I got an email from an @AP reporter with the subject line saying “black charter schools debate.”
“This is Sally Ho, national education reporter with the Associated Press. I am working on a story about the black charter school debate in light of increasing enrollment in the community,” she wrote.
When I called her, she framed the charter school issue as if it were a black civil war between billionaire-funded groups on one side who were fighting traditional groups like the NAACP. Her slip was showing.
I told her that there is no war in the black community over charter schools. It’s a divisive manufactured story with no basis in reality. Research settles the issue by telling us the majority of black people are among the most reliable supporters of charters and school choice. Most black people are clear about their support. If any segment of black “leaders” disagrees, they’re disagreeing with the majority of those they claim to lead.
Ho’s story, as I expected, insinuated that our leading black organizations, including the Urban League, UNCF, 100 Black Men, and so on, are charter school friendly merely because they receive grant funding from the Walton Family Foundation.
I can’t tell you how disrespectful that is for a non-black outsider to write. I don’t care how many millennial black progressives with educations from PWIs tell her it’s okay. It’s not.
This graphic below is her sloppy attempt to depict a black universe where “Walton money” is the master in the middle, and black organizations are reduced to being nondescript grantees.
Given the history of these organizations and their missions, she, at very least, is trading in accidental millennial hipster racism. It’s gross.
When I told her that the NAACP and Movement For Black Lives are in disagreement with most of the black community, perhaps because they are publicly aligned with the teachers’ union campaigns against charters she balked. She told me she’s tired of that framing because teachers working through their unions on behalf of their profession isn’t the same things as the outsized role wealthy pro-charter people play in education policy.
For me, that announced her blind spot. She had decided who in the black community wears the black hats, and who wears the white hats. At that moment I knew the story would not be fairly written.
Later, Ho tweeted to New York Times’ Nikole Hannah Jones “A handful of billionaires who are advancing their vision of education reform is very different than” hundreds of thousands of teachers via union.”
If that isn’t bias, I’m not sure what is.
I protested against her frame for the story and told her the real story about black education that black people are desperate to beat the odds in education. We want educated kids, and the public schools are not working for us. By every measure, the outcomes are terrible. There are obviously valid reasons to support educational alternatives. It’s lazy journalism to keep writing the same “Billionaires are Privatizing” stories without ever touching on the educational outcomes in black traditional schools are driving the need for reform.
She snapped on that point. “I cover philanthropy and education” was her justification for focusing on the Waltons. She asked me if I thought charter parents needed so much financial support for their cause given they are such a small portion of public schools students.
The fact is, Ho doesn’t really focus on “philanthropy” as much as she writes the same story over and over about the same handful of philanthropists (the ones “progressives” love to hate). Her work exposes her to claims that she’s not a journalist as much as a young person with an opinion who happens to work for a news outlet.
If her job is to get the facts and tell the real story so her readers are smarter after reading her work, then there are inescapable problems.
She talked at length with Michael Lomax, president of the UNCF. He is arguably the largest living figure in black education given the fact that he’s raised $1 billion to pay for black people to get college educations, but she doesn’t quote him in the story. Instead, she quotes people with lower professional status in the world of black nonprofits, including Andre Perry, Deidre Brooks from Memphis Lift, Victor Goode, the NAACP’s education director, and me.
It’s an interesting and curious choice given the fact that she had access to Lomax and others like Howard Fuller, the godfather of all black education reformers.
Perry is a former charter school leader who Ho quotes as saying all of these black nonprofits that support educational alternatives are merely “black faces” pushing a “white agenda” for money.
When he publicized Ho’s story it was with an additional dig at the integrity of black charter school supporters:
Which leads to a problem for Ho, in my opinion. Did she ask Perry about HIS funding? If she did, where is that information? If she did not ask, why not?
Had she asked me I would have told her what most people close to the situation know about Perry. He plays for pay. While I was at Ed Post he asked us for $150k to produce media and research. I negotiated his contract even though I disagreed with him on most things and most everyone told me he was being paid by “both sides” of the charter debate.
We ended up paying moving costs to get him from Michigan back to NOLA, and then about $6,000 monthly to write incoherent blog posts that nobody understood.
Howard Fuller (who is also in Ho’s story, but not quoted) also paid Perry to lead an advocacy group called BE NOLA. In both cases, with Education Post and BE NOLA, he was paid with money that came from those dreaded billionaires who want to make us all escorts.
As I recall, Perry cashed every check without issue. If we are just “black faces” of a white agenda, what is he? The escort of escorts?
This could get petty quickly, so let me point to what I think is the most unforgivable omission, one that raises questions about Ho’s claim to covering philanthropy in education. The field on Billionaires and deep pocket organizations funding on the anti-reform side is vast. She ignores all of the money mobilized to defeat charters.
On Christmas day she tweeted this graphic by the National Education Policy Center without mentioning they’re a union-funded think tank. That’s an important detail in a story that is going after Walton for funding “pro-charter” organizations.
