Education Funding

Issues ››› Education Funding
  • WSJ Pushes Flawed Talking Point That Teachers Unions Hurt Students Of Color

    ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    The Wall Street Journal editorial board’s response to a California court decision that declined to review a challenge to state teacher tenure laws framed support for educators’ labor rights as a move to “deny upward mobility to poor black and Hispanic children.” The editorial ignores ample evidence that strong unions benefit low-income students of color and their neighborhood schools by boosting teacher quality and contributing to more equitable school funding, and that teachers unions routinely support efforts to combat racial and class inequality beyond the classroom. 

  • TV News Misses Golden Opportunity To Recognize Title IX During Rio Olympics

    Blog ››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON

    As thousands of athletes from around the world descended on Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, this summer to compete in the 2016 Summer Olympics, broadcast and cable news programming missed a golden opportunity to discuss the incredible legacy of the legislative reform largely responsible for the growth and success of women’s sports in the United States and around the world -- Title IX.

    One of the biggest stories coming out of the 2016 Summer Olympics was the sheer dominance of American athletes in general, and American women in particular. American swimmer Katie Ledecky and gymnast Simone Biles finished the games with four gold medals each (and five medals overall) and, at just 19 years old, they both are widely considered the most dominant athletes in their respective sports. Meanwhile, as the United States men’s basketball team struggled before coalescing in the gold medal match, the American women’s team blasted every opponent en route to a sixth consecutive Olympic championship.

    According to The New York Times, the United States brought home 121 medals from Rio, far outpacing China (70) and Great Britain (67) for first place, and became the first nation in 40 years to lead all nations in each medal category: gold, silver, and bronze. As was the case in 2012, more than half of that total medal haul (61) was won by American women, whose unparalleled athletic success would have been unlikely without the unique progressive legacy of the Title IX provision in federal education policy, which prevents sex discrimination in federally funded programs like school sports. From the Times:

    The United States is one of the few countries to embed sports within the public education system. And equal access to sports for women comes with legal protections, gained with the education amendment known as Title IX in 1972 and the Olympic and Amateur Sports Act in 1978.

    About one of every two American girls participates in sports in high school. Of the 213 American medalists in individual and team sports in Rio, according to the [United States Olympic Committee], nearly 85 percent participated in university-funded sports.

    “Those things don’t exist elsewhere in the world,” said Donna Lopiano, a former executive director of the Women’s Sports Foundation. “We have the largest base of athletic development. Our women are going to dominate, not only because of their legal rights but because women in other parts of the world are discriminated against.”

    Broadcast And Cable News Ignored Importance Of Title IX Despite Flood Of Olympic Coverage

    A Media Matters review of broadcast evening news coverage on ABC, CBS, NBC, and PBS, as well as cable evening and prime-time coverage on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC between the days of the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2016 Summer Olympics revealed only two substantive mentions of Title IX as it relates to current or former American or international Olympians. A similar lack of interest was on display on the major Sunday political talk shows on ABC, CBS, CNN, Fox Broadcasting, and NBC.**

    A review of available Nexis transcripts from August 5 through August 21 returned 259 results mentioning the Olympics in Rio, including just two references to Title IX’s role in encouraging and supporting female athletes and women’s sports: NBC Nightly News and PBS NewsHour each mentioned the legislation during Olympic segments on August 18 and August 19, respectively. By contrast, there were dozens of mentions of American swimmer Ryan Lochte’s infamous and unsubstantiated story of being robbed at gunpoint outside a Rio gas station.

    Major print outlets including like The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and USA Today gave Title IX special attention in 2016, but their television counterparts once again dropped the ball. Title IX was also conspicuously absent from print and television coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympics, according to a February 2014 Media Matters analysis.

    Title IX’s Global Legacy At The Olympic Games

    As noted above, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which was authored by Sen. Birch Bayh (D-IN) and Rep. Patsy Mink (D-HI) and signed into law by President Richard Nixon, has left an indelible mark on women's sports over the past 44 years. But American women aren't the only beneficiaries of the legislation; Title IX’s prohibition against gender discrimination at most educational institutions is a major contributing factor in making American universities a magnet for athletes from around the world.

    Stanford University, the most successful athletic institution in the world this year in terms of Olympic medals, produced a number of American women medalists -- including burgeoning swimming stars Ledecky, Maya DiRado, and Simone Manuel. It also produced Greek pole vault gold medalist Katerina Stefanidi. If not for Ledecky, the most successful women’s swimmer of the summer would have been Hungary’s Katinka Hosszu, an alumna of the University of Southern California. (Controversial Russian swimmer and two-time silver medalist Yulia Efimova, though not an alumna of the school, is coached by Southern Cal head coach Dave Salo.) Bahamian sprinter Shaunae Miller, an alumna of the University of Georgia, edged out former Southern Cal sprinter Allyson Felix to win gold in the women’s 400-meter. Canadian swimmer Chantal van Landeghem, another Georgia alum, took home a bronze medal in the women’s 4x100-meter freestyle relay alongside teammate and Ohio State University graduate Michelle Williams. Canadian track and field star Brianne Theisen-Eaton, who won a bronze medal in the heptathlon, attended the University of Oregon.

