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Stand for Children, the Chicago billionaires' answer to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, loses all credibility at west side forum April 1

Stand for Children, the organization that raised more than $3 million from Chicago billionaires and tried to buy the Illinois General Assembly in order to pass a union busting law called "Performance Counts," hit another roadblock on Chicago's West Side on April 1, 2011. That evening Stand for Children was exposed to the community as a fraud during a forum sponsored by Chicago's Black Star Project and others. Before an audience of more than 60 people, most of them from the communities most hurt by the policies of Stand for Children's major donors, Stand for Children's claims about wanting to reform Illinois public education for the sake of the children and parents were exposed as the frauds they are.

At the time of the December 16, 2010 hearings before the so-called "school reform committee" of the Illinois House of Representatives, only "Stand for Children" and "Advance Illinois" were recognized by the politicians as legitimate school reform groups. Chicago organizations with decades of work behind them were relegated by the committee's chair, Linda Chapa La Via of Aurora, to testifying as "miscellaneous" witnesses, while others were given primary position. Above, Etoy Ridgnal (center) testifies while Robin Steans of Advance Illinois (right) looks on, and one of the "teachers" who narrates how terrible things can be in Chicago schools looks on as well. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Like most of the Tea Party and other heavily financed corporate front groups that have been sprouting like crab grass across the USA as wealth becomes more concentrated in the wealthiest coffers, "Stand," as it likes to call itself, claims to be a "grass roots" group.

Yet when standing in front of an audience of teachers, community leaders, and parents, "Stand" was unable to explain how it had developed a ruthless union-busting legislation while not talking to any parents, students or teachers. As the evening continued, it became clear that "Stand" had invested some of the millions of dollars it solicited from Chicago multi-millionaires and billionaires to bring carefully selected audiences to screenings of the privatization film "Waiting for Superman." Those individuals were subjected to some marketing techniques which then created poll results supposedly supporting the Stand for Children agenda. In selecting its audiences — and the carefully screened "teachers" and "parents" who serve from time to time as its public spokesmen — "Stand" deliberately ignored most of the thousands of elected parents and teachers from Chicago's local school councils. And "Stand" deliberately and completely ignored the 30,000 members of the Chicago Teachers Union and the union's leaders.

Stand for Children Illinois Director Etoy Ridgnal (above left) glares at Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis (center) as Lewis exposes another Stand for Children talking point as a lie during the forum on April 1 hosted by Black Star. Black Star director Phillip Jackson, who moderated the event, is on the right above. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt. Since its dramatic entry into Illinois in October 2010, when it donated more than a half million dollars to Illinois politicians prior to the November 2, 2010 election, Stand for Children has tried to push legislation through the Illiinois General Assembly that most closely resembles the union-busting Republican laws that are now being passed in states from Wisconsin to Ohio. Stand for Children's Illinois law, is called "Performance Counts." The 40-page document, in legislative format, attempted to make teacher strikes illegal. It would have barred the Chicago Teachers Union from negotiating over anything other than wage — the same objective that Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has been trying to achieve with his more general law attacking all public worker unions. As Karen Lewis pointed out during the forum, Stand for Children believed in December that it had bought enough votes in the Illinois House to get the legislation through the lame duck session of the Illinois General Assembly. Some observers also believe that Stand for Children believed the polls showing the Republican Bill Brady was about to be elected Governor of Illinois (Brady was far ahead of Pat Quinn as late as week before the November 2 election).

