MEDIA WATCH: Chicago's corporate media keeps taking dictation from CPS propagandists, while Washington Post resume critical reporting on D.C. schools' 'miracle chief' with critical questions

Although it's not likely that the bankrupt Chicago Tribune and the even more bankrupt Chicago Sun-Times will begin asking critical questions of anyone at the Chicago Board of Education about the budget and 'deficit' claims of CPS Chief Executive Officer Ron Huberman, the public can always shine examples on how bad media coverage of CPS has become in the city that used to pride itself on having a tough bunch of reporters out there doing news.

It's been a long time since Chicago's daily newspapers destroyed the old City New Bureau. City News Bureau prided itself on being the training ground of tough-minded reporters who learned the hard way how to get their facts straight and not fluff out stuff on behalf of the rich, famous, and powerful. The City News Bureau had an informal motto: "If your mother says she loves you, check it out," a cynical way of reminding reporters that every fact had to be checked, and that no source was above critical questioning. The City News Bureau produced reporters ranging from Kurt Vonnegut to Mike Royko before it was destroyed by the Tribune and Sun-Times a decade ago, with nothing left to replace it.

By 2009, Chicago's daily newspapers tend to publish nothing by flaccid rewrites of official propaganda handouts or wait for paid propagandists to tell them what the news is.

One of the more serious examples in Chicago today has to deal with the CPS budget. Beginning in February 2009, Ron Huberman, CPS CEO, told the rest of the media that CPS was facing a $475 million 'deficit.' Nobody except Substance and CORE asked how the numbers for revenue and expenses added up. From everything that was available to the public, CPS had simply invented a budget 'deficit' number to terrorize the public and then created a 'budget' that filled in the 'deficit' blanks.

An equally serious example took place in January and February 2009, when Chicago's newspapers and other media ignored the hearings on school closings, phase outs, turnarounds, and other massive changes, including the hearing on the proposed 'turnaround' of Fenger High School. At the Fenger hearing, every speaker warned that firing the Fenger staff and subjecting the school to 'turnaround' would result in chaos.

When the chaos happened, Chicago's daily papers acted like it was a surprise, when in fact nobody would have been surprised if the six-year-old process of official lies that began with the 'renaissance' claimed by Arne Duncan at Williams and Dodge schools in 2002 had been examined critically. Fenger was no surprise to the hundreds of teachers, parents, students and community leaders who warned against the radical changes being engineered against the existing schools by Arne Duncan and Ron Huberman (who recommended the Fenger 'turnaround' at his second meeting of the Board of Education following Duncan's appointment as U.S. Secretary of Education).

Now comes the Washington Post, of all papers, demanding specific answers, rather than publicists generalities, from D.C. schools chief Michelle Rhee.

The Post has spent years as a cheerleader for the No Child Left Behind and 'Standards and Accountability' movements. The Post also served as a cheerleader for Michelle Rhee, the chief of the D.C. schools. Rhee was almost as unqualified as the three CEOs Chicago has had since mayoral control began in 1995 (not quite; she actually taught a couple of years through Teacher for America in Baltimore, although without much success according to critics). For two years, the Post basically published every claim that Rhee was making as news.

Like Chicago Schools CEO Ron Huberman and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Michelle Rhee has faced a national adulation society from the nation's corporate press. Both Rhee and Duncan have been featured in Time magazine and in uncritical reports in The New York Times, while Huberman was the subject of a national story (in the Washington Post's magazine Newsweek) before he had been in office six months, along with uncritical adulation in feature stories in magazines (Chicago) and on television (WTTM's Chicago Tonight and Chicago Week in Review).

Like Huberman and Duncan, Rhee would get away with saying things she knew would not be checked out.

Until now?

Suddenly, in the face of some Chicago-style nonsense involving claims of the budget deficit in D.C., the Post has decided to ask the kind of hard fact-based questions Chicago's daily newspapers avoids, and the results are interesting.

On October 14, 2009, the Washington Post published the following questions for Michelle Rhee. The same kinds of questions could be asked publicly of Chicago schools CEO Ron Huberman.

