An Open Letter To NBC News and Brian Williams

Dear NBC News and Brian Williams:

I see NBC News is providing a broadcast forum called “Education Nation.” NBC is billing it as: “Education Nation is a nationally broadcast, in-depth conversation about improving education in America.” As I look over the list of, “confirmed participating speakers” I see finance people, mayors, various other politicians, news people like yourself, business people, union representatives, current and former US Education Secretaries (none of whom were teachers), sponsors that paid money to get a seat at the table, and other “experts.” What I am not seeing represented in this “In depth conversation,” are teachers and students and parents.

I know, I know, you are having a “Teacher Townhall” where teachers can apply and might be chosen if their “…one major change that you think could help to transform education in America,” happens to be chosen. Mr. Williams, can we see the application the “experts” had to fill out to get their much more prominent voice? What questions did they have to answer to “get” to be part of the conversation? Why isn’t there a teacher, and student, and parent group that will have more than one question or opinion or voice “if” they are lucky enough to be chosen?

Do you see any irony in the fact that none of the “experts” (speakers) are teachers, students or parents? (Much less many of them?) Could that be part of the problem in American education that “sponsors”, corporations, news people, administrators and others have a prominent voice in education, but all the REAL stakeholders are, “thrown a bone” so that they can participate if they are lucky to be chosen based on their “application” so they can talk during a show at noon on Sunday during football and baseball playoff season? Gee thanks.

And understand that teachers, parents and students actually have differing and well thought out positions on what education could and should be, so to just have a few representatives from each of those stakeholders isn’t good enough. If this is really meant to be an “… in-depth conversation about improving education in America,” give real voice to those that should be MOST prominent in this discussion. Otherwise frankly, it is of little real value. Mainly only those that always have voice because of their wealth and connections will be major parts of this important conversation.

I would be happy to provide you names and contact information of quality participants for your discussion.

Thank you,

Brian Crosby, Teacher

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34 thoughts on “An Open Letter To NBC News and Brian Williams

  1. That’s such a good point, Brian. Those of us in the best position to add some depth and substance to these discussions are for the most part laboring in obscurity, and often laboring too intensely to know just how deep that obscurity is. As a result, “they” end up discussing “education” as a socio-economic system to be manipulated to produce certain outputs, rather than education as a dynamic ongoing process of human development.

  2. Brian,

    I’d like to wax poetic in my applause, but nothing seems more apropos than – this is brilliant. This needs to be a petition that educators, parents, and students can all sign and it should end up on the NBC executives, as well as the President and Education Secretary’s, desks.

    – Greg

  3. I found Brian Williams on twitter and tweeted him the link to this post. He has an account but unfortunately has never sent a tweet, maybe this will get him started!
    Great post Brian and so very true, those with the most at stake are left out of the conversation.

  4. Exactly – and this goes on and on, major public discussions by people outside of education, and where are the classroom teachers? Who from an actual classroom is speaking up in these public events? Does the American public believe that any of these mayors or business people could walk into a classroom and teach children? Would any of these outspoken experts know what it means to be in a classroom where students have little interest in drilling for tests? I think Brian Williams should step up and make sure that education is actually represented, not big money and elected power brokers.

  5. First of all, great job.

    This thing that Mr. Williams and NBC is in the category of what I call the “Basketball Officials Syndrome”. If you have ever refereed a basketball game, you will know what I mean.

    How many times have you sat at a game and listened to people shout at the officials, thinking that they know the rules and what not? It amazes me that events like this are basically the same thing. These so-called experts think they know the rules, but in essence, are clueless.

    Now, let’s step back a moment for some reflection. Have we, as educators (board members, admins, teachers, etc), really brought this type of treatment on ourselves? The chatter for school change has been going on since the mid-90’s. Has anything really changed? Many of the speakers that I hear say that we can still take a teacher from 30 to 40 years ago, put them into a present-day classroom and they wouldn’t skip a beat. Walk into a classroom and what will you see? I’ll wager the desks will be in nice neat rows and the room will look like it did some 20 to 30 years ago.

