Another Rahm Emanuel Hollywood scripting from the people who brought us 'Won't Back Down' and 'Waiting for Superman'...Right Wing Naperville Republican aims 'Parent Trigger' at Chicago's public schools

Why would an Illinois Republican whose district includes some of the best funded and top "performing" public schools in the state introduce legislation that would result in more charter schools for poor children in Chicago and a continued attack on Chicago's real public schools? Is it because "parent choice" is what they want, or because charter schools are on the agenda?

State Rep. Darlene Senger on October 12, 2011. Senger was taking part in semi-secret meetings of state lawmakers who were discussing the "pension crisis." Senger's outside work is as an investment consultant, so her support for destroying public worker defined benefit pension plans and replacing them with the "Wall Street Casino" of investment "choice" was a major question -- then and now -- as the Civic Committee and the Civic Federation pushed the idea that the only solution to the "pension crisis" created by Illinois and Chicago politicians was to destroy the retirement of public workers, either now or in the future. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.For the second time in two years, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel's legislative desires are being brought to the Illinois General Assembly by right wing Republican legislators. The last time, it was State Rep. Tom Cross who introduced legislation that tried to change all Chicago public workers pension boards to seven members, four appointed by Rahm. This time it's State Rep. Darlene Senger who is trying to get the "Parent Trigger" into Illinois. Senger is from Naperville, which is unlikely to ever face "parent trigger." So, once again, the target is Chicago's public schools.

The legislation, HB3295 is now before the 98th General Assembly. It is modeled on "parent trigger" laws in other states, like those idealized in the propaganda movie "Won't Back Down", which made the opening of school rounds last Fall (as its predecessor, "Waiting for Superman" had been on in September 2011).

State Rep. Darlene Senger (R. Naperville) has quietly introduced legislation that would give Illinois a "parent trigger" law like they have in California and some other states. Under "parent trigger," if a majority of parents at a public school that is supposedly "failing" sign a petition, the school can be converted into a charter school. The "parent trigger" concept was one of several corporate school reform notions that was supported by Rahm Emanuel when he was running for mayor in 2011.

Above, Dee Meyer of the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club was the only private sector person seated at the main table during the semi-secret meetings on "pension reform." Above, Meyer is talking on September 16, 2011. Substance photo by George Schmidt.Darlene Senger was also the most prominent Republican on the semi-secret meetings on "pension reform" a year and a half ago. She was at every meeting held in Chicago that tried to force through a form of "pension reform" that would effectively end defined benefit pensions for public workers and replace them with 401(k) type plans privately invested. During semi-secret meetings at the State of Illinois building in Chicago, Senger often went to the side with people from the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago (usually Dee Dee Meyers). The Civic Committee's education chief at the time was Eden Martin, who wrote the attack on Chicago's public schools that became "Renaissance 2010." Martin was replaced by Republican Bruce Rauner who now heads the education committee of the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago.

In 2011 - 2012, it was State Rep. Tom Cross, another Republican, who brought Rahm Emanuel's legislation to the Illinois House of Representatives. Then, Cross was caught sponsoring a new way to oversee municipal pensions for Chicago and Cook County workers. Instead of the workers and retirees electing a majority of the trustees of each fund, like the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund, under Cross's plan each fund would have seven trustees -- four of whom would be appointed by Chicago's Mayor or the President of the Cook County Board. Chicago again faces more "choice" as "reform." But only for the working class and the poor.

Some critics ask whether ALEC is behind Senger's latest, but locally ALEC doesn't need much presence. The Civic Committee of the Commercial Club has been doing those jobs in Chicago since long long before the current crop of billionaires invented ALEC. In fact, I'd trace the roots of outfits like ALEC to the Chicago Model -- the Civic Committee.

Robin Steans of "Advance Illinois" and R. Eden Martin, at the time chairman of the "Education Committee of the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago," were two of the official "school reform" witnesses to testify at the hearings on December 17, 2010, before the Illinois House special committee on education reform. Martin was, among other things, the author of the report put out by the Civic Committee in 2003 called "Still left behind." In "Still left behind," the CEOs of Chicago's largest corporations claimed that all -- ALL -- Chicago public schools were "failures" and had to be replaced by charters and other privatization schemes. One year after Martin's "Still left behind" report, then Mayor Richard M. Daley announced his "Renaissance 2010" program at a meeting of the Civic Committee. The script for Daley's program was Martin's "Left Behind" report. Steans and Martin, both multi-millionaires, are regularly quoted in the corporate press as representing school reform although their credibility has been challenged since 2010, as Chicago Teachers Union research shows that virtually all of their relentless talking points are false. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt. The "Civic Committee" has actually been a model for the work of ALEC. Founded more than 100 years ago, the Commercial Club of Chicago today consists of the CEOs of the largest corporations in Illinois, so it traces its roots back to the earliest days of capitalist plunder and cunning racial segregation that have long been the objectives of Chicago's most lucrative corporations. At the time of the first generations of so-called "Robber Barons," Chicago wealthiest owners invented the Civic Committee. Senger, in investment advisor from Naperville, comes from a town where no real public school in her district will ever need a "parent trigger." Like her pension reform, this iteration of "school reform" is for the working class and the poor -- not for the Darlene Sengers of Illinois.