Fifteen Questions for Chancellor Rhee [http://voices.washingtonpost. com/dc/2009/10 /fifteen_questions_ for_chancell.html#comments]

Since the Oct. 2 layoffs of 388 teachers and support staff, questions have persisted about the planning and decision making that led to the dismissals. Citing advice from counsel, Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee has declined a request to make her top financial and human resources deputies, Kaya Henderson and Noah Wepman, available for interviews, because of the pending Washington Teachers' Union lawsuit. The following is a list of questions that she says she will answer fairly soon:

1. The math underlying the number of spring/summer hires is confusing. You terminated 248 teachers in June, while at the same time you hired 934. Then you laid off 229. Can you explain how this adds up? How many retirements and resignations did you have at the end of 2008-09? What other factors drove the hiring of the equivalent of nearly one-quarter of your classroom teacher corps?

2. The Washington Teachers' Union says the 934 hires are significantly out of line with prior year spring/summer hiring. How many did you hire in spring/summer 2008, 2007, 2006 and 2005?

3. Details around the $43.9 million shortfall are lacking. On Oct. 2, you said that total included the D.C. Council reduction ($20.7 million), the elimination of "additional school-level resources" that had been carried on the central office budget and $13.1 million in central cuts gained by "carefully reviewing current projects and responsibilities along with future plans." None of this adds up to $43.9 million. Please explain.

4. In your FAQ last week, the $43.9 million is described a bit differently but no less obscurely: summer reductions by the council ($20.5 million), and "additional school level resources that had been carried on the central office budget ($20.5 million). Where within that is the $13.1 million referenced on Oct. 2?

5. Please elaborate, in itemized form, on the $20.5 million in "school level resources." Is this primarily teachers? The teachers plus custodial, office and student support staff?

6. Specifically what "current projects and responsibilities along with future plans" make up the $13.1 million that was "cut centrally?"

7. Please provide a school-by-school account of the number of teacher and other staff positions eliminated.

8. In mid-June, CFO Natwar M. Gandhi revised revenue estimates for FY 2010 downward by $154.2 million. Was there any consideration given to stopping hiring at that point?

9. When, specifically, did you learn that the D.C. Council was preparing to cut $20.7 million?

10. You've said that even without the council action, you were facing some kind of RIF. How extensive would it have been and what would have been involved?

11. Please explain and differentiate what you received in Stimulus (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act), Title I and IDEA funds for FY 2010. How much of the stimulus funding went into the $550 million in local school funding?

12. How were the RIF criteria developed? Who were the primary architects?

13. The new evaluation system you introduced last month, IMPACT, was designed in part to address teacher concerns that the old assessment process was too subjective and vulnerable to manipulation by principals who wanted to oust instructors for personal reasons. Yet the "school needs" section of the RIF criteria states that the scores assigned to educators should reflect the principal's "best judgment of the extent to which the person meets the particular needs of your school." Even with the time-sensitive nature of the budget shortfall, wasn't there a more objective instrument to use here?

14. How often were principal decisions on personnel reversed by the central office?

15. You've explained your reasons for wanting to do equalization and layoffs at the same time. But given the reaction you've faced, do you think in retrospect it might have been better to stagger the actions, with layoffs in August and equalization in the fall? By Washington Post editors | October 14, 2009; 10:09 AM ET

[Editor's Note: Thanks to Norm Scott at ICE in New York City for forwarding this material;, 917-992-3734].


October 18, 2009 at 7:56 AM

By: A Teacher

Make Stewart accountable

Many of us have blamed the CTU and Stewart for the problems teachers face today but how many of us have told her(or written her) about our feelings about her CTU? I'm really angry at her and the CTU right now but I haven't mentioned to her, the Teacher Represetatives or their lawyers. They need to know directly from us, not read it in the paper. It would not hurt Mayor Daley to hear directly from us either. They are still minimizing the whole impact of their actions. This article tells me that a Union is working at protecting teachers and aren't we worth protecting? Besides the impacet on students and communities,many of us have young children and families that depend on us for support and now they are hurt also. They need to know!

