MEDIA WATCH: Barbara Byrd Bennett's record as an assassin for the Broad Foundation and corporate Chicago was just what the Tribune wanted, so the 'news' becomes daily propaganda promoting closings, charters and the attacks on public schools

[Editor's Note: The lengthy analysis below was published by "South Side CPS Mom" on April 16, 2013. Normally, as Substance readers know, we reject pieces that come in anonymously. Although Substance utilized anonymous (i.e. "off the record") sources, our rule is that the reporter who wishes to quote a source anonymous (or, in the case of one famous series we did, pseudonymously) must (a) have a very credible reason and (b) identify the source to the editor, so that two of us are committed to the story. This has proved difficult at times, since various public figures (Marva Collins, Landon Cox, James Moffat) have announced -- always through the media, with Collins getting the third page of the Sun-Times for her fulminations -- that they were going to sue us.

Since the CORE candidates were elected to lead the Chicago Teachers Union in June 2010, the union has gone from being a company union whose leaders were praised by the Chicago Tribune and other corporate school reformers for the union's "realism" to being vilified by Chicago's corporate media. Above, CORE's Sarah Chambers (right) and Cieolo Munoz (center behind the banner) marched in the Labor Day march in downtown Chicago, one week before the Chicago Teachers Strike of 2012 began. In 2013, the Chicago Tribune has been supporting the rump union group -- calling itself the "Coalition to Save Our Union" -- that is trying to unseat CTU President Karen Lewis, CORE and the union leadership that has been showing teachers, parents, and students how to organize and fight back against the corporate attack on public schools in the USA. The Tribune's support for Tanya Saunders Wolffe and the "Coalition to Save Our Union" was dramatically evident when the Tribune put Saunders Wolffe on its front page on February 20, 2013, and then ignored the CORE candidates when they formally announced their campaign at a kickoff on April 154, 2013 at the historic Haymarket. Substance photo by Kati Gilson. We were never sued for libel, though, because we always check our facts and have clear sourcing. Thus, when we reported that Marilyn Stewart, the leader of the "New UPC" caucus in the CTU (President, 2004 - 2010) had hired a scab to be the CTU Springfield lobbyist, we found it credible, but waited until we had talked to people who had seen Tracy Cobb Evans cross the 1987 piceket line. (Surprise: the union's records, under then Financial Secretary Mark Ochoa, has lost the scab records from Marilyn Stewart's own school, Kinzie). So we use anonymous sources in our news reports. However, we never allow anonymous comments, and our editors usually spend a few minutes (sometimes more) cleaning up our comments section. It reduces the number of Substance comments (and probably those lucrative "hits" that are the coin of the realm on the Internet), but it saves out readers having to swim through miles of Cyberspace Sewage every day, like they do at Catalyst and other local sites that cover the same beat as we do. Now and then, however, there comes an anonymous piece about CPS that is well reported and worth sharing. The following is one of those. The following was sent to us from "Chicago Public Fools..." a site worth stopping by].

What corporate education reform looks like in Chicago... Corporate education reform in Chicago looks like Barbara Byrd Bennett. By South Side CPS Mom, Tuesday, April 16, 2013, at 3:52 pm

At the time thousands of Chicago teachers and other school workers began the rally and march inside the Auditorium Theatre on May 25, 2012, the union was still more than a week away from the overwhelming strike vote that authorized the Chicago Teachers Strike of 2012, making it legal under Illinois law despite the belief on the part of Chicago's plutocracy that requiring a 75 percent vote of the CTU members would make a legal strike impossible. The May 25 rally (above) along with the rally outside then became the march through Chicago's Loop of more than 10,000, launching what became the largest and best organized campaign against the corporate destruction of urban public schools in history. The CTU was ready to the attack, being carried out in 2013 by Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his lieutenant Barbara Byrd Bennett, through the massive school closings. Substance photo by Howard Heath.In addition to her role shepherding one of the largest public school systems in the country, Barbara Byrd Bennett is something called an Executive Coach in the Broad Foundation's Superintendent's Academy. The Academy is the brainchild of Eli Broad, insurance magnate and billionaire philanthropist. It offers crash courses to prepare corporate leaders to take administrative positions--like superintendent of schools--in school districts all across the country. Broad's goal is simple: implement corporate education reform throughout the nation.

Barbara Byrd Bennett carried it out in Cleveland. The wreckage is pretty well known.

She was chief academic officer under Robert Bobb when it was done in Detroit. In both cases the city's public schools have hemmorhaged money and lost thousands of children as a direct result of school closings.

And then Mayor Emanuel hired her to do it here. Up to now she's been following to the letter the playbook given by the Broad Foundation: Declare an underutilization crisis; Hold community hearings and make people feel heard; Close schools; Replace with charters.

Now, Barbara Byrd Bennett took a slight misstep with that last one. She didn't follow the rulebook. She promised under no circumstances would closing schools be turned into charters — perhaps throwing a bone to the CTU. Problem is, now she'll have 54 empty institutional buildings that aren't exactly well-suited for much besides being elementary schools. Oops. And she has the Tribune haranguing her about that.

