Strong Union Voice Finally Returns to 'Chicago Tonight'

Every active Chicago teacher and parent should take the time to view (and review) the entire 12 minutes of the December 1, 2011, Chicago Tonight show on WTTW (Channel 11) Chicago. For years, Chicago Tonight has been a propaganda sounding board for the official party line on corporate schools reform (partly, Substance has long suspected, because the WTTW Board of Directors has included so many corporate types who are fanatics about it, including Martin Koldyke). It's beginning to appear that the worm may be turning, but let's continue watching carefully. The URL for those who cannot get the hotlink above is:

Noemi Donoso (above at microphone) and Oliver Sicat (standing at right) were the key administrators presenting the Board of Education's November 17, 2011, meeting with the lurid Power Point that was created by the Brizard administration recalibrated the test scores for the past several years, converting the ISAT and Prairie State test scores (that actually exist and were utilized with schools during those years) into an adjusted version of reality (based on "Common Core" data which don't really exist since the Common Core tests don't exist, and ACT information which ACT, Inc. says should not be utilized for such a purpose) to prove that nearly half of all Chicago public schools are "failing." No member of the Board of Education challenged the fuzzy math, fuzzier statistics, and historical mendacity of their presentation, and the "matrices" created have now become (in December 2011 and beyond) the basis upon which the administration of Mayor Rahm Emanuel is declaring that ten schools have to be turnarounded and another ten closed or otherwise ended. On December 1, 2011, Noemi Donoso told the Chicago Tonight audience that "half" of Chicago's schools were "failing" and that something had to be done immediately. That same claim has been made for 15 years, and yet Chicago Tonight moderator Phil Ponce allowed Donoso's words to go unchallenged. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt. On the December 1 Chicago Tonight show, Phil Ponce (who used to come and talk about being a reporter to my journalism classes a long time ago) assembled Noemi Donoso (CPS's "Chief Education Officer"), Andrew Broy (Illinois Network of Charter Schools), Linda Lenz (Catalyst), and Jackson Potter (of the CTU). The discussion was interesting, with Donoso showing why she was not ready for prime time in Chicago, barely familiar enough with the city during her brief six months here (she was imported from Denver by Rahm Emanuel) to realize the problems, both historically and today, that school closings create.

While there was no reason for Chicago to appoint someone from outside like Donoso as "Chief Education Officer" (the appointment was a slap in the face to hundreds of veteran Chicago administrators, principals, and assistant principals, but only the first slap as Donoso's colleagues Jean-Claude Brizard has proclaimed that CPS really needs talent from outside Chicago if we're going to get the right leadership), the failure of the choice was very clear during the December 1 WTTW show.

A low point of her presentation came when she tried to justify the decision to close another "Bronzeville" school (Price Elementary) and ship the children four miles to the northeast (to the Teachers Academy run by AUSL). For Donoso, the history was apparently irrelevant, the geopolitics a complete mystery. Price kids are supposedly going to do better being bused from 44th and Drexel all the way to 23rd and State, and the parents of those children are supposedly going to be fine with the fact that their children will no longer be in their own community. Donoso simply ignored the geo politics of the ongoing destruction of Bronzeville. That destruction began more than a decade ago (with a thing called the Mid South Plan) and continues to this day with the latest plan of the CPS administration (closing Price and Dyett). An aerial map of the Bronzeville community year-to-year since 1998 would show the destruction (and the hypocrisy of people like Donoso, who is really just the latest talking head to repeat the talking points that always come from official mouths as these destructions are being wrought) year after year. Suddenly the projects disappeared. Charter schools now dot the valuable lakefront properties that were once the sites of New Deal public housing (and vibrant public schools). And the thousands of children and their families who were repeatedly displaced and discarded during those years are completely ignored in the latest iteration of the same attacks.

But, then, she may not even know what most community residents and others would be talking about.

The unexplained presence of Andre Broy (above at the June 15, 2011 meeting of the Chicago Board of Education) at the December 1, 2011 Chicago Tonight show ignored the fact that Chicago Tonight couldn't find one charter school teacher or principal to appear on the show. Broy, who never taught in a Chicago charter school himself, has emerged as corporate Chicago's spokesman for the charters. Above, his presentation to the June 15, 2011 special emergency meeting of the school board ignored the fact that the Board was denying the contractual pay raise to the Chicago Board of Education's union workers based on the false claim that there was not enough money to pay for the raises. Broy's plea was that the charter not be denied the money, claiming that the charters were receiving less than the real public schools in Chicago (a claim not verified by the Board of Education's own Comprehensive Audited Financial Report), ignoring completely the massive corporate dollars that flow into the charters in Chicago to try and prop them up so they can show "performance" that is "better" than the city's real public schools (they don't). Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Andre Broy of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools was an interesting choice to speak for the vast number of Chicago charter schools, since he has never taught in one and doesn't come from any of them. He tried to claim, without providing any actual facts, that the "majority of Chicago charter teachers..." are former CPS teachers who wanted to set out on their own and explore new avenues. While that was certainly true more than ten years ago (the early Chicago charters were mostly former Chicago public school teachers), it is no longer true, as the vast majority of new charter "campuses" in Chicago have been given to the major charter corporations: UNO, Noble Street, Chicago International Charter Schools, and the University of Chicago Charter Schools.

