Another example of the future of U.S. Education if the Chicago Plan goes national... Nebraska teachers question strings tied to federal 'stimulus' dollars by Duncan

Only a few weeks have passed since former Chicago Schools CEO Arne Duncan made clear during a breakfast meeting with corporate leaders in Chicago that the Obama administration was going to demand more charter schools and more test-based "accountability" in exchange for additional federal "stimulus" dollars during the growing economic crisis. Yet a growing number of teachers, school administrators, and political leaders in states across the USA have begun to notice how tightly Duncan will pull those strings — some might say around teachers' necks.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan made clear that states would not be able to get federal stimulus dollars next year unless they complied with Duncan's demands that the states open more charter schools and create data bases that tie student test scores to individual teachers. Although valid research has shown that both plans are flawed and will result in corruption of schools and testing programs, Duncan is moving forward quickly with the programs. The U.S. Department of Education is forcing states — under what some are beginning to realize is blackmail — to follow models which failed in Chicago, despite Duncan's claims to the contrary. Above, Duncan speaking to the June 19, 2009 breakfast meeting of the corporate school reform group Advance Illinois at the Regency Hyatt Chicago hotel. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.None of this comes as a surprise to those in Chicago who watched as Arne Duncan, praised to the skies by Chicago's corporate media, fired hundreds of teachers at schools that had low test scores — under the pretext of saving the students at those schools. The trouble for Duncan was that years ago, those same schools would have been called massively segregated, and the problems faced by those schools were recognized as the results of segregation and poverty.

While the corporate media (including both the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times) were reporting that Arne Duncan was a "hero" (they actually used that word) for closing what he called "failing" schools (and firing their teachers and principals), what was not reported — except in the pages of Substance (print edition) and here at SubstanceNews — was that all of those schools were segregated schools serving the highest poverty areas of America's most segregated city.

In addition to massive segregation, Chicago also added an immense increase in militarization during the opening decade of the 21st Century. Under Arne Duncan, Chicago became the most militarized public school system in the USA, despite the fact that Duncan told audiences on numerous occasions that his "Quaker" beliefs were against militarism.

October 15, 2007. One of the projects Arne Duncan pioneered in Chicago but has not yet forced on the rest of the nation is the militarization of public schools. Above, then-Congressman Rahm Emmanuel (5th Illinois Congressional District) bragged to an audience at the dedication of Chicago's "Marine Military Academy High School" at 145 S. Campbell on Chicago's West Side that he had gotten a million dollar earmark to help develop the military high school. The cheering for Emmanuel's work came from Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley (left, front) while Chicago Public Schools Chief Executive Officer Arne Duncan read from his prepared remarks. Daley, Emmanuel, and Duncan had worked together to create the most militarized public school system in the USA by the time Emmanuel (as White House Chief of Staff) and then Duncan (as U.S. Secretary of Education) went to work for the Obama administration. The banner above the stage on October 15, 2007 (above photo) bragged about Chicago's militarization. By the time Emmanuel brought in the earmark for the Marine Military Academy, Chicago had five high schools that were completely militarized (the "military" academies) with one more to come (the Air Force Academy High School, which was launched during the 2008-2009 school year). Chicago today has the greatest number of children in Junior ROTC (JROTC), and additionally has a growing number of high schools which have been turned over the the military. Observers are confident that Arne Duncan will push the same military programs across the nation once he is confident that his other programs (charter school expansion; the closing of schools and the firing of teachers based solely on test scores) have taken hold. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.During the Duncan years, Chicago sustained its enormous level of all-black segregated public schools, then began expanding them through the creation of segregated charter schools. By 2008, the last year Duncan was in charge of Chicago's public schools, the vast majority of the charter schools he had created were segregated.

The brunt of segregation in Chicago has always been born by black children. Nearly 300 of Chicago's 600 regular public elementary and high schools have 90 percent or more black children in them. The teachers and other workers in those so-called "failing schools" were, the majority of them, African American.

In 2009, all 42 of the Chicago elementary schools that could have been closed in Chicago for "academic failure" (Duncan carefully parses language, using the term "underperformance") were segregated, all-black, and in the highest poverty communities in the USA. That final list of schools that might have been subjected to so-called "turnaround" was compiled under Arne Duncan's direction. Only Substance reported it as also a list of schools that were segregated (virtually 100 percent black) and facing some of the most dire poverty in the USA.

