Stephen Colbert throws Peter Cunningham under the bus.


Earlier this week I predicted that the hilarious yet profoundly accurate John Oliver takedown of standardized testing would show up on every teacher’s Facebook page within 24 hours.

By closely monitoring every teacher’s Facebook page the next day I was proven to be exactly right.

I also saw that Peter Cunningham didn’t like it.

In fact, he wrote a piece on his blog that there was “not much to laugh about” in Oliver’s commentary.

He said Oliver was throwing poor kids under the bus.

Which was weird, because I was laughing through my tears.

Who is Peter Cunningham?

Peter’s CV looks like this.

After leaving Arne Duncan’s Department of Education as the communications guy, Peter was given $12 million dollars by the Broad Foundation, the Walton Foundation and Bloomberg to start his blog promoting the corporate reform agenda.

I am jealous. I’m sitting here in my t-shirt and shorts over a cup of coffee this morning writing my blog and Eli Broad hasn’t given me so much as a dollar.

And I taught kids for 30 years. I actually know something about schools and teaching kids.

And this is the point I’m getting to.

Teachers know what classrooms, students and schools need.

If policy makers wanted to improve the teaching of public school students, wouldn’t teachers be the people these billionaires would go to?

Give their billions to the schools?

Yesterday Stephen Colbert paid for every South Carolina teachers’ grant request on Donor’s Choose.


If you read the teacher requests for grants on Donor’s Choose, you will find out far more about how to improve education in the United States than you will ever read on Peter Cunningham’s blog.

You would learn much more than you would from reading a hundred research papers and wonky policy reports.

Bill Gates, Eli Broad, the Walton Family, Bloomberg and the rest of those corporate philanthropies have spent billions on their vision of school reform.

Stephen Colbert did what all these philanthropic geniuses never thought to do.

Start with what teachers said their needs were.

Imagine how many teacher grants could have been filled with the $13 million that went to Education Post.

One of the ways I spend my retirement time is working with kids at a couple of Chicago public schools. We are learning to play the ukulele.

One of the schools needed to raise money to buy a classroom set of ukes.

So the music teacher posted that need on Donor’s Choose.

I reposted it on my blog.

And in a couple of days we raised the $4,000 that was needed to buy the ukes.

By the way, the music room at this school is filled with instruments purchased from grants that the music teacher successfully applied for.

In fact, prior to the CPS teachers strike in 2012 there hadn’t been a music teacher in the school for 7 years.

An entire generation of students.

Thank you, CTU.

The truth is that part of me is unhappy with the fact that our schools need organizations like Donor’s Choose and bake sales to pay for the programs and tools that teachers need.

It is estimated that on average public school teachers spend over $500 a year of their own money on classroom supplies, like paper and books.

I know that even in the suburban school district where I taught there were tons of things I purchased without reimbursement because I needed it and wanted it to teach my students.

I don’t have anything against Peter Cunningham personally.

But there is something very wrong when billion dollar philanthropies run by people who know nothing about teaching give all that money to people who know nothing about teaching to tell teachers that they are wrong about what they know about teaching.

11 thoughts on “Stephen Colbert throws Peter Cunningham under the bus.

  1. I love Stephen Colbert…..I love John Oliver…..I love Fred Klonsky….all speaking truth to power!

  2. How about all of the learning time that was wasted on developing those goofy song parodies to amp the kids up for taking the test? Ridiculous!

    1. I have never spent instructional time developing “goofy song parodies,” and I have taught 12 years in the public school system. All of those years were spent in state testing grades, but thankfully in a school that had little to worry about as far as results were concerned. This was not because we were better educators, but because the raw materials dropped off at our door, the first day of school, were much better prepared than most. What I find more important is the reason those teachers feel inclined to “amp up” their kids. The level of stress and MANY instructional minutes, rather HOURS, dedicated to test preparation, create an environment of fear and completely overwhelm young children. Teachers see that their students have fallen prey to the legislative and corporate agenda. They are trying to remind their children that they are just that-CHILDREN! They are taking mere moments, right before testing, to allow the students to release the stress that has been building for months. This is often necessary to get them in an appropriate state to take the tests. Be careful not to judge, unless you have walked a mile along the educator’s required path to high-stakes testing. We shed many tears for, and work tirelessly to shelter the country’s children from outrageous and unrealistic demands of a clueless political machine. The reality is that these new tests and demands are all about MONEY. The students, educators and schools are caught in the middle. So I say thank you to those teachers and their creative attempts, because I have joyfully presented them to my students the day before those ridiculous tests, and when they walk in the door the morning of those tests. It is uplifting and inspiring, and isn’t that what teachers are all about?

  3. There you go again…speaking “Truth to power.” lol…
    Oliver (and Fred) are exactly correct. So many of us educators over the years have sat through the nonsensical diatribes of “consultants” who were paid thousands of dollars to impart their so-called “generalize expertise.” Sadly, those in the classroom who know exactly what their students need are dismissed without a second thought.

    I could never understand the willingness of those in charge to listen to and put full trust in consultants who come in for a day / week, makes major changes, institutes “proven programs,” and provides “one size fits all” directives. (I could provide way too many examples, but the last Institute Day program I had to sit through brought in a woman who hadn’t been in the classroom in 26 years!)

    As I have always stated (and truthfully believe), “Your staff is your best asset. And best of all, they are free and they know the school / kids.”

    1. An administrator once said at an institute “A successful principal hires good people and lets them do their jobs!”

  4. My wife is a teacher and we spend far over $500 per year on her students. Of course the IRS, in its wisdom, only lets us take off…$250.00 as “business expenses”. That, of course , is not the point-but shows how little teachers’ personal efforts are ignored. Thank you Stephen Colbert and John Oliver.

  5. When I moved across the country after teaching for 21 years, I left most of the things I has purchased over the years in my classroom since I had to leave before the end of the year and since I figured I would not get a job out here. The superintendent asked me for a list and wrote me a letter for taxes.I know the list was incomplete, but using it and the IRS fair market value, we figured I donated over $9000. Imagine what I paid new.
    I DID get hired out here and went into a classroom that had no books or math materials and no art supplies- it is a kindergarten where the district has no art teacher. The only “budget” was what the PTO would donate. They spent $300 and I spent $700 +.

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