Even though Stand for Children Illinois spokesmen now claim that Stand for Children wasn't trying to do Wisconsin-style union busting and teacher bashing, the record shows otherwise. On the first day of the hearings on the Stand for Children "Performance Counts" proposal, teacher leaders and others were lied to by Stand for Children and some Illinois legislators, who claimed that there was "no bill." In fact, Stand for Children by December 16 had presented certain legislators with the complete text of a proposed Act (see above, "This Act may be cited as the Performance Counts Act of 2010") that they expected would be rammed through Springfield prior to the end of the General Assembly's lame duck 2010 session. Stand for Children, like other Republican groups attacking unions in states across the Midwest (most dramatically in Wisconsin) had prepared the complete law it wanted, including a banning on the right to strike and the prohibition against the Chicago Teachers Union negotiating on the length of the school day or class size. When confronted with their own words in the days since Madison, Stand for Children apologists try to change the subject, talk about "what's best for children," or retreat into a repetitious version of their own personal narratives.Like its counterparts and supporters (the Illinois Business Roundtable and Advance Illinois) in Illinois, Stand for Children spent thousands of dollars in creating the illusion of a "grass roots" organization in October and November 2010, then launched "Performance Counts" amid great fanfare in December. Hearings before the newly created "Illinois School Reform Committee" of the Illinois House were scheduled for December 16 and December 17, 2010, in Aurora at the Illinois Math Science Academy. Amid a flurry of last minute organizing similar to that which greeted the similar Republican attacks in Wisconsin, Illinois teachers unions (the Illinois Education Association, IEA; the Illinois Federation of Teachers, IFT; and the Chicago Teachers Union, CTU) quickly responded to the attack and after two intense days of lobbying delayed a House consideration of the "Performance Counts" bill. Prior to recent weeks, Stand for Children has been trying to hide behind a smokescreen that it is a "grass roots" organization whose only interest is what's best for public school children. But when confronted with the many aspects of "Performance Counts" that amount to straightforward union busting, the group retreated behind vapid talking points and pouting.

Stand for Children's Jonah Edelman was so certain in December 2010 that the group has purchased enough Illinois politicians' votes to pass "Performance Counts" that he told people that there would be no discussion of the legislation by February 2011, because it was a done deal. When events proved Edelman wrong (and even Illinois politicians who had received tens of thousands of dollars in donations from the Oregon-based group balked at some of the things in "Performance Counts") Edelman retreated from Chicago and left Illinois work in the hands of the newly opened (December 2010) Stand for Children Illinois office (at 300 W. Adams St). Those who ran into Edelman during the late days of 2010 noted that his brother, Joshua Edelman, had been in charge of privatizing as many Chicago public schools as possible by pushing charter schools during the years Arne Duncan was Chief Executive Officer of CPS. After Duncan went to Washington, D.C., Joshua Edelman left Chicago too.Stand for Children Illinois Director Letoy Ridgnal tried and failed to repeat the organization's cliched answers to major questions about the public schools, while Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis continued to emphasize facts that Stand for Children and its wealthy supporters are trying to dismiss or ignore.

It took Phillip Jackson (right) nearly one minute to stop a tirade from Letoy Ridgnal (above left) when the "facts" Stand for Children had been quoting in Illinois were exposed as fabrications by CTU President Karen Lewis (center). Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.The two-hour forum, which was chaired by Black Star's Phillip Jackson, was held at the ____ church on W. LeMoyne St in Chicago. In the blocks surrounding the church, dozens of boarded up homes testified to the destruction caused by the policies of the major donors to Stand for Children Illinois (see below for a complete list).

The most dramatic confrontation of the evening came when Letoy Ridgnal tried to repeat a false statistic that has been making the rounds among corporate school reformers, including Chicago Mayor-Elect Rahm Emanuel and former Chicago schools CEO Ron Huberman.

Although the information about the billionaires who backed Stand for Children in Illinois had been widely available to Chicago teachers prior to the April 1 forum, a local publication (the Austin Weekly News, above) brought the news home to residents of the community where the forum was taking place. Reported by community activist Drayne Truss, the truth about Stand for Children's phony "grass roots" work increased the intensity with which local residents opposed the talking points being delivered by Etoy Ridgnal on April 1. The residents of the community haven't even heard that one of Stand for Children's major billionaire supporters, Penny Pritzker, was a pioneer in the exploitation of poor black families in the Chicago area when she was head of Chicago's Superior Bank, which pioneered "sub prime lending" to poor people. When Superior Bank went bankrupt ten years ago, the Pritzkers and their partners escaped most liability for the bank's corruption thanks to their political clout. In 2010, Penny Pritzker returned to the subprime fields she had originally tilled by joining "Artemis Real Estate Partners," which is touting its entrepreneurship in the field of "distressed properties" (i.e. buying up homes and businesses that have been forced into foreclosure). Within four blocks of the site of the Stand for Children April 1 forum were a dozen foreclosed and boarded up homes, most of which once were the homes of children who attended local public schools. Stand for Children's financing is so that the group, on behalf of the billionaires, tries to change the subject from poverty and exploitation to "firing bad teachers." "In Houston, the average student gets..." Ridgnal began, preparing to recite the oft quoted claim that in 13 years of public school a student in Houston gets "four more years" of instruction than a student in Chicago.

