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A Broken Record Of Lies A Look At How Reform Opponents Flood Social Media

I noticed something curious on Twitter the other day.

Two state chapters of the Badass Teachers Association (BATs), the rabble-rousing teacher activist organization founded by Mark Naison that fights “corporate education reform,” tweeted the exact same tweet about a study on the opt-out movement at the exact same time.

This had to be more than a coincidence, so I did a little digging and what I came up with surprised me. The Twitter accounts of dozens of BATS chapters across the country – along with the accounts of New York State Allies For Public Education, Opt Out Long Island, and BATs executive director, Marla Kilfoyle – had posted the same exact message over the course of several days.

BATs executive director Marla Kilfoyle with Diane Ravitch.
BATs executive director Marla Kilfoyle with Diane Ravitch.

Moreover, a pattern clearly emerged in the timing of those tweets indicating that they had been scheduled and sent from a single source to flood social media and create the appearance that BATs has a broad base of support across the country.

This wasn’t an isolated occurrence. A review of the posts from these accounts shows the same staggered scheduling of tweets over and over again. (Here’s another example of a tweet about Democrats For Education Reform.) It seems to indicate that these BATs accounts are simply fronts for a broader anti-education reform communications campaign.

So who is stage-managing this ruse? Obviously, BATs executive director Marla Kilfoyle is high on the list of suspects. Over the past few years, Kilfoyle, a high school social studies teacher in the affluent and overwhelmingly white Long Island community of Oceanside, has emerged as a leader of the opt-out movement. Kilfoyle has been at the helm of BATs since Mark Naison left the group in 2014. In fact, when BATs formally became a non-profit corporation last year, her home in Bellmore, NY was listed as its address.

From the New York Department of State website.
From the New York Department of State website.

As her star has risen, she’s drawn the attention of national media outlets such as Politico, the Washington Post, NPR, and of course, The Progressive. Plus, a look at her Facebook feed reveals selfies with some of the leading education reform critics in the country.

Clockwise from left: Linda Darling-Hammond, Julian Vasquez-Heilig, Jeff Bryant, Karen Lewis, Anthony Cody.
Clockwise from left: Linda Darling-Hammond, Julian Vasquez-Heilig, Jeff Bryant, Karen Lewis, Anthony Cody.

But there’s reason to believe that this communications campaign is actually being run by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) or someone it’s paying to manage it. Admittedly, the evidence is circumstantial, but it seems to point in the direction of AFT.

First of all, there is only one personal Twitter account included in the scheduled BATs campaign: Marla Kilfoyle. She is a member of an AFT affiliate, the Oceanside Federation of Teachers, and was a ranking delegate at AFT’s annual convention this year.

Kilfoyle was a ranking AFT delegate this year at the union's annual convention.
Kilfoyle was a ranking AFT delegate this year at the union’s annual convention.

Second, dozens of other individuals and organizations have posted tweets that are identical to the “robo-tweets” sent out by the BATs accounts. It’s clear these messages are being coordinated behind-the-scenes, probably through email listserve(s). This fact, in and of itself, is not a big shocker (our side does it, too). What is illuminating, however, are the particular accounts that appear to be on this anti-reform list, which would suggest AFT is driving the campaign.

As an example, let’s take a look a recent flood of tweets sent out about an article in Mother Jones entitled, “Why Did Black Lives Matter and the NAACP Call for an End to More Charter Schools?” BATs, along with hundreds of individuals and organizations on Twitter, posted the same exact tweet over a period of several days.

If you note who specifically sent these tweets, you’ll notice that many of them – the Advancement Project, Asher Huey, the Economic Policy Institute, etc. – have ties to AFT. Also take note of the cities targeted in this campaign: Philadelphia, New Orleans, Los Angeles, New York, Boston, Detroit. They are all cities with AFT-affiliated teachers unions currently in the midst of high-profile battles over charter schools.

Could all of this be a coincidence? Perhaps, but I certainly don’t think so.

Written by Peter Cook

Pete became involved in education reform as a 2002 Teach For America corps member in New Orleans Public Schools and has worked in various capacities at Teach For America, KIPP, TNTP, and the Recovery School District. As a consultant, he developed teacher evaluation systems and served as a strategic advisor to school district leaders in Cleveland, Nashville, Chattanooga, and Jefferson Parish, Louisiana. He now writes about education policy and politics and lives in New Orleans.


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  1. As for the tweets being coordinated, that’s called technology. As one of the admins for a state BATs chapter I can assure you that the accounts are not fake–but thanks for your concern. Considering that ALL of the BATs social media presence is done by real teachers and public ed activists on their own time, and that the social media efforts from the corporate reform community is being conducted by well-paid and well-funded non-teachers who work for astro turf groups like The 74 and Education Post, I’ll take the BAT model 7 days a week.

    Still confused as to what the point of this post was? That you are angry that public school teachers are tired of being attacked and are fighting back? That teachers are using and understanding research? That it scares you that education activists are organized and know how to use Twitter? Or maybe there was no point…

    • HEADLINE: Self-righteousness and Ivory Tower Privilege Spur Armchair Activism

      Please spare the angry public school teacher routine. According to your CV, the last time taught in a public school was 23 years ago – long before NLCB or any other so-called “attacks” on teachers – and when you did, it was in a small, white district in NY.

      If I wanted to hear a lot of hot air from an academic, I’d take night classes, thank you.

      • that’s a lot of anger and no answer, Pete. you still haven’t said why the study was biased.

          • I’d say it’s frustration and snottiness, Pete. And really think skin. If you were truly indifferent you’d either ignore my comments or respond thoughtfully. You are pretty condescending, though. Congrats!

            But I understand–it must be really frustrating to know that your side is being funded by billionaires and has plenty of full time bloggers and “communications analysts,” while the “reform opposition” is a bunch of dumb, lazy public school teachers writing comments in their spare time.

      • and that’s not the headline from the study. it’s from your interpretation of the findings that you didn’t like. but that’s the cool thing about science–it doesn’t matter if you like the results.

  2. How is the study biased? You kind of skipped over that assertion, and never provided any evidence to support your claim. I just read the article at the link, and it looks like a well-designed, nicely written research report. But then again, I’m an education researcher, so I’m probably biased, right?

  3. Bob, first of all, I said the coordination piece – the fact that people are sharing the messages as not shocking point. I said the fact that all of the state accounts are clearly timed and fake as the point. Instead of having a theoretical discussion with me, go to those accounts, look at what they’ve posted, and tell me they’re anything but fronts. Sharing and coordinating is one thing – my side does it (look up #Voices4Ed) – but we don’t setup fake accounts purporting to be chapters of organizations all over the country to send our messages. Also, I would encourage you to go check out and see if those orgs actually legally exist – they don’t, I’ve checked.

  4. So you’re saying that BATs teachers are approaching the effectiveness of your (and BAEO’s for sure) highly paid professional PR people like your local Brylski? (Sp?). As for the AFT President Randi Weingarten, she has been the subject of their anguish herself but I know Union bashing works when little else will.

  5. Not sure how your post and evidence leads to the conclusion that the orgs don’t exist. Lots of orgz share social media posts and try to coordinate them. Ravitch criticized reformers for exactly this sometime in the last few years, and provided identical evidence where a whole bunch of reformers posted identicla tweets all within like an hour of each other. I just find both her argument and yours her to be basically irrelevant; yes, people coordinate communication across many people and/or organizations because it’s an effective way at getting messags out.

  6. What does this matter? Reformers coordinate social media posts all the time, for the exact same reason. No fault on either side for using effective communication techniques.

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