Duncan, Gingrich, Sharpton announce tour to pressure cities to adopt the 'Chicago Plan' — now called 'Race to the Top'

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced that he will be on a tour of the major cities of the USA with former Republican House of Representatives leader Newt Gingrich and community activist Al Sharpton to push America's major cities into adopting the corporate "school reform" programs now officially the policy of the U.S. Department of Education and the Obama administration.

Protesters picketed outside Chicago's Regency Hyatt Hotel on June 19, 2009 against the appearance of U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan at a breakfast meeting with corporate school leaders sponsored by a group called "Advance Illinois." One of the signs above reads: "Duncan 'Miracle' — firing black teachers." A study by Chicago's CORE (Caucus of Rank-and-File Educators) proved that under Arne Duncan Chicago's public schools had fired more than 2,000 black teachers and principals between 2001 and 2008. The method was to take schools with low scores on standardized tests, ignore all social and economic factors (Chicago is the most racially segregated city in the USA, with more than 300 all-black schools in 2008-2009) and then blame the teachers for the low test scores by students. Most of the teachers who were fired by Duncan under various corporate programs (including "Renaissance 2010" — which charterizes schools — and "turnaround") had their professional lives and reputations destroyed by Duncan's imposition of what opponents are calling the "Chicago Plan." In July 2009, President Brack Obama made the Chicago Plan his national education plan under the name "Race to the Top" and with more than $4 billion in federal stimulus dollars behind it. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Between May and June 2009, President Obama and Arne Duncan, who was appointed U.S. Secretary of Education by Obama after serving seven years as "Chief Executive Officer" of Chicago's public schools, outlined a national plan for what they call "school reform." For big cities, the plan reflects what Duncan did in Chicago while Obama, in the Illinois General Assembly, supported the work of Mayor Richard M. Daley.

A philosophy on the fringe beyond neo-liberalism

The plan includes massive reliance on standardized tests, merit pay for teachers, the imposition of charter schools and conservative free market "choice" programs, and the attempt to fire teachers based on standardized test scores. Duncan's Chicago policies also called for taking away defined benefit pension plans for public school teachers and the effective abolition of tenure (and union-based seniority) using a variety of pretexts.

The two major prongs of the plan are massive deregulation (for privatized entities such as charter schools and officials appointed to politically powerful positions in the schools) and massive privatization (usually in the form of no-bid contracts for services and charterization with little or no oversight). Charter schools are not simply non-union in Chicago, but actively anti-union. The philosophical underpinnings of the programs are found in the recently discredited "choice" and "free market' philosophies of conservative economists and fringe cult groups organized to follow the teachings of Ayn Rand, particularly the fictionalized version of their struggle in the novel "Atlas Shrugged." Many of the Chicago cadre of Arne Duncan's administration were admirers of Rand's philosophy, and a prominent Rand group (John Galt Solutions) established offices at CPS headquarters after Duncan took over. (John Galt is the sexy hero of Rand's novel "Atlas Shrugged" — and a role model for many of those who recently brought the global economy into collapse).

The 'Mayoral Control Model', 'Miracle Management Teams,' and democracy

Most notably from Chicago, the "Mayoral Control Model" (so-called) of urban school governance is what Duncan has been promoting. Under that model, elected school boards are abolished and the power to appoint a school board is placed in the hands of the mayor, with no review. Chicago's mayor has been appointing the city's school board since July 1995 (when mayoral control became Illinois law for Chicago with the passage of a bill called the "Amendatory Act."

One key to the supposed success of mayoral control is control over the media narrative describing the supposed "miracle management" successes of the mayor's appointees. In Chicago, corporate media versions of that narrative have been supplemented for more than a decade by subsidized college and university professors who praise and support the model. The structure is much like the one conservatives used to promote their agenda, while citing studies from groups like the American Enterprise Instutue and the Heritage Foundation.

With the passage of the Amendatory Act by a Republican controlled Illinois General Assmbly the year after New Gingrich's "contract with America" swept the Republicans into national power in the U.S. House of Representatives, the mayor in Chicago was also given power to appoint a non-teacher (and uncredentialed) "Chief Executive Officer" (CEO) for the city's school system. The school board was also appointed by the mayor.

Shortly after Arne Duncan became CEO of CPS in 2001, a new office was noticed at the headquarters building of the Chicago Board of Education, which is located at 125 S. Clark St. in Chicago — "John Galt Solutions." The group, which is a corporation separate from the Chicago Board of Education, has been renting office space at CPS headquarters for most of the 21st Century and for much of that time, the floor directory on the top floor of the Board's building would leave the average observer to think that the group was part of CPS and the Duncan administration. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Under mayoral control, the CEO, supposedly a "business leader" was not required to have any teaching or school administrative experience. Instead, the CEO was completely the creation of the mayor who appointed him. Chicago's three public schools CEOs since Richard M. Daley took over the school system 14 years ago have all been political appointees with no private sector corporate or other business experience.

-- Paul Vallas, who served as Chicago CEO from 1995 to 2001, had been Daley's budget chief after a long career in Democratic Party politics as a functionary at the state and local levels. Despite claims that he had "teaching" experience (see, the old Substance Web site),

Vallas had never taught school, was unqualified to teach in Chicago or Illinois, and had never operated anything larger than a small suburban family restaurant owned by his father. Although Vallas was promoted as a "numbers guy" (he had been budget director for the city under Daley), his academic qualifications didn't even include qualifying as a Certified Public Accountant. Vallas, like others promoted to lead the school system by Daley, was mainly qualified because of his political connections to the city's mayor and the corporate powers behind the mayor.

In Illinois, school administrators are required to have teaching experience and to earn what is called a "Type 75" administrative certificate. Paul Vallas never qualified because he had no legitimate teaching experience and never studied to take the "Type 75" examinations. Under the form of deregulation instituted for mayoral control in Chicago, Vallas was placed at the head of the third largest school system in the USA even though it would have been illegal for him to be a substitute teacher in any other school district in Illinois. As reported exclusively in Substance, in later years, Vallas inflated his resume to claim that he had teaching experience, but the claim was proved to be a lie.

John Galt Solutions, housed at Chicago Public Schools headquarters at 125 S. Clark St. in Chicago, makes no bones about its adherence to the philosophy of Ayn Rand. According to the group's Web site:

"Who Is John Galt? Founded in 1996, John Galt Solutions has a proven track record of delivering affordable forecasting and inventory management solutions for the consumer-driven supply chain. With the ForecastX Wizard and the Atlas Planning Suite, we provide a wide range of affordable, easy to implement, supply chain planning solutions designed for growing mid-market companies. Named for the iconic figure in Ayn Rand’s novel, Atlas Shrugged, the John Galt employs a team of supply chain experts. We proudly serve over 5000 customers – including manufacturers, distributors, retailers and logistics services providers in a wide range of industries such as apparel, automotive, consumer goods, food & beverage, energy, high tech, pharmaceuticals and telecommunications. Headquartered in Chicago, John Galt is a profitable, privately held company whose annual growth exceeds the pace of the overall supply chain software market. Using our solutions, industry leaders such as Bayer Crop Science, DuPont, Fidelity Investments, Hasbro Games, Huhtamaki, Sealy, Syngenta Crop Protection, and The Container Store have improved their bottom line through increased revenues and inventory cost reductions..." Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.
-- Arne Duncan, who served as Chicago CEO from 2001 - 2008, had been a mid-level functionary in the school system's bureaucracy after a long career in quasi-professional basketball (he played professionally in Australia) and some work with a group of local investment advisors (Ariel Capital Management, headed by Duncan's friend John Rodgers). Despite claims that he had "teaching" experience, Duncan finally admitted that the most he had ever taught was while tutoring at a tutoring center that his mother had run for inner city kids.

Like Vallas, Duncan tended to inflate his qualifications when in front of an uninformed audience, or one where questions would not be asked. Duncan's father was a professor at the University of Chicago, abd Duncan himself grew up in the hothouse environment of Chicago's Hyde Park neighborhood, surrounding the University of Chicago. Duncan himself had attended private schools all his life. Because he was the son of a University of Chicago Professor, he attended the famous University of Chicago Lab School (k-12), followed by Harvard University (where he stopped his education with his BA and played varsity basketball).

In Illinois, school administrators are required to have teaching experience and to earn what is called a "Type 75" administrative certificate. Duncan never qualified because he had no legitimate teaching experience and never studied to take the "Type 75" examinations. Under the form of deregulation instituted for mayoral control in Chicago, Duncan was placed at the head of the third largest school system in the USA even though it would have been illegal for him to be a substitute teacher in any other school district in Illinois.

-- Ron Huberman, who was appointed CPS CEO (in January 2009) after Arne Duncan resigned to take the post of U.S. Secretary of Education, is a former police officer who has been sponsored by Mayor Richard M. Daley for more than a decade, to the point where some local political observers characterize Huberman as the "bright son Daley never had." Before being appointed CEO of Chicago's schools in January 2009, Huberman was head of the Chicago Transit Authority which oversees the city's bus and subway mass transit systems. He has no public school teaching experience and reportedly holds an MA degree in "Social Services Administration" from the University of Chicago.

In Illinois, school administrators are required to have teaching experience and to earn what is called a "Type 75" administrative certificate. Ron Huberman never qualified because he had no legitimate teaching experience and never studied to take the "Type 75" examinations. Under the form of deregulation instituted for mayoral control in Chicago, Huberman has been placed at the head of the third largest school system in the USA — even though it would have been illegal for him to be a substitute teacher in any other school district in Illinois. The only qualification necessary to be chief of Chicago's public schools is the appointment of Mayor Richard M. Daley.

Advance Illinois

Arne Duncan announced most of his national program at a June 19, 2009, breakfast meeting held at Chicago's Regency Hyatt Hotel and sponsored by a corporate school reform group called "Advance Illinois." At the June 19 meeting, Duncan told the cheering crowd that he would be doing a national tour with Gingrich and Sharpton. The June 19 event was reported in in June 2009 and is available in "Back Issues" (June 2009) above. During the summer, Obama and Duncan announced that more than $4 billion in federal stimulus II dollars would be available for education under a program they are calling "Race to the Top."

A month later, the outlined plans Duncan had presented to Advance Illinois became national policy when President Obama announced the "Race to the Top" under which schools in all 50 states would have to complete for the second year of federal stimulus dollars. The total amount being utilized for the Obama plan is between $4 and $5 billion.

By June 19, Duncan was joking about the fact that he was going to be touring with Gingirch and Sharpton, as if that combination denoted some radical bi-partisanship, rather than simply an alliance of individuals who have made lucrative careers out of promoting privatization, deregulation, and other conservative political programs. In an August 13, 2009 conference call with selected reporters, Duncan began to outline the tour with Gingrich and Sharpton. Substance was excluded from the call.

Above, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan takes a moment from answering pre-scripted questions to glare at Substance editor George Schmidt during the June 19, 2009, media event and breakfast sponsored by "Advance Illinois," the latest corporate funded "school reform" group in Chicago. Duncan was being read questions by Advance Illinois chief Robin Steans (back to camera above), whose family foundation helps fund the group. The way Duncan does these supposedly open events is to have his aides collect "questions" from the audience. The questions are then collected by one person (in the case of the Advance Illinois event, Robin Steans) so that Duncan only gets questions that have been pre-scripted by his media team. Questions about Duncan's expansion of segregated all-black and all-minority schools in Chicago and the firing of more than 2,000 veteran black teachers were taken off the question stack. On the sidewalk outside the Hyatt Hotel where Duncan and Steans were speaking, police were called by hotel security staff to prevent Chicago teachers and parents from entering the hotel to ask questions of the U.S. Secretary of Education. One of the owners of the hotel, Penny Pritzker, served as Barack Obama's fundraising chief during the 2008 primary and presidential election campaigns. Substance photograph by George N. Schmidt.The manipulation of media by the Duncan administration was pioneered in Chicago, and most of Duncan's corporate media handlers are now with him at the U.S. Department of Education. Carefully scripted media events are held in a manner that is meant to look candid, while Duncan gives pre-scripted answers to pre-selected questions. When he was periodically forced to take a question that hadn't been approved beforehand, usually from a reporter for Substance, Duncan's answer was always the same:

"I'll get back to your on that..."

