SEPT09 ARTICLE: Ron Huberman begins the school year by insulting principals and teachers with... Data Driven Drivel!

[Editor's Note: The following is the lead article in the September 2009 Substance as it appeared in the print edition that was mailed to our subscribers on September 14, 2009].

Although 142 of Chicago’s public schools had been open more or less since August 10 under the so-called “Year-Round” program of Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley and his handpicked Board of Education and handpicked “Chief Executive Officer” of the school system over which he has had dictatorial control since 1995, most of the city’s public school teachers were finally back at work on September 2, with the majority of kids scheduled to arrive September 8.

But first, a question. Why does every teacher have to learn the Chicago meaning of the following vocabulary words? Immediately. Now. Or else!

Key Vocabulary, Chicago Public Schools, 2009 - 2010 School Year...


Brutal Truth




Deep Dive

Read along, and the answer will become clear.

During the three days before the kids arrived, all Chicago teachers and principals — at the “underperforming” schools — were supposed to be treated to a Power Point rant from their latest “CEO.” The narrative went something like this:

”Be sure to get granular about your metrics before you deep dive into those outcomes and be sure you don’t avoid those brutal facts’ qualitiatives... Got that?”

Chicago Schools CEO Ron Huberman, told everybody, more or less. Huberman, who has never taught a week in a public school classroom anywhere in the United States, is now in charge of the third largest school system in the United States. This is thanks to a corporate thing called “mayoral control,” which has failed as massively as the other experiments of the last decade, from the “Dot Com” stock bubble to the risk free investments invented by Wall Street in the form of CDOs, CDSs, and a dozen other jargon filled bits of get-rich-quick nonsense. With Chicago’s corporate media taking dictation from Huberman’s propaganda department about the basic narrative about the city’s public schools, Huberman’s agenda is the central agenda the public receives. The disconnect between the reality in 600 public schools and the deafening roar of propaganda has never been more vast in Chicago, but on the first day of school there was still confusion.

Without that roar of propaganda, what Ron Huberman has been saying and doing since school began (and preparing to do since he was appointed CEO on January 30) would be more carefully scrutinized — and possibly driven or laughed out of town. An in-your-face Power Point consisting of technobabble and Orwellian incoherence.

Beginning in early August (for the 142 “Track E” schools) and continuing during the first week of September (for the remaining 450 or so public schools left in Chicago), Ron Huberman — who has never taught a day in a public school and who knows next to nothing about teaching real children in the real world — ordered all the city’s teachers and principals to enter his “Alice in Wonderland” world. This is the world he calls “data driven management.” His weapon of choice to attack the city’s teachers, principals, and public school families is the Power Point presentation something he is inordinately proud of. Many who have observed him in power in the past say the Power Point presentation and so-called “performance management” are his favorite public activities.

During the opening days of the 2009 - 2010 school year, Huberman had ordered that all teachers would get his version of reality via a universal Power Point presentation that the city’s 20,000 teachers and 600 principals had to endure. The presentation, which Substance has requested under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act, speaks for itself, and will be published here as soon as possible. As of September 3, it was not available on the Board of Education’s Web site for public scrutiny. Based on notes from several teachers and principals who were forced to sit through the event on September 2 and earlier, it’s possible to offer a few clues.

Nothing in the corporate management style that Huberman had announced will ever mention living children — especially not their individual reality in some of the grittiest places in the USA. By the first days of the school year, Huberman had slipped into the habit of talking about dead children, those murdered in gang violence, as if that were an unforeseen trauma of his job, but without ever making the connection between the policies of the city and mayor he serves and the vast poverty and hopelessness Chicago breeds. Huberman is going to try to force the people who actually teach the children every day to talk his way, view the world his way, and conform to reality his version -- OR ELSE. Buzzwords of Chicago’s Brave New World of corporate school reform.

Huberman’s presentation emphasizes a jargon filled demimonde where children, books, play, thinking and the normal activities of real schools never interfere with the control, domination, and exercise of power that are the underlying theme of urban public schools under mayoral control. Huberman’s Power Point insists that all Chicago teachers learn a list of key “vocabulary” words in order to continue to survive in what he intends to be an era of “performance management.”

The Huberjargon consists of the following six terms, along with a multi-million dollars structure designed to deploy a top down system for ensuring that they become the obsession of every public school teacher and principal.

