Media Watch: What happens when Ron Huberman stages a publicity stunt and nobody comes?

Less than two weeks after the massive media turnout for the July 20 NANO* publicity stunt advertising the "Track E" schools, Chicago schools Chief Executive Officer Ron Huberman offered the city's media another publicity stunt — this one as part of his "data driven management" nonsense. But nobody came.

Chicago schools CEO Ron Huberman (above, in white shirt) at the Board of Education's April 22, 2009 meeting. Huberman began the month (of April 2009) by staging a sort of "raid" on Julian High School. On April 3, 2009, Huberman called the press to say he was removing the principal of the school, and began an ongoing narrative about how he was going to be tough on bad people in the schools. By the time of the May 2009 school board meeting, however, Huberman was telling teachers and parents from Field, Gunsaulus, and Prescott elementary schools that there was nothing he could do about the lies and tyrannies of the allegedly out-of-control principals of those schools. The powers that Huberman had on April 3 at Julian had disappeared like a scene from a Harry Potter movie by the following month, and the narrative about how there was nothing CPS could do remained firmly in place in June and July. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.It could have been that Huberman's massive propaganda department, the Chicago Board of Education's "Office of Communications", didn't tell most reporters and news editors until the last minute. Or maybe it was that even in the dog days of summer and the dotage of the once proud Chicago news organizations, there are limits.

Here is what happened: At a little after 9:00 a.m. on July 31, 2009, the Chicago Board of Education's large "Communications" department e-mailed Substance that there would be an important press conference — two hours later!

The e-mail read as follows:

For more information contact:

CPS Office of Communications

(773) 553-1620—office



July 31, 2009

Huberman Announces Systemwide Data Integrity Initiative

WHO: Chicago Public Schools Chief Executive Officer Ron Huberman

WHAT: Press Conference on Data Integrity Initiative

WHEN: 11 a.m. Friday July 31

WHERE: Chicago Public Schools Central Office, Communications Department Pressroom, 125 S. Clark-6th Floor

That was it.

So on two hours' notice, Chicago's stripped-down media was supposed to deploy front and center to hear the "data driven" CEO of Chicago's schools. Ron Huberman, announce how the data mess he had received from his predecessor (Arne Duncan, now the data driven head of America's schools) was going to be cleaned up (or at least restored to something called "integrity" at CPS).

While CEO Ron Huberman was telling some schools (most visibly, Field, Gunsaulus, and Prescott) that there was nothing he could do to remove a principal who was misbehaving, a few miles away he already had removed a principal from a school — without explanation. The Julian High School Local School Council (above, meeting in April 2009) was still waiting in July for an explanation as to how Ron Huberman could hurriedly remove the school's contract principal and put one of his own in power on April 3, 2009. Many were suspicious that Huberman's move against Julian was a publicity stunt when the TV crews showed up on April 3 before the principal was told she was getting the axe. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Could it be that Ron Huberman wanted to say he held a press conference but make sure that it wasn't really the kind of press conference where the press might ask some questions about how, after 14 years of miraculous management under Mayor Daley's Miracle Management Teams (Paul Vallas, 1995 - 2001; Arne Duncan, 2001-2008; Ron Huberman since January 2009) the third largest school system in the USA isn't sure how much it's been paying thousands of its workers? And has just been sued by the teachers' pension fund in a lawsuit that may eventually cost millions of dollars because for 26 months the Chicago Public Schools has been unable to provide the pension fund with accurate information on how many days teachers worked during the last years before they retired — and how much they were paid for those many days?


And maybe somebody may have also asked Ron Huberman why he gave a huge promotion to a clout heavy tall guy named Bob Runcie who was in charter of all those datas when all those messes were being created.

But when you can't blame a teacher for the problems, what's the fun?

Anyway, a quick reading of the city's daily newspapers on August 1 leaves the impression that nobody else covered the Huberman publicity stunt on July 31.

Which might have been what Huberman had in mind all along.

The ubiquitous "N.A.N.O." sign on the fence at Piccolo on July 20, 2009. "N.A.N.O." (which stands for "Non Attendance Is Not An Option") is the slogan for the Board of Education's program to improve school attendance while refusing to hire truant officers. Chicago's truant officers were abolished by Mayor Richard M. Daley in 1993, and for 16 years the mayor's appointees on the school board and his allies in the media have tried to replace truant officers with volunteers, parent patrols, one-day publicity stunts, and a number of media events — anything but providing schools and principals with the services of professional truant officers such as existed in Chicago for more than 100 years. Substance photo by George Schmidt. The July 31 stunt was not the first time Huberman's propagandists were hard at work. One of our favorites was April 3, when all of Chicago's TV cameras managed to find their way all the way out to 103rd and Elizabeth to videotape Huberman's attempted character assassination against the principal of Julian High School. That one failed because the principal left the building by the back door when she saw the cameras assembling out front, but it still served the Huberman agenda. He got ink in Newsweek (tough cop to whip teachers, principals into line) and later also in Chicago magazine (in a pathetic propaganda piece ("Numbers Man") oozing off the cover of its August issue.