As a result of Chicago's cruel segregation of black children (one of whom, once upon a time, was Michelle Robinson, now Michelle Obama), when it came time to use so-called "standardized" test scores to identify public schools that Arne Duncan wanted to declare as "failing," the results were predictable.

The same schools that were once easily identified as having been the victims of massive racial segregation (caused by major economic and social forces which have developed most clearly in Chicago) suddenly became, instead, the victims of "bad teachers" and "bad principals." Whereas once the United States Supreme Court had declared that "separate" was "inherently unequal" (in the famous Brown decision), Chicago turned the reality on its head, blaming teachers for the extreme segregation created by America's third-largest city and its political and economic leaders. Between 2000 and 2009, Chicago eliminated at least 2,000 African American teachers and principals, most of those through the closing of all-black schools that Arne Duncan declared academic "failures" while ignoring the segregation, poverty, and violence around them.

The key was for Chicago's corporate media to spin the story (the "narrative" in their terms) away from concerns about poverty, racism, and segregation and towards terms like "dropout factories" and "achievement gap."

Once that transformation of the narrative had been completed in Chicago (with help from well funded groups across the USA who talk constantly about an "Achievement Gap" but never about segregation), it was implemented in a ruthless way by Arne Duncan, cheered on by the editorial boards of the city's major newspapers. With the appointment of Duncan as U.S. Secretary of Education, the national plan to identify "failing" schools will have the same result.

A difference may be that not every state in the United States is as corrupt as Chicago. Nor is every place in the USA ready to weave a fairy tale version of schools that blame the teachers who work — sometimes for decades — to teach children in some of America's most tragic centers of poverty and segregation. By the end of June 2009, the states were beginning to hear critical voices against the heavy pressure coming from the U.S. Department of Education to "Chicagoize" the entire public school system of the USA. How successful that challenge to Chicago's lies will become in the months ahead will be reported regularly in the pages and on the Web in Substance. Now the same tactics will be exported to every state in the USA if Duncan has his way.

According to an article headlined "Nebraska teachers fear strings attached to stimulus funds" from the Omaha World Herald, a closer look is in order.

While officials broke ground for the multi-million dollar expansion of the Marine Military Academy and the Phoenix (Army) military academy on Chicago's West Side on October 15, 2007, they were guarded by an honor guard in Marine uniforms. The vast majority of children attending Chicago's military high schools are African American and Latino. Many are lured into the military schools because the Duncan administration, according to numerous critics, had created a crisis in the city's general high schools by systematically disrupting them through underfunding and a neglect of the city's huge problem of violence from drug gangs. Many parents tell reporters that their main reason for sending their children to the military schools is that the children will be safer than in the regular public high schools. Left to right above, with shovels: U.S. Congressman Rahm Emmanuel; Chicago Alderman Ed Balcer; Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley (in gold hard hat); Chicago schools CEO Arne Duncan. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.


The strings attached to federal education stimulus money are making some Midlands teachers nervous.

States that receive federal stimulus money for education must develop a database capable of tracking student achievement back to individual teachers. U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan says such data could help to reward good teachers and identify the colleges where the best teachers come from.

Educators say a central question will be how to best define achievement: Is it earning a certain score on a test or showing improvement over time?

They also worry that teachers will be held solely accountable for achievement even though a variety of factors, including parents’ involvement and the quality of a principal, have impacts on learning as well.

The Obama administration’s push for longitudinal tracking — charting students grade to grade through their school years — is part of a U.S. effort to give educators more hard evidence on which to base decisions.

Nebraska maintains a database on the state’s 290,000-plus students, including data on schools and districts and how students scored on state and local writing and math assessments. But the Obama administration’s idea would go one step further.

“When you talk about taking 23,000 teachers and administrators in the state and accumulating information about them and updating it continuously, it’s a pretty big undertaking,” said Nebraska State Education Commissioner Roger Breed, who co-signed the state’s stimulus application.

The state currently requires that districts assess teachers to “improve the quality of instruction.” Evaluations involve classroom observation to make sure teachers know how to instruct and follow the curriculum, and that students are engaged and classrooms are safe.