    This is just a snapshot of the Title IX impact that was on display at the 2016 Summer Olympics, but broadcast and cable news almost completely ignored the success story, despite offering a torrent of Olympic-centered stories and features.

    Methodology

    Media Matters conducted a Nexis search of transcripts of evening and prime-time (defined as 5 p.m. through 11 p.m.) weekday programs on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC, and network broadcast news (ABC, CBS, NBC, and PBS) from August 5, 2016, through August 21, 2016. Media Matters also reviewed Sunday political talk shows on ABC, CBS, CNN, Fox Broadcasting, and NBC during the same time period. We identified and reviewed all segments that included any of the following keywords: olympics or rio or title nine or title 9 or title ix.

    The following programs were included in the data: World News Tonight, This Week with George Stephanopoulos, CBS Evening News, Face the Nation, NBC Nightly News, Meet the Press**, PBS NewsHour, The Situation Room, Erin Burnett OutFront, Anderson Cooper 360, CNN Tonight, The Five, Special Report, On the Record with Greta Van Susteren, The O'Reilly Factor, The Kelly File, Hannity, MTP Daily, With All Due Respect, Hardball with Chris Matthews, All In with Chris Hayes, The Rachel Maddow Show, and The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell. For shows that air reruns, only the first airing was included in data retrieval.

    **NBCUniversal pre-empted Meet the Press on August 14 and August 21 to air exclusive coverage of the Olympics on NBC.

  • Mike Pence Set To Strengthen Ties To ALEC And Corporate-Driven Education Reform

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    Republican vice presidential nominee and Indiana Gov. Mike Pence is reportedly scheduled to speak Friday at the annual meeting for the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which takes place in Indianapolis, IN, this year. The meeting, which typically determines the legislative priorities of the corporate-funded bill mill for the coming year, runs from July 27 through July 29. Pence was originally scheduled to speak at a July 27 ALEC event co-sponsored by the conservative-leaning Center for Education Reform but later pulled out, citing conflicts with the Trump-Pence campaign schedule. The Indianapolis Star reported that Pence rescheduled his ALEC appearance, however, and will speak at the annual meeting on July 29.

    ALEC is a corporate-fundedmembership organization that connects right-wing state legislators across the country with model legislation that represents “the principles of limited government, free markets and federalism” and corresponds with corporate interests on a given policy issue. ALEC’s corporate-minded -- and conservative -- model policies tackle issues from K-12 education to “academic freedom” in higher education, as well as tax reform, social programs, environmental and infrastructure policies, and health care. Its corporate-sponsored model legislation on education issues is heavily focused on scholarship tax credits, vouchers, and other “school choice” programs that would lessen support for traditional public school systems. In line with the right-wing agenda, ALEC is also behind so-called “right to work” legislation that severely weakens unions -- including teachers unions -- and has so far been adopted in 26 states, although the law was struck down as unconstitutional by a Wisconsin state court in April.

    ALEC is funded by several philanthropic organizations founded or supported by the oil billionaires David and Charles Koch -- including the Charles Koch Foundation, “dark money ATM" DonorsTrust, and Donors Capital Fund -- as well as several other staunchly right-wing private foundations. It boasts having “nearly 300 corporate and private foundation members,” who pay for memberships in order to influence the proposed model policies, and lists partnerships with several right-wing education privatization groups.

    Image by Sarah Wasko.

    Pence’s education policies as Indiana governor have closely mirrored ALEC priorities. In fact, Pence wrote the introduction to ALEC’s annual “Report Card on American Education” in 2014, which graded Indiana highest in the nation for education policy that year. In his introduction, Pence touted Indiana’s school voucher system, which boosts federal funding for students to attend private schools, a long-standing ALEC priority. A recent study, however, pegged Indiana’s voucher program -- now one of the largest in the country -- as an example where “negative effects of vouchers” were apparent in student performance.

    Pence also pointed to increased attendance at charter schools, which are publicly funded but independently operated, sometimes by private management companies with little oversight. ALEC supports policies, reflected in Pence’s education agenda, that boost charter funding and enrollment caps but can financially threaten traditional public schools. The group is reportedly focusing on legislative efforts to make charter school closures more difficult in the coming year.

    Pence has spoken at ALEC and other right-wing corporate reform events in the past, including delivering a keynote address at ALEC’s 2013 policy summit. In 2015, Pence spoke at an Indiana education rally held by the state political action committee Hoosiers for Quality Education. The rally was sponsored by controversial online charter company K12 Inc. (also a “proud” ALEC member) and several national education privatization groups -- some affiliated with the Kochs. These connections to right-wing education reform efforts represent only a facet of Pence’s reportedly close relationship with the Kochs and of his commitment to corporate-backed policies.

