Orwell at the U.S. Department of Education: The lies Arne Duncan previewed while CEO of Chicago's schools are now going viral and national... Arne Duncan claims he speaks for the 'great silent majority' of American teachers... But he's lying again as usual, just as he did in Chicago for eight years

In a strange echo of another reactionary, Arne Duncan has been claiming, through spokesmen, that he is actually speaking for some kind of great silent majority of American teachers when he continues the teacher bashing programs that he pioneers as "Chief Executive Officer" of Chicago's public school. Duncan was "CEO" of CPS from July 2001 through January 2009 (when Barack Obama appointed Duncan U.S. Secretary of Education). He came to the job with no experience teaching and left having learned little about the complexity of the city's more than 600 public schools. Duncan was appointed by former Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley to push the privatization agenda which Daley wanted and left to push the same agenda for President Barack Obama across the entire USA.

Both as Chicago schools chief and as chief of the nation's schools, Duncan has made outrageous claims. The most recent is that critics of Duncan's policies don't really represent teachers — viz., that Duncan is speaking for the nation's "good" teachers and his critics are simply covering up for failure.

In his latest tangle with the truth, Duncan is claiming that critic Diane Ravitch is insulting teachers by proving that the claims by Duncan and Barack Obama that certain schools have worked miracles is simply not true. As Anthony Cody wrote yesterday: "Duncan himself was compelled to respond — the only thing more significant would have been if Obama himself had responded. And in his response, Duncan presumed to speak for teachers, saying, Diane Ravitch is in denial and she is insulting all of the hardworking teachers, principals and students all across the country who are proving her wrong every day.'"

What is interesting is that this kind of nonsense has been coming out of Chicago for the past 15 years, and was once supported by a President of the United States. In his State of the Union addresses in 1999 and 2000, Bill Clinton cited the "Chicago miracle" as proof the urban school reform could work. By 2001, Clinton had been warned by his more careful staff that much of the stuff coming out of Chicago was nonsense. As a result, the State of the Union no longer recommended that the Chicago "miracle" be followed. Instead, beginning in 2002, a "New York miracle" (also of mayoral control) was substituted for Chicago's.

What was left for Chicago was to continue hyping its "miracles" without much federal recognition, until Arne Duncan returned to that work following the promulgation by the city's economic rulers of a thing called "Still Left Behind" in 2002. "Still Left Behind" was a supposedly independent report by an organization called the "Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago" and was authored by R. Eden Martin, a millionaire corporate lawyer whose intense opposition to public schools (and especially to public school teacher unions) was widely known at the time. A year after "Still Left Behind" was issued by Chicago's corporate rulers, however, it became public policy in the form of "Renaissance 2010." Following a speech to the Civic Committee based on "Still Left Behind," Mayor Richard M. Daley ordered the school board (appointed by him) and Arne Duncan (appointed by him) to institute "Renaissance 2010." The program was supposedly a revolutionary plan to create "100 new schools for Chicago" between 2003 and 2010.

"Renaissance 2010" was actually the most massive attack on public schools and public school teachers ever tried in a major American city. The only equivalent attacks on public education previously tried had come in the segregated American South following the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education (1954). Instead of going along with the Brown decision, hundreds of white school boards across the states that had once formed the Confederate States of America established all-white, publicly supported "academies" to sustain as much segregation as possible. Although its apologists were often African Americans (and included for a time civil rights celebrities such as Jesse Jackson Sr. and Rev. Michael Pfleger of Chicago), Renaissance 2010 was a plan to privatize as much of public education in Chicago, shift public school jobs from unionized (usually African American) teachers and principals, and put the work in the hands of (overwhelmingly white) charter school teachers and charter school leaders.

Duncan's teacher bashing policies were so clear by the middle of his time as Chicago schools CEO that he was afraid to appear in uncontrolled settings with real teachers in the school system he served as overseer. He routinely refused to answer questions at press conference that dealt with the factual realities of the Chicago school system, answering every pointed question with the phrase, "I'll get back to you on that..."