October 18, 2009 at 9:07 AM

By: George N. Schmidt

Write to Stewart and Substance

This year the remaining CTU members with full-times jobs (and many who have been ignobly displaced) are paying $1,000 in dues to the Chicago Teachers Union.

For what?

I just paid my retired member dues, and that is a stretch given that Marilyn Stewart has joined in attacking our pension. Her "Talent Development High School" will not be part of the CTPF, as Jim Vail has reported in Substance, both print and on line. This decision by the CTU (and Illinois Federation of Teachers and SEIU) will give the Tribune and Sun-Times a field day as they continue attacking our pension, and Stewart is probably too dumb to realize that a 401(k) like she's going to stick the "union" high school's staff with is a George W. Bush ideas, not union work! Remember, six years ago, after he was elected to his second term, Bush thought he could privatize Social Security, turning that money into an investment pool for speculators to put into stocks, a sort of national 401(k) plan. (I was tempted to call it a "402(k)" but as recent comments have shown, not all of the readers here reads carefully or with a sense of humor.

So let's just say that the first attack on public pensions was from George W. Bush, who wanted to privatize Social Security and replace it with national 401(k) messes.

Now the Chicago Teachers Union and Marilyn Stewart (backed by the union's state and national leaders, Ed Geppert at IFT and Randi Weingarten at AFT) are trying to sneak in the 401(k) alternative via the union's so-called 'Talent Development High School' thingy.

That ended, first when the AFL-CIO and working families rose up to oppose the privatization of Social Security, and decisively when Lehman Brothers went bankrupt (on September 15, 2008) and sent the world economy into a tailspin because of all the speculative foolishness that had been going on. Anyone with a 401(k) was wiped out or close to it. Those who were stuck with a 401(k) or "pension" from some outfit like General Motors, Chrysler, the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times or any of the other hundreds of companies that have gone into bankruptcy since the crash began (it's ongoing, by the way; watch out for the next wave) now knows the truth.

CTU members have to do a little more than write letters and tell the truth. Let's assume that Marilyn Stewart has figured out how to hold on to her $300,000 per year jobs (that's a plural: CTU; AFT; IFT, included pay and perks) at the members' expense, and has ordered the CTU's remaining staff, like the witch in The Whiz, "don't nobody bring me no bad news..."

Do you really think your words are going to make a difference to a bunch of people that corrupt? And that greedy?

Anyone who thinks that writing a letter to Marilyn Stewart will do any good displays a touching faith in the value of the printed word and the truth.

That's fine, but let's be realistic and factual as well as eloquent and beautifully metaphoric.

We at Substance tend to share that faith in words. After all, it's our main business. But we share that faith within limitations.

We don't wait for those in power to hear the truth, but continue to publish the truth for those of us who do not yet have the power to change these people.

Anyone who reads the current issue of the Chicago Union Teacher in one sitting without breaking down in hysterical laughter has no sense of humor. The only letters CTU publishes in its official pages are fawning praises for The Leaders. The only article are those that reflect fawning praises for The Leaders.

And the only voice that people are going to hear is the voice that echoes fawning praise for The Leaders.

So my suggestion is that anyone who takes the time to write to the Chicago Teachers Union should send a copy to Substance. We'll publish it, first in print and later on line (out Letters almost always come out in print first; there are exceptions).

Just as some people are now sending copies of letters they waste time sending to the Chicago Tribune to Substance as well, so with those who wish to waste time writing to Marilyn Stewart.

If you want your words shared with a large audience, we're working on that.

If you want to send your thoughts down the official CTU Memory Hole (see George Orwell, 1084) by all means write to Marilyn Stewart, to the Chicago Teachers Union, or to the Chicago Union Teacher. While you're at it, send your thoughts on how bad things have gotten to Ed Geppert, at the Illinois Federation of Teachers, and Randi Weingarten, at the American Federation of Teachers.

But don't forget to send them to Substance, too.



Good luck.

