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'We Can Do Better...' Through its 'Advance Ilinois' front group, corporate Illinois Issues its annual report pushing school privatization, continued attacks on public schools, teacher bashing, and deregulation through charterization

I read and re-read the 34-page booklet distributed by "Advance Illinois" off and on for two days before I figured out what I was looking at.

June 19, 2009. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan (above, at the Advance Illinois breakfast at the Regency Hyatt Hotel on the morning of June 19, 2009) has ordered every state in the USA to force what he calls "reforms" on their school districts in order to qualify for nearly $5 billion in second year federal stimulus money. The corporate reforms include firing teachers from schools with low test scores, creating more privatized charter schools, and systematically continuing the corporate attack on current teachers and the colleges and universities that train teachers. During his visit to Chicago, Duncan and his team of 'Chicago Boys' carefully scripted his time to avoid any media encounter where he might be asked factual questions about what actually happened to students, teachers, and schools during the nearly eight years (July 2001 to December 2008) when Duncan was "Chief Executive Officer" of Chicago's public school system. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan was speaking. The usual clichés and talking points about corporate reform and the usual gushing endorsements of questionable activities ("I'm a big fan of...") from privatization, charter schools, and the current Chicago plan for the USA — "Turnaround." Marilyn Stewart, President of the Chicago Teachers Union, one of the few African Americans in the breakfast audience of more than 300 generally expensively tailored corporate and governmental leaders, was cheering Duncan and the other speakers, as if on cue. From the podium during his speech, Duncan barely acknowledged Stewart's existence, let alone thanked her for the fact that without her programs and her endorsement, Duncan would not have been able to emerge as Barack Obama's choice for the top job in U.S. Education as the 21st Century progresses into its second decade.

[Editor's Note. Alternating with photographs of the Advance Illinois breakfast and its protagonists throughout this article will be photographs from the 2008 and 2009 Chicago hearings on what is now popularly known in Chicago as 'Arne Duncan's Hit List' -- the dozens of public schools, virtually all of them serving poor and working class children in the city's segregated African American and Latino communities -- that were closed during the Duncan administration. Those closures (only a small part of which were for "academic failure") are now being rolled out as the national model for corporate "school reform" across the USA. Left out of the Chicago narrative of Arne Duncan's career are the actual faces and stories of the families, children, teachers, principals and other school workers whose lives were in many cases destroyed by the policies that are now being pushed across the USA. Because Substance was the only newspaper to cover every one of the hearings on Chicago school closings, turnarounds, phase outs, consolidations and privatizations between 2002 and 2009, these stories have never before been told to a wide audience like the one now available here. George N. Schmidt, Editor, Substance, June 21, 2009].

How the corporate agenda is marketed

The Advance Illinois report "We Can Do Better, Advancing Public Education in Illinois" was produced by the same people using the same techniques as the annual corporate reports provided by the world's largest corporations. Above, an array of corporate annual reports from various years during the 21st Century. These were a few of the "players" in the "global economy" as it was marking itself for posterity both in Chicago and across the wrold. Left to right (back row): Aon Insurance (, Chicago-based, 2008); Smuckers (Ohio-based, 2003); Proctor & Gamble (Ohio-based, 2002), Walgreens (Chicago area based, Deerfield, IL. 2002 and 2008); EXXON-Mobil (2002). Front row: Moody's Investors Services (Moody's Corporation after it went public, 2002); Advance Illinois brochure quoting President Obama; showing beneath the Advance Illinois Obama quote, Pearson LLC Form 20-F SEC filing dated May 7, 2004 (during one of the years Pearson, one of the largest producers of standardized tests and curriculum materials, was losing another lawsuit because its corporate tests provided to various states were flawed); General Electric (2008, just before the company cut its dividend for the first time in 75 years because of huge losses in its financial operations, which had been the corporation's largest source of profit before the collapse of the global economy); Advance Illinois 34-page report; and (far right) the General Motors bankruptcy court filing notice to owners of General Motors common stock notifying them that their stock has become essentially worthless under the terms of the GM Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt. Covering the story, photographing as much of the event as possible, and thumbing through a huge "report" by Advance Illinois, the newest (and best funded) entity on the education reform block in Chicago and Illinois, it was a challenge to keep everything in perspective. Later, the reality was clear...