Interrupted by CTU President Karen Lewis, who insisted that the facts be told about the falsifications in the "study" being passed around denigrating Chicago, Ridgnal began a series of interruptions, trying to stick to the general talking points Stand for Children has been repeating over and over since making its splashy entrance into Illinois politics in December 2010 with the attempt to rush "Performance Counts" through the lame duck session of the Illinois General Assembly.

Hovering in the background of the Stand for Children claims was a late summer and early autumn screening of the propaganda movie "Waiting for Superman" by Stand for Children. According to Ridgnal, the Waiting for Superman events, which consisted of selected parents and "teachers" attending the movie at the expense of Stand for Children, then answering surveys about why public schools and unions are bad, formed the basis for the Stand for Children claims that Stand represents hundreds of "teachers" and "parents." Yet when asked to name the Chicago public schools where "Stand" had a presence, Ridgnal kept repeating the names of only three schools: Morton, Melody, and Bethune.

The leaflet distributed by community leaders on April 1 listed some of the millionaires and billionaires whose money created Stand for Children and pushed the ruling class's party line for education reform — that "bad teachers" need to be fired to make "good schools" — locally in Chicago and nationally through the Obama administration's Department of Education under Arne Duncan.As Substance has previously reported, Morton and Bethune are now under the control of another group finances by millionaires and billionaires — Chicago's "Academy for Urban School Leadership" (AUSL). Former Chicago schools chiefs Arne Duncan and Ron Huberman (who is now working for a hedge fund) handed over Morton and Bethune to AUSL as part of Chicago's "turnaround" program, which is now national policy under the Obama administration's "Race to the Top."

One of the noteworthy things about the recent Stand for Children events is that the group is unable to produce real Chicago public schools teachers and parents to stand up on its behalf. One person who asked a question that was favorable to the Stand for Children "Fire the bad teachers" position identified herself as a "teacher," but wouldn't say where she taught. Similarly, during the hearings in Aurora in December, lurid testimony from "former teachers" was entertained by the school reform committee, but none of the representatives on the committee asked the witnesses for Stand for Children where they had taught, when, and for how long.

Part of the Stand for Children script calls for a "teacher" and a "parent" to testify in favor of the Stand for Children narrative. Usually, the teacher doesn't identify herself or her school, as happened on April 1 when the small group of white Stand for Children supporters (above) asked a question while community and CTU leaders looked on skeptically. At the April 1 event, no parent spoke in favor of Stand for Children's attacks on teachers and the Chicago Teachers Union, so Etoy Ridgnal doubled as a parent. She told the audience of people with children in Chicago's public schools (many of whom have served on local school councils for years) that she would not be able to send her own child to the local west side school near where she lived, without explaining what was wrong with the local school council and other activities already taking place at the school. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.One of the narrative tricks utilized by Stand for Children and similar groups is to emphasize personal biographies, often embellished like an Oprah Winfrey narrative, to lend what is supposed to be credibility to the Stand for Children pitch. Pioneered in Chicago by a number of charter school leaders, the "up from the ghetto" version of reality is somehow believed to justify the attacks on public schools and teacher unions that are contained in proposed legislation like "Performance Counts." Etoy Ridgnal, for example, can be counted on to remind audiences that her family neglected her as a child and that a public school teacher helped her out. At numerous public events, she has always failed to identify the public school she supposedly attended while suffering the supposed neglect, or the teacher (who was a member of the Chicago Teachers Union) who helped her when she was little. Ridgnal's associates on the Stand for Children staff (and those who serve as witnesses at public events) usually have similar stories to tell, while in most cases they are never checked for veracity.



Comments:

April 3, 2011 at 7:58 AM

By: Rod Estvan

Houston school district's problems

Since Stand for Children wants to use the Houston Independent School District as its model for improved performance based on a longer school day it is worthwhile to note some of the very major problems Houston has had with testing. This district has experienced test-cheating scandals in 2003, 2004, 2005 and again in 2010. The details of which can be seen in articles on the Internet with ease.

