MEDIA WATCH: Catalyst surpasses the tops in toadyism with Crain's adulation of Rahm

Chicago's corporate media didn't always specialize so completely as Catalyst in extreme sports like Extreme Toadyism and Power Pontificating, but the 21st Century has brought much of Chicago's once daunted press corps low. Done are the days when Mike Royko, returning from the Army and without a degree from any college, could become a reporter and through thorough reporting and some very clever writing go to the top of Chicago "journalism." One of the ways the immortal Kurt Vonnegut learned to write was nights as a reporter for the City News Bureau (terminated before the end of the last century by the city's remaining dailies).

Catalyst publisher Linda Lenz is a regular pundit on Chicago public TV and elsewhere, but her May 2012 article on Rahm's first year and education shows she's just a propagandist for the corporate party line in Chicago.Where once there were a dozen reporters who knew the education beat and dozens of others who knew how to do what was proudly called "shoe leather reporting", now we're down to a handful outside of Substance. And it's always puzzled us why so many teachers take Catalyst seriously.

This week, Crain's Chicago Business has a lengthy section devoted to devotion to Rahm, an insider sport that's practiced mostly by the guys and gals our colleagues at Occupy call the "one percent." In reviewing Rahm's impact on various parts of Chicago, Crain's asked a number of supposed experts to comment. By far our favorite is Catalyst publisher Linda Lenz, who managed to fill a page on "education" without mentioning — once! — the Chicago Teachers Union. Now it's been clear to us for a couple of decades that Catalyst's lies come out in the service of Catalyst's funders. They covered Paul Vallas with a straight face, helped hype Arne Duncan into the top job, and have been pontificating through all the torturous twists and turns in the 25 years since "school reform" became the norm in Chicago's public schools and Catalyst was birthed by corporate Chicago's largess.

Even with that kind of history, it's still stunning that Lenz could fill a page in Crain's in 2012 writing about public education, sucking up to Rahm of course, and not mention the Chicago Teachers Union.

Most teachers already know not to take the "news" published in the Sun-Times and Tribune completely seriously. Hopefully, they've added Catalyst to that long list of compulsive liars. But it is a fact of the history of the past 12 months that Rahm Emanuel began his education work as mayor by attacking the Chicago Teachers Union and he has been trying to make war on the city's union teachers ever since. Rahm's attack on the teachers and unions began on June 15, when, with Catalyst's support (they reported the Board's claims as fact), the new Board of Education voted unanimously to take away the negotiated contractual four percent raise to all union workers at CPS. By summer's end, Rahm's hand-picked schools chief, Jean-Claude Brizard, was deliberately violating the teachers union contract by going directly to the city's teachers on the "Longer School Day..." Rahm's raid on those schools, which ended with only 13 out of 600 schools doing the dance of the Longer Day with Rahm, was declared illegal by the Illinois Education Labor Relations Board.

The mayor's illegal attacks on unionized school workers has continued, to the point where even a noseless alien could notice the smell of union busting and teacher bashing coming from the mayor's office like a loud fart in a small elevator.

Only Catalyst could miss the facts as they unfold towards a major showdown between the CTU and Rahm's version of reality. The tragedy and the facts will unfold no matter how deliberately Linda Lenz and the publication she oversees spins things Rahm's way. But it's worth noting the craven cronyism passing for journalism at Catalyst, so we are doing it here.

But Substance readers don't have to take our word for it here. On May 1, Catalyst proudly reported that Lenz's analysis was in Crain's. So here it is at Substance...

Emanuel a quick study on education

By: Linda Lenz April 28, 2012

Scan the headlines, watch the news, and you'll have no doubt that education is Mayor Rahm Emanuel's No. 1 priority. In rapid-fire news conferences, he has launched more than a dozen major initiatives.

Some are expansions of programs begun by his predecessors—charter schools, career/ technical schools, International Baccalaureate programs, school closings and school turnarounds, which bring extra resources and a new staff to low-performing schools.

Others are outcomes of state laws, some of which predate Mr. Emanuel's election. Those include a longer school day and a teacher-evaluation process that incorporates student test scores.

All of these are hot-button issues that have sparked both protests and praise, as well as some polarizing rhetoric from the mayor. Even assuming the best, these measures are not the ones that hold the most promise for improving the education of the largest number of students.

Students who attend the new schools may well have a better educational experience, if not improved test scores. But as the administration creates more schools to which students must apply, regular schools will have to cope with higher concentrations of students who have less motivation or family support. Already, neighborhood schools have a disproportionate number of special-education students, in some cases 25 percent of the study body.

Lengthening the school day and improving teacher evaluation are long-sought reforms. However, they are being imposed so quickly that it is hard to see how they can be done well, especially given the shortage of money. In this respect, the new administration may be repeating errors of the past: Do it big. Do it now. Do it badly.

In the case of teacher evaluations, Chicago got a shove from the state Legislature, which required the city to launch the new process next fall in 300 schools, while giving most other districts until 2015 or 2016 to work through this major change.

Ultimately, Chicago will not get the schools that its children need until it invests more in the professional development of school faculties, of principals and teachers working together—with the community—to improve instruction and meet their students' diverse needs.

The new school administration has taken some steps in that direction. For one, it has acknowledged that teachers need time to work together and has provided for that in the longer school day. And the new teacher evaluation process includes a model of good instruction that fared well in a Chicago Public Schools tryout.

Most important, the administration has stepped up the system's longtime effort to improve the quality of principals. Instead of trying simply to identify the best who apply, it is getting into the training business through partnerships with some of the better training programs. One, the Urban Education Leadership program at the University of Illinois at Chicago, has impressive data on how its participants have raised student achievement. Bottom line: If a school doesn't have a good principal, most other changes won't count for much. Stay on top of Chicago business with our free daily e-newsletters 


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