Corporate propaganda in 34-page Advance Illinois report

"This is a corporate annual report!" It's thirty-four pages long, parading as an "objective" and "bipartisan" study of how to "reform" education in one of the largest states in the USA. But Illinois and Chicago isn't any place anymore. Illinois is the state that has given the USA its current President, its Secretary of Education, and a very large number of important staffers (more and more being dubbed the "Chicago Boys" in honor of their predecessors 35 years ago in Chile).

Corporate annual reports are very expensive, and they always are "looking good." Up to the moment a corporation goes into bankruptcy, the marketing departments are hard at work, and spending huge numbers of dollars, making sure that every item and every person can repeat the refrain: "Looking good."

Generic photographs.

Charts and graphs and "facts" that nobody has the right to deconstruct — or even examine closely.

Flanked by the flags of the USA, City of Chicago, and State of Illinois, millionaire heiress Robin Seans (above at podium) summarized the Advance Illinois report and utilized her own brief experience as a teacher to reinforce the report's teacher bashing. Steans quipped that she did not mind getting a "pop" in pay when she was a teacher, but then proceeded to claim, quoting the Advance Illinois report, that advanced degrees don't matter as much for the quality of teaching as something that can be measured by comparing teachers with scores on standardized multiple choice secret psychometrically developed corporate tests. Advance Illinois is pushing the idea that teachers should be given merit pay based on whether or not student tests scores go "up". At the same time, Advance Illinois bashes the idea that teachers should be paid more for experience or for taking the time (and often spending their own money) to further their education. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt. Advance Illinois is producing (and replicating) the same methods that brought all those glowing reports from all those global corporations that are now slowly marching into Chapter 11, some a few months after the last glowing claims from their marketing departments and stolid assurances from their similarly dressed CEOs. stripped of the background data required in the bland Proxy Statements and 10K forms that go to the Securities and Exchange Commission.

This is the slick version of the corporate story, the one that you save after the corporation -- whether General Motors, Tribune Corporation, Enron or Edison Schools -- goes bankrupt with all the money you invested. And the amazing thing is that every lie was out there in the open for anyone to see who bothered to check out the footnotes and read the fine print.

Another side of the story of North Lawndale and its public schools

One of the asides Arne Duncan took during his question and answer sessions with Robin Steans during the June 19 event was to praise Steans and her wealthy family for supporting a charter school called "North Lawndale College Preparatory High School." That school is now located in what was once the George Collins public high school at 1313 S. Sacramento in Chicago. February 2, 2009. Children and parents from one of the schools on Arne Duncan's last 'Hit List' of schools to be closed (Lathrop Elementary on Chicago's West Side, which was closed because of what CPS called "underutilization") gathered in the chambers of the Chicago Board of Education for what they believed to be an objective hearing on the proposal to close their school. By the time of the hearing, Arne Duncan (who had created the 2009 closure list before being appointed by President Obama as U.S. Secretary of Education) was no longer in Chicago, and the agenda he had pursued — much of which according to the corporate script laid out in 'Renaissance 2010' — was being implemented by mayoral minion Ron Huberman. Huberman was appointed CEO of CPS after Duncan left town, and continued the same agenda that had been followed since April 2002. Ruthless school closures, based on any number of pretexts, only one of which was academic "failure" (as measured by standardized test scores). Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Left out of Duncan's praise for North Lawndale College Prep are two facts. First, the claims that Duncan has been quoting about the successes of the students from that school are not true. Second, last fall, because North Lawndale College Prep failed to adequately supervise a field trip, three of its students drowned in a tragic accident on the Fox River in Northern Illinois.

Hundreds of kin from Fortune 500 companies

Anyone who has taken the time to study corporate America has seen hundreds of these in the form of the slick printed "annual report" of the largest corporations in the USA. In an 8 1/2 by 11 inch format, with huge amounts of white space on each page, as well as generic photographs and the mandatory charts and graphs, the report being hyped by "Advance Illinois" could have (and possibly did) come from the same non-union graphics design and printing companies that do the annual reports of Proctor and Gamble, Boeing, Aon Insurance, or any of the other Fortune 500 companies.

