CBS Rips Into Former Reporter and Liberal Attorney for Daring to Stand Up to Teacher Unions

On Thursday, the hosts of CBS This Morning interrogated former NBC and CNN journalist Campbell Brown and prominent liberal attorney David Boies over their effort to reform the public education system by eliminating a union sacred cow, teacher tenure. Co-host Norah O'Donnell began the segment by proclaiming: "This could be a watershed moment for America's public schools or a misguided effort to punish teachers for problems far beyond the classroom." [Listen to the audio or watch the video after the jump]

Brown explained that tenure "makes it almost impossible to remove a grossly ineffective or incompetent teacher or in some cases even an abusive teacher." In response, O'Donnell toed the union line: "But you both should answer this, what your critics charged. You've focused a lot of time and money and one of the best lawyers in the country on an issue like tenure, when many people say that budget cuts to schools and inadequate funding is really the reason why there's inequality."

Boies, best known for representing Al Gore in the contested 2000 presidential election and arguing for same-sex marriage before the Supreme Court, pushed back against O'Donnell's assertion:

There are a lot of problems in our educational system and we've got to deal with all of them. But if we don't deal with the problem of getting the best teachers and keeping the best teachers and retaining the best teachers and paying the best teachers, we're not going to have quality education.

Fellow co-host Charlie Rose argued that it was "strange" that Boies would be "arguing this case... at face value because often the question of tenure and the teacher's union is considered people on the side of the Democratic Party and you're a well-known Democrat."

Despite already acting as a union spokesperson throughout the exchange, O'Donnell declared: "I want to give the American Federation for Teachers an opportunity to have their response. They gave us a statement in response to this lawsuit in New York that you're leading." After reading the statement, O'Donnell pressed: "So why strip teachers of their due process rights?"

Boies dismissed such talking points:

Nobody's stripping teachers of their due process rights. The teachers are gonna have all the due process in the world and they deserve all the due process in the world. But to say that tenure laws have been reformed, just look at what happens in New York City. Look at the rubber room. Look at the number of people who cannot be dismissed, despite misconduct, despite the fact that even the teacher's union recognizes they're really not fit to be in the classroom. This is not an attack on teachers. This is something that I think will for the majority – for the vast majority of teachers, make it a more professional occupation.

Rose replied: "But is an attack on the teacher's union?"

Substitute co-host Jane Pauley, filling in for Gayle King, recited more union spin:

There's been a union comparison made between the effectiveness – or the success of kids in tenure states measured against the effect of kids in non-tenured states. Specifically, Massachusetts, tenure, Mississippi, not tenure. They do better in Massachusetts, they do less well in Mississippi. Would you like to address that?

Boies began to respond: "Sure. To begin with, Mississippi spends a lot less money on education than Massachusetts does. It's got an entirely different social background. What you have to do-"

O'Donnell interrupted: "So why not wage a campaign on that?"

Brown's push for education reform has been met with scorn by her former colleagues in the liberal press. In July, the Washington Post touted a nasty attack against Brown from "education historian" Diane Ravitch: "She is a good media figure because of her looks, but she doesn't seem to know or understand anything about teaching and why tenure matters....I know it sounds sexist to say that she is pretty, but that makes her telegenic, even if what she has to say is total nonsense."


Here is a full transcript of the August 14 This Morning segment:

8:30 AM ET TEASE:

JANE PAULEY: Welcome back to CBS This Morning. Coming up in this half hour, why is a famous attorney known for liberal causes like same-sex marriage backing a case against teacher tenure? David Boies and former journalist Campbell Brown are in Studio 57. They'll answer critics in this bitter fight over the best ways to educate the kids. That's ahead.

8:31 AM ET SEGMENT:

NORAH O'DONNELL: This could be a watershed moment for America's public schools or a misguided effort to punish teachers for problems far beyond the classroom. In June, a California judge decided that tenure laws keep ineffective teachers on the job and violate students' constitutional right to an equal education. Well, teacher's unions immediately appealed, calling the ruling "deeply flawed."

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Tackling Tenure; Brown & Boies Team Up for Education Reform]

CHARLIE ROSE: But similar lawsuits are underway. They include one in New York State, it was brought by seven public school parents. Among their advocates, former network television journalist Campbell Brown. She founded the nonprofit Partnership for Educational Justice. Brown persuaded one of the top trial lawyers in the country to join her cause. David Boies successfully argued before the Supreme Court against California's ban on same-sex marriage. We're pleased to have both of them. Welcome.

CAMPBELL BROWN: And let me say, I didn't persuade him. He was already there.

ROSE: Yeah, he was there.

BROWN: He was there.

ROSE: Exactly.

O'DONNELL: But it would be a nice thing to claim that you were able to actually persuade David Boies.

BROWN: Yes. Who argues better?

ROSE: Okay, so let's understand why both of you are involved in this. Campbell?

BROWN: Well, when I left journalism, I mean, I got involved in this because I became a mother and I instantly realized, as I think all of us do because it's obvious, the educational opportunities that were available for my children are very different than those available for most children. And the inequality that exists in this country in terms of choices is something that we have been trying to address for decades and have failed to address for decades and it's reached a point where I think you see people on all sides of the political spectrum agreeing that our education – our public education system is in crisis and we have to deal with it.

