Another mercenary from the 'Billionaire Boys Club' and the Broad Foundation... Barbara Byrd-Bennett? What qualified this outsider to become 'Chief Education Officer' for the third largest school system in the USA?

The growing interest in Chicago's public schools from outside Chicago requires more details from Chicago than many informed people will ever have access to without a lot of work. A few months ago, after losing Noemi Donoso as "Chief Education Officer," Chicago Public Schools hired a person named Barbara Byrd-Bennett to do that job. Like Donoso (who came from Colorado), Byrd-Bennett was not from Chicago and had never taught in a Chicago school.

Chicago's quick hiring of Barbara Byrd-Bennett (above left, foreground) following the ouster of Noemi Donoso as "Chief Education Officer" (Donoso had been in office less than one year) first added to the ranks of outsiders who are staffing the top positions in Chicago. Byrd Bennett had most recently been in Detroit, but had also worked in Cleveland and for a number of reactionary corporate "reform" groups. Some are now speculating that the growing dissatisfaction by members of the Chicago ruling class (including Penny Pritkzer, the billionaire Board member seen rear left above) with Jean Claude Brizard (right foreground) as "Chief Executive Officer" may result in the Board accepting Brizard's resignation and giving the job to Byrd-Bennett. Substance photo from the August 2012 Chicago Board of Education meeting by George N. Schmidt.Who Loves Barbara Byrd-Bennett more--the American Federation of Teachers, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Harcourt School Publishers, or Jean-Claude Brizard?

If Chicago is paying Barbara Byrd “upwards of $200,000,” then she’s suffering quite a pay cut. In Cleveland they called her “the $300,000 wonder.” Some noticed that just as interesting was her expense account and where she got extra dough: Barbara Byrd Bennett: Paid for by Corporate Club

Here’s a

teacher blog with more details—from trip to Maui where she spent $216 on food each day to a doctor’s note of why she has to travel first class.

Barbara Byrd-Bennett Timeline, with Annotations

*August 1996 -- November 1998: Supervising Superintendent of the Chancellor's District in New York City [from her resume: The Chancellor's District serves as a national model for turnaround school efforts]

*November 1998 -- February 2006: As Cleveland Schools CEO, Byrd-Bennett defended the use of Compass Learning and other "drill and kill" programs, telling a Baltimore Sun reporter, "I would argue that there is very little intervention [for struggling students] that isn't rote. For some things, you just have to learn facts to build to higher-order skills."

NOTE: How did attendance rates jump? from 89% in 2001 to 93.8% in 2002? Absent students were counted ‘present’ if they were given make-up assignment. ( District staff aimed to skew absence data, Janet Okoben, Cleveland Plain Dealer, Oct. 17, 2005)

*November 2003 Secretary of Education Rod Paige announces Byrd-Bennett's appointment to NAEP governing board.

See How NAEP Labels a Reader

*February 2006 --March 2009: Superintendent-in-Residency for Harcourt School Publishers. In her “disclosure state to Detroit Public Schools in 2009, she describer duties as “working with school superintendents, principals, and literacy coaches of grades K-12 in 12 districts throughout the country . . . ..” She resigned this position to take job with Detroit Public Schools. She gave “verbal disclosure” at time of her hiring; on advice of her attorney, on financial disclosure statement for “other income” she wrote “not applicable.” See auditor’s report Review of DPS Procurements with Federal Dollars, Report o. 2011-1008, Julyl 29, 2011 for more details.

*March 2006--2009: Superintendent Executive Coach, Broad Superintendent Academy

*January 2006. Executive in Residence, Cleveland State University

“As executive-in-residence, Byrd-Bennett is assisting the University in becoming a national resource and destination for undergraduate- and graduate-level education and research.”—press release

*October 2006--2009: Executive Officer New Leaders for New Schools, Washington D. C.

*August 2008: Speaker at the Democratic National Convention in Denver [listed on her Detroit resume though not found in Google search of convention speakers]. I couldn’t find Byrd-Bennett’s speech but I did find these DNC Denver 2008 Podcasts, which are described as “the official podcast of the Denver 2008 Host Committee for the Democratic National Convention (August 25-28) will distribute important information to delegates, visitors, media, VIPs, international guests and Denver citizens leading up to and beyond the DNC.”