History shows that when CPS CEOs do things like this to experienced teachers and principals (especially principals with valid LSC contracts), the backfire often includes a heafty pay settlement. From Paul Vallas through Arne Duncan and now to Ron Huberman, that "data" that have to be ignored to prolong this miracle management myth are the dollars it costs to try and arrange reality to suit a phony story. When it goes to court, the facts come out and at the last minutes the Board agrees to a settlement — and an "non disclosure" deal that means the total cost can only be found when someone goes and reads the court records at the Federal Building.

As of early on August 1, there is no further word from CPS about how this "data integrity" thingy is going to be done — or which data it's going to be done on. Stay tuned and let us know what you hear.

* Editor's Note: Each Track E school in Chicago now has a N.A.N.O. sign on the building or a banner on the faux wrought iron (Vallas era patronage contracts awarded to a long-ago indicted and jailed fixer with City Hall connections) that wrap Chicago's schools like teepeeings before a suburban Homecoming game. The N.A.N.O. on those 142 signs advertising that school begins on August 10 is an acronym. It stands for "Non Attendance Is Not An Option". Mystics report that Chicago's 150 years of truant officers are rolling in their graves saying to one another from the great beyond: "Of course. Why didn't we think of that!" More information will be available from Substance on Halloween. 

Final edited version of this article posted at August 1, 2009, 3:00 p.m. CDT. If you choose to reproduce this article in whole or in part, or any of the graphical material included with it, please give full credit to SubstanceNews as follows: Copyright © 2009 Substance, Inc., Please provide Substance with a copy of any reproductions of this material and we will let you know our terms or you can take out a subscription to Substance (see red button to the right) and make a donation. We are asking all of our readers to either subscribe to the print edition of Substance (a bargain at $16 per year) or make a donation. Both options are available on the right side of our Home Page. For further information, feel free to call us at our office at 773-725-7502.


August 1, 2009 at 3:19 PM

By: They're Still Lying After All These Years

How About Some Real Townhalls, Guys?

In the 1997 Michael Douglas movie, The Game, as the movie progresses, evidence mounts that the game is actually an elaborate scheme, but each time Douglas thinks he has uncovered the truth, he finds that a new layer of complexity has been revealed and that his previous assumptions were false. Similarly in the 1998 Jim Carrey movie, The Truman Show, Truman thinks that he is an ordinary man with an ordinary life and has no idea about how he is exploited.

I’m beginning to think that in dealing with CPS for many years I have been part of an elaborate psychological stress test. Those of us who have long survived the torture of being told that black is white and up is down by representatives of CPS should be declared winners and given bonus pay.

Instead, our salaries are being paid at will and our jobs are being taken without even an attempt at a good lie.

The latest trend in education is for principals to write cautionary notes(what a stupid, 19th century euphemism for “screw you”), suspend teachers without pay, click off PATs, close positions, and issue E3s. They write pretentious declarations about the teacher’s egregious behavior (she handed in a report on Monday instead of Friday) and the Union stands wringing its hands while Labor Relations runs out of stamp pad ink, stamping UPHELD on all of the charges.

Yet,the third largest school system in the country with 43,840 employees and an operating budget of $4.855 billion “has been unable to provide the pension fund with accurate information on how many days teachers worked during the last years before they retired — and how much they were paid for those many days?”

You can travel to a BOE meeting, arrive 2 hours before it starts so that you can sign up FOR 2 MINUTES PUBLIC PARTICIPATION TIME, ask the President of the Board of Education and the Chief Operating Officer of the Board of Education why an accurate payroll can’t be produced, and you are expected to soothe Huberman’s brow? “CEO Rob Huberman told McGuire he became "outraged" when he learned of the depth of the payroll problems.”

It’s a good thing for a lot of people that this is still a city where it isn’t what you know, but who you know, and who you don’t give a damn about.

Add your own comment (all fields are necessary)

Substance readers:

You must give your first name and last name under "Name" when you post a comment at We are not operating a blog and do not allow anonymous or pseudonymous comments. Our readers deserve to know who is commenting, just as they deserve to know the source of our news reports and analysis.

Please respect this, and also provide us with an accurate e-mail address.

Thank you,

The Editors of Substance

Your Name

Your Email

What's your comment about?

Your Comment

Please answer this to prove you're not a robot:

5 + 4 =