Post said the partnership “is funded by ... well, that’s not clear.” On Colbert’s show, Brown said she wants to maintain the privacy of the group’s donors. That something the comic host said he respects, given that he had formed his own semi-serious super PAC in 2012.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Education and the Media blog.