The careful staging of Arne Duncan's media events during the final years of his time as CEO of Chicago's school system required that Duncan be surrounded by African Americans or other minorities. Most of those who were permitted in those circles (called "Richie's Rainbows" by pundits who noted that Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley staged the same kinds of backgrounds for his media events), the groups usually included well compensated public and private officials who would, on cue, spout the party line in favor of privatization. On April 8, 2008, less than a year before Duncan became U.S. Secretary of Education, he spoke at a media event at Chicago's Englewood High School to promote another round of "Requests for Proposals" to privatize more Chicago public schools. Behind Duncan at the media event were Daley's choice for Chicago Treasurer (Cynthia Neeley), the head of "Urban Prep" charter schools (Tim King), the head of the $50 million corporate "Renaissance Schools Fund" (Phyllis Lockett), and Chicago alderman Willie Cochran (who allowed the massive expansion of charter schools in his ward.) During the above media event, Duncan refused to answer a Substance reporter's question about the so-called "waiting list" for Chicago charter schools, responding with his usual "I'll get back to you on that" (he never did, over seven years). Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.I know, because I was usually the only reporter who asked those kinds of questions. By the mid-2000s, the corporate party line in Chicago's mass media had become so tightly controlled that Duncan's utterances, no matter how ridiculous, were treated as "news", while the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times and electronic media simply refused to look at anything behind the lies Duncan was repeating.

Many of those lies became the talking points of the U.S. Department of Education after Barack Obama appointed Duncan (and his current group of "Chicago Boys") to revolutionize the public schools of the entire nation the same way he had been allowed to revolutionize the public schools of the nation's third largest city.

Let me share two examples of the Orwellian nonsense Duncan would routinely spout during press conferences.

As Chicago radically expanded charter schools during the Duncan years, Duncan regularly hosted what amounted to charter school pep rallies, usually co-sponsored by corporate groups that were both anti-union and anti-public schools. At one of those meetings (announcing "Requests for Proposals" for further Chicago charter schools), Duncan floated the claim that the "proof" that charter schools were successful was that charter schools in Chicago (according to Duncan) had "waiting lists."

Whether or not these words are small or bigger lies, they had two pieces which Duncan regularly refused to answer questions about:

First, which charter schools have "waiting lists" and how long are those waiting lists?

Second, because Chicago has a dual school system consisting of a small number of elite elementary and high schools and a vast number of regular public schools, the only comparison that would have been valid would be to compare the fictional "waiting lists" Duncan claimed for the charter schools with the real "waiting lists" for Chicago's selective enrollment schools.

But, as noted, Duncan's answer was "I'll get back to you on that..." Which, of course, he never did.

Over the years, as Duncan kept repeating his mantra about the supposed "waiting lists" for Chicago charter schools, I repeatedly requested the lists to verify what Duncan was claiming. By the end of Duncan's time in Chicago (2008), it was clear that several of Chicago's charter schools and "campuses" were actually suffering enrollment declines and that they had no "waiting list" except in the carefully scripted fictions of Duncan and his media handlers. Because the corporate media refused to follow up with factual questions, however, Duncan could simply repeat his talking points, over and over and over, and those talking points would be repeated as fact in Chicago's corporate media.

The "waiting list" was one of the most notorious.

The other thing I asked for was the "waiting list" for Chicago's most famous selective enrollment public high schools. Again, there was not answer. As everyone familiar with Chicago knows, before elementary school and then at seventh grade, parents scramble to get their kids into the small number of selective elementary and high schools. The most famous of the high schools today are Whitney Young Magnet High School (for decades one of the best public schools in Illinois), Walter Payton magnet high school, and Northside College Prep high school (there are others, but none who have such a large number of applicants). In fact, by the time Duncan was pushing privatization the most, had Whitney Young been allowed to maintain a "waiting list", based on the number of applications Whitney Young would have had a "waiting list" as long as any "waiting list" that could have included all of the city's charter schools.

But Duncan also refused to answer that question, instead returning to the "I'll get back to you on that."

The reason? Duncan's talking points were basically vapid corporate propaganda. And he knows it.

Another example, now national policy, is that claim that certain schools get "100 percent of their graduates into college..."

Chicago began pioneering that BIg Lie under Duncan, with the help of the Chicago Tribune. Chicago's corporate leaders needed a charter school that could float a plausible lie that racists would believe, and for that purpose Chicago's Urban Prep provided the answers. Under Tim King, a relentless promoter, Urban Prep is regularly featured in the Chicago Tribune and elsewhere as an example of some kind of miracle because, according to Urban Prep (and Arne Duncan, and Urban Prep's corporate supporters) "all" of Urban Prep's graduates get into college. That version of reality began in Chicago even before Urban Prep had any graduates, and it's still too soon to claim anything about its meaning, because none of the graduates of Urban Prep (which continues to expand with the support of those who run Chicago) has been in college for four years.

But the lies or Urban Prep actually began even before Urban Prep had any students, and they were simply repeated by Arne Duncan's and Urban Prep's corporate cheerleaders.

Like the "waiting list," the claims about college required some factual checking.

First, Urban Prep, like all Chicago charter schools, dumps its less successful students before they reach their final year. Only this year has a systematic study of that vicious attack on the students begun, thanks to a coalition of community groups, a couple of reporters, and a group of teachers who are keeping close track of the machinations of Chicago's charter schools.