Ed Challenge For Change: The Faces of Change, Aug. 28, 2008

On the eve of the Democratic National Convention, many of the nation’s top progressive education reform groups convened a forum in Denver to highlight the growing consensus for a bold new direction in federal education policy– and to spotlight the exciting work of a new generation of reformers who are already making change happen on the ground across America.


Moderated by Jonathan Alter. Michelle Rhee, Chancellor, DC Public Schools; Michael Bennet, Superintendent, Denver Public Schools; Larry Rosenstock, High Tech High (San Diego); John King, Uncommon Schools; Don Shalvey, Aspire Public [sic] Schools; Michael Johnston, Co-Founder, New Leaders for New Schools. sponsored by Democrats for Education Reform and Gary-Williams Company.

Rocky Mountain Roundtable: 2008 Education Roundtable, Aug. 25, 2008

Roundtable Focus:

American 15-year-olds are significantly below average in math and science. Out of 30 countries participating in the 2006 Programme for International Student Assessment, America’s 15-year-olds ranked 25th in math and 21st in science. Meanwhile, more than 1.2 million students drop out of school every year. That’s more than 6,000 students every school day and one student every 26 seconds. At the post-secondary level, more than one in three college freshmen enroll in at least one remedial course to catch up on skills they should have learned in high school. This figure rises to 42 percent in the nation’s community colleges. Clearly, American schools must make a change.

Participants: Moderated by Tom Toch. Sen. Jeff Bingaman (New Mexico), Shirley Bloomfield (high tech lobbyist), Eli Broad, Dr. Barbara Byrd-Bennett, Mike Feinberg (KIPP cofounder), Chris Gabrieli (National Center on Time & Learning), Walter Isaacson (CEO Aspen Institute; board chair Teach for America), Paula Prahl (lobbyist, Best Buy, then Data Recognition Corp.), Gov. Roy Romer (chairman and lead spokesman for Strong American Schools, a nonprofit project responsible for running Ed in 08, an information and initiative campaign funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Eli and Edythe Broad foundation), John Schnur (New Leaders for New Schools), John Wilson (NEA director, chaired the Partnership for 21st Century Skills)

Do these Byrd-Bennett fellow-travelers need any introduction?

*April 2009. Byrd-Bennett named trustee of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation-funded Common Core Curriculum Mapping Project, which, according to press release was "reviewed by members of AFT." The "team of experts" advising in the development of the maps includes Antonia Cortese, secretary-treasurer of the American Federation of Teachers. December 2009 grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Purpose: to develop K-10 ELA curriculum aligned to the Common Core standards under development by CCSSO and NGA Amount: $550,844

(NOTE: Lynne Munson, president of the Common Core Curriculum Mapping Project, was a research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute 1993-2001.) Another trustee is Juan Rangel. See Jim Vail’s Dec. 27, 2010 Substance article, UNO Leader's Background Pried Open a Little... A closer look at Juan Rangal

*April 2009. AFT Launches AFT Innovation Fund; Byrd-Bennett chairs board

The initial $2.8 million secured for the first set of grants come from, in alphabetical order, The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation

*June 2009—June 2011 Chief Academic and Accountability Officer at Detroit Public Schools According to her bio at Chicago Public Schools,“As the leader of the academic reform, she served for two years and is credited with development of the academic reform plan, curriculum and program alignment, development of teacher and principal evaluation instruments to increase professional accountability, and improved achievements scores as measured by both the state tests and the NAEP tests.”

Letter to Dr. Barbara Byrd-Bennett [11.22.10] [ Letter sent today to Dr. Barbara Byrd Bennett, DPS Chief Academic and Accountability Auditor]

