Cole ad turns teachers red

New York City teachers are angered by Kenneth Cole’s billboard critical of teachers unions, reports Gotham Schools. The clothing company asks: ”Shouldn’t Everyone Be Well Red?” In smaller lettering, the billboard says, “Teachers’ Rights Vs. Students’ Rights.”

The company’s web site asks: “Should underperforming teachers be protected?”

Last year the same Manhattan billboard featured a pro-same-sex marriage message, coinciding with its legalization in New York State.

Kenneth Cole’s three daughters attended private schools; his youngest is currently a senior at a Westchester County private school. The designer is married to Maria Cuomo, whose brother is Gov. Cuomo.

An online petition asks the company to take down the “hurtful ad.”

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  1. Even “education reform” supporters might agree that attacking and offending an entire profession (which is already suffering from widespread attempts to degrade it) is not a smart marketing strategy.

    As one might expect, we Parents Across America activists are mobilizing to protest the Kenneth Cole campaign, but I was also heartened to see via Facebook friends that Columbia University students are protesting it too. Deprofessionalizing and undermining teaching, and defunding public education — which of course are the goals of the “education reform” movement into which Kenneth Cole has now leaped — is not good for college students either, many of whom are likely to wind up in teaching.

    • What “education reform” supporters might agree on is that the profession upon which education depends ought to be treated as if it has some value by the institution that depends upon that profession. That’s as opposed to the current state of affairs in which teaching skill is so poorly valued by the public education system that it doesn’t even merit consideration. Teaching credential == skilled teacher, a clear case of politically-motivated correlation that’s irrelevant to the causation.

      Kenneth Cole, one among a growing number of lefties, has had the temerity to notice that the public education system’s not just lousy, it’s lousiest for the people who have the least ability to escape it and that part of the reason for that poor quality is the degree to which public education’s undermined the profession of teaching.

      That’s right Caroline. On everything but education Cole’s one of yours. Even though he’s rich because he’s been a successful practitioner of free enterprise he enjoys the luxury of disdaining the institution of free enterprise in every area except education. In that arena he’s had his eyes open to the inevitably corrosive effect of socialism upon the human condition and he’s, I’m sure, reaping the reward of the apostate.

      Well, good for Cole.

      It’s not exactly storming the beaches of Tarawa but you lefties will extract your pound of flesh from Cole for having the temerity to oppose the left wing orthodoxy. I’d like to hope the vicious reaction he’ll get opens his eyes to the people with whom he sides on other issues but I’m happy to welcome him as a supporter on just this one issue.

      • Roger Sweeny says:

        Yes, the public education system is worst for the people who have the least ability to escape, and part of the reason is that average teacher quality is lower.

        But the major reason is much more basic. Beyond a certain point (6th grade), school is “academic” both literally and figuratively. People from less affluent backgrounds have less interest in and less preparation for academics. They will inevitably do less well.

        Fortunately, most jobs don’t require much in the way of academics to perform well in them. Unfortunately, you have to go through years of schooling to get those jobs in the first place.

      • Roger Sweeny says:

        Oops. There should be a question mark in that parenthetical in the second paragraph: (sixth grade?). There is no clear “all academic after this, non-academic before this” point. A preponderance of academics might be as late as the end of middle school for some people in some places.

        • Oh, I don’t know. I’d say the public education system’s the lousiest for those least able to escape it precisely because they’re least able to escape.

  2. Oh dear. Another rich, lefty who’s no longer toeing the party line.

    Quick! Someone purse their lips disapprovingly at Cole.

  3. Stacy in NJ says:

    This shows that the zeitgeist has shifted.

  4. Caroline, the website only says that “underperforming teachers” should not be protected from firing. You seem to think that the term “underperforming” refers to the “entire profession,” which is rather a harsh judgment. Is that judgment just an unwitting byproduct of your eagerness to bash Cole?

  5. The zeitgeist and Cole’s temerity shift again:

    “We misrepresented the issue – one too complex for a billboard – and are taking it down.”

  6. Ponderosa says:

    When I lived in NYC, I always found Kenneth Cole’s subway ads repellent.

    How about this one: “Parents’ rights vs. children’s rights? Where do you stand?”

  7. Lightly Seasoned says:

    Should I know who Kenneth Cole is?

    • It’s a fashion line, @Lightly Seasoned. You can find it at Macy’s.

      The fact that Kenneth Cole is taking the campaign down indicates that I was right — they realized it’s counterproductive to attack an entire profession.

      A few points. No, @Allen, there is a hiring and probationary process involving interviews and references and the whole bit, just like any other field. Teaching credential=qualified teacher is no weirder than certification for doctors and lawyers and many other professions.

      Also, the reaction was not vicious but righteously outraged and wounded.

      BTW, in San Francisco I’m viewed as a moderate, and voices far to the left of me are more likely to support “it’s a miracle!’ education reform fads, mainly charters. (Lefties tend to love the “whoopee, no rules!” aspect of charters.) I’m well-informed, principled and not sold out or willing to sell out — not far-left.

      @Roger, this is incorrect: “… the public education system is worst for the people who have the least ability to escape, and part of the reason is that average teacher quality is lower.” No. If you take the teachers who are struggling in a high-poverty school and plunk them down in Palo Alto or Mill Valley, they’ll suddenly soar. If you plunk the teachers who are doing great in Orinda down in East Palo Alto, they’ll suddenly become “failing.” The reason is that schools that cope with a critical mass of low-income, high-need students tend to become overwhelmed, as do the teachers in those schools.

      @SB, the issue regarding the website is the blanket assumption that the teaching profession wants to “protect underperforming teachers.” No, other teachers do not want to “protect underperforming teachers.” That’s a straw man, and a destructive and malicious one.

      But overall, my point was to question whether Kenneth Cole would really find it a net positive to attack teachers. As it turns out, Kenneth Cole was clueless that teachers would take offense, and took down the campaign once that became apparent (thanks to social media). Seems like there’s a “value-added” issue with Kenneth Cole’s marketing personnel.

      • Roger Sweeny says:


        You are absolutely right that different skills and knowledge are required to be successful in Palo Alto (affluent, academic-oriented) and East Palo Alto (low-income, not academic-oriented). Moreover, no matter who their teachers are, kids from Palo Alto are going to do better academically than kids from East Palo Alto.

        However, I think it is reasonable to say that on average, teachers are better in PA than EPA. For one thing, there is more voluntary movement into Palo Alto schools and out of East Palo Alto schools. It seems reasonable to assuame that this increases the average quality of teachers in Palo Alto compared to East Palo Alto.

      • Interesting — I’ve never heard an anti-education-reformer be quite so explicit in saying that all teachers really are just indistinguishable widgets who can be plopped down anywhere and who have zero impact above what you’d expect from the students’ pre-existing intelligence and background.

        • And I’ve heard plenty of education “reform” advocates dishonestly twist people’s words, since dishonesty is how they earn their fat paychecks.

          • Stacy in NJ says:

            “..since dishonesty is how they earn their fat paychecks.”

            REALLY? Oh, Good Lord.

          • Well, that is both irrelevant, scurrilous, and stupid enough to indicate that you don’t have a response. You did just say that all teachers are of the same quality (I guess all of the disparities in certification and experience don’t matter after all), and that the only thing that makes some teachers look better than others is that they’re teaching smarter kids. If that wasn’t what you meant to imply, just say so, but then you’d have to admit that teacher quality does in fact differ across schools.

    • Oh Caroline, you’re never right. It’s a function of being sure of your moral superiority in the absence of any evidence.

      Kenneth Cole isn’t taking down his ads because you’re right but because the likes of you has to spin a call for responsibility on the part of the professionals into an attack on the profession. After all, he’s in the business of business and when his personal views get in the way of making profits it’s his personal views that have to give way. Of course Cole’s still wealthy, well-connected, well thought-of and with a name that’s widely-recognized. He’s not done with the likes of you just yet.

      To your few points, no, it is not.

      A teaching credential’s entirely a market exclusion mechanism that clearly has no value without the political muscle that put it and holds it in place. If it did have some value beyond that artifice there’d be some effort to discriminate among prospective teachers based on their alma mater, their class standing and the record of their accompishments if they’d been previously employed as a teacher. Those considerations would have some effect on the value of the teacher to the organization and would be reflected by differences in the offerings made to acquire those services. That’s why the best doctor or lawyer in town gets treated like the best lawyer or doctor in town as opposed to the best teacher in town whom you couldn’t identify if your life depended on it.

      Of course the reaction’s vicious. How else would those who know they have no legitimate claim to the paychecks they get respond? It’s not like they can point to their accomplishments so they have to warn people off with a baring of teeth.

      And it surprises me not at all that in San Francisco you’re viewed as a moderate. After all, the city’s widely viewed as a real life Neverland where the lost boys and lost girls can pretend that they’re mighty warriors for all that’s right and good and they never, ever have to grow up. That sets a pretty low standard for adulthood which means even a passing nod to reality is seen as a dangerous departure from the storyline not that anything I’ve read from you indicates you’re remotely close to transgressing that boundary.

      >>If you take the teachers who are struggling in a high-poverty school and plunk them down in Palo Alto or Mill Valley, they’ll suddenly soar.

      And now we have an admission of how little you think of teaching as a profession; it’s not the person but the locale.

      A lousy teacher becomes a good teacher by dint of occupying a different set of geographical coordinates? You might want to let Ben Chavis in on that secret. He seems to think that you can turn a rotten school into a good school without boosting the income of the parents or moving it to a local where the feng shui is better. And, he’s actually done it. He might have a comment to make to your assertion that teaching skill is valueless were his time not being spent educating kids and not coming up with excuses for why he’s not responsible for the kids not getting an education.

      As steadfastly as you try to ignore the schism, the folks on your side of the political divide are dividing along the lines of education. Some folks of a lefty persuasion have come to the realization that the public education system’s been making excuses for uncaring adults to obscure the destruction those uncaring adults wreak on the lives of children and those lefties don’t show much inclination to be whipped back into line by those hewing more closely to the orthodoxy of the left. Cole may have pulled the ad and the references to his apostasy but the both the motivating impulse and the vicious reaction aren’t likely to let him walk away from the issue.

      He knows, at least on this one issue, where he stands, where the likes of you stand and he’s felt the vituperativeness with which you treat disagreement. It might just be a teachable moment.

      • Roger Sweeny says:


        I can assure you that when new teachers are hired, there is “some effort to discriminate among prospective teachers based on their alma mater … and the record of their accompishments if they’d been previously employed as a teacher.”

        The first makes a difference for teachers who are starting out, the latter for teachers who are changing schools (it shows up in resume, interview, and recommendations).

        Since teacher compensation is set by “the contract,” more money can’t be offered for some teachers than for others. Rather, some applicants just won’t be offered a job.

        • Oh come on Roger, who are you trying to kid? If the school made much of a difference then proto-teachers marching out of a great ed school would march right into whatever passes for a plum job in the public education sphere and the kids marching out of the skanky school wouldn’t. Given the actual state of teacher employment the latter might never find a job in teaching.

          But is the distinction that clear? Is there a distinction at all? If there is you sure never hear much about it and I’ve never, ever seen or heard of ed schools vying for the title of top dog.

          And Roger, you can’t have it both ways.

          Either teaching skill matters, and there are unequivocal and material means of putting that fact on display or it doesn’t. If teaching skill’s rendered meaningless by “the contract” then it’s still rendered meaningless.

          That’s the consequence of “the contract” regardless of the intent – if you don’t differentiate between the good and the bad you’ll run the good off and retain the bad.

          Of course it’s not quite that clear cut but that’s the way the smart money would bet.

          • Roger Sweeny says:


            Around where I live, it is much easier for a graduate of the ed school at Boston College to get a job than for a graduate of the ed school at Bridgewater State.

            Teaching skill is certainly “rendered meaningless” by the contract if “meaningless” means no difference in pay. However, it is certainly meaningful in those first few years when the school decides whether to renew your year-to-year contract, and eventually when it decides whether to “buy you,” i.e., give you tenure.

            Alas, beyond some basics, there are–at least at the moment–no “unequivocal and material means” of demonstrating who’s very good, who’s merely good, who’s mediocre, and who’s, well, less than mediocre.

      • CaliforniaTeacher says:

        It is not a quantum leap of logic to suggest that a doctor, given the directive to improve health conditions for his patients, will have more success in Orinda than in, say, downtown Richmond. It should be an accepted premise that there are more social and economic problems in poor, urban areas than in wealthy suburban ones. This is not rocket science.

        It is difficult therefore to understand why some readers of this blog cannot extrapolate from the above scenario to teaching. The social and economic contexts of school directly impact the population’s ability to learn. As a teacher, I say this not to excuse poor teaching or lazy teachers. It is an attempt to offer background as to why the stresses and turnover rates of teaching in such conditions are relatively high, and why long-term solutions are so difficult. Economists, after all, have not been able to solve poverty. Social workers haven’t been able to completely “fix” dysfunctional families, nor have hospitals been able to thoroughly fix health problems. Why we assume that all schools, all of the time, should perform miracles is beyond me.

        • Ponderosa says:

          California Teacher,

          I agree with you and Caroline that high-needs, low-income kids are incredibly difficult to teach. But for me it’s EASY to understand why lay people can’t fathom the magnitude of the problem. On the surface, many of these kids seem sharp and energetic. Why can’t they quickly catch up to their suburban peers? It must be the teachers. What these lay people don’t see is the invisible Mt. Everest of home-provided background knowledge and behavior training that underlies affluent kids’ school success. The kids from East Palo Alto start from sea level. Unless the schools undertake a D-Day-caliber effort to in-fill these kids’ knowledge and behavior-training deficit, they’re going to be hopelessly behind within a few years of entering elementary and gravitate toward anti-academic attitudes and behaviors that will exacerbate their initial problems. Even brilliant, hyper-energetic teachers cannot save these kids; a multi-pronged, system-wide approach is the only thing that might work. Thus far, there is NO successful model for lifting-up a school of assorted East Palo Alto kids (KIPP and their ilk are de facto sorters).

          Or maybe Allen’s right and the problem is much easier to solve: force inner-city teachers to try harder.

          • Roger Sweeny says:


            Your comments suggests some heretical thoughts.

            1. On average, kids from East Palo Alto are never going to do nearly as well in school as kids from Palo Alto.

            2. If school provides knowledge and skills that people need to succeed in life, that is an unfortunate side effect we’ll just have to learn to accept.

            3. If (at least beyond a certain point), school does not provide needed skills and knowledge, we should try to seriously “de-school.” Lower the compulsory attendance age. Forbid employers to judge applicants by their schooling, etc. Otherwise, we condemn poor kids near the start of their lives.

            I personally think that real literacy and a grasp of basic math is essential. However, beyond that, there is not much that students cover in school that they really need. How many of us have had difficulty answering the question from a young person, “When am I ever going to use this?” To say, “you’ll need it in a course in the future” is hardly an acceptable answer.

          • Roger Sweeny says:

            For a lighter take, the web comic xkcd:


            (Wand over the comic for the second caption.)

  8. the issue regarding the website is the blanket assumption that the teaching profession wants to “protect underperforming teachers.” No, other teachers do not want to “protect underperforming teachers.” That’s a straw man, and a destructive and malicious one.

    OK, they just want to protect themselves, and the necessary byproduct is that underperforming teachers get protected as well. Either way, it makes no sense to say that someone who wants to get rid of underperforming teachers is automatically attacking the “entire profession” — unless you want to count the entire profession as underperforming.

    Perhaps you should think of a different argument that doesn’t unwittingly smear the entire profession as underperforming.