The Huberman Lexicon, in fiction (“The Wire”) and fact (“Data Driven Management”)

Fans of the now completed HBO series “The Wire” have already recognized Ron Huberman, live and not fictional, and his perverse pretensions to “data driven management.” By summer’s end, some teachers were re-watching the third season of “The Wire” in which data driven management at Baltimore’s police department drove one police district to legalize drugs in a section of its beat, leading to a radical drop in crime statistics — and a subsequent scandal that went national. Teachers are watching “The Wire” — especially the third season, with its hilarious portrayal of “data driven management” — for both a laugh and a look into the future. The character most resembling Ron Huberman in “The Wire” is the corrupt Deputy Chief of Police, Chief of Operations, Bill Rawls. The role of the “data driven” tyrant is played with zest all the way through “The Wire.” But “The Wire” and Deputy for Operations “Bill Rawls” are fiction. Ron Huberman’s performance on the opening day of school is fact in Chicago as the 2009-2010 school year dawns.

”The Department of Performance Management”

Prior to Mayor Daley’s appointment of Ron Huberman, Chicago could have had a field day making jokes about the meaning of the term “performance.” Within a few months after the arrival of Huberman at CPS, however, the jokes had become very very expensive.

Take the $5 million department Chicago still doesn’t know about (and which nobody knew Chicago’s schools needed until Ron Huberman took over. The department is called “Performance Management” and its “Chief Officer” is a person named Sarah Kremsner. Kremsner, who came to Chicago’s schools from the Chicago Transit Authority, will soon be widely known to CPS principals and teachers. Chicago has not created an award-winning HBO fictional series out of Huberman’s data driven perversities, but is playing this melodrama in real time, with 420,000 school children and more than 20,000 teachers in bit roles. Huberman has already established his record at the Chicago Transit Authority, where Mayor Daley placed him after Daley’s protégé (and one time favorite) Frank Kreusi failed because of Daley’s budget cuts. Those cuts left the CTA with the appearance of mismanagement at the agency itself, when the real problem was the way the city’s budget had been manipulated by the city’s Chief Executive, Mayor Richard M. Daley. By the beginning of the 21st Century, Daley’s policies — including deferred maintenance that resulted in a growing number of track slowdowns and derailments — created the need for a scapegoat at CTA. Hence, Kreusi took the fall. Then the narrative required a hero, and Daley put in Huberman and his troupe of Power Point and propaganda experts. With the help of Sarah Kremsner and a dozen other highly paid loyalists, Huberman crafted a narrative out of the CTA that enabled him to move into power at CPS. Back to CPS, however.

In the Huberman Power Point, six terms are emphasized, but none is defined in a way that most Americans would recognize. These terms, which most teachers and principals have heard in their new context for the first time in the past couple of months, are: granular, brutal facts, metric, quantitative data, outcomes, and brutal facts. As the 2009 - 2010 school year begins in Chicago, each is being defined in a new way under the pseudo-revolution being ordered up at Chicago’s public schools as the 14th year of “school reform” under mayoral control begins. In each of the years since Richard M. Daley was given dictatorial power over Chicago’s massive public school system, there have been new terms and new hoops for teachers and principals to jump through.

But 2009 - 2010 might be unique. As a growing number of critics have pointed out, despite the claims that created the Arne Duncan reign at the U.S. Department of Education, Chicago’s mayoral control version of “school reform” has failed as miserably as the “reforms” of George W. Bush’s education secretary, Rod Paige, failed in Texas. Before the first full year of Ron Huberman, Chicago has had mayoral control during 14 full school years and under two other “Chief Executive Officer”: 1995 - 96 (Paul Vallas); 1996 - 97 (Paul Vallas); 1997 - 98 (Paul Vallas); 1998 - 99 (Paul Vallas); 1999 - 2000 (Paul Vallas); 2000 - 01 (Paul Vallas); 2001 - 02 (Arne Duncan); 2002 - 03 (Arne Duncan); 2003 - 04 (Arne Duncan); 2004 - 05 (Arne Duncan); 2005 - 06 (Arne Duncan); 2006 - 07 (Arne Duncan); 2007 - 08 (Arne Duncan); and 2008 - 09 (Arne Duncan).

Every year, under each of the CEO’s, Chicago announced that the school reforms had been a success. Yet when Huberman arrived, he immediately began acting and talking like everything before him had been a complete failure, while the Board of Education approved sweeping reorganizations that indicated it agreed with that.