Fairness and sincere curiosity about the facts would require Ho truly follow the money in all directions. But she consistently misses (or ignores) a well-funded ecosystem of groups that act as a communication echo field for anti-reform messaging on behalf of traditional public school employees.
Here is a graph of many (not all) groups in the progressive anti-reform universe. The first thing you should notice is there are too many connections for you to see. That’s on purpose. There are so many connected organizations that it is nearly impossible to get them on a single page.
Even when you zoom in you can only see a thumbnail of the players on their map.
The obvious takeaway is that the social justice industrial complex isn’t fueled by the people, unless you consider the people Billionaires, millionaires, foundations, and unions.
Where are Ho’s stories about this ecosystem? If she covers philanthropy and education, why the narrow focus only on Gates, Walton, and Bezos?
When Ho openly states she sees no need to cover money on the traditional school side of advocacy, it is because she’s either ill-informed about the incredible amount of money and organization on that side, or unwilling to see it due to personal politics.
Let’s make this more simple. First, here is what Big Labor puts into influencing public policy overall (including union-driven education policy).
By any reasonable estimation, $530 million represents a significant attempt to influence policy.
That said, it might be surprising but unions aren’t even the biggest players in the anti-reform game.
Welcome to Democracy Alliance, an annual meeting of the Left’s 1% where captains of industry decide which social justice groups will be funded, and which ones will carry out the agenda determined behind closed doors.
Education isn’t DA’s primary concern, but when it comes to ed policy there is no sunlight between them and labor bosses. This is where the liberal 1% is convinced to support an agenda of keeping poor children in schools they’d never choose for their own kids? (*ahem, Matt Damon).
How many people of color or low-income folks get in this meeting?
Meanwhile, labor not only has a seat at the big people’s table, they also have infiltrated leadership positions.
If you support charter schools and choice, you will notice some of the groups that fight both of those issues on DA’s funding menu.
And, here are people in their syndicate who never seem to disclose their billionaire or union funding.
And here are just a few of their pay-to-play “journalism” outlets that function – like Sally Ho – as the communications shop for Social Justice, Inc.
And, this part of the story sickens me. While the big rich white syndicate defending traditional education systems produces content attempting to pull the black cards of pro-choice African Americans, they also fund Afroturf groups masquerading as local or national parent-driven organizations. In fact, as much as we are called “escorts” our opposition act as clever fronts to blackwash union money and push a message attempts to convince the majority of black people who currently support choice that they are actually better off having fewer educational choices.
Here’s but a small example:
And the Afroturf activists have just as many white guys pulling their strings as anyone else.
And, although the anti-charter syndicate purchased the right to add “I support the NAACP and the Movement 4 Black lives” in calling for a moratorium on charters, as if that is the last word in black thought and the license for white progressives to silence the majority of black people who disagree, you should inspect the language of these groups.
Look at the resources and authors used for the education platform of the Movement for Black Lives. Find one that isn’t a teachers’ union grantee.
And, if the issue is about stopping “corporate” reform, you might be interested in the NAACP’s funders.
(If Ho or others ever want to get savagely honest about the players in this drama, I could help).
And, for all my family and friends eager to call out Billionaire influence on our activism, I encourage to look deeply. If you or someone close to you is part of any of these groups below, please demand they return their grant funding.
Finally, about Ms. Hannah Jones’ interesting response to Ho’s story:
It’s interesting that she’s “been waiting for a story like this” (and that she felt it so important that she responded to it on Christmas Eve, the same day it was published) when it could cut all directions, including hers.
Would any of us know Hannah Jones if it weren’t for her work at ProPublica?
They also have more than their fair share of deep pocket “supporters.”
The way she talks you’d swear her work is charity. In truth, she cashes checks from the wealthy like everyone else.
Is the New York Times suddenly nonprofit? Last time I checked their largest stakeholders were billionaires and major investors in private prisons and child detention centers.
Neal McClusky from the CATO Institute made a good point in response to my Twitter storm on Ho’s piece. He said it isn’t particularly useful to expose all of these funding relationships because it detracts from arguing ideas and the issues rather than stepping down the guilt by association land mine.
I agree. The truth is I’ve been funded by some of the same people my opponents have. I’ve contributed financially and in-kind to many of their organizations. I have worked with them on non-education issues. And, as I told Ho in our interview, I’m clear the real issue is about black education, or the lack thereof, not Walton, not billionaires, and not privatization.
But, if you are going to dig in my trash for receipts, scour my 990s, and jump in my wallet and pretend what you find gives you cause to erase my lived-experience, status as an activist parent, and a long-time nonprofit leader, expect the forensics to tell another story.
Especially if the person writing the story got a full-ride to college on a billionaire’s dime, and works for organizations funded by billionaires.
Listen, all I’m saying is don’t be out here dissing people for being funded by hedge billionaires if you’re being funded by hedge fund billionaires.
That dog don’t hunt.