MEDIA WATCH: 'Some things to keep in mind,' indeed... Know your enemy department. James Warren and the Chicago News Coop's propaganda placement in The New York Times

Readers who have a dwindling bit of respect for The New York Times are always puzzled when it comes out with a completely biased story against teachers and teacher unions. After all, a citation from The New York Times is OK in a scholarly journal, even if it's the most blatant corporate "reform" propaganda. On the national level, Times reporter Sam Dillon has been a PR mouthpiece for Arne Duncan and the Obama administration's attack on public schools since a month before Duncan was sworn in in January 2009 to begin the Race To The Top ("No Child Left Behind on Steroids..."). It was Sam Dillon who wrote the puff piece that appeared on Page One of the Times while Duncan and Obama sat prettily at "Dodge Renaissance Academy" posing. The Obama administration's attack on public schools had begun. Anyone who Googles Sam Dillon will see a portfolio of pro-Arne Duncan nonsense, all of it reading like PR handouts from the U.S.Department of Education. Some of the stuff is funny reading, but remember this is not from Second City, the Colbert Report or Saturday Night Live.

New York Times pundit James Warren (above) at the April 27, 2011 meeting of the Chicago Board of Education. Warren has gone from being a cheerleader for Richard M. Daley's version of corporate school reform to cheerleading for Rahm Emanuel's corporate version of school reform. Warren's enthusiasm for Emanuel's latest publicity stunts grows even as Emanuel trashes everything Daley did with Chicago's public schools during the 16 years he controlled them following the Amendatory Act of 1995. Historical amnesia and a general lack of context is one prerequisite to being a reporter for the "Chicago News Coop." Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.This is "All The News That's Fit to Print" speaking.

But if most of the corporate propaganda nationally on school reform in the Times has been coming straight from the publicity stunts of the U.S. Department of Education, locally since Rahm Emanuel's election, the same agenda is being pushed against Chicago's remaining public schools — and the Chicago Teachers Union — by the local incarnation of the Times in Chicago.

Locally, in Chicago, The New York Times is in even worse shape in terms of its dwindling share of ethics. Instead of financing a Midwest (and Chicago) news bureau, the Times has outsourced its reporting and punditry to minions of corporate Chicago, paid for by many of the same people who are charterizing and union busting across the local scene.

In Chicago, the Times has cut a deal with a corporate PR outfit called the "Chicago News Cooperative." If you liked "turnaround," the old "Chicago School Reform Authority" (which paid right wing pundit Chester Finn of the Fordham Foundation to be its expert on how to "reform" Chicago's public schools), charter schools, AUSL, and Race To The Top, you have friends at the News Coop, because it's basically owned by the same people who brought the Chicago Plan — and Arne Duncan — to the national school reform scene.

After beginning his career overseeing corporate "school reform" in Chicago, venture capitalist Martin Koldyke (above at microphone) founded the "Academy for Urban School Leadership" (AUSL) to push corporate style "turnaround" as the sure-fire solution for the problem of "failing" Chicago schools. Above, Koldyke was one of the speakers at a January 31, 2008 media event at the "Sherman School of Excellence," the first elementary school taken over under "turnaround" by Koldyke's AUSL. At the event, Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley (above, right) and then Chief Executive Officer Arne Duncan announced that the "Sherman School of Excellence" would serve as a model of "turnaround" even though the school hadn't been under the program long enough to measure anything except marketing claims. As the years went on, Sherman and the other AUSL schools slowly leveled off to the same levels as other schools in their communities, while the propaganda for the AUSL increased. By 2011, AUSL was declared by the Obama administration (with the support of the national corporate media) as the model for "turnaround" (or in some places, "transformation") under the "Race To The Top" program. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt. The "News Cooperative", originally financed by guys like Martin Koldyke (AUSL, earlier head of the "Chicago School Finance Authority" and the "Chicago School Reform Authority") and others from the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club and Chicago's plutocracy. Union busters and privatizers are in the majority at the News Coop, so propaganda for union busting and privatization is the general slant of what they pass off as reporting. Note, for example, that the same number of corporate experts are always trotted out for quotes in analysis stories. Never Kenneth Saltman or Pauline Lipman. Always Timothy Knowles (from my alma mater, the odious "Chicago Boys" nesting place, the University of Chicago) or the expert on everything corporate and schooly — Barbara Radner from DePaul. The slant in the choice of national experts heads in the same rightwing tilting direction. The most anti-union and pro privatization of the batch at the News Cooperative, though, is former Tribune reporter and pundit James Warren. Take the piece he put into "America's Newspaper of Record" on August 26, 2011:

CHICAGO NEWS COOPERATIVE. While Pushing Through the Longer School Day, Some Things to Keep in Mind, By JAMES WARREN

Published: August 26, 2011

On Monday, when Chicago’s mayor revealed a 53-item checklist to self-assess his first 100 days, one notable campaign promise — “Lengthen planet’s shortest school day/year” — wasn’t on it.

