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Teachers’ Union Fights Back at ’20/20′ Report

The head of the nation’s largest teachers’ union has asked ABC News for equal time to rebut last Friday’s “20/20” program, which portrayed public schools as a government-run monopoly that is cheating kids out of a quality education.

In an hour-long segment titled “Stupid in America,” ABC News correspondent John Stossel said the nation’s schools spend too much per student and yet don’t match results of education systems in other countries. That is because, he said, of a government-school “monopoly” without competition to encourage excellence and rigid union contracts that make it hard to weed out poor teachers.

“We expect the kind of story ABC did with Stossel from yellow journalists who see no need to maintain objectivity or check facts,” Joy Arnold, general counsel of the Kentucky Education Association, commented in an e-mail to EthicsDaily.com.

“It is alarming when one of the traditional big three commercial networks sinks to such pandering,” Arnold, a member of Midway Baptist Church in Midway, Ky. said. “The effort it will take to repeat the truth often enough to overcome the malice of that piece is overwhelming, and I’m sure that was the objective.”

In a Thursday letter to ABC News President David Weston, National Education Association President Reg Weaver criticized the report as “a patchwork of scattered snapshots and stories, woven together with very little context.”

“The majority of children attend public schools, and they deserve more than such a cursory examination of public education,” said Weaver, who was elected president of the 2.7 million-member NEA, America’s largest professional employee organization, in 2002.

Weaver said Stossel wasn’t looking for answers or ways to improve public education but rather, “He approached the story with his own conclusions in mind and sought out evidence to support that conclusion.”

“Real change and improvement of public education will come through parental and community involvement, adequate resources and fair, accurate stories in the media that reveal both the challenges and successes facing public education,” Weaver said.

“To move down that path, and correct the distorted picture of public education in ‘Stupid in America,’ advocates of public education should be given equal opportunity to rebut Stossel’s program. We would very much like to work with ABC to build great public schools for every child.”

Bruce Prescott of Mainstream Oklahoma Baptists accused Stossel of “manufacturing another crisis” in education.

Prescott called the “20/20” report “another chapter to an ongoing saga of cheap attacks on the underpaid professionals who devote their lives to teaching children in America’s under-funded public schools.”

Meanwhile, Exodus Mandate, a Christian-based group that advocates home-schooling and a mass exodus from public schools, applauded Stossel’s program.

Exodus Mandate worked behind the scenes for two years to get the Southern Baptist Convention, America’s second-largest denomination behind Roman Catholics, to adopt a resolution last summer warning that homosexual activists are targeting public schools to teach kids the message that it’s OK to be gay.

The resolution urged Christian parents “to fully embrace their responsibility to make prayerful and informed decisions regarding where and how they educate their children,” whether in home, public or private schools.

One seminary president has called on Southern Baptists to develop an “exit strategy” from public schools.

Prescott said many Southern Baptists are unaware that the public school “exodus” movement has been active in the Southern Baptist Convention for about 20 years.

After he gave a speech last week to prominent civic and business leaders in Oklahoma City, a retired CEO of a major corporation, who is a Southern Baptist, approached Prescott to vehemently deny that Southern Baptists are against public education.

“I assumed that the thought that his own faith group would oppose public education was so abhorrent to him that it was inconceivable,” Prescott reported. “Instead of correcting him for his woeful ignorance, I just changed the subject.”

After reflection, however, Prescott said he now wonders if the executive, who is also deeply involved in right-wing politics, “wasn’t really trying to cover an exposed flank.”

“Of this I am fairly certain,” Prescott, who said he has been following the issue two decades, observed. “Under a thin patina of civility, resentment over the forced integration of public schools still runs deep among both Southern Baptists and Oklahomans.”

Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.