Linda Lenz of Catalyst provided her usual non-fact factualizations about things in CPS. For years, Catalyst has been recycling the latest iteration of corporate "school reform," usually providing some threadbare "data" to back up the magazine's apologetics. Whether this is based on the fact that Catalyst is dependent on the corporate dollars that enable it to survive in its present iteration, or because they really believe their words, the sad fact is that someone with the 35 years of experience in education reporting (before Catalyst with the Chicago Sun-Times as "Linda Wertsch," her maiden name),

Lenz could really add to the historical perspective provided at the December 1, 2011 show by the CTU's Jackson Potter. Potter, who was a high school student at Whitney Young when Lenz herself was writing regularly for Catalyst and beginning to hagiography of the Daley Days during the years immediately after the passage of the Amendatory Act in 1995 that created the "mayoral control model" that has caused so much of the damage Potter began to articulate, was the only one to put the entire current event into both geopolitical and historical perspective.

Linda Lenz, publisher of Catalyst magazine, continues to display selective amnesia every time she appears on Chicago Tonight or on any other public media event to talk about Chicago's corporate school reform. Lenz is one of the handful of Chicago reporters who actually knows the ridiculous history of the various iterations of corporate school reform beginning with mayor control in 1995. Catalyst itself has provided some of the most droll coverage of each new iteration of the attempts of corporate Chicago to provide a new new thing to replace what have been declared to be "failing" public schools. Substance's favorite series in Catalyst came in 2000 - 2001, at the dawn of the new century, when Catalyst followed "Intervention" chief JoAnn Roberts around and reported monthly on the latest gabble of the Intervention team. When "Intervention" failed (in the usual ways) at places like Collins High School, Catalyst, instead of questioning the underlying assemptions of the whole corporate "reform" movement, simply moved on to cover the latest iterations of the same failed strategies. For most of the 21st Century, those iterations have been "turnarounds" and other closings, which Catalyst has supported since Arne Duncan introduced them beginning slowly in 2002 and escalating after 2004 under "Renaissance 2010." In the above photograph, taken at the April 12, 2007 session on Chicago School Reform at the American Educational Research Association (AERA) in Chicago, Lenz joined University of Chicago professors Melissa Roderick in telling the nation's education researchers that Chicago's corporate school reform was succeeding — sort of. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt. With President Karen Lewis, the other union officers, union researchers, and Jackson Potter and others at the Chicago Teachers Union ready to be on WTTW and elsewhere, it is going to be more and more difficult for the major pundits on radio and TV to continue to allow the recycling of the kind of contextless corporate talking points that Noemi Donoso tried to float on behalf of the Emanuel and Brizard administrations. Apparently, the facts will begin to matter more, and the verification of the geographical and historical facts will no longer be in the hands of those who really don't know much about them (like Donoso and Broy) or those who apparently have a major vested interest in continuing a major cases of self-serving amnesia in the face of them (like Linda Lena).

As the city enters into the most explosive version of school closings and turnarounds ever, it will be interesting to see how CPS and City Hall and Corporate Chicago, on the one hand, and CTU and the communities, on the other, will be presented in the future via Chicago's corporate media, including Chicago Tonight, WTTW's reporting, and Chicago Week in Review.

Chicago High School teachers Karen Lewis (above left) and Jackson Potter (above right) took a personal business day off on February 25, 2009 to protest the 2009 Hit List promulgated by then Chief Executive Officer Ron Huberman and then School Board President Michael Scott. The large scale protests in 2008 (the last year Arne Duncan ran the Hit List) and 2009 (the last year Michael Scott issued apologetics for the Hit List) foreshadowed the massive protests unfolding in Chicago in 2011 and 2012 as the latest CPS administration (with Jean-Claude Brizard as CEO and David Vitale as Board President) plans the corporate attack on 20 more public schools. In June 2010, partly because of their organizing against the closings and then Mayor Daley's "Renaissance 2010" program, Karen Lewis and her team were elected to lead the Chicago Teachers Union, and Lewis made Potter her Chief of Organizing. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.One of the things the staff of Substance will remain confident about is that corporate Chicago's version of "news" and commentary will continue to blacklist Substance and its staff, as it has for nearly 20 years. Back in the day before mayoral control, Substance reporters were regulars in commenting on these same issues, and Substance has continued to report forcefully on them while publications like Catalyst have simply recycled the talking points about the most recent iteration of corporate school reform.