    ALEC’s annual meeting has sparked protests from Indiana teachers and lawmakers. State Rep. Robin Shackleford, a Democrat, explained, “For too many years, this organization has destroyed the character of public education in the name of choice at the detriment of our community.”

  • Conservative Media Attack Clinton Child Care Plan As Wasteful Spending, Ignoring Economic Boost For Working Families

    ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    Conservative media have mischaracterized Hillary Clinton’s policy plan to expand funding and support for child care and early education programs, suggesting the presidential nominee is offering voters “goodies,” fearmongering about government overreach in preschool programs, and ignoring the economic boost that quality early learning programs can offer. Here are the facts about the short- and long-term economic benefits of supporting greater access to quality early education programs, particularly for single mothers and low-income families. 

  • Latest Editorial Proves The Wall Street Journal Will Defend Almost Any For-Profit Education Company 
     

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    The Wall Street Journal continued its streak of defending for-profit schools with track records of questionable practices and “abysmal results,” this time shifting its focus away from fraudulent for-profit colleges to attempt to sugarcoat the failing online charter company K12 Inc.

    The virtual charter school company K12 Inc. recently reached a $168.5 million settlement with the state of California following an investigation into the company’s marketing and management practices. At the same time, the state’s Education Department has announced an audit of a California virtual charter network managed by K12. The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board was, once again, ready to dismiss facts and defend the for-profit education company against what the board views as a politically motivated attack, baselessly claiming that recently substantiated allegations against K12 are “trumped up.”

    The California state investigation into K12, launched by state Attorney General Kamala Harris, alleged that the company had engaged in a number of misleading advertising practices about the quality of its online schools, pushed unfair contracts on public charter partners, and inflated student attendance numbers in order to receive more state funding. It was spurred, at least in part, by a whistleblower report and complaints from educators formerly employed by a California charter network managed by K12. Educators at the K12-managed network moved to unionize in 2014, citing excessive workloads and inability to “effectively advocate for students without the threat of retaliation or job loss.”

    An investigative series at the San Jose Mercury News earlier this year concluded that K12’s network of schools “is failing key tests used to measure educational success,” that K12-affiliated “teachers have been asked to inflate attendance and enrollment records used to determine taxpayer funding,” and that the company “exploits charter [and] charity laws for money.” An online education expert explained to The Mercury News that K12 “has shown an inordinate level of failure, yet it’s continually given lifelines by policymakers who have irresponsibly ignored what’s going on.”

    Yet the Journal contended that another audit of K12’s management practices “looks trumped up” in a July 17 editorial. Complaining about K12’s settlement with the state of California, the editorial board characterized the investigation of K12 as part of a larger “coordinated assault” on for-profit colleges and education companies and claimed that “Democrats are ambushing” the virtual charter school company. According to the editorial board, the further audit of K12 means “Thuggish government marches on.”

    The disastrous results of K12’s schooling model have also been well-documented in media investigations and in research from left-leaning and right-leaning organizations. A New York Times investigation raised red flags about K12’s practices as early as 2011, concluding about the company:

    A look at the company’s operations, based on interviews and a review of school finances and performance records, raises serious questions about whether K12 schools — and full-time online schools in general — benefit children or taxpayers, particularly as state education budgets are being slashed.

    Instead, a portrait emerges of a company that tries to squeeze profits from public school dollars by raising enrollment, increasing teacher workload and lowering standards.

    A 2011 Washington Post report singled out K12’s early lobbying efforts and political contributions, pointing to limited data on the effectiveness of virtual charter schools even as the company successfully opened up state markets for its products through political involvement. In 2012, PolitiFact concluded that a Tennessee politician’s assertion that K12’s results were “the bottom of the bottom” was true.

    The most recent reports from Mathematica Policy Research, Stanford University’s Center for Research in Education Outcomes, and the Center on Reinventing Public Education concluded that “students of online charter schools had significantly weaker academic performance in math and reading, compared with their counterparts in conventional schools.” BuzzFeed News’ coverage of the reports concluded that “Both Sides Of The Education Debate Are United In Scorn” for online charters like K12 due to “abysmal results” for students.

    But K12 has the corporate and conservative credentials to warrant a healthy defense from The Wall Street Journal.

    K12 Inc., until recently, called itself a “proud” member of the corporate-driven bill mill American Legislative Education Council (ALEC), which has pushed virtual schools legislation that would create greater demand for products like those produced by K12. K12 has also contributed financially to the Foundation for Excellence in Education, a pro-privatization think tank founded by Jeb Bush that also frequently touts digital learning tools in its policy recommendations. The majority of K12’s executives hail from the corporate world or from other for-profit education companies, and the head of K12’s “curriculum and products organization” previously spearheaded product development at Pearson Publishing.