    We can do things for ourselves and our students or we can incur the wrath of the basketball officials syndrome and have something unpleasant and off-kilter happen to us and to our students. Do the letters NCLB come to mind?

  6. This is still more evidence of the lack of credibility that teachers have in the eyes of anyone and everyone working beyond the classroom. While it seems like a given to NBC that business and union leaders would have legitimate ideas about how to improve education in America, the idea that a teacher’s ideas would lend value to the conversation is almost absurd in their eyes.

    We’re fighting the stereotype of the sweet, matronly woman in the apple jumper or holiday sweater that has a heart of gold but couldn’t possibly add meaning or value to “the bigger picture.”

    Not only is that insulting times ten, it results in under-informed policies that fail. Want to know why education reforms don’t work? It’s because they’re not built from the ideas of practicing educators.

    Geez…my blood pressure is pumping now.

  7. Hello, my name is Trieu Tran and I am here for a class assignment. Here is the link to our class blog:

    Thanks for sending that letter to NBC News, I hope they respond back. I wish they would listen to the real voices of educators and parents who mainly is involved with education. Maybe we could start a petition and make them realize that this is a major issue.

  8. Thank you for this effort. You are absolutely correct.

    The problem is that there is a whole tier of tightly-networked people who are running things and directing the “reform.” They could care less about any sort of authentic interaction with any of the “little” people who actually know or care about public education, or have an alternative point of view.

    If you have the feeling that the “reformers” don’t want to listen to you, you are right and there is a reason for that.

    Bill Gates and Eli Broad, the two major, although totally inaccessible, leaders in the movement to privatize public education — and who are the most powerful promoters of charter schools, mayoral control, high-stakes testing, and teacher scapegoating — are directly sponsoring this NBC program. The producers of Education Nation are going to carefully orchestrate the show on their behalf.

    The best thing to do would to be to get loud and spread the word about boycotting both the show and its advertisement sponsors, and to stage a protest at Rockefeller Center if you’re in NYC.

  9. I am dumbfounded by the stupidity of what people try to sell as a collaborative attempt to improve education. I am even more concerned about the number of people that will watch this and think it is helpful in some way. Until someone in authority gets it through their head that project based learning is the path to real reform and get away from the idiocy of standardized testing, we will make no progress. Then again, real progress in education ruins a great topic to beat up on during the next election cycle.

  10. I came across your piece after I blogged on this same topic; your letter is very well stated. Glad to see so many others are disturbed by the lineup on Education Nation and other high-profile education discussions that want to talk about teachers and students but not with us.

  11. Brian,

    Great letter, Brian. I made some recommendations for speakers in my letter to NBC in my blog–it’s so clear we need teacher voices to be represented so that these media events actually include the wisdom and insights of practicing education-leaders.

    What I found equally heinous is that there isn’t any university representation either, other than University of Phoenix, nor authors, nor principals….I looked up the word “summit”–the definition is a meeting that brings together top leaders in a field. How can you have an education summit with business leaders and not leaders in education?

    Great job. Well said and I hope that someone at NBC hears teachers on this!

  12. The real sadness here is the feeling that we’re only going to get one shot at such a powerful movement towards education reform before the public really starts to cut and run. Never before, that I can recall, have the mainstream and media rallied in such a frenzy to try to help education. Yet whom do they listen to? What standard do they rally behind? Those of the monied stakeholders.


    How can teachers speak louder and with more clout without losing their own voices in the riot of sound out there?

    Thanks so much for this post, and keep yelling.

    -Heather Wolpert-Gawron
    aka Tweenteacher

  13. The last thing teachers need (especially now) is another person or TV special talking about poor performance, how bad of a job, failing schools… blah… blah… blah. I’m not in the classroom everyday, but I’ve been in enough to know that educating kids is extremely difficult. The broader community can and needs to play, but it should be in support and under the direction of excellent educators. Keep up the good work and good luck!