Dear Dr. Byrd-Bennett: We are getting a lot of feedback from teachers concerning the overwhelming amount of testing and progress monitoring they are required to do. While each of the assessments may have merit, taken as a whole they leave too little time for instruction. Teachers throughout the district are asking "When do we have time to teach?" In addition to the regular curriculum, students are assessed using the Star Math and Star Reading programs. They work on individualized lessons and assessments through Accelerated Math and Accelerated Reading. Three times per year students take a battery of benchmark assessments including up to five Dibels assessments, Burst, and TRC. Throw in quarterly Q tests that take two class periods per day for four days each quarter, and two to three weeks of MEAP testing, and it's no wonder teachers want more time to teach. In between benchmarks, teachers are asked to print up to 80 pages of Burst lessons every two weeks. These lessons are to be taught to the lowest achieving four to five students in each class for a half hour per day. Some schools don't have enough toner to print these lessons, others don't have enough copiers, and nobody seems to have enough time. One teacher estimates that a quarter of her instructional time is devoted to these assessments and progress monitoring. On a weekly basis, teachers also are asked to do time-consuming progress monitoring for Dibels and TRC. Much if this work is done with one student at a time. While our teachers are doing their best to keep the rest of the class doing meaningful work, it is not possible to p

Two common themes emerge from discussions with teachers throughout the district. First, these assessments all have some merit individually, but together, they are too much. Second, we as teachers can handle all this, but our students are suffering. One teacher told me that for one day, she ignored Burst, Dibels, TRC, Accelerated Math and Reading, and all she did was teach. It was the best day the class had all year! The saddest thing is, this didn't happen until the third week of October, and she had to ignore directives to make it happen at all. To bring more balance to the classroom, we suggest that the district strongly consider the following changes. 1. Eliminate the Q1, Q2, Q3, Q4 benchmark tests. These tests are not aligned with the district's scope and sequence charts. Students are taking tests in November on material that won't be covered until March. As a result, there is no validity to these tests.Our teachers have seen tests designed by and for DPS every few years. From Exit Skills, to ESAT, to MIP, to Q tests, the tests come and go and you would be hard pressed to find a teacher who will claim instruction has improved as a result of any one of these. 2. Allow teachers to use their professional judgment to determine the amount of progress monitoring to do. Progress monitoring in TRC is particularly difficult, since the text in the Palm devices frequently does not match the text in the books students are reading.

3. Discontinue Burst groups. The lower achieving students can be helped in the regular classroom setting. 4. Provide additional personnel to help with assessments. Whether the district allows literacy coaches to do some of the assessments or provides classroom aides to assist with class management, more help is needed to keep all children learning. We know that standardized testing is here to stay. To improve our scores, we need more instructional time, not more tests. Sincerely, Mark O'Keefe, DFT Executive Vice President

*April 4, 2010 Harcourt launches a partnership with Detroit Public Schools (Byrd-Bennett was superintendent in residency for Harcourt School Publishers. Then she was hired as Detroit's chief academic and accountability officer. Now Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has received a contract for the largest single deal ever.) Just a coincidence.

*Oct. 2010. Byrd-Bennett signs document termed “intellectually dishonest and scapegoating” by Valerie Strauss (the document praises Race to the Top as “the catalyst for more reforms than we have seen in decades” and praised the film “Waiting for ‘Superman’” as presenting “estraordinary opportunity”). (then-Rochester superintendent Brizzard and New Orleans top-gun Vallas also signed)

*Jan. 2, 2011 Byrd-Bennett says she hopes Success for All will spark "a revolutionary culture change" in

*Undated: Member of Education Advisory Committee of K12 Inc.

Bonus Info: Cool Cleveland Interview: Barbara Byrd-Bennett described as charismatic school leader. No date given.

Question: "The federal 'No Child Left Behind Act' promises to address improvements in primary and secondary education. Can you talk about the effects of this legislation on the Cleveland Public Schools? What about the $1.5 billion the Act requires you to spend annually for summer school, day care & assessment?"

Barbara Byrd-Bennett Answer: "There is not one thing in this legislation that I disagree with. It’s common sense and good stuff. . . .

It’s a Small World

July 2007 Lisa Marie Ruda, former chief of staff to Cleveland schools chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett, hired as chief of staff to Michell Rhee. (She received a law degree from Case Western.) Now that you’ve read all of the above, read the toe-sucking coverage of Byrd-Bennett’s appointment in Chicago as covered by Chicago Catalyst.


October 12, 2012 at 10:45 AM

By: Bernice H. Franklin

Replacing an african-american male as chief education off.

Jean-Claude Brizard should remain Chief Education Officer of the Chicago Public

Schools. His backgrould is unmatched for others who served before him. Qualifications are needed to supervise 400,000 students and staff. Who's the next to go? Let's say another New Yorker.

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