    The Journal has a long history of defending the sometimes indefensible when it comes to for-profit educational companies, often relying on violent analogies to make its point.

    The paper stood by shuttered for-profit college chain Corinthian Colleges, even as the company faced multiple state and federal investigations related to its allegedly fraudulent marketing practices and its efforts to facilitate predatory private lending. In fact, the Journal’s editorial board characterized the numerous investigations, launched because of consumer complaints, as “political revenge” by “California job killer” Kamala Harris and a “drive-by shooting” and “contract hit” by the Obama administration. In April 2015, as the company closed its last remaining campuses, The Wall Street Journal wrote a “last rites” editorial lamenting that “the feds and Kamala Harris put 16,000 students on the street.” The now-defunct company has been held legally responsible for its practices, with several investigations and legal actions concluding that Corinthian had, indeed, misled its students about job placement rates and private loan terms, and that former students were owed debt relief.

    The Journal has also repeatedly characterized efforts to address these types of fraudulent practices at other for-profit institutions as “regulatory assault,” a “ploy to win over millennials,” a “contract hit” (again), and a political “stealth attack” akin to “drone strikes,” dismissing evidence that these types of schools have taken advantage of veterans and servicemembers, as well as other innocent students, on the taxpayers’ dime.

  • What Attacks On Bilingual Education Get Wrong

    ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    Conservative radio host Laura Ingraham has spent months repeatedly issuing xenophobic rants against the perceived dangers of bilingual education in U.S. schools, asserting that teaching students in more than one language -- in particular immigrant students whose home language is Spanish -- somehow contributes to a decline in school quality at a high cost. But Ingraham’s claims about dual-language learning ignore the wide body of research showing that fostering bilingualism and multilingualism in schools and teaching students in their home language as well as English can have lasting positive impacts for individuals and for the economy.

  • Review-Journal Drums Up College Debt Myths To Blame Borrowers For Student Debt Crisis

    ››› ››› JARED HOLT

    An editorial published by the Las Vegas Review-Journal insisted that student debt is “manageable for most students” and recycled previously debunked conservative talking points to fault student loan forgiveness programs and federal aid for America’s college debt crisis. The paper also echoed right-wing myths to argue that tuition “costs inevitably go up” in response to low-interest federal loans and dismiss progressive concerns about for-profit schools.

  • Fact-Checkers And Education Writers Were Never Fooled By Trump’s Education Lies

    ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    Likely Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has made hardly any statements about his policy positions on education issues. But the claims he has made, mostly about the Common Core state standards and the federal role in education policy, have been routinely debunked by fact-checkers, education reporters, and prominent education scholars.

     

  • Meet The Utah Columnist Shining A Light On Fossil Fuel Front Groups

    Blog ››› ››› DENISE ROBBINS

    In recent decades, fossil fuel interests have been funding front groups to advance their ideological and political goals, and key to these groups’ success is concealing their industry backing. But Utah columnist Paul Rolly has been working to shine a light on the industry backing behind the most influential front groups in his state. In an interview with Media Matters, Rolly discussed the importance of following the money.

    Rolly has been a columnist at The Salt Lake Tribune for the last 20 years, and he has stood out because of his work exposing fossil fuel front groups operating in Utah. He has uncovered the oil industry fingerprints behind campaigns to seize public lands from the federal government, attack renewable energy, and promote an industry-friendly agenda in higher education.

    Why is it so important to Rolly to educate his readers about Big Oil’s involvement in these fights? “It’s our job,” he said, explaining that it’s vital that readers know “what the sources of bills are, where they’re coming from, who they benefit, who’s behind them, who’s making money, and who’s making campaign contributions.” He hopes this information will give his readers the ability to “make informed decisions when they vote.”

    Utah is ground zero for many of the fossil fuel industry’s campaigns, making Rolly’s work invaluable. One of the most prominent fossil fuel-backed campaigns in recent years has been the effort to transfer control of federal lands to state governments, which would greatly benefit fossil fuel interests, as states would likely open up more areas to oil and gas drilling and coal mining.

    State Rep. Ken Ivory (R-UT) has played a leading role in the public land grab movement in the west, and Rolly has been paying close attention. In 2012, Ivory co-founded a group called the American Lands Council (ALC), which aims to “secure local control of western public lands by transferring federal public lands to willing States.” Utah, Rolly explained, is the only state that has passed legislation setting aside taxpayer funds to sue the federal government over control of public lands, like those managed by the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service. The lawsuit was recommended by a legal team hired by a Republican-dominated commission of Utah legislators, even though the lawyers acknowledged that the lawsuit “could cost up to $14 million, take years to play out in the courts,” and is “far from a sure victory,” according to the Associated Press.