Here is an example of what has been going on. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) is investigating allegations that staff at a Houston ISD elementary school had access to a secure TAKS test and shared an essay topic with students before the writing exam. But it was not the TEA brought this cheating to public knowledge, but rather teachers.

Gayle Fallon, president of the Houston Federation of Teachers, said a member alerted the union to the alleged cheating. The teacher said a fellow school employee shared the prompt for the upcoming writing test and said it came from a consultant who worked with the district, Fallon said.

“That kind of freaked the teachers,” Fallon said. “They don’t want the test in advance. They understand you could lose your (teaching) certificate.”

Wesley Elementary in Houston from 1994 to 2003 won national accolades for teaching a majority of its low-income students how to read. Oprah Winfrey once featured it in a special segment on schools that “defy the odds,” and in 2002 the Broad Foundation awarded the Houston Independent School District a $1 million prize for being the best urban school district in America, largely based on the performance of schools like Wesley.

It turned out that Oprah was more right than she realized: Wesley was defying the odds. A December 31, 2004 expos’ by the Dallas Morning News found that in 2003 Wesley’s 5th-graders performed in the top 10% in the state on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) reading exams. The very next year, as 6th-graders at Houston’s M.C. Williams Middle School, the same students fell to the bottom 10%.

The newspaper obtained raw testing data for 7,700 Texas public schools for 2003 and 2004. It found severe statistical anomalies in nearly 400 of them.

When I first heard Stand for Children touting Houston I almost fell out of my chair, even Robin Steans from Advance Illinois has done the same thing. One would think they could at least come up with a less scandal ridden school district as a model.

Rod Estvan

April 4, 2011 at 11:07 AM

By: Julie Woestehoff

Why is New York State teachers pension fund investing with Penny Pritzker?

Great story - now please spread the word to your New York State colleagues to demand that their pension fund divest from Penny Pritzker's company, which is making money off of foreclosures:http://pureparents.org/?p=16848

Support Jay Rehak and your other pension board reps in getting rid of investments with the people who are behind Wisconsin-style corporate attacks on unions. You have enormous power in this area - use it!!!

April 4, 2011 at 5:06 PM

By: George N Schmidt

Cool, Julie... Penny's 'bankruptcy' not as far fetched as you think in foreclosure land

As those who've read the PURE blog at pureparents.org about the Penny Pritzker shenanigans through a thing called "Artemis Real Estate Partners" (they're moving into "distressed properties", i.e. foreclosures) now know, Penny's going to try and make lots of money (probably, as is typical with Pritzkers, tax-free) ripping off those who've lost their homes.

As PURE wrote:

"Here’s a thought from the Paranoid File – what if Penny is secretly planning to take the teacher pension money, then go bankrupt? Her pal President Obama will no doubt bail her out so that she can keep giving him megamillions in campaign donations, but teachers will be out of luck! She gets what she wants either way.

"Oh, and in case you didn’t already hate Penny? The Tribune reports that her private equity firm will focus on buying distressed property (i.e. foreclosures). Perfect. She wants your job AND your home."

Fact is, Penny's already done it, as I've reported.

If you've heard of Superior Bank, you already know that Penny was the boss there, and that Superior Bank pioneered the "sub prime lending" scam that ripped off the poorest people in the Chicago area with high interest mortgages that they could never have afforded. And this was in the 1990s, before the New Century, Washington Mutual, and other crooks turned the world economy inside out with predatory mortgage scams.

By then, however, Penny was long gone. As you can learn with a little research, Superior Bank was shut down for cooking the books ten years ago. The Pritzkers and the bank's other owner got away with a slap on the wrist (and the promise to pay $400 million which it's not clear they ever paid) after the FDIC took over Superior Bank. The people who really got stuck are the depositors who had large amounts at Superior. Based on Penny's promises (and that Pritzker reputation, built on cynical charities while the family dodges every tax and government obligation it can), more than 1,400 depositors went over the limit for FDIC insurance -- and wound up losing all of their money.