Senger's bill is as follows as of March 11 (from the Illinois General Assembly website):

Bill Status of HB3295 98th General Assembly


House Sponsors, 
Rep. Darlene J. Senger

Last Action Date Chamber Action. 3/11/2013 House Assigned to Elementary & Secondary Education Committee

Statutes Amended In Order of Appearance

105 ILCS 5/10-20.55 new 105 ILCS 5/34-18.48 new 

Synopsis. As Introduced, 
Amends the School Code. Provides that the parents of at least 51% of students in a low-performing school may initiate reform measures at the school through the submission of a parent petition to the school board. Provides for submission of a notice of petition. Provides that the petition shall request that the school board fully intervene in the school and implement one of the following reform measures: (1) reopen the school as a charter school; (2) change the school leadership; (3) close the school and reassign students currently attending the school to another school at the appropriate grade level within the same school district; or (4) adopt a new school governance structure. Upon receiving a copy of a petition signed by the parents of at least 51% of the students in a low-performing school, requires the school board to implement the reform measures requested in the petition.


Date Chamber Action

2/26/2013 House Filed with the Clerk by Rep. Darlene J. Senger

2/26/2013 House First Reading

2/26/2013 House Referred to Rules Committee

3/11/2013 House Assigned to Elementary & Secondary Education Committee

The Chicago Teachers Union opposes "parent trigger" laws.


Parsing Fact From Fiction In 'Won't Back Down', by CLAUDIO SANCHEZ, National Public Radio Morning Edition, September 28, 2012 3:24 AM

Won't Back Down opens with a little girl's anguished face. It fills the entire screen. The camera hovers as she struggles to read a simple sentence on the blackboard out loud.

She's dyslexic. Not that anyone at Adams Elementary cares — least of all her second-grade teacher, who is berating or slapping kids around when she's not shopping for shoes online.

But if it was your kid who was struggling and nobody at school cared, what would you do? What could you do? That's how director Daniel Barnz hooks you.

"Have you heard about those mothers that lift 1-ton trucks off their babies? They're nothing compared to me," says the little girl's mother, played by Maggie Gyllenhaal.

She works two jobs, selling used cars and tending bar. Stressed out and dyslexic herself, she realizes that Adams Elementary — not her kid — is an academic basket case.

So she embarks on a campaign to turn Adams into a charter school and enlists a burned-out teacher at the school — played by Academy Award nominee Viola Davis — to help her do it.

You wonder though: If the school is so awful, why hasn't anybody said anything until now? Still, for some, the movie rings true.

'Won't Back Down' Takes A Too-Easy Way Out

"The notion that you should be stuck in an underperforming school and have no one respond to you is a bit un-American," says Andrew Broy, president of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools. "When you deal with an intransigent bureaucracy that's just not responsive year after year, there comes a point when parents have to have some kind of remedy."

Broy says that's why the movie is effective: It's a story about parents who realize they have the right and the power to do something about the quality of their kids' education. Although not everybody sees it that way.

"It's a fine movie. It's fairly entertaining. There are some weird and absurd things in it," says Julie Woestehoff, executive director of the education advocacy group Parents United for Responsible Education.

Woestehoff says the way the movie portrays the school takeover issue was just one of many things that weren't believable.

"Such as a mom who has two jobs who's able to somehow write a 400-page application to start a new school. And it does grab people emotionally. The problem is the packaging of this movie as part of a whole propaganda campaign promoting charter schools and going after teachers unions," Woestehoff says.

These were the central themes behind that other recent film that eviscerated teachers unions and also championed charter schools, the 2010 documentary Waiting For Superman. In fact, both films share the same producers and portray union leaders as scheming and ruthless.

In Won't Back Down, union leaders care more about their collective bargaining rights than about kids

This was fresh in people's minds as they walked out of a screening in Chicago, literally a day after the teachers' strike there ended.

Mary Thompson Powell and her husband, Daryl, have two children in a charter school. They were turned off by the way the movie treated teachers and unions.

"You know, I think some of the portrayal of the teachers at Adams ... it disturbed me," Mary says.

"I thought they did some things with the union that was a little bit like, 'Did you really need to go there?' " Daryl says.

So is Won't Back Down an accurate portrayal of teachers, unions, failing schools or parents? Maybe not, Broy says. Hollywood, after all, is known to manipulate rather than inform audiences.

"But if you look at the past decade and think about school reform movies or documentaries, not many of them had a broad reach," Broy says. "So I want to see more stories like this get out to foment the debate that can lead us to a better place."

For that, we'll have to wait for the sequel.


March 13, 2013 at 11:37 AM

By: Julie Woestehoff

Parent Trigger

Parents also oppose parent trigger laws, which only use parent concerns about their children's schools to allow charter takeovers. Read the Parents Across America position paper on parent trigger laws here:

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