  14. Great letter!
    I applaud your voice. I made similar comments to one of our senators; who amazingly pick up her telephone when I called. My comments centered on politicians, the media, and radio shock jocks using education as election/ratings sound-bites. My question to her was, “What person does not want improved education?” Every politician ever elected campaigned on “improving education!” I resent the fact that we are scapegoats for a publicly legislated curriculum then held up as the skewered messenger. Most other industries ask their workers for suggestions when trying to improve efficiency, productivity and the bottom line. God forbid we include the pricipal players in a discussion on education. Keep screaming.

  15. I also urge fellow colleagues to email Oprah about her upcoming show with Bill Gates and Michelle Rhee. (Yikes!) The topic will be movie “Waiting for Superman.” Where is the balanced view of education with that lineup?

  16. I did some participatory work on a panel for a DC think tank in June. It was instructive. Bill mentions the stereotype of the sweet, matronly woman, but this is not the only stereotype we fight as teachers; at the panel, there was present a pervasive subtle rhetoric on the part of some audience members, and in some of the panel comments, that teachers as a whole were either so afraid or so ill-trained that they could not grasp the benefits of the current establishment’s policies.

    I was and remain very grateful to the think tank for even thinking to include teachers in a high-level policy discussion, and clearly the move to do so was supportive of teacher viewpoints. Nonetheless, you could see what we were up against. Popular criticism of the poor preparedness and slack selection policies in teacher training can translate quickly into a dismissal of our voice as ignorant and uninformed, and make no mistake about it.

  17. Dina – I agree. There are a number of these “stereotypes.” Part of the reason is that the public only hears a narrow point of view on these topics. So, how do we get teacher voices heard? That’s the $64,000 question.

  18. I’m not surprised by the lack of invitations that teachers get. I think teachers have allowed their voices to become “crowd noise.” Bear with me and let me explain.

    1. There are hundreds of thousands (Assumption.. forgive me for not fact checking?) of teachers with almost as many opinions.

    2. News outlets like to speak to accredited “experts” who “represent” the masses. (Think of Al Sharpton, NAACP, and Jesse Jackson representing “all” black people)

    3. Teachers get emotional anger and tears do not play well in “discussions”

    So were I looking for “objective,” “productive” debates I would invite representatives who would provide such, which means that very few if any teachers would be at the table and NOOOOOO parents or students instead they would put people to “objectively” represent their interest.

    Think about how the media operates. The media loves bullets and info graphics.. well you cant do that with the teachers story of how differentiated teaching approaches (what does that even mean to joe public) helped lil johnny learn to love school again.
    I think teachers, parents, and students need to take back the their power in these debates by ensure that the emotional responses are minimize and consistent actionable talking points (the media loves bullets) are delivered. I think teachers need to clarify their position with regards to testing (I hate “teaching to the test” is NOT a position that will garner support). If teachers/parents do these things one hopes that that they will be more able to represent their own interest instead of being sent to the kiddie (Teacher Townhall) while the adults (experts) have a rational discussion.

    My suggestions for talking points:

    1. Tests are misaligned with state curriculum and thus do not function as effective tools.
    2. School funds are illogical apportioned by an antiquated system and thus increase resource (and achievement) gap.
    3. Teacher support and professional development is ill-managed, poorly done, and inconsistently monitored so developing and maintain professional teachers is nigh impossible.
    4. District/State requirements of schools are inconsistent with learning and instructional objectives and thus force the constant implementation of ineffective and illogical policies to meet guidelines that are not in the best interest of the child.

    Do something like the above and be ready to give solid examples of each..

    thats my two cents

    random sleep deprived thoughts of a life long hoverer on the fringe of the teaching profession.

  19. Your net seems a little broad… Are you suggesting that these folks aren’t parents? Have never been students?

    BRIAN says: Hi Andy. Sure they are. But they are not there for that reason and they don’t represent parents with kids in school that aren’t pushing an agenda based on making a profit from schools, pushing a narrow view of schools and so forth. Point is – let’s hear from many differing viewpoints.