    Rolly has repeatedly pointed out that Ivory has taken a six-figure annual salary from the ALC, which is largely funded by counties in Western states. The ALC’s tax forms reportedly indicate that Ivory and his wife have pocketed almost half of the group’s total revenue. Rolly believes that the negative attention Ivory received over his salary at ALC may explain why he stepped down as the organization’s president in December. (He remains an unpaid member of its executive committee).

    Rolly has devoted several columns to exposing the fossil funding behind ALC and other groups that are engaged in the public lands campaign. He's pointed out that Federalism in Action, where Ivory currently heads the “Free the Lands” project, is affiliated with the oil billionaires Charles and David Koch. And he's documented that the firm hired by the Utah legislature to promote the land transfer agenda, Strata Policy, also has financial ties to the Koch brothers. As the Los Angeles Times has noted, ALC has also received financial support from Americans for Prosperity, which was co-founded by the Kochs and continues to spearhead their agenda.

    The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a corporate front group that connects fossil fuel executives with legislators to push model bills that serve industry interests, is also highly influential in Utah and has a heavy hand in the public land grab movement. And, as Rolly told Media Matters, “the Koch brothers are a big deep-pocket force behind ALEC.” Ivory is an ALEC member and was even awarded the group’s “Legislator Of The Year” award in 2014.

    In addition to the public lands battle, Rolly has turned his attention to the Kochs’ influence in local universities. He said national stories about the Kochs' investments in higher education led him to examine their efforts at Utah State University, where Strata co-founder Randy Simmons was previously the Charles G. Koch professor of political economy and currently supervises a Koch-funded scholarship program. As Rolly reported: “The Kochs have extended influence to institutions of higher education, setting up grants at universities to hire professors that teach the Kochs' anti-tax, anti-regulation business and political philosophies to mold young minds to fall in step with the Kochs' industrial wishes going forward through the 21st Century.”

    Too often, media fail to disclose these important ties, Rolly noted. ALEC, for one, “probably doesn’t get the attention it should” in the national media, nor do its “ties to the Koch brothers, and their deep-pocket influence, and what happens to state legislatures.” Many valuable resources that provide context are “underused,” in Rolly’s opinion, including legislators’ conflict-of-interest and financial disclosure forms, which he examines to see if there’s any connection between “who’s giving them money” and “what they’re doing as a legislator.” He said he also examines the tax filings of nonprofits such as ALC.

    But he also noted the difficulties that newsrooms face as the journalism industry struggles financially, resulting in increased pressure and reduced resources. Newspapers have been shutting down all over the country, and the ones that remain have had to greatly cut down on staff (including the Salt Lake Tribune). When that happens, Rolly noted, “the first thing to suffer is investigative reporting” because it requires so much time and staff resources. He added: “The industry is in peril right now.”

    There are also structural difficulties that further complicate the task of investigative journalism, Rolly noted, such as Citizens United v. FEC, the 2010 Supreme Court ruling that protects a corporation's right to make unlimited expenditures in support of political candidates as a form of speech. Because of that ruling, Rolly said, super PACs can “basically take over [political] campaigns” and “you have no idea who’s contributing the money.”

    It’s worth keeping in mind that even as newspapers are facing increased financial pressures, reporting like Rolly’s can be good for business. His columns are among the newspaper’s most viewed pieces online, he says. And he recently received the “Making Democracy Work” award from the League of Women Voters for his work at the Tribune.

    The need for the media to disclose the industry backing that’s behind fossil fuel front groups is clear. Dark money groups like DonorsTrust and Donors Capital Fund exist solely to hide these funds. And research shows that organizations funded by Exxon and the Koch brothers are “more likely to have written and disseminated texts meant to polarize the climate change issue." Yet Media Matters has shown time and time again that fossil fuel front groups are getting away with promoting anti-environmental agendas while hiding the real voices behind their misleading messages.

    In the words of the Tribune, Rolly told the League of Women Voters that “democracy best works when the public is informed.” Reporters would do well to follow Rolly’s example by digging a little deeper to uncover the dark money behind special interest campaigns occurring all around the country.

  • Here Are The Corporations And Right-Wing Funders Backing The Education Reform Movement

    A Guide To The Funders Behind A Tangled Network Of Advocacy, Research, Media, And Profiteering That’s Taking Over Public Education

    ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    Media Matters outlines the many overlapping connections in an echo chamber of education privatization advocacy groups, think tanks, and media outlets that are increasingly funded by a handful of conservative billionaires and for-profit education companies -- often without proper disclosure. 

  • Here’s What To Avoid When Reporting On Student Debt

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    April 25 marked the fourth anniversary of outstanding student loan debt topping $1 trillion in the United States, yet media still aren’t always telling the full story on college affordability and student debt. If the public thinks the student debt crisis only affects white, upper middle class borrowers enrolled in impractical programs at four-year colleges and universities, the media aren't​ doing their​ jobs.​

    It’s time for media to recognize the realities of the nation’s student debt burden. Outlets should stop ignoring the voices of students and borrowers, and stop reinforcing unrealistic assumptions about how​ higher education can be paid for ​today. Here are some of the reporting tactics they ought to leave behind.