We still consider priceless our collection of Catalyst articles about how Reconstitution (1997), Reengineering (1999), Intervention (2000) and then the other things to "save failing schools" before the 21st Century were going to DO THIS JOB RIGHT THIS TIME. One of the most amazing was when the (then) Intervention chief proclaimed, at Collins High School, that Collins could raise its reading and math scores from the 15th or 20th percentiles to the 70th in one school year — and put up banners around the school showing the objective to everyone. The sheer ludicrousness of that whole process in 2000 (by the way, "Intervention" didn't "Work") is still enshrined in the pages of Catalyst, even if the publisher of Catalyst prefers amnesia to accurate history when facing the failure of all of the mayor control and corporate "reform" models of the past 20 or more years.

But the fun continues, and it looks like the next few months will prove an interesting study in corporate reporting and propaganda in the second decade of the 21st Century in Chicago.


December 3, 2011 at 7:59 AM

By: BobBusch

Words as only the Board can lie using them

In response to the question of kids from closed schools going to schools which are no better, listen to the answer the lady from the board gives. She says real quickly those kids will be given “ The Opportunity” to go to better schools. Pure Board of Education bullshit.

December 3, 2011 at 10:18 AM

By: Jay Rehak

Becoming A Larger Voice in the Corporate Media

It's critically important that Union members and other stakeholders in public schools continue to put pressure on the corporate media to include representatives of the Union in the media discussions. Union members can help serve the public schools by writing/calling/emailing folks at Chicago Tonight and other media entities and insist that the Union representatives be included in the discussion. Here's a link to Chicago Tonight contact: (CUT AND PASTE INTO BROWSER)

December 3, 2011 at 10:49 AM

By: Rod Estvan

Chicago tonight discussion

First off thanks for providing the link to the video. George provided a very detailed examination of this important program for the public and he unlike other journalists in Chicago realized how important the discussion was in terms of forming public opinion.

As always Jackson Potter demonstrated his strong command of factual information. However, I do not agree with George's assessment of Ms Lenz's performance. Considering how early we are in the Emmanuel administration and its plan for CPS i thought she was much more critical than she was during the early roll out of the Daley plan.

I know George is looking for her being more forthright, but we should be thankful for the evolution and level of criticism we are seeing. Also it should be noted that Ms. Lenz has editorially allowed Ms. Karp a reporter for Catalyst to examine very critically charter school performance and for that Ms. Lenz deserves some credit. Working myself for a not for profit that released a report in 2009 that was very critical of charter school performance for students with disabilities I know that some of our funders who abstractly support charters were less than happy. So it takes some editorial courage for Catalyst to publish the critical articles it has done.

I do wish that the issue of the high number of students with disabilities attending Crane was discussed, because it is an important factor in why Crane has been such a low performing school for years. Sending Crane intake students to Wells which currently has over 23% of its population identified with disabilities and this move will not be good for Wells or the children sent there in my opinion and Access Living is going to oppose this proposal.

Rod Estvan

December 9, 2011 at 12:38 AM

By: Jim Vail

Potter Tops Tonite

The interview on Chicago Tonite was interesting to me for the following reasons:

1) The deck was stacked 3-1 in favor of Emanuel's corporate school reform - CPS Team - Donoso (CPS), Broy (charters) and Lenz (Catalyst) vs. Jackson (CTU, public education) - and the clear winner was Jackson Potter, the most articulate and hard hitting, in his very respectable awe shucks manner that once had Arne Duncan gasp why doesn't he consider working for him.

2) The attack on charter schools - WTTW's Ponce hit hard on charters, noting CPS is being more hard on them, and they are not performing better, so Broy of the Charter Network was on the defensive the whole time (certainly it appeared the corporate media is catching onto to the fact the charter school star is fading a bit)

3) Catalyst provided the key endorsement of turnaround, but in a very half-hearted way. It clearly looked like Lenz was a bit uncomfortable looking like a fool next to Jackson's on the mark sharp analysis and hard hitting facts; Lenz mumbling that turnaround has shown some improvement.

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