  20. Thank you for writing this. The battle of the 2 Brians! Yet it’s the one who makes “millions” that got it wrong. This whole show will pander to the Waiting for Superman crowd which was also co-opted by Donor’s Choose an organization who now wants teachers to watch this film if they want any help for their classrooms. I just hope the teachers who appear are not representative of charters or TFA. I am going to link this post to SUPPORT PUBLIC SCHOOLS on Facebook.!/pages/SUPPORT-PUBLIC-SCHOOLS/106057986116757?ref=ts

  21. Brian,

    Yep– the million dollar question, I think.

    Part of the problem is that the only real “leadership,” or vocal representation, we have in the public arena right now are the unions. And while the protection unions provide us is indispensable per se, unions are not– and have never been intended to be– vehicles for the considered discussion of effective practice. It’s both the establishments’ error, and our own, to have let them become the mouthpiece for why public education should be saved, and how it should be run.

    So where to, then?

    BRIAN says: Dina – Yes, and the unions have been successfully marginalized … any voice they had has been muted. Teachers then are left rather voiceless. I hope, or wish enough of us were connected to use social networks to start a groundswell.

  22. Education in America is based on educated, talented people who are dedicated to help our youth be the best educated in the world. What hurts American education is that “experts” keep changing the requirements each and every year. Why? They have no clue. They never visit or stay in a classroom more than 2-3 minutes. How can teachers and education be judged on that limited time. If they want change, why don’t the experts visit a school or really several schools with a varied socio-economic background to find out how education is truly being done. I believe these “experts” would be surprised and very enlightened into what we as educators do. If they do that, they can truly say they have an insight into what American education is all about.

  23. Bravo! This is exactly what I have been asking over the past 15 years of my career, as politicians and “experts” have gradually blamed teachers until Chris Christie came along and has taken that approach to a new level.

    PARENTS are the problem! OUR SCHOOLS ARE NOT FAILING! Our society and parents are! The good kids have good (involved) parents. The failing students have bad (uninvolved) parents. Only the good parents come to back to school nights. Every year I see parents who are asked to attend a conference on their child not show up.

    In further defense of teachers.. Everyone does not know that teachers in NJ are not allowed to retain students if the parent says no. SO that student moves on to the next grade. Regardless of years of college education, the STATE does not allow teachers to force a student to be held back. Parents in my district commonly say..”that would be too embarrassing to little Bobby.” and Bobby goes on to the next grade where he will hold those kids back. Bobby’s failure will be blamed on the teacher! TEACHERS HAVE NO POWER. The only security teachers have is TENURE. I have seen untenured teachers be told to change a board members kids grade and when they refused they were not hired back. I have talked to PRIVATE SCHOOL teachers who were also forced to change a child’s grade after a parent complained. Tenure is needed. Whats not ever mentioned is that there is already a system in place to fire tenured teachers. The problem is that schools can not afford the legal fees to fire a teacher who simply isnt doing their job well. Teachers have to do something illegal to be fired. Getting rid of tenure is not the answer.. like Christie leads everyone to believe. FIXING THE TENURE SYSTEM will work just fine.

    And lastly for anyone criticizing the Unions. NJ TEACHERS are forced by state law to pay what amounts to $700 a year even when we DO NOT JOIN THE UNION. Christie fails to mention that to anyone while he attacks educators for being members of the union he hates so much.

    I am appalled by CHris Christie’s disrespectful and unprofessional behavior towards everyone who disagrees with him. It is much easier to attack the education system and try to privatize it to save money, then it is to fix what he himself called “one of the best school systems in the nation” The problem is addressing parents and society is difficult and doesn’t get you reelected.

    Newark schools will prove my theory. Unless parents are educated and somehow brought back into the system, Newark will continue to fail. It has already received huge amounts of money in the past. Newark is failing because of parents and the society surrounding it. Newark’s TEACHERS ARE NOT FAILING!