O'DONNELL: But why is tenure the reason for the inequality?

BROWN: Well, it's not just tenure. It's the way tenure works together with dismissal protections that tenured teachers have that no other public employee has, which makes it almost impossible to remove a grossly ineffective or incompetent teacher or in some cases even an abusive teacher. You read these stories in the papers of a teacher who engaged in sexual misconduct with a kid and they still aren't able to remove that teacher. It will take years and hundreds of thousands of dollars.

And look, this is a minority number of teachers that we're talking about here. But all the evidence shows that the single most important school-based factor that determines a child's success in life is the teacher. So why wouldn't we do everything possible to get the most effective teacher possible in the classroom?

O'DONNELL: But you both should answer this, what your critics charged. You've focused a lot of time and money and one of the best lawyers in the country on an issue like tenure, when many people say that budget cuts to schools and inadequate funding is really the reason why there's inequality.

DAVID BOIES: And you have to deal with those also. There are a lot of problems in our educational system and we've got to deal with all of them. But if we don't deal with the problem of getting the best teachers and keeping the best teachers and retaining the best teachers and paying the best teachers, we're not going to have quality education.

ROSE: Teachers are the essential link of a good education.

BOIES: They are absolutely essential.

ROSE: Let me go back to the original question though. It is strange that you may be arguing this case, David, at face value because often the question of tenure and the teacher's union is considered people on the side of the Democratic Party and you're a well-known Democrat. And Ted [Olsen], you know, when you put together same-sex marriage, the same thing was asked about your conservative partner, law partner, who was arguing the case because he was a conservative.

BOIES: Sure. I think the thing that liberals really believe in is equal opportunity. And we've been fighting for equality in this country for decades in all sorts of areas. Sixty years ago we decided it was wrong, finally, to segregate our schools based on race. We're now segregating our schools based on economics, we're segregating our schools based on where a child's parents live. And it has the same corrosive effect of destroying people's opportunity as racial segregation did.

JANE PAULEY: So it's a civil rights issue?

BOIES: It's really a civil rights issue. Education is a basic civil right. If you don't have a decent education, you lose all of the opportunities that this country believes in. And our country loses the asset and loses the ability to compete in a global economy.  

O'DONNELL: I want to give the American Federation for Teachers an opportunity to have their response. They gave us a statement in response to this lawsuit in New York that you're leading. They said that New York and other states have reformed tenure laws so that now, quote, "...tenure does not mean a job for life, a cloak of incompetence or an excuse for managers not to manage, but instead empowers teachers to help kids and ensures we base dismissals on just causes."

So why strip teachers of their due process rights?

BOIES: Nobody's stripping teachers of their due process rights. The teachers are gonna have all the due process in the world and they deserve all the due process in the world. But to say that tenure laws have been reformed, just look at what happens in New York City. Look at the rubber room. Look at the number of people who cannot be dismissed, despite misconduct, despite the fact that even the teacher's union recognizes they're really not fit to be in the classroom. This is not an attack on teachers. This is something that I think will for the majority – for the vast majority of teachers, make it a more professional occupation.

ROSE: But is an attack on the teacher's union?

BOIES: It is an attack on certain aspects that are hurting students. I believe in unions, but it doesn't mean unions are always right.

ROSE: Okay, so it's a case where you think on tenure and on dismissal, unions are wrong in fighting for that?

BOIES: Because we need better teachers, we need to be able to reward teachers. You wouldn't go to a hospital, you wouldn't go to law firm where the doctors and the lawyers were not retained on merit, where they all had tenure regardless of competence. Parents feel the same way about schools that they send their children to.

PAULEY: There's been a union comparison made between the effectiveness – or the success of kids in tenure states measured against the effect of kids in non-tenured states. Specifically, Massachusetts, tenure, Mississippi, not tenure. They do better in Massachusetts, they do less well in Mississippi. Would you like to address that?

BOIES: Sure. To begin with, Mississippi spends a lot less money on education than Massachusetts does. It's got an entirely different social background. What you have to do-

O'DONNELL: So why not wage a campaign on that?

BOIES: Well, you should and we are. And part of the Partnership for Educational Equality is to deal with those issues, too. This is not just a tenure issue. But tenure, and the inability to keep and retain the best teachers, is an important aspect of it.

And for example, the right comparison is take Massachusetts, take Massachusetts schools where there is tenure and Massachusetts schools where there's not tenure, make that comparison and you come out with a different story.

BROWN: And just very quickly, we're not saying this is a silver bullet. This is not intended to address every problem. It is a small part of the problem and all of the other issues that you talk about do have to be addressed. But there's no reason that we should ignore this one if there is a way to try to tackle it.

ROSE: One last quick question, this battle will be fought in the courts?

BOIES: It'll be fought in the courts, it'll be fought in the legislature, it'll be fought in a lot of different forums, Charlie, because this is something that, as Campbell says, we have to address in a lot of different ways. I mean, my parents, both my parents were public school teachers and I believe in this fight. And this something that we have to do it on every level.

ROSE: Thanks, David. Thanks, Campbell.

O'DONNELL: Thanks Campbell.

BOIES: Thank you.

BROWN: Good to see you guys.

O'DONNELL: Nice to see both of you.

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC