MEDIA WATCH: Teacher bashers and union busters at Catalyst and WBEZ team up to preach Huberman's 'bad teacher' propaganda while ignoring all the facts in Judge Coar's decision

When Chicago Public Radio (WBEZ) and Catalyst magazine join up with Ron Huberman for a morning of teacher bashing — let's get rid of all those "bad teachers" everyone knows are ruining everything — it's time for teachers to have second, third and fourth thoughts about how much credibility they give to Public Radio and Chicago's supposedly "independent" corporate mouthpiece on "school reform." The WBEZ morning report on the recent federal court decision against the Chicago Board of Education and Ron Huberman might as well have been scripted by Monique Bond, Huberman's propaganda chief. At least it makes clear where WBEZ is coming from in covering teacher union work.

Any teacher who still believes that she should contribute to Chicago "public radio" (WBEZ) the next time the pledge drives are on the air should weigh the recent propaganda binge that WBEZ and Catalyst went into in the wake of a second federal judge's holding that CPS officials had violated the Constitutional rights of Chicago teachers. Readers of Substance will remember that in March, Judge Amy St. Eve ruled that Ron Huberman had violated teachers' First Amendment rights by banning election campaign meetings in the schools. Now, in October of the same year, Judge David H. Coar has held that Ron Huberman (one of the defendants in the case) has violated the teachers' rights under the Fourteenth Amendment.

But when WBEZ's "Eight Forty Eight" maven Allison Cuddy teamed up with Catalyst's Sarah Karp on the morning of October 5, 2010, the day after the judge's decision, the only thing that was clear was that the two Lois Lanes of Chicago journalism were viewing Ron Huberman as their own Superman. To listen to the exchange, you'd think that Huberman was the victim of "bad teachers" and a greedy union. The script of "Waiting for Superman" is alive and well in Chicago's corporate media.

But don't take Substance's word for it. You can listen to the silly exchange at

Now to a few of the facts that the Lois Lanes left out while swooning over their Clark Kent of educational CEOs. Of the 660 tenured teachers who were fired by CPS from the Regular Track schools as of August 31, 2010, only 16 had ratings of "unsatisfactory."

That's less than five percent last time we counted. All of the other teachers who were dumped by Huberman were tenured and had ratings of "satisfactory" or higher (including 158 who were rated superior). Just as with the firings in July (more than 400 teachers) and the earlier elimination of the reading and math coaches in June, Huberman was using his mumblings about "bad teachers" as a smokescreen behind which he could purge veteran teachers. Huberman's purges have nothing to do with teacher quality and everything to do with implementing the latest Party Line from corporate headquarters.

But the facts aren't getting in the way of the way the story is being spun in Chicago, even if a federal judge has spent more time facing the facts than the combined reporting staffs of WBEZ and Catalyst combined.

Spin is still much in in corporate Chicago's versions of the "news."

OK. So that spin is a main part of Huberman's job. He doesn't know anything about teaching, and in the face of complex realities (and numbers), he's actually very challenged (bluffing has been the name of his game, and sweet talking reporters into giving him PR while he'd flunk a high school Advanced Placement math exam in either of the three areas it's given).

But how can anyone in reporting excuse Cuddy and Karp, who teamed up to cuddle up to Ron Huberman's talking points? For the answer to that, we'll await comments from our readers. Meanwhile, we don't think that Chicago teachers (or teachers anywhere) should support the delusional version of reporting that passes for journalism at WBEZ Radio of at Catalyst.

By the time Cuddy and Karp teamed up to cuddle the Huberman version of reality, thousands of people in Chicago had actually read Judge Coar's decision (which is available on the right on the Substance Home Page this morning). For those reading this elsewhere, go to John Kugler's article and analysis, which includes the complete decision. You can find it at§ion=Article

Whatever pretense of reporting was being served up on October 5 on WBEZ, however, it had nothing to do with what the federal judge ruled and everything to do with the biases of Chicago's corporate media hacks.


October 7, 2010 at 12:41 PM

By: Sarah Karp

George's commentary

George, I fully understand that the judge's ruling was more about procedure than about policy. However, as Karen Lewis said in no uncertain terms this lawsuit is about tenure and the union's fight to protect tenure. Huberman's attack on tenure has everything to do with his desire to use the budget layoffs to get rid of bad teachers. I hear and understand the point that teachers with good evaluations got caught in the mix, but that doesn't erase Huberman's intent.

You must understand that neither I nor Alison Cuddy have a dog in this fight. But as independent journalists, it is our job to help the public understand not just technical points in the lawsuit, but what's behind it. I tried my best to fairly present each point of view in a complicated case. Unfortunately, I think that sometimes advocates make the mistake of thinking that presenting the other point of view is an endorsement of it.

Sarah Karp

October 7, 2010 at 3:18 PM

By: Concerned Parent

I hope We Get Better Educational Leadership at CPS

Huberman's reason for teacher firings was not to eliminate the "Bad Teachers." If this was the case, why were almost all of the teachers fired proven to be the highest quality teachers. That is illogical thinking and not even the most dumbest person would believe Huberman was trying to only get rid of the "bad teachers."

Huberman and the boards intensions were clear, he violated contract agreements. In the contract it clearly states when there is a drop of enrollment or if the Board must fire teachers or other staff it must occur by seniority and qualifications. Huberman and the board clearly violated the contract when they fired the most qualified and the most effective teachers and decided to keep inexperienced and less qualified teachers. The board and Huberman new exactly what they were doing. In addition, I believe Huberman and the Board violated IDEA laws and No Child Left Behind because these legislations state the Districts must hire the most qualified teachers as possible. However, Huberman and the Board fired highly qualified Special Education Teachers and replaced them with teachers who were less qualified and with teachers who had short term certificates. Huberman and the Board also violated civil rights and human rights by not allowing these teachers due process. All the evidence is clear to the judge, the union, and anyone who has even an ounce of intelligence.

I am glad Huberman is leaving and I hope the rest of the Board members leave with him. That would be justice for all the students and teachers who work for the Chicago Public Schools. We need educational leaders who listen to teachers, students, parents, and unions. These are the elements that make a good educational system. Best Education = Effective teachers, fun clean and stable settings, positive parental environments, and unions to protect teachers from illegal employment practices.

The next educational leaders should be educators with good ideas, good intensions, and good communication skills. They must be team players, and not leave out the main components of the educational system. They must know how to negogiate.

October 7, 2010 at 3:18 PM

By: Sarah Loftus


Sarah Karp states: "Huberman's attack on tenure has everything to do with his desire to use the budget layoffs to get rid of bad teachers. I hear and understand the point that teachers with good evaluations got caught in the mix, but that doesn't erase Huberman's intent."

Really? If that were the case then the vast majority of those fired would have been 'bad teachers' but the facts do not back that up. Huberman's intent was to make the CTU give up salary, benefits, tenure etc. He simply started to fire teachers and would have continued until CTU acquiesced. CTU filed suit in Federal Court instead. This is the second Federal judgment against Huberman’s violation of employees’ rights in the last few months.

If Huberman’s intent is to fire ‘bad teachers’ he should have his hand picked administrators follow due process. Contrary to popular myth, dismissing someone for unsatisfactory performance is not difficult, but it does require that administrators do their jobs. In Chicago it takes up to seven years to get tenure, during which time administrators should be able to determine a teacher’s effectiveness. After a teacher earns tenure they also earn the right of due process. Tenure exists because the vast majority of teachers are women and tenure protects them from harassment and intimidation from those in authority. It also schools from being loaded with ‘patronage’ employees. The atmosphere in schools today is one of fear among employees, fear of being fired because the employee doesn’t ‘fit’ the profile the CEO wants. Ms. Karp, reporters have the responsibility to find out the facts and not just repeat the party line, but that takes a lot more work.

October 7, 2010 at 4:21 PM

By: George N. Schmidt

'If your mother says she loves you...

...check it out.

Back in the day Chicago trained and deployed reporters, a motto attributed to the old City News Bureau (which trained many, including Kurt Vonnegut and Mike Royko) was "If your mother says she loves you, check it out."

I do not care what Ron Huberman's "intent" was. How can anyone know but his priest, rabbi, or psychiatrist? If "intent" is the story, and facts don't matter, then WBEZ and Catalyst are doing a fine job of "reporting" Chicago education news today.

But if facts still matter, then to discuss Ron Huberman's "intent" with a straight face is silly — and the very example of what I was talking about: A "Gee Whiz" "journalism" that has no business dominating the public narrative about something as important as the education of 400,000 children (two of whom are my own).

Had Catalyst bothered doing some reporting, rather than quoting in a half "He said/she said" way ("half" because CTU officials and CTU lawyers were left out of the WBEZ-Catalyst confab discussed above), it would have been easy enough to find out how many lies Ron Huberman had been telling. CTU would be able to show that fewer than one percent of all the tenured teachers he and his minions fired after June 1 were rated "unsatisfactory" by their princiapls. And the principals' ratings are the only legal and official ones on the record.

Huberman may intend to get rid of "bad teachers" (whatever that means in 2010), but if a "bad teacher" is one with an "unsatisfactory" rating (which has not been reviewed), then he is either misinformed or lying when he claimed that the summer 2010 purges of CPS teachers were based on the desire to get "better" teachers in the classrooms. Simply, lying. What Huberman seems to be doing now (in light of his second federal court loss in less than eight months) is trying to do an ex post factor definition of who is "bad." A "bad" teacher in Chicago today, according to Ron Huberman (and WBEZ and Catalyst) is someone fired by Ron Huberman. By definition. Lewis Carroll alone could do justice to this version of reality -- sort of Ron Huberman as a cross between the Queen of Hearts and ... in the "Alice" stories. Welcome to Wonderland, Chicago style, 2010 version.

Where those teachers were replaced, in many cases they've been replaced by FNG* teachers with no classroom experience, not only (but to a large extent) from outfits like "Teach for America" (which also places more credibility in "intention" than in praxis). As everyone with professional teaching experience knows, it takes anywhere from two to five years for a teacher to get enough experience at the classroom level to reach stride. Before that, the novice teacher is holding on and hoping for help from mentors (veteran teachers) and administrators (good principals who run schools that have a way of bringing in novices).

Huberman (and WBEZ and Catalyst) are simply repeating the corporate cliches that are currently dominating the official narrative about public schools. Those cliches, no matter how often they are repeated as "fact," are nothing more than corporate talking points.

The facts were easy enough to check over the past ten months (since Huberman first began hyperventilating about that huge "deficit"), but only by reporters willing to dig and "check it out!"

Let's take the other Big Lie that Huberman's been repeating ad nauseum since winter. The "deficit." Huberman floated the notion that the possible "shortfall" might be as high as $900 million (out of a budget alternately $6.5 or $7.5 billion, depending upon whether you include capital this year; it's been back and forth depending upon the narrative).

Reporters (including Catalyst's) quickly rounded that $900 million "up" to one billion, and pretty soon we had "The SKY IS REALLY FALLING THIS TIME!!!" chicken little headlines circling around town. By the time Huberman got around to providing the public with an actual proposed budget (in August 2010), he was even claiming it was around "one billion" (for the first time), even though that had never been the truth. After months of going down from that $900 million "deficit" claim, Huberman turned around on August 9 and stated (in his "Dear Stakeholder" letter with the 2,000-page Proposed Budget, 2010 - 2011):

"Earlier this year, we projected an initial budget deficit of approximately $1 billion (based on the governor's proposed budget..."

Actually, not. Unless $900 million is "approximately $1 billion" and that $100 million doesn't matter.

But in fact, from the beginning Huberman was fictionalizing a great deal of this, working from his earlier training (he was an English major, not the "Numbers Guy" the legend claims) in literature and poetry. The purpose of the number was to force the average person (and the average reporter) to go brain dead in the face of the facts, and not to ask any further questions, simply quoting his words, because, for reasons unexplained, they are taken as authoritative (just like "If your mother...").

Huberman spent the months from January through May ignoring any questions that might pull some more facts from his fictions. Even after the Illinois General Assembly (and Governor Quinn) caved into his Big Lie and raped the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund of $400 million (this year) and more than $1 billion (over three years), nobody was allowed to ask him specific questions about parts of his actual budget and his number claims. Fictionalization was enabled by most of Chicago's reporters, for whom an authoritative quote (unless it's from an African American politician like Todd Stroger) is a "fact."

In August 2010, CPS released its Proposed Budget 2010 - 2011, and held three consecutive nights of hearings: on August 17 at Lane Tech; on August 18 at Westinghouse; and on August 19 at Corliss (all high school buildings). An unprecedented number of people turned out and testified, with many factual critiques, about the proposed budget. But neither WBEZ nor Catalyst would have known that, since they didn't bother to cover all three nights of those hearings, and they completely ignored the Chicago Teachers Union's president, Karen Lewis, who held a press conference the first night, at Lane Tech (where she had once taught chemistry).

Catalyst and WBEZ could also have asked Karen Lewis or someone from the union to speak on the air this week, but, as usual, didn't. That's probably because facts are less important to their version of "news" than Ron Huberman's "intentions."

Anyone who wants can get information about the more than $150 million Huberman buried in the budget to expand the bureaucracy he claimed to be cutting ($58 million added to the Area Offices alone). Anyone who wanted facts could read the Educator Jobs Act and note that it is specifically to hire back teachers -- not to get rid of "bad" ones and add to Huberman's "Performance Management" bureaucracy.

WBEZ and Catalyst are not the most silly or embarrassing examples of infantilism in reporting in Chicago today. That prize obviously goes to the Tribune organization (now in light of yesterday's New York Times expose). But this week's alternate reality version of "news" (where a powerful figure's "intentions" outweigh all the facts) is fairly typical of why things are so messed up in Chicago today.

We could do worse than return to the days when the City New Bureau was hammering facting and sourcing into novice reporters' training. But that might be as much wishful thinking as the idea that a new teacher needs two or three years on the job training before we can even begin to say whether new is "better."

* Footnote: In our usage, and FNG is a "Flower of the New Generation." A novice in training for journeyman status, much the same as any profession works. (There is also a more crude military version of what "FNG" means, but that's not how we use it in education jargon). Ron Huberman and more than 50 of his highest paid staff, by the way, are all FNGs as far as classroom and teaching experience are concerned, which is one of the reasons why they are so wedded to their spreadsheets, blackberries, and computers. They really believe that THE TRUTH somehow can be located between the latest orgy if texting and the bottom line on some Excel spreadsheet. And their infection is spreading, as WBEZ and Catalyst are making clear. But it will never really work in the face of the realities of human children in real classrooms in as gritty a place as Chicago in 2010. But who cares about experience, when we can all wallow in one another's good "intentions"?

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