SUBSCRIPT: Phillip Jackson's Black Star Project is supporting the 'Parent Trigger' — Emanuel's charter school attack on public schools

To the surprise of no one, the Chicago "Black Star Project," headed by former Daley administration (and Paul Vallas Chief of Staff) Phillip Jackson is supporting the controversial "Parent Trigger" program to turn real public schools into charter schools. Despite some who claimed (or hoped) that Black Star was going to prove a reliable community ally for union teachers and others across Chicago (and especially in Chicago's Black Community), Jackson's work, which is heavily indebted to corporate Chicago for funding, continues along the same lines it has taken since 1996, when Jackson served as the first "Chief of Staff" the the first "Chief Executive Officer" of Chicago's public schools, Paul Vallas. When his work became too controversial at CPS, Jackson was appointed the head the Chicago Housing Authority by Mayor Richard M. Daley at the height of the time when public housing was being destroyed on behalf of gentrification. When asked about his earlier career four years ago, during a run for statewide elective office, Jackson said that was irrelevant to his current projects...


June 27, 2011 at 1:13 AM

By: Phillip Jackson

Black Star Does Not Support Parent Trigger.

Mr. Schmidt,

Black Star does not support parent trigger.

Black Star does support parents being the most important decision maker in the education of their chilren.

Parents are more important than CPS, ISBE, USDOE, City Hall, Washington D.C., teachers, principals, unions, Substance, etc.

Please respect that.

Phillip Jackson

June 28, 2011 at 6:40 AM

By: Rod Estvan

confused over Black Star position

If I understand this correctly I think George is stating very clearly that the Black Star project is endorsing the idea that parents can call for a vote to convert a traditional school into a charter. Mr. Jackson is saying that his organization has not called for that but "support[s] parents being the most important decision maker in the education of their children."

This seems to be a rather nuanced argument. If parents are the most important decision maker then it would logically follow that they should have the power to call for a vote to convert a school to charter status.

Here is my problem with this framing of the discussion, public schools are not owned by parents of particular geographic areas. They are owned by the citizens of the City of Chicago as a whole who are voters and tax payers. If that were not the case then north-side middle class communities could argue that their higher tax base should be used to fund their own local schools at a higher rate than those in poorer communities.

Chicago has unfortunately been disenfranchised from electing a Board of Education and by state law that power has been given to the Mayor. Effectively the citizens of Chicago elected the school Board when they elected the new Mayor. Given the geographical nature of poverty and race in Chicago we need to be very careful about arguments of community control over schools. We could very well see middle class largely white communities seeking more power to exclude effectively poor students and utilize their property tax base for the benefit of only their own children as a result.

Rod Estvan

June 30, 2011 at 12:43 AM

By: Phillip Jackson

Black Star Does Not Support Parent Trigger.

Mr. Schmidt,

Black Star does not support parent trigger.

Black Star does support parents being the most important decision maker in the education of their chilren.

Parents are more important than CPS, ISBE, USDOE, City Hall, Washington D.C., teachers, principals, unions, Substance, etc.

Please respect that.

Phillip Jackson

June 30, 2011 at 1:09 AM

By: Phillip Jackson

Don't be confused!

Mr. Estvan,

Don't be confused.

If parents want a better school or a better education for their children, they should be able to get this without a parent trigger law. If it takes a parent trigger law for parents to improve a school, than something is drastically wrong with that system.

What is confusing about that?

Now I'm confused!

What is nuanced about Black people controling the education of Black children?

Many middle and upper income white communities already "control" the eduation of their children and they "control" the number and if Black children will come into their districts.

I do not know why Mr. Estvan or Mr. Schmidt might want to control the eduation of Black children, but I know why I want to!!!

Phillip jackson

June 30, 2011 at 2:17 AM

By: David R. Stone

Black Star & parent control

Mr. Jackson,

Please explain: HOW will your Black Star program will give parents control over the education of their children?

Moving control to a more local level allows for racism and class based discrimination, especially in a city as segregated as Chicago. How do you intend to set up the Black Star system so that Black people control the education of Black children, without at the same time giving white people control of the education of white children?

It's like arguing states' rights were good before the Civil War, because it allowed northern states to prevent slavery of northern people.

-David R. Stone

June 30, 2011 at 3:02 AM

By: George Schmidt

Black Star, Local Schools Councils, and serving the Daley administration

I'm really glad to know that Mr. Jackson and Black Star do not support the odious "Parent Trigger" gimmick that's been used in Los Angeles and proposed elsewhere to aid and abet the attack on real public schools. It sure sounded that way from the report from Portland, but who knew?

As a number of people (not yet enough in Chicago, but it's growing) know, Rahm Emanuel explicitly lauded the Los Angeles "Parent Trigger" stuff during his campaign. He told the media he intends to encourage it in Chicago. Among the many stories I covered in the past year, one was Rahm, before the election, prominently at a major orgy of teacher bashing and union busting, the UNO 25th anniversary party at Union Station. Then, just a week ago, Rahm used a carefully scripted media event at one of the UNO charter schools to do another round of teacher bashing, union busting privatization pushing media. "Home visits..." This came after Rahm's Board of Education voted that it had a so-called "deficit" of $712 million and therefore couldn't honor the four percent raise for union workers in CPS. The claims of the "deficit" have been widely debunked, and Rahm's desire to confront the unions (led by the Chicago Teachers Union) is as explicit as his creepy macho. So, this will be a very busy time, and lines will definitely be drawn.

So count on it -- "Parent Trigger" will soon come to a news cycle near you with the same carefully scripted Hollywood hype that has so far characterized the Emanuel administration in ways that we couldn't satirize here at Substance. And there will be a lot of prattle about "choice," while Chicago continues to neglect all of its public schools, and to create terrible conditions for the poorest of its children. In this context, there will be enough work for everyone.