As the 2009 - 2010 school year begins, mayoral control is under fire in New York and other cities because it has failed, and because it has been an insult to democracy. At the same time, the propagandists for corporate school reform are still demanding the expansion of mayoral control in other cities. And with Arne Duncan now working with his Chicago Boys at U.S. Secretary of Education, every state in the union and every school district in the USA. Ron Huberman was appointed the third non-teacher CEO of Chicago’s public schools with orders to bring on a new version of school reform. The muscle is greater than ever against teachers and principals. First, the jargon that will be echoing in thousands of teachers heads and hundreds of principals’ heads if Huberman succeeds — are: granular, brutal facts, metric, quantitative data, outcomes, and brutal facts.

“Granular” isn’t referring to some new kind of organic food, but to the nitty gritty of classrooms and students. But classrooms and students do not figure in Huberman’s granularity.

“Brutal Facts” are not the lives of children who are increasingly living in extreme poverty, including complete homelessness, but the spreadsheets and charts that Huberman’s staff will be preparing to terrorize teachers and principals.

“Metric” is some kind of exclusive jargon that was launched at the Pentagon when Donald Rumsfeld was Secretary of Defense, probably meaning to protect Chicago’s Green Zone at the ongoing expense of the rest of the city. “Quantitative Data” — as opposed to children learning — means only the numbers that Huberman’s staff can rub people’s faces in.

-- “Outcomes” are probably what most people mean “results.” But in Huberworld, “outcomes” ignore and forbid context, since everything has to be sanitized into data sets, but restricting data to what the CEO says are important data — and nothing else.

-- “Deep Dive” is the last obscure term. Aside from its erotic potential in Huberworld, it will evolve across the year as more and more principals and teachers are ordered to dive deeply into the world according to Ron Huberman.

Expanding the Huberman bureaucracy

In order to enforce the new regime, the Board of Education has given Ron Huberman the most expensive expansion of bureaucracy in the history of Chicago’s public schools, while publicly proclaiming that its finances were in peril. The trick was breathtaking as it was being executed, even by Chicago standards.

Between February and August 2009, Ron Huberman managed to manipulate Chicago’s media in a way that would have been impossible when Paul Vallas was CEO and the Sun-Times and Tribune were still covering education as a serious beat. Those days ended long before the Sun-Times and Tribune went into Chapter 11 bankruptcy. In February 2009, Ron Huberman announced that CPS was facing what he called a $475 million ‘deficit,’ and the rest of Chicago’s press dutifully reported it. The ‘deficit’ became fixed in the public mind.

During the same months when the common knowledge was that CPS had a massive ‘deficit’, Huberman, without public criticism, went into a massive expansion of the CPS bureaucracy, putting his own people into some of the most expensive positions ever created.

Ron Huberman left out any discussion of the cost of Ron Huberman, or the subsequent cost of Huberman’s senior executive staff.

It began on January 28, 2009, when the Chicago Board of Education returned from executive session to vote on its huge agenda. Almost lost in the pile of paper more than 200 pages long was a simple resolution, one of the shortest in the pile:

Ron Huberman. “RESOLUTION TO APPOINT RON HUBERMAN TO THE POSITION OF CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER was the title. The Board Report read: Resolved. The Board of Education of the City of Chicago hereby appoints Ron Huberman to the position of Chief Executive Office, effective January 30, 2009, on the following terms… Basic Salary, $230,000 per year. ..”

The people appointed by Huberman were being awarded the highest salaries in CPS history. Monique Bond. On February 25, 2009, the Chicago Board of Education voted unanimously and without debate on the recommendation of Ron Huberman that Monique Bond, a new employee, be appointed to the position of “Officer, Department of Communications” at a salary of $130,380 per year, according to the Board Report (09-0225-EX40) signed by Ron Huberman.

Sarah Kremsner. On February 25, 2009, the Chicago Board of Education voted unanimously and without debate on the recommendation of Ron Huberman that Sarah Kremsner, a new employee, be appointed to the position of “Performance Management Officer, Department of Strategy and Planning” at a salary of $149,874 per year, according to the Board Report (09-0225-EX41) signed by Ron Huberman. Appointments continue without public comment.

For eight months, the expansion of Ron Huberman’s new bureaucracy continued, at each point the new hires costing more than any of their predecessors. There was nothing in the rest of Chicago’s media. Finally, on August 26, 2009, the Board of Education voted to make the process complete. Without discussion or debate, the Board of Education of the third largest school system in the USA voted to place into line supervisory positions people who had no training, experience, or other knowledge of public school teaching. Huberman abolished the position of “Area Instructional Officer” and created the new position of “Chief Area Officer.” Whereas the “AIOs” had to have administrative credentials under Illinois law, the CAOs under Huberman’s new rules do not.