If there is competition for the title of "Mr. Privatization" in Illinois, three of the main contenders — Arne Duncan, Jim Edgar, and Bill Daley — were all in front of the Advance Illinois breakfast at the Regency Hyatt Hotel on June 19, 2009. When he was Governor of Illinois in the early 1990s, Jim Edgar (above) pushed the neo-liberal agenda through in many forms. The most significant for Chicago came in the form of the "Amendatory Act of 1995," which established mayoral control (currently denounced as dictatorship) over Chicago's public schools. Edgar at the time was chief of a Republican triumverate in Illinois government. The Republican Party controled the Illinois House of Representatives, the Illinois Senate, and the Governor's office. One of the more significant myths of Illinois corporate history rests on the claim that it was a reluctant Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley who bravely took over the city's public schools following the approval of the Amendatory Act in 1995. In fact, Daley's people negotiated for the power to operate the schools and agreed to the massive privatization that Edgar's staff and others wrote into the legislation from the onset. While stripping parents and other Chicago citizens of most of their power over Chicago's public schools, the Amendatory Act, among other things, facilitated union busting by outlawing strikes by the Chicago Teachers Union (and the Cook County College Teachers Union), forbidding bargaining over "management prerogatives (such as class size), and mandating that large sections of CPS services (such as custodial work) be privatized, thereby busting several unions and impoverishing a growing number of non-teaching staff. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Seen in this light (and in the context of these lightweight puff pieces; no corporation has ever published an annual report admitting how ridiculous its claims are and how phony its financial data have become — even Enron in its final year), "We Can Do Better: Advancing Public Education in Illinois" fits nicely into a context. It's corporate propaganda.

A close examination of "We Can Do Better" (available from Advance Illinois, although the report itself does not contain the address of the group) raises more questions than it answers. The report assumes that the purpose of public education in Illinois is to prepare every child — as if school were a kind of economic boot camp — to "compete" in what Advance Illinois assures its readers is a still viable "global economy."

The report begins with an echo of a previous corporate attack on public schools. On the second page of "We Can Do Better," Advance Illinois asks the first of what will be many rhetorical questions:

"A Question for Illinois Residents: When it is time for our children to lead, will they be ready? Right now, the answer is no."

Lead what? On what basis? Lead the global economy from Wall Street investment banks into a nearly complete financial collapse? Lead the world in the creation of 30-year-old "incentivized" millionaires based on the machinations of young men and women (usually with expensive Ivy League degrees paid for by wealthy parents) with high SAT, ACT, and other test scores? People without conscience who can "monetize" any "asset" and then can develop supposedly innovative economic "products" with names like "Collaterlaized Debt Obligations" (CDOs) and "Credit Default Swaps" (CDFs) that wind up costing the taxpayers of the USA nearly a trillion dollars after their are revealed as frauds? People that in the earlier days of Illinois used to be grouped wtih snake oil salesmen working out of wagons like the one in the opening scenes of "The Wizard of Oz"?

But Wall Street wasn't really very far away on June 19 at Chicago's Regency Hyatt. Although the topic was "education," a sub text was privatization, and one of the most important executives in one of the worlds largest banks was one of the speakers.

A closer look: William Daley

William Daley, brother of Chicago's mayor, spoke just before Arne Duncan. But according to the program, he is the "former U.S. Secretary of Commerce." Not the present leading executive overseeing the privatization of vast assets of the public in the third largest city in the USA.

But to understand some of the complexity in the introduction of Chicago's First Brother to Advance Illinois, one has to go no further than Forbes Magazine to get a current profile of Daley.

"William M. Daley.

Director, Abbott Laboratories (Abbott Park , IL, Sector: HEALTHCARE / Drug Manufacturers - Major);

Carefully placed against the corporate backdrop and flanked by the flags of the USA, Chicago, and Illinois, J. P. Morgan Chase executive William Daley, brother of Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, spoke to the Advance Illinois breakfast prior to Arne Duncan's speech on June 19, 2009. Daley was introduced to the breakfast as the "former [US] Secretary of Commerce". The introduction made no mention of the fact that Daley has made a lucrative career for himself and his employer by leading the privatization of massive assets once owned by the City of Chicago. Chicagoans now have to pay nearly $30 to park for one day in downtown parking lots, which were privatized thanks to the work of Chicago's First Brother, Bill Daley. Chicago has recently been hit with major scandals after the city's on-street parking meters were privatized — thanks to the work of William Daley. But for the audience and the media covering Arne Duncan's June 19 education speech at Advance Illinois, the privatization agenda of all the major speakers was not mentioned. Under the guise of helping children and providing betters schools, Advance Illinois moves forward. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Head of Corporate Responsibility and Chairman of the Midwest Region , JPMorgan Chase & Company, New York , NY (Sector: FINANCIAL /Money Center Banks).