When that comes, it will be good to stand with Mr. Jackson, Black Star, and the dozens of other groups that demand that our mayor not add to his attacks on public schools, unions, and teachers with the "Parent Trigger" (and its well-funded "parent" groups with their paid petition circulators...). But one of the more recent times I watched a Black Star media event at CPS, Mr. Jackson was standing firmly beside one of the city's biggest union busters, Father Michael Pfleger. Pfleger, for those who have lengthy memories, helped destroy Calumet High School with his libels back in 2004. Pfleger has been a prominent supporter of Chicago's charter schools, privatization of public schools, and union busting ever since. Ironically, the very charter schools that Pfleger promotes (without ever demanding any kind of public accountability from them) are not only undermining public schools and public worker unions, but destroying the Catholic (and other parochial) schools as well. Charter school recruiters not only go around to the "best" students from the local public schools, but regularly go to families of parochial children and tell them that they can get the same (safe; gang free; often segregated to exclude black children) education "free" at _____ (fill in the blank) charter school.

And of course while these guys scream about teacher "accountability" and public schools "failure," they hypocritically ignore every iteration of charter school corruption, allowing absolutely no accountability from their privatization realities.

But there is much more complexity to these issues, so we can begin by discussing "control" in this context. Coverage of CPS issues will continue to be fun for Substance and those who comment here.

Specifically, I'm still waiting for Mr. Jackson to explain the years he spent working for the Daley administration, first as Paul Vallas's Chief of Staff at CPS during the launching years of mayoral control, and then at the Chicago Housing Authority during the years that CHA demolished a huge number of the projects and dispersed their residents, often more with promises than places.

We're not talking about someone who was covering these events as news here, but of a major player, at least to most observers with considerable power. "Control" certainly was an issue at both CPS and CHA as the Daley years pushed further and further into the neoliberal agenda, gentrification, depopulation, dispersal of the poor, and privatization of public schools (along with union busting).

We know and have worked with dozens of groups that organized and fought during those years, and we also know who was and wasn't there then. The battles against the gentrification of the "Mid South" and the abolition of a dozen real public schools (and their replacement in many cases with charter schools, viz. but not exclusively affiliated with my alma mater, the University of Chicago). Union busting, teacher bashing, privatization, gentrification, charter schools -- those things all really happened in this town since 1995, when Richard M. Daley took over the city's public schools.

Apparently, that factual part of recent Chicago history will be kept out of this discussion.


The next question regards "control" and the implicit racism in Mr. Jackson's challenge to some of the critics here. In Chicago, for the past 23 years, we've had local school councils, elected by parents, teachers, and members of the community. The first major attack on the LSCs came during the Vallas administration, and the attacks have been relentless ever since. They were a policy of the Daley administration, pure and simple, and the LSCs that were hit and hurt the most were at the schools that were attacked directly (with closure, turnaround, etc.), where parents and teachers often lost all power.

This "control" thing is an interesting debate and discussion, and we're definitely going to continue it here. Having served on a local school council where I worked before the Vallas administration sued (for $1.4 million) and fired me (August 2000), and participated on LSC work since (e.g., at the school my sons attend), I remain puzzled as to why Black Star ignores the power that we have by law -- the LSCs -- and seems to be promoting a notion of "control" (whatever that means) that has residual echoes of all those "choice" mantras being used to promote many of the attacks on public schools in Chicago (and now elsewhere, thanks to Race To The Top) today.

We're always interested, at Substance, in people finally joining the resistance, as we've called it for a long time. We know, precisely, who supported us during those trying years when we were facing a lawsuit of a million dollars, media lies and slanders, and blacklisting. And we know who was on the other side. But, as the recent case of Diane Ravitch shows, that can change, and we will cheer the change when and it it really happens. But as everyone who reads (or has read) "The Death and Life of the Great American School System" knows, Dr. Ravitch's current work on our side includes some revealing discussions of how she came to reject the people and positions she once held.

The same applies here and now to this discussion. Not some abstractions about "control" -- Whose? Bankrolled by Whom? Behind what program? We had a recent very dramatic example of how that stuff works in Illinois when Stand for Children suddenly popped up with more than $3 million to use to buy a few legislators in Springfield and push their union busting agenda under the smokescreen of what's best for children. With the billionaires making bids on as many grass rootsky grouplets as possible, let's answer the factual and historical questions before we slide back down that slippery slope of abstraction and rhetoric that is usually one of the blinds behind which various lucrative forms of opportunism hide.

June 30, 2011 at 8:30 AM

By: Phillip Jackson

I'm outta here!

Mr. Schmidt,

Why do you continue to make this about me?

I only have time to educate all children, and especially Black children.

I don't have time for this nonsense.

Good luck.

Phillip Jackson

June 30, 2011 at 10:06 AM

By: George N. Schmidt

Follow Diane Ravitch's example and all will be well


It's likely that we'll be bumping into each other at times, just as we did during the "debates" between Stand for Children and the Chicago Teachers Union.

And hopefully not when you're standing beside Michael Pfleger teacher bashing and union busting on behalf of the charter schools lies about "choice" and corporate "school reform."

But since you were present at the top during the birthing of two nightmares for Chicago's children, we need to publish your observations and memories about those years in the service of Richard M. Daley, at CPS and CHA. Soon as you are ready to write them up accurately, will be ready to publish every word, just as you had every work published her during the comments of recent days following my pick up from your moment in Portland.

It's nothing personal. As the people used to say. It's not about how you talk the talk, but how you've walked the walk. Talk about that walk through the corridors of educational and public housing power during the birthing of all that corporate stuff since 1995 and we'll be all ears.

...and a lot more people will be able to take your present talk seriously.

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