And he never would get back, because the facts always contradicted the claims he had just made.

An Associated Press story release on August 14, 2009, reported as follows:

SHARPTON, GINGRICH PUSH OBAMA'S SCHOOL REFORMS Associated Press -- August 14, 2009 By Libby Quaid

Washington -- Education Secretary Arne Duncan is joining forces with two unlikely allies, the Rev. Al Sharpton and Republican former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, to push cities to fix failing schools.

The trio will visit Philadelphia, New Orleans and Baltimore later this year. They plan to add more stops as their tour progresses.

"These are cities that have real challenges but also tremendous hope and opportunity," Duncan told reporters on a conference call Thursday.

The idea came from a meeting they had with President Barack Obama in May at the White House.

Education is high on Obama's priority list. He is seeking to boost achievement, keep kids from dropping out of high school and push every student to pursue some form of higher education.

The president has vowed to make the United States the world leader in the number of people who graduate from college.

He argues that students who do better in school will help themselves in a work force that increasingly depends on high-skilled jobs, and that the country will benefit as well.

Obama discussed education issues in an interview with Damon Weaver, an 11-year-old Florida student.

"On Sept. 8, when young people across the country will have just started or are about to go back to school, I'm going to be making a big speech to young people all across the country about the importance of education, the importance of staying in school, how we want to improve our education system and why it's so important for the country," Obama said.

Sharpton, the liberal Democrat and community activist, said teachers and administrators aren't the only ones responsible for improving schools.

"The parents need to be challenged with the message of `no excuses,'" Sharpton said.

Interviewed on NBC's "Today" show Friday, Gingrich and Sharpton were asked how they had agreed to work together on education in view of the many differences they've had on other issues.

"I think that he has it exactly right, that education has to be the No. 1 civil right of the 21st century and I've been passionate about reforming education," Gingrich said. "And we can't get it done as a partisan issue."

Sharpton said the time has come to "change the conversation ... to say we need to put everybody's hands on the table."

He said he believes that "if there's anything Americans should be mature enough about to have a decent conversation, it's the education of their children."

Gingrich applauded Obama for showing "real courage on the issue of charter schools." Obama wants to increase the number of charter schools, which have a controversial history and are a divisive issue for his party's base.

Charters get public tax dollars but operate free from local school board control and usually from union contracts, making them a target of criticism by many teachers' union members.

"I strongly believe that when you can find common ground, we should be able to put other differences aside to achieve a common goal," Gingrich said.

At press time for this article, teachers and others in cities across the country were beginning to plan demonstrations against Duncan's policies similar to those held in Chicago on June 14 at the Regency Hyatt Hotel when Duncan first announced he was teaming up with Gingrich and Sharpton. The Chicago demonstrators, most of them public school teachers who had served in the schools during the years Duncan was promoting charter schools and privatization, were threatened with arrest when they tried to attend the breakfast meeting at the plush Chicago hotel (which is owned by the family which served as chief fundraisers for the Obama campaign in 2008). A video about the Chicago plan — Labor Beat: Secretary of Education Duncan - Pushing the Chicago Plan — is available at Chicago's "Labor Beat". (Button to the right on the SubstanceNews Home Page). Fair Test commented as follows: Here's a standardized test question about the following story: What characteristic do the "three amigos," Arne Duncan, Al Sharpton, and Gingrich share based on their career histories? One answer would be: self-promotional hustling for unproven nostrums without regards to any evidence. 

Final edited version of this article posted at August 15, 2009, 6:00 a.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. See "CLICK HERE TO SUBSCRIBE" or "CLICK HERE TO DONATE." For further information, feel free to call us at our office at 773-725-7502.


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