But within 24 hours, another midwinter pledge was on the road to fulfillment with word that Mayor Rahm Emanuel, a k a the Missile, would jam a longer school day down the throat of the Chicago Teachers Union.

It doesn’t initially rank with adding 1,000 police officers to our streets or balancing the budget and not raising taxes — the latter a pledge that doesn’t quite hold up, given a property tax increase for schools. But adding as much as 90 minutes to the school day, if executed smartly, is significant.

The media handlers of Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley abruptly ended the AUSL media event on January 31, 2008 when Substance asked whether Daley was going to apologize to the teachers at the Orr High School "small schools", which had followed the Gates Foundation's prescription for corporate school reform prior to 2008. At the January 31, 2008 media event (above, Daley is responding to the Substance question) at Sherman School of Excellence (sic), CPS officials announced that Small Schools were being stopped, Orr High School would be subjected to "turnaround" under AUSL, and a new corporate agenda — "turnaround" — was going to get more than $19 million in Gates money. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.The when and how, including whether the teachers’ union gets a pay increase in return, are left to a poker game in which the mayor holds big cards: the reality of the short day and an angry public’s at times irrational animus toward unions. Unable to pull the trigger, Mr. Emanuel orchestrated a process to maintain momentum for change and to pressure a maladroit teachers’ union.

The Missile and aides already know the essential options for lengthening the instructional day, like ditching the time-wasting “breakfast in the classroom” program. But his presidential-like penchant to name expansive advisory panels now inspires a board to make recommendations on a new day, with the union playing into his hands by refusing to participate.

It’s as if a sulking Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the United States Senate, had refused to discuss a debt ceiling deal with President Obama.

You think a fix is in? Well, then, show up to a few meetings and then squawk about a conspiracy. The union hardens an image of reflexive, intemperate resistance while facing a steely politician with high approval ratings who devours news cycles.

Granted, even a 90-minute extension just gets our schools to the national average. But view it in tandem with other proposed gambits, including a small bonus pool for principals.

The evidence linking improved teacher or principal performance with merit pay is murky, concedes Tim Knowles, an Emanuel education adviser who runs the estimable Urban Education Institute. But rewarding excellence is a smart goal and could bring useful, in-the-making metrics on how to assess performance intelligently.

For example, Mr. Knowles’s group has discerned ways to measure community engagement, a critical element of a school’s success.

The going is tough. Teachers and principals often labor in factory settings with factory rules and scant influence to reconfigure the assembly line. Merit pay shouldn’t be a stick disguised as a carrot or about working optimally in a suboptimal system where efforts are sabotaged by issues beyond one’s control — like grinding poverty and family dysfunction.

A thrust toward greater accountability is fine. But blaming teachers can be like blaming Chevy workers for cars badly designed and marketed by grotesquely-compensated management.

Yes, incentivize principals but consider how to reward systemic, not just individual, improvement. Don’t penalize a principal whose school’s reading scores are affected by an awful teacher whom he can’t ditch because of a contract making it virtually impossible to fire someone.

One of those at Sherman Elementary School on January 31, 2008, was David Vitale (above), who at the time was working as a "$1 per year" "Chief Administrative Officer" under Arne Duncan. Vitale was appointed President of the Chicago Board of Education by Rahm Emanuel in June 2011. His Board of Education now trashes all of the work that was done at CPS by Arne Duncan and the reformers who worked at the bidding of former Mayor Richard M. Daley, while Rah, Emanuel daily itemizes the failures of the Daley years, which he proposes to fix by attacking the Chicago Teachers Union. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.There is, too, a conspicuously unmentioned player: local school councils. In hiring and dismissing principals, they can be democracy run amok.

Since a happy Mr. Emanuel has just returned to his North Side home after his Tenant From Hell exited, he may walk a half-block north to Ravenswood Elementary School and four blocks south to Lake View High School.

At Ravenswood, a good principal was canned in a wrongheaded 5-to-4 vote by the local council several years back. At Lake View, a seemingly uninspired candidate — a former teacher there with lots of faculty chums — was just voted in as new principal.

In each case, the council’s two mandated teachers were critical to the outcomes. But what if a teacher gets a poor evaluation from a principal, who is pushed to new candor by new metrics and then votes on the principal’s contract renewal?

The Missile should add “Rehab one-size-fits-all school councils, even if community groups go ballistic” to the checklist and ram change through. Like a longer day, being average is a good aim for now. But at some point, we might conceive of occasionally being great.

A version of this article appeared in print on August 26, 2011, on page A21A of the National edition with the headline: While Pushing Through the Longer School Day, Some Things to Keep in Mind.


August 30, 2011 at 8:34 AM

By: John Kugler

Media Madness

Interesting this morning on the news they had the talking points: one day before school starts and there is no agreement with Chicago Teachers Union. Complete disregard for the facts and scare tactics. We need to be clear and steady making sure to point out misinformation to the public so they understand that this is not about the children but about Union Busting.

An Injury to One is An Injury to All

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