    Framing Student Debt In The Narrow Context Of Traditional, Four-Year Colleges And Universities

    Media often focus their reporting on six-figure student debt balances from prestigious and expensive four-year colleges and universities. But focusing on the experience of this narrow segment of student borrowers ignores those who are most deeply affected by student loan debt: students who take loans to pursue higher education but are unable to complete their programs, and students borrowing to attend non-traditional or for-profit programs with fewer federal grant and loan options.

    As the Center for American Progress’ (CAP) Ben Miller explained in June, “the link between debt and educational attainment is too frequently missing from national discussions on student loans.” Miller’s study found that a recent graduate with a higher debt burden was financially better off than a non-graduate who owed a smaller amount, because the graduate was more able to boost their income and pay off their balance​, resulting in fewer defaults for graduates​.

    A comprehensive report from the Brookings Institution in September highlighted the outsized student debt burden of another non-traditional group of borrowers: those who attended for-profit schools. The report concluded that “most of the increase in default [on federal student loans] is associated with the rise in the number of borrowers at for-profit schools and, to a lesser extent, 2-year institutions and certain other non-selective institutions, whose students historically composed only a small share of borrowers.” The report also demonstrated that “These non-traditional borrowers were drawn from lower income families, attended institutions with relatively weak educational outcomes, and experienced​ poor labor market outcomes after leaving school.”

    It’s clear that four-year college graduates are not the majority of borrowers in default or struggling to make payments, and it should be just as clear in media coverage of the issue.

    Ignoring How Student Loan Debt Perpetuates Economic Inequality For Women, Black, And Hispanic Borrowers

    Reporting on the nation's student debt crisis without acknowledging how the debt burden disproportionately affects women and people of color is irresponsible, and it leaves out important details about how student loan debt ripples across the economy.

    Here are the facts: women are more likely to have outstanding student loan debt, and dedicate a higher percentage of their earnings ​toward paying off that debt. The gender pay gap also makes getting out of debt all the more difficult for women, in particular for black and Hispanic women. In February, the American Association of University Women (AAUW) found that “more women than men… are contributing more money to their student debt payments than a typical individual can reasonably afford,” and ​are ​still making a less significant dent in their outstanding loan balances. “The gap in student loan repayment is even larger for black and Hispanic women with college degrees,” the report noted.

    Black and Hispanic borrowers generally have more debt than their peers, regardless of the type of degree they pursued or the type of institution they attend. In fact, black and Hispanic students are far more likely to enroll in cheaper two-year, open-access schools, but also often have access to fewer family resources than white students and therefore must rely on student loans in greater numbers. Black and Hispanic graduates are also afforded less financial security from having a college degree.

    The nation's student debt burden feeds off of, and perpetuates, existing economic inequality. Media that ignore this phenomenon are ignoring the experiences of the majority of student loan borrowers, and are obscuring the true costs of the national student loan debt burden.

    Using Outdated Economics To Suggest Student Debt Is Avoidable With Part-Time Work And Better Decision Making

    Right-wing media figures, in particular, frequently pair discussions of student debt and college affordability with outdated anecdotes to suggest borrowers struggling to pay off student loan debt could have simply worked harder or made smarter decisions to avoid incurring debt. Here’s the reality: A​ny media figure who suggests students or recent graduates could have avoided taking out student loans not only ignores that many students do not have the resources to find alternatives, but relies on completely outdated assumptions about how much college costs in the first place.

    The fact is that college costs are rising across the board, for all types of higher education. Non-traditional programs often end up being more expensive for students, and some for-profit programs in particular, underserve students and leave them more likely to default on loans. Finding “a cheaper school” is not a real option, and making a living wage without a college degree is increasingly not an option either.

    Economists agree that higher education credentials, and in particular a bachelor’s degree, continue to have outsized positive economic benefits and are an undoubtedly “sound investment.” So pundits citing cheaper, alternative higher education programs are, at best, blindly promoting the nonexistent and, at worst, knowingly perpetuating a two-tier system of higher education where low-income students ought not to pursue the types of degrees proven to be most beneficial.

    And those anecdotes about how conservative media figures were able to pay for college with some elbow grease and a part-time job? Researchers have repeatedly found that’s just not possible anymore. An October study from Georgetown University found that while “over the last 25 years, more than 70 percent of college students have been working while enrolled,” it’s just not enough to offset the costs of school or avoid loans. “A student working full-time at the federal minimum wage would earn $15,080 annually before taxes,” the report concluded. “That isn’t enough to pay tuition at most colleges, much less room and board and other expenses.”