Director , The Boeing Company, Chicago , IL (Sector: INDUSTRIAL GOODS/ Aerospace/Defense - Major Diversified).

60 Years Old. Mr. Daley has served as the senior executive of the Midwest region and serves on the JPMorgan Chase & Co. Executive Committee and on its International Council since May 2004. He served as president, SBC Communications, Inc. (diversified telecommunications) from December 2001 to May 2004. Mr. Daley was vice chairman of Evercore Capital Partners L.P. from January to November 2001. From June to December 2000, Mr. Daley served as chairman of Vice President Albert Gore's 2000 presidential election campaign. Mr. Daley served as the U.S. Secretary of Commerce from January 1997 to June 2000. Mr. Daley serves on the board of directors of The Boeing Company, The Art Institute of Chicago, Joffrey Ballet of Chicago, Loyola University of Chicago, Northwestern Memorial Hospital, and Northwestern University. He also sits on the Council on Foreign Relations. Mr. Daley is a graduate of Loyola University in Chicago and of John Marshall Law School.

Bill Daley is doing quite well for himself for a person who began growing up in a Chicago bungalow in the city's Bridgeport neighborhood. Even leaving out the millions of dollars he is currently being paid for his day job at J.P. Morgan Chase, Bill Daley has some very lucrative part-time jobs. Take his work as a director of Boeing Corporation (one of the corporations bankrolling Advance Illinois). According to the most recent Boeing Proxy statement:

"The following table sets forth information regarding compensation for each of the Company’s nonemployee directors for 2007. The Company’s nonemployee director compensation program is comprised of cash (board and committee annual retainer fees) and equity (deferred stock unit awards). Directors who are employees of the Company do not participate in the Company’s compensation program for nonemployee directors.

"William M. Daley: $75,000 (board and committee annual retainer fee); 130,000 shares of Boeing stock." In sum: Bill Daley was paid more for attending about ten meetings (all expenses paid) at a director of Boeing during 2007 than the average Chicago teachers was being paid for working full-time. If the value of the stock award is monetized, Daley was paid more for his part-time work at Boeing than anyone working full-time for the Chicago Board of Education in 2007.

The corporate bottom line exemplified by Daley's compensation is usually hidden from the people who were protesting Advance Illinois on the sidewalk outside the Regency Hyatt on June 19. When men like Jim Edgar, Arne Duncan, and Bill Daley (or women like Robin Steans) promote deregulation, privatization, teacher bashing and union busting, they are usually not announcing to the world their own wealth and privilege, or offering full disclosure when they claim that their work at groups like Advance Illinois is "objective," disinterested and not-for-profit.

A bankrupt 'bottom line' based on secret tests

If Advance Illinois had a sense of humor about its slogan ("Every Student World Ready") there would be giggling over many of its wealthiest and foremost protagonists. During her remarks at the June 19 breakfast, Robin Steans announced that every child in Illinois should have two years of "Algebra" in order to graduate from high school ("world ready").

It's unlikely that any of the leaders of Advance Illinois — or the featured speaker — could pass an algebra test today. But like so many in the leadership of corporate school reform, the chairs and executive director of Advance Illinois are in power. They don't have to submit to tests either of their abilities or of their credibility. Co-chair William Daley does not have the mathematical ability that Advance Illinois now claims must be proves before a student in Illinois can graduate from high school so that the student can complete in the globalized world Advance Illinois claims we are facing. Bill Daley attended Loyola University and John Marshall Law School, hardly Princeton and Harvard (as Michelle Obama did) or Columbia and Harvard (Barack Obama). No one has ever offered to subject the three chiefs of Advance Illinois to, say, the Advanced Placement Calculus examination they now promote for global competitiveness for Illinois children.

Advance Illinois makes most of its suggestions for improving the public schools of Illinois based on the assumption that the best way to measure children, teacher, and school success is secret, multiple choice, corporate, computer scored, so-called "standardized" tests. Just at the 'bottom line' for Wall Street investment banks was supposedly the quarterly profit increases (with no concern for long-term results or the vast impact of increasing risk on the world and its people), so teachers, if Advance Illinois has its way, will be measured solely on the basis of standardized tests, with teachers stripped of virtually all professional judgment and autonomy.



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