It's easy to get "all" of your 12th graders into college if you eliminate the most risky of those before they reach 12th grade, which is what Arne Duncan allowed Chicago's charter high schools to do for years.

But there is another trick to the claim.

In America today, anyone who graduates from high school can get into a four-year college somewhere.

The only thing a school has to do is make it a prerequisite to graduation that the student apply to and get into a four-year college.

It's that simple. Whether the college is some fly-by-night for-profit or one of the Ivy Leagues (which corporate Chicago pushes for certain of the charter school students, and has been for years, to the detriment of the city's regular public school students, no matter how talented), if all students are required in 12th grade to get into a four-year college (event those who are going to really attend trade school or go into the military), another privatization "miracle" is easy to claim.

From that point on, the Chicago Tribune continues, year after year, to report the story as if it were (a) news and (b) some kind of miracle (because in a racist world, a bunch of African American teenagers getting into college is supposed to be miraculous).

There are dozens of other examples of the mendacity that Arne Duncan rehearsed during his years in Chicago, which are all now national policy and national talking points. But this is as good a start as will be needed as more and more people begin challenging every simplistic attack on teachers and every privatization talking point that comes from the Obama administration through the lips of the current U.S. Secretary of Education.


Posted June 9, 2011 at Living in Dialogue: _ravitch_insulting_tea.html

Is Diane Ravitch Insulting Teachers? Who Speaks for Us? By Anthony Cody on June 9, 2011

Last week, in the pages of the New York Times, Diane Ravitch went after the most sacred of cows of the education "reform" movement — the supposed "miracle schools" that prove the reforms actually work.

Columinist Jonathan Alter offered a rebuttal that was carried in a media outlet owned by leading education "reformer," New York mayor Michael Bloomberg. But his approach was to attack Diane Ravitch, and had little substance. It was immediately rebutted by dozens of commenters (including me...)

Duncan himself was compelled to respond — the only thing more significant would have been if Obama himself had responded. And in his response, Duncan presumed to speak for teachers, saying, "Diane Ravitch is in denial and she is insulting all of the hardworking teachers, principals and students all across the country who are proving her wrong every day."

Jonathan Alter has been on the defensive since, and his performance in a debate with Diane Ravitch on David Sirota's radio show yesterday was unconvincing. You can listen here to the Wednesday, June 8 show.

Other education "reformers" like Michael Petrilli of the Hoover Institute have responded by actually defending Ravitch on the merits, and trying to walk balk some of the preposterous mandates of NCLB to more realistic levels — again, met with a chorus of comments that demand real reform.

The remarkable thing in this event is not simply the fact that there is a debate here. It is how one-sided the debate has become. The "reformers" all seem to be sponsored flacks, and I am seeing virtually NOBODY speak up in defense of their project. Alter tweeted "the point of Diane's column was to discredit the progress those teachers have made." So far as I know, no teachers have spoken up to say they were offended.

When reporters pointed out the huge negative response that Arne Duncan's letter to teachers got a month ago, press secretary Justin Hamilton responded that "It's disappointing to hear that someone feels that way, but we don't think that's how the broader teaching community feels about it."

So here is a challenge. I would really like to hear from any educators — people actually working in our schools, and not on the payroll of Michael Bloomberg or Bill Gates, who take issue with Diane Ravitch's critique of education "reform."

If there is a silent majority out there, as the Department of Education seems to think, here is your invitation to speak up. I offer the comment space below, and if you would like to write a full blog post, I offer that as well, without censorship or editorializing.

And if you agree with Diane Ravitch, please say so as well.

What do you think? Has the debate over education "reform" become one-sided? Are there teachers out there who support the policies of the Department of Education? dialogue/2011/06/is_diane_ravitch_insulting_tea.html

Anthony Cody


June 10, 2011 at 2:18 PM

By: Don


I think the CTPF has a vested interest in seeing a publication like Substance expand and reach a wider audience. In another article posted today the argument was made to ensure the money managers they invest with support public education. The more teachers that don't pay into the fund, the more money the fund loses. The more charter schools replace public schools, the higher the likelihood uncertified teachers fill those positions and don't pay. Imagine flooding the L stations and other locations with free teasers that hold headlines blasting the education policies that are being pushed on to the people who have to send their kids to public schools. Maybe I'm overestimating the demand, but people are thirsty for real news that can be supported with facts, especially when it comes to their kids. I think there is a market share that can be taken by this outlet from the Times and the Trib if it was funded properly. Imagine sinking those ships and sailing your own, with investmen from the people who need help the most. Or maybe I'm just reaching....

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