    Painting All College Affordability And Student Debt Policy Solutions As Equally Comprehensive

    Media coverage of student loan and college affordability policies in the 2016 presidential election is inaccurate if it attempts to frame policy solutions from both parties as equally comprehensive. Both Democratic candidates, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders ​have released comprehensive policy plans designed to bring down college costs for new students and to ease the burden of student loan debt for borrowers and recent graduates. Both plans have price tags and​ detail concrete actions on the issue. Regardless of where voters stand substantively, it is undeniable that both plans exist and are comprehensive.

    On the other hand, none of the three remaining Republican presidential candidates have released policy proposals on higher education affordability or college debt ​--​ in fact, front-​runner Donald Trump and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz have not even dedicated website space to the issue. Gov. John Kasich (OH) includes a paragraph on college costs in his larger education platform​​, but doesn't explain what policies he'd pursue on a national scale. ​

    Recognizing that student debt is a major concern for young voters with vague public statements is not the same as offering concrete policy solutions that might help alleviate the problem. Reporting that frames policy proposals from all of the presidential candidates as equally comprehensive or equally viable in order to appear balanced is just misleading the public.

  • Chicago Tribune's Anti-Teachers-Union Crusade Continues Over "Historic" Union Day Of Action

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) is coordinating a "day of action" walkout on April 1, and it will be joined by students from local universities, community activists, and other labor groups in what the union is calling a "historic" moment for the Chicago labor movement. CTU announced the one-day walkout after its membership voted to authorize the action in late March, and it follows months of contract negotiations amid widespread city and state budget issues. In the months since Chicago teachers' contract expired in June, the Chicago Tribune has frequently editorialized its opposition to union actions, mischaracterizing and dismissing educators' concerns and repeatedly accusing teachers of throwing a "tantrum" and abandoning students.

    The one-day walkout is meant to address unfair labor practices, which the union says include the school district's recent decision to stop paying raises based on experience and educational credentials and its proposal to phase out district contributions to teachers' pension plans. These decisions are the latest in an ongoing contract negotiation process that began more than a year ago, before the previous contract expired in June.

    Main points of negotiation for a new contract include class sizes, staffing resources for school nurses and librarians, members' pensions and health care plans, pay cuts and modifications to scheduled pay raises, and school closings. The Chicago Public School district (CPS) says it cannot fund the union's proposals; it is currently facing a $1.1 billion operating deficit. The union proposes generating new revenue by adopting tax reform targeted at the city's wealthiest taxpayers to pay for contract stipulations and to adequately fund schools, putting pressure on CPS, the city of Chicago, and state lawmakers.

    As the Tribune itself reported, union leadership has acknowledged that the day of action is part of a broader "labor-led fight" calling for the state of Illinois to prioritize finding new revenue to fund social services and public education. The action has gained the support of "other labor unions and community organizations" including a local group advocating for a $15 minimum wage, several colleges and universities, which are hosting rallies and teach-ins, a labor union representing faculty at several Illinois universities, and workers protesting layoffs elsewhere in the city.

    But that hasn't stopped the Chicago Tribune, the top daily newspaper in Illinois, from repeatedly publishing editorials that rely on mischaracterizations of CTU's activities to dismiss educators' concerns.

    In its most recent editorial on the walkout, from March 27, the Tribune described CTU leaders as having "spent weeks whipping their members into a froth," and having "stoked members' anger" over Chicago Public Schools' proposal to phase out existing teacher pension plans. The editorial referred to the walkout as a "hastily planned, unfocused Day of Tantrum," lamenting that educators would be "brandishing banners and hollering slogans in the Loop [downtown Chicago] for ... what?" And the Tribune implored Chicago teachers to cross picket lines during the walkout, writing that "gutsy educators" ought to "put their classroom service to Chicago's children first" and "rebel against misguided leadership," echoing the school district's opposition.

    A week earlier, the editorial board argued that "the teachers' tantrum" would be a "reckless action" that pits the union against "most workers in Chicago," who "don't have the luxury of stepping out for a day on a whim." The Tribune asked, "how does cheating kids of a precious day of education generate sympathy for the teachers' cause?"

    On March 11, the editorial board wrote, "If teachers walk, students would learn an acrid lesson about the teachers union's astonishing disrespect for the value of classroom instruction," bizarrely suggesting that educators somehow fail to understand the importance of classroom learning. The Tribune went on to accuse teachers of "abandon[ing] their students," throwing a "tantrum," and teaching students "that when money and education are in play, some adults put education second to their real priority."

    In December, the Tribune editorial board reacted to an initial strike authorization vote by the union by announcing, "Chicago teachers made the official announcement Monday. They're ready to walk out of their classrooms, to abandon their students as early as March," and characterizing CTU's contract negotiation priorities as "grenades." In another December editorial discussing a CPS contract proposal, the Tribune mocked CTU's response, asking, "What planet are you on?"

