Coming Soon to NBC: Education Nation

By Mark Walsh — October 03, 2013 3 min read
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NBC News Education Nation takes place early next week in New York City. The Oct. 6-8 event is the network’s fourth annual series of star-studded panel discussions on education issues. It includes packages on NBC News shows and is preceded by student and teacher town hall meetings on Oct. 6.

“Education Nation has established itself as the nation’s largest conversation about the state of education in America, and this year we continue to elevate the dialogue by tackling the question of ‘what it takes’ from the bottom up,” NBC News Managing Editor Antoine Sanfuentes said in a press release.

Among the participants listed for the main summit events are former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush; John E. Deasy, the superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District; U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan; Goldie Hawn (does she really need any other introduction?); Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal; National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel; and American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten.

Oh, and in this mix of educators, business leaders, and Hollywood entertainers will be Tony Bennett. Not the former Indiana and Florida state education chief, but the singer, who is also identified by NBC as a co-founder and board member of Exploring the Arts.

I don’t mean to belittle the endeavor. NBC News, after all, is the only major network TV news operation to have a prominent education correspondent, Rehema Ellis. And the network has shown an ongoing commitment to the Education Nation effort, including a traveling tour that this year hit Detroit, New Orleans, Phoenix, and Aspen, Colo.

Still, the 2013 event has attracted some mildly critical commentary.

Education historian Diane Ravitch explained in a post on her blog in September why she had declined NBC’s invitation to sit in the audience for the summit meeting.

Looking over NBC’s participant list, Ravitch wrote: “Other than Randi Weingarten and David Kirp, you won’t find any of the prominent figures who oppose the corporate model of measure-punish-close schools-fire teachers-TFA, etc.”

“No Linda Darling-Hammond, no Deborah Meier, no Richard Rothstein, no John Kuhn, no Nancy Carlsson-Paige, no Carol Burris, no Leonie Haimson, none of the wonderful brave teachers, principals, superintendents, and parents who have bravely fought a failing set of federal and state policies,” Ravitch continued. “No innovative thinking here, just the Voices of the Status Quo.”

At the Education Opportunity Network blog, Jeff Bryant criticizes NBC’s inclusion of Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein. “Dear NBC Education Nation, Lloyd Blankfein Is Not an ‘Education Expert,’” says the headline on Bryant’s post.

And in Education Week Teacher’s Living in Dialogue blog, Anthony Cody gives his thoughts on the summit lineup.

“Education Nation has occasionally acknowledged the presence of different opinions, chiefly in the Teacher Town Hall,” Cody writes. “The panels of experts, however, are noteworthy for the absence of some of the leading voices questioning the central tenets of 21st century corporate education reform.”

The sponsors for this year’s Education Nation, as listed by NBC, are ExxonMobil, Pearson, University of Phoenix, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

In an email, an NBC News spokesperson responded with this statement:

“Education Nation provides an important platform to generate conversations about the current state of the education system in our country. Every year, we work hard to line up a rich, diverse, and eclectic set of panelists and featured speakers. We are grateful for the continuing participation and support of organizations and individuals across the spectrum who take part in this very important conversation. Education Nation is designed to welcome all sides on this pressing issue.”

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