DeVos Has a Friend in Campbell Brown, Founder of Education News Site, The 74

By Mark Walsh — November 29, 2016 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

President-elect Donald Trump’s selection of school choice advocate Betsy DeVos to be his secretary of education puts The 74, the website founded by former TV journalist and Campbell Brown, in an awkward position when it comes to the site’s identity. Is it an independent education news and opinion site, as Brown, herself a supporter of school choice and teacher tenure reform, has maintained, or is it an electronic pamphleteer for DeVos and her causes?

The disclaimer on one of the site’s first pieces after DeVos was named on Nov. 23 lays out the close connections between DeVos, Brown, and their organizations.

“The Dick & Betsy DeVos Family Foundation provides funding to The 74, and the site’s Editor-in-Chief, Campbell Brown, sits on the American Federation for Children’s board of directors, which was formerly chaired by Betsy DeVos. Brown played no part in the reporting or editing of this article. The American Federation for Children also sponsored The 74’s 2015 New Hampshire education summit,” says the statement at the bottom of the story by Kate Stringer with the headline: “Trump Picks His Education Secretary: The First 6 Things to Know About Betsy DeVos.”

The disclaimer also appears on stories and essays on The 74 that were published in the next few days: A news story by Mark Keirleiber about how DeVos essentially comes from Vice President-elect Mike Pence’s sphere; an analysis by Carolyn Phenicie suggesting that another candidate considered by Trump for the education secretary job, Michelle Rhee, would have faced confirmation problems with Senate Republicans; an analysis by Matt Barnum about how DeVos could scramble the ideology and politics of education reform; and others, including an essay by Brown herself that comes to the defense of DeVos.

The coverage does not appear as skeptical as some other news outlets have been about DeVos’ role in promoting charter schools in Michigan.

Kate Zernike of The New York Times wrote that if Michigan is one of the nation’s biggest laboratories for school choice, thanks to political and financial backing by DeVos and her husband, the state “is also among the worst places to argue that choice has made schools better. As the state embraced and then expanded charters over the past two decades, its rank has fallen on national reading and math tests. Most charter schools perform below the state average.”

The least glowing piece about DeVos in The 74 has been an essay by Michael J. Petrilli, identified as a research fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution, but who is also the president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute in Washington.

“She’s smart, committed to kids and a mainstream conservative Republican,” Petrilli wrote of DeVos. “Still, there’s a lot that’s not clear, so it’s going to be important for the press, and for the Senate [education] committee, to ask a lot of questions to understand where she and the president who chose her plan to take federal education policy.”

He then offered 20 questions for DeVos, including this one: “It was reported that you opposed efforts to beef up quality-control measures for Michigan’s charter schools. Can you explain how you saw this and what your position was?”

And then there is Brown, the former CNN anchor who has been an activist for school choice and teacher tenure and union reform as well as the founder last year of The 74. She wrote in an essay when the site launched last year (and repeated at the time to Education Week) that advocacy and straight-news journalism were not incompatible.

While The 74’s disclaimer may have suggested to some that Brown would recuse herself from all coverage of her friend and donor, Brown took up a defense of DeVos.

“it’s a pity that Betsy DeVos has been so misleadingly caricatured since Donald Trump asked her to serve as secretary of education last week,” Brown wrote in an essay titled simply: “Campbell Brown: On Betsy DeVos.” “Not just because she’s a friend. Also because her attackers needlessly reopen late-NCLB fault lines and deepen the clamor that follows Trump everywhere.”

DeVos “is tenacious in defending the best interests of children rather than interest groups and their political patrons,” Brown wrote. “She is a born decision-maker, thick-skinned, never long discouraged by setbacks and impervious to hostile criticism. Like many friends, she and I agree a lot and disagree a lot; I never doubt her intelligence, good faith, and inclination to think on all sides of a problem.”

Dan Bank, a spokesman for The 74, said Brown was not available for an interview on Tuesday.

“Campbell has recused herself from editorial coverage related to Betsy and her nomination, but presumably she will write opinion pieces whenever she wants as she always has,” Bank said.

Writing in her eponymous blog shortly after the DeVos announcement, progressive advocate Diane Ravitch took note of the friendship and connections between DeVos and Brown:

“DeVos doesn’t like public schools. Neither does Campbell Brown. They both like charters and vouchers. What a small world!”

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


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
Teaching Profession Live Online Discussion What Have We Learned From Teachers During the Pandemic?
University of California, Santa Cruz, researcher Lora Bartlett and her colleagues spent months studying how the pandemic affected classroom teachers. We will discuss the takeaways from her research not only for teachers, but also for
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Student Well-Being Webinar
Trauma-Informed Practices & the Construction of the Deep Reading Brain
Join Ryan Lee-James, Ph.D. CCC-SLP, director of the Rollins Center for Language and Literacy, with Renée Boynton-Jarrett, MD, ScD., Vital Village Community Engagement Network; Neena McConnico, Ph.D, LMHC, Child Witness to Violence Project; and Sondra
Content provided by Rollins Center & Campaign for Grade-Level Reading

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Hundreds of Conn. Bus Drivers Threaten to Walk Off the Job Over Vaccine Mandate
More than 200 school bus drivers could walk off the job in response to a vaccination mandate that goes into effect Monday.
1 min read
Rows of school buses are parked at their terminal, in Zelienople, Pa. Reopening schools during the coronavirus pandemic means putting children on school buses, and districts are working on plans to limit the risk.
Rows of school buses are parked at their terminal, in Zelienople, Pa. Reopening schools during the coronavirus pandemic means putting children on school buses, and districts are working on plans to limit the risk. <br/>
Keith Srakocic/AP Photo
Education Briefly Stated: September 22, 2021
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
9 min read
Education Schools Get the Brunt of Latest COVID Wave in South Carolina
In the past few weeks, South Carolina has set records for COVID-19 hospitalizations and new cases have approached peak levels of last winter.
4 min read
Two Camden Elementary School students in masks listen as South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster talks about steps the school is taking to fight COVID-19, Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021, in Camden, S.C. McMaster has adamantly and repeatedly come out against requiring masks in schools even as the average number of daily COVID-19 cases in the state has risen since early June. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)
Education More States Are Requiring Schools to Teach Native American History and Culture
Advocates say their efforts have gained some momentum with the nation’s reckoning over racial injustice since the killing of George Floyd.
3 min read
A dancer participates in an intertribal dance at Schemitzun on the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation in Mashantucket, Conn., Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021. Connecticut and a handful of other states have recently decided to mandate students be taught about Native American culture and history. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)