    The previous month, the editorial board conceded that layoffs, of which more were still to come, warranted a strike from CTU -- before mockingly outlining a "compromise" plan that shifted blame away from the school district, neglected CTU's stated priorities completely, and advocated for "compromises" in "reform[ing] ... labor policies" on the state level.

    The Chicago Tribune's commitment to opposing CTU's every move relies largely on misrepresentation. In characterizing CTU's day of action as a "tantrum," the Tribune fails to recognize the realities of the walkout.

    Tantrums are typically unplanned and sudden; the possibility of a strike has loomed over contract negotiations between the teachers union and the school district for months. In December, an overwhelming 88 percent of eligible union members voted to authorize leadership to call for a strike, according to the union. Union leadership had been publicly discussing the possibility of a strike since November, and contract negotiations have been underway for more than a year.

    Tantrums are typically responses that are unwarranted or disproportionate to the stimulus; the growing number of students, higher education faculty, activist groups, and other labor unions that are joining the union in its day of action suggests that the issue at hand resonates with the larger Chicago community. In fact, a poll released by the Tribune itself in February found that 60 percent of Chicagoans agreed with the teachers union on needed reforms in Chicago public schools. Among households with students attending Chicago public schools, low-income households, and black and Hispanic respondents, union support was even stronger.

    To suggest the walkout cheats students at the expense of teacher pay also ignores the circumstances of the action.

    Confusingly, the Tribune failed to recognize, in its lamentations of lost classroom time, that one of the major factors influencing the April 1 walkout was the "abrupt" announcement from CPS that teachers and staff would be asked to take three unpaid furlough days in an attempt to alleviate the district's budget problems. The Tribune editorial board did not criticize these furlough days, which would also result in at least one fewer regular school day for students.

    And in accusing the union of having "disrespect for the value of classroom instruction," the Tribune grazed over the many factors beyond teacher compensation that have led to the walkout. The union's initial vote to authorize a strike in December outlined its major demands, which incorporated a number of priorities related to both classroom experiences for students and members' job protections and supports. These included reducing standardized testing; allowing more teacher autonomy in grading; supporting counseling, nursing, and library staff; reducing class sizes; ensuring instruction in art, music, and technology; implementing restorative justice programs in select schools; and supporting translation and bilingual services.

    The Tribune's attacks on CTU are nothing new. The paper attacked CTU and its members back in 2012 when the union went on strike for seven days, before agreeing to the contract that expired in June. As CTU signaled its impending action, the Tribune immediately and repeatedly attacked the union's motives and suggested a contrast between what's best for students and what's best for teachers. "Let's make no mistake," the editorial board wrote in September of that year. "The union is not going to abandon those children because it's fighting for the best way to educate those children. It's fighting to protect the jobs of adults, the union members."

    The Tribune's treatment of CTU and its members has signaled a willingness to ignore the facts and a belief that educators' concerns ought to be dismissed. The paper's tone hasn't shifted in years, even as students, community activists, and other labor groups continue to join the union's organizing efforts, indicating more widespread local frustration with the financial hardships facing the city and state.

    Yet the Tribune, the most-read daily newspaper serving Chicago, continues to deliver its anti-union editorial crusade to Chicagoans' doorsteps.

    Image at top via Flickr user Spencer Tweedy using a Creative Commons License.

  • Why Media Should Be Skeptical Of Koch Brothers' New Anti-Poverty Group

    ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    Officials from the Koch brothers' funding arm have announced a new "venture philanthropy" project called Stand Together, with aims of "strengthening the fabric of American society," and focusing on "poverty" and "educational quality," according to USA Today. Media should know that: previous Koch-backed poverty and education efforts have been coupled with ideological proselytizing, Stand Together's executive director is a Koch veteran and former Republican congressional candidate who repeatedly fearmongered about the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and the group's top collaborator is associated with U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan's sham "anti-poverty" efforts.

  • VIDEO: Stop Blaming Students For America's Student Debt Crisis

    Blog ››› ››› CARLOS MAZA, JOHN KERR, LEANNE NARAMORE & PAM VOGEL

    Student loan debt in America has reached a staggering $1.3 trillion, surpassing even credit card debt. But right-wing media figures have criticized efforts to combat student loan debt by pushing misinformation and blaming students for pursuing higher education.

    Conservative media have labeled higher education as a "privilege" and suggested students ought to choose fictional cheaper colleges. Some outlets have even defended schools that take advantage of students and leave them with significant debt. But research shows college matters now more than ever, and the cost to attend is rising across the board. The student debt crisis is especially damaging for poor students and students of color, who more frequently attend cheaper open-access and community colleges and are still forced to borrow in higher numbers to pay for their education.

    Blaming students for the student loan debt crisis ignores the facts and distracts from finding real solutions to America's skyrocketing student debt burden.

    Previously:

    Myths And Facts About The College Debt Crisis