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Add teachers unions to the list of things Campbell Brown hates

COMMENTARYThe former CNN anchor Campbell Brown has been touring the Op-Ed circuit lately with a series of pieces that do little more than repeat Republican talk


The former CNN anchor Campbell Brown has been touring the Op-Ed circuit lately with a series of pieces that do little more than repeat Republican talking points. This week she's attacking teachers unions—a popular GOP target this campaign season.

In May, Brown panned President Obama's commencement speech at Barnard College as "condescending," in a New York Times opinion column. Never mind that the president's pro-women pep talk discussed the contributions of women to society now and going forward, arguing for an even greater role.

She followed that one up with her thoughts on the self-destructive "blind partisanship" of Planned Parenthood, an organization that has had to proactively defend its ability to provide health care services to millions of women across the country because Republican politicians have politicized one of its many services to such an extent that its entire existence has been up for debate.

In her latest missive, Brown takes up a new attack on teachers unions (you know, those bastions of lazy, do-nothing public servants, so says the GOP): She accuses them of harboring sexual predators.

In a Wall Street Journal Op-Ed, Brown points to recent examples of sexual misconduct by New York educators whose punishments appear to be way, way too lenient. These are all cases that have already been raised by New York City's education chancellor, Dennis Walcott.

Brown appears to be taking up Walcott's call for holding the teachers union more accountable for these instances. She's right in one regard. No one should condone these teachers' behavior. It's unconscionable and terrifying that someone left in charge of children would prey on them sexually, and yes, these teachers should be tossed out on their rears. The Sandusky scandal at Penn State, in which school officials stood by silently as allegations of sexual abuse rolled in, has hopefully taught us all that turning a blind eye in such situations is a serious dereliction of duty.

Brown's Op-Ed argues for the passage of legislation that would give New York City's education chancellor absolute power to fire teachers accused of sexual misconduct, rather than leaving it in the hands of an independent arbitrator assigned by the Dept. of Education and teachers union, as it currently stands.

"The process by design favors the teachers over the students consistently and there are examples," Brown said on Morning Joe Monday.

But Brown offers no evidence to back up her claim in the article that "the effects of this policy are mounting." She offers three examples and quotes only teachers saying that it is a "horrible situation." She doesn't know what percentage of teachers are in fact dismissed when accused of sexual misconduct. Nor do we. It's also hard to track a trend line in any of this. Child sexual abuse on the national level has actually declined over the last couple of decades. We absolutely need to put a stop to this abuse, but we don't yet know if these cases are really happening with greater frequency or not. 

While the United Federation of Teachers has noted its "zero tolerance" policy for sexual misconduct, these cases where teachers were reinstated to classrooms after being accused of inappropriate sexual touching or communication with students have clearly sullied its reputation.

It's a serious issue that needs addressing, but unfortunately, Brown's Op-Ed and the Republican-introduced legislation come across as just one more way for the GOP to diminish the reputation of unions—the representatives of workers the world over. Brown, for one, accuses the arbitrators of being too beholding to the unions. The New York teachers union should re-review these cases to address the allegations that it has been too lenient, but the whole "don't throw the baby out with the bathwater" phrase comes to mind in this situation.

The country holds teachers accountable for students' performance, wailing on them for failing schools, failing test scores, and on and on. We complain about the tuned-out tenured teacher yet turnover rates are high, particularly in urban communities. We want teachers to achieve great things, but we pay them an average salary of $56,069.

So let's talk about education, but let's not play into tired rhetoric regarding protectionist unions. After all, even Brown said: "Obviously the vast majority of teachers in our public school system are amazing teachers."