ASTROTURFERS on the lam? The Big Lie with all the little lies inside continue in Chicago, but... Chicago's 'Multi-Million Dollar Quartet' abandons Board of Education as its expensive chickens come roosting at home

"And where are they?" one of the angry teachers seated behind me during the brief July 18, 2012 "Special Meeting" of the Chicago Board of Education asked me at one point, as the six members of the Chicago Board of Education (the seventh, Henry Bienen, was missing in action) sat stuffily in their usual seats trying not to listen to the realities that were pouring forth from the brief public participation section of the meeting.

Chicago Board of Education President David Vitale (above) was the person sent out to explain the Board's position on the fact-finding report following the Board's unanimous vote to reject the report. Vitale has spent his entire 14-months as Board President rudely cutting off public speakers who disagree with the policies of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who appointed Vitale and the other six Board members, while providing extra time and support to the "Astroturf" groups like Stand for Children and Democrats for Education Reform as they utilize millions of dollars from Vitale and his class to try and break the unions and privatize public education. Substance photo by David Vance."They..." it turned out, meant the "parents" and assorted other "concerned citizens" who had been preaching, marching, and otherwise supporting Rahm Emanuel's newly appointed Board of Education since a year earlier, when Chicago's new mayor went on the offensive, behind a barrage of precision talking points unfettered in reality, against the Chicago Teachers Union and CTU President Karen Lewis. Rahm’s artillery was aimed at the city’s teachers while some of the deadliest drug gangs north of the Rio Grande River began arming for a shooting war in the third largest city in the USA. From the point of view of Rahm Emanuel and his scriptwriters, it was far easier to try and spin some inaccurate scriptings about the length of the school day against public school teachers than to face the real problems of governing a city as large as Chicago.

So Rahm Emanuel, the former White House Chief of Staff, bought in a bunch of mercenaries and went to war with Chicago's real public school teachers and their union (of which this reporter — full disclosure here — has been a member since 1969) — as a deft diversion from the grim realities of Chicago. And for half a year, it almost worked. But by January 2012, two realities were converging: gang murders were spiking out of control (as Rahm cut back on real police services and tried to replace people on the streets with cameras on the streetlamp poles) and the mercenaries Rahm had been paying to protest in favor of his policies got caught and outed (not only here at Substance, which first reported them in August and September 2011) on the TV news, the only place a scriptwriter craves spin the most. By the end of January 2012, the murder rate was growing and the "rent a protesters" and "rent a preachers" were ducking away from the TV cameras they had so craved.

Of course, they are still trying to use Cyberspace to continue their work. As readers can see, Stand for Children continues to push the party line ("There is a reality of a $700 million dollar shortfall in the budget. There is also the reality that our elementary students are in one of the shortest school days in the country..." Neither of which is true, but that's never been the Stand for Children standard). So of course they demand a "Longer School Day" without paying teachers or other school workers.

After years of relying on corporate groups like the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago and the Civic Federation, corporate Chicago began promoting a new generation of corporate "reform" groups during the early part of the 21st Century. Among those was a group financed by millions of dollars in corporate money, "Advance Illinois." Using push polling and other standard tricks of negative campaigning, by 2008 Advance Illinois was establishing itself as a major voice for "school reform," even though it was actually just another front for the corporate agenda, another megaphone against public schools, public school teachers, and teacher unions. Above, the "Annual Report" of Advance Illinois produced as part of its push for media recognition. By 2008, the group was being quoted regularly in all Chicago reports on the schools.One of the characteristics of the Astroturf corporate reform groups is that they make up facts, then repeat them over and over, just like an advertising campaign planned on Madison Ave. For more than a year, Rahm Emanuel repeated, over and over and over, that Chicago's public schools had the "shortest school day" in the USA. But the claim was based on several falsehoods, the two biggest of which were that Emanuel was only talking about the city's elementary school (and leaving out a key fact there) and that he was ignoring the high schools completely.

The lie was just one of many that were pounded on the public by Emanuel and the Astroturf groups during the year. Two other big ones were the "deficit" and the "Chicago teachers are the highest paid" in the USA.