October 18, 2009 at 2:01 PM

By: kugler

Destruction of Humanity - Very Sad

we need to wake up and see that the people now running our infrastructures and safety nets have no interest in their jobs but only to profit for themselves and their crony friends.

look at this story from Wash post. It is very sad and keeps it real. lets you see that there are others in our society that are worse off then us. plus look at the story about all the girls pregnant at Robeson. Why Did 1 In 7 Girls Get Pregnant At Robeson High?

Special Report: D.C.'s AIDS Dollars Squandered‏

In a city whose HIV/AIDS rates are ten times the national average, one in three of D.C.'s AIDS dollars earmarked for local groups in recent years went to organizations cited for falsified documentation, few or no clients, incomplete spending records or not running any AIDS programs whatsoever. Meanwhile, District residents living with HIV/AIDS have struggled to find care.

Staggering need, striking neglect

The nation's worst-hit city awards millions for care and shelter without ensuring it gets to those it's meant to help

By Debbie Cenziper

Washington Post Staff Writer

Sunday, October 18, 2009

In a city ravaged by the highest rate of AIDS cases in the nation, the D.C. Health Department paid millions to nonprofit groups that delivered substandard services or failed to account for any work at all, even as sick people searched for care or died waiting.

More than $1 million in AIDS money went to a housing group whose ailing boarders sometimes struggled without electricity, gas or food. A supervisor said she was ordered to create records for ghost employees.

About $400,000 was paid to a nonprofit organization, launched by a man who once ran one of the District's largest cocaine rings, for a promised job-training center that has never opened.

More than $500,000 was earmarked for a housing program whose executive director had a string of convictions for theft, drugs and forgery. After the D.C. Inspector General's Office could find no evidence that he was operating an AIDS nonprofit group, the city terminated the grant but never sought repayment.

All told, the Health Department's HIV/AIDS Administration awarded more than $25 million from 2004 to 2008 to nonprofit agencies marked by questionable spending, a lack of clients, or lapses in record-keeping and care, a 10-month Washington Post investigation found. Many of the groups have since closed or are no longer providing AIDS services.

Across the city, the sick are suffering.

Renee Paige, 50, once threw birthday parties for her two daughters in her apartment in Southeast Washington, where she'd cook beef stew for elderly neighbors and always had bus fare for a friend. But AIDS and two bouts of pneumonia had left her weak, homeless and unable to care for herself.

She came to a community meeting in April after spending the night on a park bench in heavy rain, with no place to go.

"I have AIDS," she told the group, "and I am soaking wet."

Weeks later, she died alone, on the bench, one mile from the HIV/AIDS Administration and within two miles of a dozen nonprofit groups that help people with AIDS.

"I couldn't understand," said Keena Stewart, who had known Paige for 15 years. "How could she die like that?"

More than 15,000 people have HIV or AIDS in the District, 3 percent of the population older than 12. For black men, the rate is more than double, at 6.5 percent -- one of every 15 people.


October 18, 2009 at 11:32 PM

By: zeta

At PUSH, Meeks praised Huberman, trashed teachers... I SMELL A RAT!

Yesterday I went to an Operation Push forum for teachers. We are engaging and encouraging teachers to speak out and stand up for their rights. Two very interesting things happened at these meetings.

Last week Marilyn Stewart came out and up staged us and spoke at the PUSH broadcast. She had heard that the teachers were organizing and used the opportunity to put forth her personal agenda at the expense of the teachers. The teachers were irate. We were given an apology and encouraged by PUSH to continue meeting. Since we were one of the forces behind getting Carver reopened for the students from Fenger to return, we felt it was worth it to continue our work with them.

Yesterday we attended another forum At PUSH. We were there to unite the community, parents, teachers and community organizations. Our morning forum was great. We thought we were communicating our message of solidarity and unity.

However, we were told that "Sinister" James Meeks was to speak.

Meeks started out by saying he wanted to deal with gangbangers.

"I am not talking about the Black P Stone Nation or the Gangster Disciples. I am talking about the Chicago Teachers Union. The are the biggest gang bangers in town. They protect these bad no good teachers," Meeks said.

