Several clues Jesse Jackson’s Chicago Sun Times piece was ghostwritten by a for-profit union communications consultant

Jesse Jackson’s recent opinion piece in the Chicago Sun Times sounds like a case of awkward ventriloquy by Jeff Bryant, a union funded, for-profit communications consultant working for teachers’ unions and ultra-wealthy political agenda setters. 

I can’t say for sure there is a link between Jackson and Bryant, but there is one simple connection. Bryant is a Senior Fellow at the Campaign for America’s Future, a center-left political organizing group co-directed by Robert Borosage who was a senior policy advisor for Jackson’s 1988 presidential campaign.

Following the money has turned into a familiar sport where many of us who write for a living speculate about which deep pockets are funding the contrasting ideological articles scattered throughout a brave new world of ethically pliable media.

Though I’ve written many late nights since 1998 for free, last year I made myself a target for conjecture when I joined Education Post, a nonprofit, pro-reform communications group.

My favorite part of the gig is learning about the educational breakthroughs dedicated people are having with children in poverty. My least favorite part is the tired rejoinder that says I do this because billionaires pay me to do it.

The suspicion isn’t without good reason. Opportunistic people see education politics can be a good hustle. Writers are paid by funders dedicated to school reform policies, some by organized groups dedicated to stopping reform initiatives, and a new breed of mercenaries paid by both teams to write incoherent middle of the road pieces that satisfy neither master.

It’s with that jaded lens that I read the Jackson piece and quickly assumed it might have been written by Bryant.

What’s my evidence? Let’s unpack it together.

First, Rev. Jackson says:

Across the country, parents have been in revolt against high-stakes standardized testing, with kids tested over and over again while creativity is cut out of classroom curricula. Parents — particularly in targeted urban schools from Chicago to Boston — are also marching against the forced closing of neighborhood schools, displacing kids and shutting down needed neighborhood centers. Now there is more and more evidence that the parents have it right — and the deep-pocket “reformers” are simply wrong.

What is Jackson’s “evidence” that “deep pocket” “reformers” are out of touch with American parents?

First, the Obama Administration — which has pushed high-stakes testing as central to its education agenda — announced that kids were being tested too often, with too much school time devoted to preparing for and taking required tests. In what a writer for the New Yorker described as a major “mea culpa,” the administration now recommends that standardized testing be limited to 2 percent of class time. 

That’s an interesting point, but I liked it better when Jeff Bryant wrote it in a blog post on October 30, 2015:

The change in rhetoric is “a mea culpa,” writes Rebecca Mead in The New Yorker, “an acknowledgement by the administration that its own policies cultivated the ‘drill and kill’ test prep that has come to characterize many classrooms in the past several years.”

Jackson’s “evidence” continues:

Second, a report by the Center for Media and Democracy on charter schools — the centerpiece of the so-called reformers’ agenda — reports that some $3.7 billion in federal money has been larded onto charter schools in the past two decades with virtually no accountability.

Again, that point was made in a blog post on October 21, 2015. Bryant points to the same union-funded report:

That’s the principal finding of a new report published by the Center for Media and Democracy, which looked for information about how much tax money coming from the federal government’s Charter School Program (CSP) goes to charters and how that money is spent and found that information is often “severely lacking.”

And, in the same post:

Very little is known about how these schools have spent over $3.7 billion the federal government has [been] used to fuel expansion of the charter industry since 1995.

The good Reverend goes on:

The reality, as National Education Association (NEA) President Lily Eskelsen Garcia has pointed out, is that the nations that have outperformed the U.S. in recent years don’t do the things that the deep-pockets reformers have been touting. They don’t terrorize teachers; they train, respect and pay them.

This is a good time to point out Jeff Bryant is the owner of Creative Direct Marketing, a for-profit communications shop, and the NEA is one of his big clients.

Finally, here is the biggest greasy thumbprint connecting Bryant to Jackson’s godawful talking-point heavy political advertisement against “private” charter schools, “high-stakes” testing, and virtually anything that that makes changes teachers’ unions oppose:

As Jeff Bryant of the Education Opportunity Network writes, parents are driving an “education spring,” revolting against an elite reform agenda that is driving away good teachers, undermining public schools, and draining funds and fun from our public schools. Parents are right to keep the pressure on.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. A ghost writer would never quote themselves. Perhaps. Yet, Bryant seems like a chronic offender of promoting his own work, and quoting his clientele without adequate disclaimers.

It isn’t clear how much he earns from from the NEA, but it likely pays well to sprinkle their talking points across AlterNet, Common Dreams, Salon, The Progressive, and in mainstream publications when ghostwriting. Bryant earned at least $1,153,675 just from the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development alone. That group boasts 125,000 members, including superintendents, teachers, principals, and college professors.

Public records show Bryant earned over an estimated $260,000, just in 2013.

According to a report by the union funded Economic Policy Institute, that price point places him closer to the the so-called 1% than regular people. In North Carolina where Bryant lives the bottom 99% average only $40,429.

Bryant is balling with brass ones.

For his part, Jesse Jackson ain’t slouching either. He has an estimated net worth of $10 million, and he commands a $75,000 speaking fee in addition to chartered jet flights, hotels, and meals. Fighting for rights is good work if you can get it.

In Jackson’s residential state of Illinois, the bottom 99% earn $46,080. The median household income for Chicago families is $47, 270.

Today a whopping 84% of Chicago Public School students qualify for free and reduced meals.

Without good schools, a solid education, a college degree or career preparation, the majority of children in urban schools will never see a life as good as Jackson’s or Bryant’s.

I don’t expect Bryant to be a champion for urban black children, but I expect more from Jackson. As a child I was inspired by his “I am somebody, I can achieve” commercials on television. In high school I was blessed to see him give what stands as the single best speech I’ve ever seen in person. In both cases he roused pride and a sense of invincibility in me.

Have we come to a time when $75,000 paydays, private jets, and fancy meals serve as mind erasers for “civil rights” icons? Do they now believe the best we can do is assign poor kids to schools with low expectations while the middle class send their kids to better alternatives?

Should our “leaders” really lock arms in solidarity with people who would rather see our schools as a jobs program rather than institutions of learning?

Should we really be expected to go on hunger strikes to keep failing schools that harm our kids open for business?

The problem with our public schools is not that there are people with deep pockets who want to reform them. The problem is that too many of these schools desperately need reforming in the first place.

That’s a truth that won’t be written by white hands writing for black faces. I can’t be sure that Bryant wrote this oped for Jackson. I’m just saying if he didn’t, Jackson owes him royalties.

Chris Stewart is the Chief Executive Officer of Education Post, a media project of the Results in Education Foundation. He is a lifelong activist and 20-year supporter of nonprofit and education-related causes. Stewart has served as the director of outreach and external affairs for Education Post, the executive director of the African American Leadership Forum (AALF), and an elected member of the Minneapolis Public Schools Board of Education.



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