One of the most interesting facts about the big Chicago Astroturf groups is that they are never subjected to serious scrutiny. When they testified in Aurora Illinois before the hastily assembled "Illinois House School Reform Committee" in December 2010, Stand for Children and Advance Illinois were allowed to repeat the most outrageous things and nobody on the panel, which had been appointed by Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, asked any of them one critical question. Advance Illinois is co-chaired by William Daley (now a former White House Chief of Staff like Emanuel, and most of the past ten years a senior bank official) and Jim Edgar (the governor who signed the racist and union busting "Amendatory Act" into law in 1995).

By June 9, 2008, Robin Steans, the millionaire heiress who serves as executive director of Advance Illinois, hosted a breakfast at the Regency Hyatt Hotel in Chicago for corporate and some educational leaders. While Steans ran through Advance Illinois' corporate agenda (above), Hyatt Hotel security was threatening to arrest more than 100 teachers, led by CORE of the Chicago Teachers Union, who asked to be admitted to the breakfast. Only a handful of carefully screened teachers and union leaders were inside the breakfast at the time. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Yet Robin Steans, the multi-millionaire heiress who is chief of Advance Illinois, never was asked a critical question, either about her qualifications to opine on Chicago's public schools or her claim to be a "teacher" (she was a failure, according to fellow teachers, during a very brief and arrogant stint at Sullivan High School).

The show put on in Aurora and afterwards by Stand for Children's hastily assembled Illinois leadership would have been embarrassing had the two main speakers from "Stand" been challenged. Etoy Ridgnal, who at the time was the Illinois chief for Stand for Children, spun a lurid tale about her childhood in the ghetto, and then turned it against the very teachers who had helped her (if her story were to turn out to be true). Then, barely introducing herself, a young white lady who claimed to have been a teacher told an equally lurid tale about how she was dropped from her teaching job while other less sensitive veteran teachers (one of whom supposedly had a bottle of vodka in the main desk) continued teaching poorly. While Peasley didn't identify the school, a quick check of CPS records found that the school being slandered was Betsy Ross. Like Steans, Peasley had "taught" just enough to show that she needed a lot of work. But not one legislator asked her whether she had tried to deal with the alleged drunken teacher, if such a person existed.

It was a free for all teacher bashing time, a couple of months after Stand for Children had brought buses of parents to free showings of "Waiting for Superman," corporate America's propaganda docu-drama on behalf of charter schools and attacking teacher unions.

On July 18, while evading the Board meeting, Stand for Children sent the following to its email list:

July 18, 2012 Dear ________,

There is a real chance we could lose a longer, better day for Chicago students next year and we need your help. We are at a pivotal moment in the contract negotiations between the Chicago Teachers Union and the Chicago Public Schools. There is a reality of a $700 million dollar shortfall in the budget. There is also the reality that our elementary students are in one of the shortest school days in the country. A longer, better day is a necessary tool in the toolbox to give educators the time they need to increase student achievement.

Will you send a letter to CEO Jean Claude Brizard, and the entire CPS team, asking them not to sacrifice a longer school day while they continue their negotiations?

Some people are opining that we need to cut the extended day because of the budget issues. This is unacceptable and clearly not a stance that is focused on what is in the best interest of kids.

There is a middle ground in this contract negotiation that does not sacrifice a longer, better school day while still valuing great teachers. The adults just need to figure it out, and figure it out before the start of school.

Currently, our elementary students have five hours and eight minutes of instruction time a day, which is one of the shortest days in the country. That is simply not enough time to create a baseline comprehension of the core subjects such as math, reading, science and social studies, and it also does not allow for any enrichment activities or adequate time for lunch and recess.

Our position on the longer better day can be found here. The adults in this equation can and must figure it out, because at the end of the day, thousands of CPS students are getting left behind. Creating a longer and better school day is a necessary first step in the right direction. Working together, we know that the administration and the teachers can come to a consensus that keeps the well-being of students first and foremost.

Now, more than ever, we need to keep pressure on the Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Teachers Union to come to an agreement so critical programs are not cut and school can start on time. Join us. Standing with you,

Juan Jose Gonzalez

Chicago Director


July 22, 2012 at 7:17 PM

By: Sharon Schmidt

Vitale pic by David Vance

Great shot, David!

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