While most of the new “CAOs” were paid at an annual salary of $151,131 per year, one, the system’s former Chief Financial Officer, Pedro Martinez, was listed at a salary of $174,285 per year. In an irony not noted anywhere else, Martinez signed the Board Report promoting Martinez. In one part of the report, Martinez was listed for transfer and appointment to the position of Chief Area Officer, Area 4. The report was signed by Pedro Martinez, Chief Financial Officer, along with Ron Huberman and others.

Pedro Martinez was not the only newly appointed CAO who had no Illinois Type 75 administrative credential, just the most visible to CPS insiders. Others included retired U.S. Army Lt. Colonel Rick Mills, who went from overseeing the “Military Area Office” to overseeing a newly created office the included several Chicago high schools. Like Martinez, Mills has no teaching or principal experience in Chicago. Three of the new Chief Area Officers came from within the system, but not from the top ranks of administrators. One of those, Akeshia Craven, went from a salary of $105,000 per year (as “Senior Manager, Instruction Design and Assessment”) to CAO of Area 19 (at $151,131.43 per year). Five of the new CAOs came from outside the system, like Monique Bond and Sarah Kremsner, “new employees.”

Immediately, the CAO structure went into effect. Principals were warned that they had to follow the jargon and rhetoric of Ron Huberman’s revolution.

Department budgets and staffs

While Huberman was telling the rest of Chicago’s media and the world that CPS was facing that $475 million ‘deficit,’ he was also preparing his budget, and his priorities, for the 2009 - 2010 school year.

Contrary to what he was saying publicly, Huberman did not cut every unit and department in the school system’s central office. To the contrary, he expanded some and created new ones.

One of the biggest departments was something that didn’t exist before. In the Proposed CPS Budget, Huberman established the “Office of Performance Management” with a new budget of $4,755,212 and a staff of 33 people (proposed budget, page 282). Sarah Kremsner had her department, and Huberman was ready to deliver his Power Point warnings to the staff of Chicago’s public schools. Daley’s totalitarian model of governance and Ron Huberman’s commissars.

The surprising appointments of the latest number of executives — the most expensive in Chicago history — at CPS comes as a surprise only to those observers who believed the general propaganda that Chicago’s public schools are being operated as public schools elsewhere.

In fact, what Ron Huberman is installing across the city’s cast public school system is based on an older model that was never before attempted in Chicago (or most of the USA), but which has existed for centuries.

Depending upon the era and the form of dictatorship under which people were living, the “Chief Area Officers” and “Performance Management Officers” in other countries and at other times had different names. In German in the 1930s they were “Gauleiters” -- representatives of the ruling Nazi party in every corner of the nation. In Soviet Russia they were called “commissars.” And in various other regimes that eliminated democracy as completely as it has been eradicated in Chicago’s public schools, they had other names.

Usually, regimes like Chicago’s also invent a complex and Orwellian jargon which has to be mastered by those who wish to rise in its service. In that context, the Huberman Power Points are a part of a larger historical context. On would think, in a city where the majority of school children face poverty, and where many face extreme poverty and homelessness, that the top officials of the public schools system — the one committed to serving all children, regardless of race, rank, or family wealth — would begin and end their first-day of-school work with a discussion of the schooling of those children. But Ron Huberman is not a teacher, and his job is not to make the schools better for children and their teachers. When Huberman defines terms in a corporate way, ignoring the harsh realities faced by children, teachers, and principals every day in Chicago’s schools, he is simply being frank about his mission. He is in power to preserve and extend corporate rule, using corporate tools, with no regard for the wisdom and knowledge of the people who have worked in the schools for decades.

Were the uniformed services subject to the same kind of leadership appointments as Chicago’s teachers and principals, there would undoubtedly be a political social uproar. Tradition holds that the Secretary of Defense should be a civilian (and civilian control over the military be in the hands of the President and Congress), but it would be inconceivable in the USA for callow computer jockeys and glib Mission Statement writers to be placed in command of soldiers and Marines in combat.

After 15 years of a corporate model of school governance in Chicago, Chicago’s leaders were confident in 2009 that they could get away with Ron Huberman and his data driven nonsense without paying any serious political price. How many Chicago teachers and principals bend to the sheer stupidity and irrelevance of the new regime remains to be seen. During the past year, there has been more resistance in Chicago to the Daley regime than at any time since 1995, when the Illinois General Assembly made Richard M. Daley dictator of Chicago’s public schools. 

The final edited version of this article was posted at www.substance September 3, 2009, 10:00 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., For further information, feel free to call us at our office at 773-725-7502. 


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