But the state doesn’t require districts to evaluate teachers based on how much their students are learning.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan wasn't leading the crowd in prayer when he spoke to more than 300 educational and corporate leaders in Chicago on June 19 and the Advance Illinois breakfast. But Duncan may be hoping that most states and public education leaders across the USA keep their eyes closed to what really took place in Chicago during the years when Mayor Richard M. Daley controlled the city's public schools (1995 to the present) and Arne Duncan ran them for Daley (2001-2008). Although Duncan was praised at the breakfast for having been the longest serving "superintendent" in the USA at the time President Barack Obama appointed him Secretary of Education, a closer look at Duncan's record showed increases in segregation, militarization, and segregated charter schools — while the number of schools being classified as "failing" academically increased. None of this deterred Chicago's corporate media from continuing the dominant narrative (the success of Chicago's mayoral control and "CEO" models), so as a result much that can be found on the Internet through a Google search is either propaganda, distortion, or outright lies. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.“People think teachers are out there just doing willy-nilly and nobody’s checking, and that’s just not the case,” Breed said. “By the same token, it’s not tied down so tightly that you can say ‘The students learn this amount attributable to this teacher, therefore we keep this one.’ ”

In Iowa, teacher evaluations include a classroom observation, a review of their progress on state teaching standards and review of the teacher’s individual professional development plan.

The nation’s largest teachers union, the National Education Association, wants any tracking data kept confidential and used to improve teacher performance in the classroom, “not for punitive reasons,” said Robert Kim, senior NEA policy analyst. Test scores alone don’t always tell the story of a child’s progress, he said.

Some teachers say a better measure of achievement is a student’s growth — the progress a student makes from the first day of school — not whether he can hit a benchmark at year’s end.

Doreen Jankovich, president of the Omaha Education Association, said teachers are concerned about being judged on a single “snapshot.”

“Education is more than just one test score,” she said. “It’s a culmination of activities, a culmination of lessons.”

Teachers are “a little nervous” that their performance may be tied to student achievement, said Jay Sears, who’s in charge of instructional advocacy for the Nebraska State Education Association.

October 15, 2007. While many people in Chicago became accustomed to public school children, some as young as 12-year-old, marching in uniform and carrying weapons during public school military ceremonies such as the one above, at the dedication of the "Marine Military Academy" in Chicago on October 15, 2007, much of the rest of the USA took then-senator Barack Obama at his word when he told them he was opposed to most wars. The paradox was that during the term of Obama's Secretary of Education as head of Chicago's public schools, the school system systematically expanded "military high schools" (such as the one above) at the expense of the city's general high schools, even claiming that military training was not training for war, but another version of "college preparatory education." Despite ongoing criticism of the militarization of Chicago's middle schools and high schools, CEO Arne Duncan continued the expansion into his last year at the top job. During the 2008-2009 school year, Duncan finalized the creation of the "Air Force Military Academy High School" in Chicago. As a result, in addition to having a JROTC program that extended down into the middle schools, Chicago also had at least one military high school for each of the branches of the U.S. military. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.It is unclear exactly how a statewide database would work.

Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman applied for $234 million in education stabilization funds and learned last week that the state received the first two-thirds of the money. To get the rest, state officials must develop a plan for making progress on the stimulus goals. States that show progress are expected to have a better chance of winning additional education grants.

Iowa has received the first $316 million of the funding it sought. The state can apply for another $156 million this fall.

Nebraska officials, meanwhile, are taking steps to meet the other federal requirements tied to stimulus money, Breed said.

To meet the goal of distributing qualified teachers equally to poor and middle-class schools, Breed said the state must collect data on teacher qualifications from each school building. If a district has unqualified teachers “and they clump them all together in one building, we don’t really collect that data,” he said.

The Omaha school district has focused for several years on a better distribution of its most experienced teachers among all of its schools. During the 2008-09 school year, there was little difference in the experience level of the Omaha Public Schools’ urban and suburban teachers.

Breed estimated that more than 90 percent of the state’s teachers are teaching in their fields of expertise.

As for a commitment to improving academic standards and assessments, he said, the state is in the midst of a multiyear effort to revise math standards and implement new assessments for reading, math and science.

Contact the writer: 444-1077,


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