I could not believe my ears. Then he stated: "I don't know why all the GOOD teachers are on the North Side and in magnet schools. The bad teachers work on the South and West Sides."

Then he began to give the audience data that was over 9 years old. He stated that there were over 5,000 teachers who failed the basic skills test. He wanted them removed immediately. Well, he's about 6 years too late their already gone.

In addition, he had nothing but praise for Huberman who he said was a "nice guy", Mayor Daley who he said was a "great mayor", and he has "no problem with" and Michael Scott his friend.

According to Meeks, teachers specifically on the South and West Sides were powerful people with nothing but lots of union support and clout running around bullying poor administrators. I sat there and realized that Meeks did what he does best, lie, cheat and scapegoat. He obviously has a political agenda.


October 19, 2009 at 8:37 AM

By: J. Schwab


This is interesting since the majority of teachers on the south and west are black or a minority(at least they were when I taught there.) I found the teachers there very knowlegable and skilled at working with the community and children. People like me"outsiders" had a lot to learn from them. Most of the staff treated me with kindness and concern and I appreciate that. What is he thinking? At this point I don't admire him at all.

October 19, 2009 at 3:44 PM

By: George N. Schmidt

Meeks attacks on teachers at PUSH confirmed. Story to follow.

Substance has confirmed that Senator James Meeks made the slanderous statements about Chicago teachers and the Chicago Teachers Union during the Operation PUSH meeting on Saturday October 17, 2009. Substance reporters are working on the story, which we expect to report by the end of the work day on October 20, 2000.

October 19, 2009 at 5:02 PM

By: Zeta

Meeks uses ten year old data to blast taechers!

Forgot to add that Meeks used the Sun Times

And Tribune articles to attack teachers. He stated that he got his information from their "reliable" sources.

In addition, the attack on African American and South Side teachers continues.

It was reported that at a principals meeting Huberman stated that white teachers were better to teach African Americans.

He also stated that the only thing that Black teachers were good at was classroom management. In addition, he sited research that proved his point.

It has been reported that Mr. Jeffery Dase, a Principal at Coles school returned to the school to inform teachers there of Huber man’s findings.

He also agreed with Huberman and stated that he had noticed that White teachers in his school were more competent than African Americans AND ENCOURAGED the white teachers to deal with their classroom management issues because Huberman thinks it they can do that, they will have mastered the art of teaching AA children.

Jeffrey Dase like Meeks is another African American Male attacking African American female teachers. This level of self-hatred and plantation politics does not need to be passed down to another generation.

The message we need to send to Meeks and Dase is that we need to remove these 'Uncle Toms' steppin fetchin Negroes from positions of power!

October 19, 2009 at 7:04 PM

By: It's Crunch Time

Things Are Getting Worse

If Huberman and Dase can be confirmed to have said those things, it needs to be national news. They cannot make those comments in 2010 and keep their jobs. Never mind trying to rehabilitate their minds, just exercise zero tolerance. They have to go.

October 19, 2009 at 7:05 PM

By: It's Crunch Time Now

Things Are Getting Worse

They can't say those things in 2009 either. The year is so bad I was projecting into the future.

October 24, 2009 at 7:15 AM

By: Jim Vail

George - great article!

George - Well done on an analysis of the corporate media doing its job. This is exactly what someone should read first before reading The Washington Post, NY Times, WSJ, etc. who slant their stories to fit their corporate masters, while turning out brilliant reporting from time to time.

The Washington Post amazingly has written some brilliant pieces exposing the scam with banks financing charter schools and their problematic connections to Board of Ed members. It's of course happening here and Substance, on string and bones, is doing the only heavy reporting on education in the city of Chicago. We hope to expose this charter pyramid scheme with our tax dollars in the future.

But to note - an editorial after the Post series then, as a total non-sequitor, said charter schools are good. Kind of like The Civic Federation or whatever you call those business boys hard after our tax dollars to keep their profits rolling before things fall apart again, said the Renaissance plan to privatize the schools has been a disaster with falling test scores and continuing high drop out rates, but, surprise, surprise - more charters are the answer!

Thank God for Substance to be the voice of the people in Chicago!

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