Why doesn't Barbara Byrd Bennett see her involvement with the Broad Foundation as a conflict of interest?

Corporate education reform in Chicago looks like the Chicago Tribune.

Typically the Tribune editorial page is a partner in corporate education reform. I don't suspect that its editors really know that much about educating children — after all, they're in the newspaper business. That's never stopped them, though, from wringing their editorial hands about child-stifling public schools and lazy lazy teachers and the public trough the CTU wants to hog.

They fail to tell us the whole story, however, and they have for years. In the current crisis the Tribune editorial page has failed to cite the research of CReATE, the team of university researchers who have exhaustively examined data from past school closings and found troubling results. The Tribune has failed to ferrett out the unseemly connections between the Broad Foundation, the Walton Foundation, UNO, Byrd Bennett, and the Mayor.

The Tribune editorial page has failed to acknowledge the work of its own reporters about fishy "utilization" numbers as they examined data compiled by Jeanne Marie Olson of Apples 2 Apples. It has failed to examine what the "welcoming schools" will really look like after they have "received" hundreds of new students, many of them special needs kids with lesser facilities than they left behind, and many of them kids crossing gang lines and neighborhood cultures.

It has not heeded the work of Raise Your Hand, the parent advocate group which is paying attention to all these minor details. It has failed to examine wildly overstated claims of a "$1 billion budget shortfall," although it's easy to pull up CPS financial records and see that every year CPS comes nowhere near its budget shortfall predictions, by hundreds of millions. Many alternative news outlets have done just this.

So although it weighs in on how children can be best served by educational models it knows nothing about, it has failed in its purpose as a deliverer of demonstrable data and well-founded facts.

It has been a rare time in Chicago history when the Chicago Tribune has overtly supported anyone for leadership in a union. Since it busted its remaining unions during the 1980s, the Tribune has been among the leaders in the union busting movement of the U.S. ruling class, preaching a form of "Thatcherism" for the U.S. that is as extreme as that of Great Britain and other nations that fell under the sway of neoliberal ideology during the last quarter century. But on February 20, 2013, the Tribune put the "Coalition to Save Our Union" of the Chicago Teachers Union on its front page, announcing to the world that there was hope, from the Tribune's point of view, that the teachers of Chicago would get rid of Karen Lewis and CORE in the upcoming May 17, 2013 union election. The Tribune's premature ejaculation on behalf of Saunders-Wolffe and her caucus came two months before the union's slates of candidates were official (that came with the certification of candidates at the April 10, 2013 meeting of the CTU House of Delegates, since candidates had to be nominated through a complex petition drive in order to be on the ballot). Despite the Tribune's support, Saunders-Wolffe (left) and her running mate, former CTU financial secretary Mark Ochoa (above right) didn't have many supporters outside the April 10, 2013 House of Delegates meeting. The union's delegates and members will get the opportunity to hear Saunders-Wolffe and Ochoa in action in a debate with President Karen Lewis and Vice President Jesse Sharkey at the union's May House of Delegates meeting. Substance photo by Sharon Schmidt.Why doesn't the Tribune tell the whole story?

Corporate education reform in Chicago looks a lot like Walmart.

The Walton Foundation, Walmart's charitable arm, actually paid for the dozens of "community hearings" that CPS held all over the city to give people a chance to be heard, to know their opinions counted with CPS. That's a lot of community involvement!

Funny thing about those hearings, though. Folks sure didn't feel heard. Yes, the "closing list" shrank from "330" to 54. But most of those in attendance knew there was a number right from the start that CPS would close, and that number happened to be "more than 50." The ritual Walmart paid for was little more than a PR stunt that left the attendees with a sense of despair, broken trust, and no fair hearing. At each hearing people came with data and real questions and received no answers. For months now folks have been asking questions and have received not one single answer from CPS, up to and including the discouraging community hearings involving the closed and receiving school communities just last week. It's getting to be time for answers, I think.

The Walton Foundation also paid for a series of ads in which Barbara Byrd Bennett gives the ostensible reasons for the closures. (I don't have to tell you that of course it's for the children).

The Foundation happens to be the largest funder of charters in the city--more than 22 million bucks worth since 1997. And why does the Walton Foundation spend hundreds of millions on charters not just in Chicago but across the nation?

What does the Walton Foundation want from Chicago? Why is it throwing so much money at charter schools in the city?

Corporate education reform in Chicago looks like Juan Rangel. And Bruce Rauner. And Penny Pritzger.

But we'll talk about them tomorrow. Until then, please call your alderman and voice your displeasure about the poorly thought out, ill-planned closures of 54 schools.

Sign up for your daily dose of education from the fool for CPS. My list is completely spam free, and you can opt out at any time.


Add your own comment (all fields are necessary)

Substance readers:

You must give your first name and last name under "Name" when you post a comment at We are not operating a blog and do not allow anonymous or pseudonymous comments. Our readers deserve to know who is commenting, just as they deserve to know the source of our news reports and analysis.

Please respect this, and also provide us with an accurate e-mail address.

Thank you,

The Editors of Substance

Your Name

Your Email

What's your comment about?

Your Comment

Please answer this to prove you're not a robot:

5 + 4 =