But the Pritzkers walked away from Superior and on to other things. Having helped invent predatory lending, Penny Pritzker is back now through Artemis to cash in on the victims of predatory lending.

You might say the FDIC takeover of Superior Bank was not technically a "bankruptcy," so it might be inaccurate to say that Penny's already used the paranoid fear Julie shares. And, after all, with law degrees from places like Harvard and Stanford, Pritzkers like Penny know all the technicalities.

But if what the Pritzkers did with Superior Bank was not technically a "bankruptcy" in the legal sense, it certainly was in the ethical sense.

Since the family deftly avoided all its estate taxes thanks to those Bahamas trusts set up by the patriarch (A.N) and the brilliant Jay Pritzker (who brought CPS the "Chicago School Finance Authority" and Jerome Van Gorkom 32 years ago), you can count on the Pritzkers to set the pace in moral bankruptcy, whether it is in avoiding federal taxes or ripping off poor people on the South and West sides through outfits like Superior Bank. That's true "bankruptcy" in most peoples' books, even if a Stanford lawyer could argue for a week that it was "legal."

April 4, 2011 at 5:07 PM

By: George N Schmidt

Cool, Julie... Penny's 'bankruptcy' not as far fetched as you think in foreclosure land

As those who've read the PURE blog at pureparents.org about the Penny Pritzker shenanigans through a thing called "Artemis Real Estate Partners" (they're moving into "distressed properties", i.e. foreclosures) now know, Penny's going to try and make lots of money (probably, as is typical with Pritzkers, tax-free) ripping off those who've lost their homes.

As PURE wrote:

"Here’s a thought from the Paranoid File – what if Penny is secretly planning to take the teacher pension money, then go bankrupt? Her pal President Obama will no doubt bail her out so that she can keep giving him megamillions in campaign donations, but teachers will be out of luck! She gets what she wants either way.

"Oh, and in case you didn’t already hate Penny? The Tribune reports that her private equity firm will focus on buying distressed property (i.e. foreclosures). Perfect. She wants your job AND your home."

Fact is, Penny's already done it, as I've reported.

If you've heard of Superior Bank, you already know that Penny was the boss there, and that Superior Bank pioneered the "sub prime lending" scam that ripped off the poorest people in the Chicago area with high interest mortgages that they could never have afforded. And this was in the 1990s, before the New Century, Washington Mutual, and other crooks turned the world economy inside out with predatory mortgage scams.

By then, however, Penny was long gone. As you can learn with a little research, Superior Bank was shut down for cooking the books ten years ago. The Pritzkers and the bank's other owner got away with a slap on the wrist (and the promise to pay $400 million which it's not clear they ever paid) after the FDIC took over Superior Bank. The people who really got stuck are the depositors who had large amounts at Superior. Based on Penny's promises (and that Pritzker reputation, built on cynical charities while the family dodges every tax and government obligation it can), more than 1,400 depositors went over the limit for FDIC insurance -- and wound up losing all of their money.

But the Pritzkers walked away from Superior and on to other things. Having helped invent predatory lending, Penny Pritzker is back now through Artemis to cash in on the victims of predatory lending.

You might say the FDIC takeover of Superior Bank was not technically a "bankruptcy," so it might be inaccurate to say that Penny's already used the paranoid fear Julie shares. And, after all, with law degrees from places like Harvard and Stanford, Pritzkers like Penny know all the technicalities.

But if what the Pritzkers did with Superior Bank was not technically a "bankruptcy" in the legal sense, it certainly was in the ethical sense.

Since the family deftly avoided all its estate taxes thanks to those Bahamas trusts set up by the patriarch (A.N) and the brilliant Jay Pritzker (who brought CPS the "Chicago School Finance Authority" and Jerome Van Gorkom 32 years ago), you can count on the Pritzkers to set the pace in moral bankruptcy, whether it is in avoiding federal taxes or ripping off poor people on the South and West sides through outfits like Superior Bank. That's true "bankruptcy" in most peoples' books, even if a Stanford lawyer could argue for a week that it was "legal."

April 4, 2011 at 6:08 PM

By: Julie Woestehoff

Let's look to the future

I know all about Penny - my point is that teachers have some power over her - I hope you use it.

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