VALLAS FACTS: Chicago's infamous CASE tests... Paul Vallas's million dollar 'copyright infringement' lawsuit against Substance protected dumbs tests -- and frightened potential teacher whistle blowers? -- for a decade... Now ending?

As Susan Ohanian recently reported on her website, the Chicago Board of Education's 1999 million-dollar "copyright infringement" lawsuit against Substance (and this reporter) cost the Chicago Public Schools a million dollars in attorneys' fees and other costs. But what started in 1999 with a bang ended in 2002 in a whimper when the Chicago Board of Education refused to go to trial to prove that their infamous "CASE" (Chicago Academic Standards Exams) tests were worth the million dollars Vallas had originally claimed our "infringement" had cost the children and taxpayers of Chicago.

Recently, after a Connecticut court ruled that Paul Vallas had to actually complete a required course of study to serve as a school administrators in Bridgeport, Vallas, with typical humility, said that Connecticut would not require Michael Jordan to get certified to coach high school basketball. Actually, Connecticut officials said, like any other teacher, Jordan would have to get the required certification and pass the required background checks. Vallas has been pushing deregulation to his own personal and political benefit since he was made the first "Chief Executive Officer" of Chicago's public schools in 1995.The issue in 1999 was the same as it is in 2013: should public school tests be kept as sacred objects, or viewed by the public, in context, so that democracy can make its case?

Consider the following question:

6. Which of the following events was the spark that ignited the United States Civil War?

A. The election of Abraham Lincoln

B. The Emancipation Proclamation

C. The Dred Scott Decision

D. the attack on Fort Sumpter

(U.S. History, CASE, Semester One, Pilot form B, 1998 - 99 school year Chicago Public Schools).

In fact, from the time Vallas ordered the Board's lawyers to sue us -- for more than a million dollars! -- following the publications of the silly questions he had forced every Chicago high school student to answer, the purpose of the lawsuit was to cover up the kinds of massive incompetence, in the name of "standards and accountability", that had come to characterize the Vallas Years in Chicago. Between 1995, when Vallas became the first "Chief Executive Officer" of the newly reformed Chicago Public Schools, the corporate version of "reform" had gone, under Vallas, from being an interesting side show into a main event that was basically a massive time- and money-wasting comedy of errors. In Chicago, the Second City, Vallas's gaffs and silliness should have been on the Main Stage at the Second City comedy theater. Instead, because of the regime of corporate school reform that was dawning in America, Vallas's work was praised by the President of the United States, Bill Clinton, in two State of the Union addresses.

But back to the basics. What is the one correct answer to the following question:

23. All of the following activities are part of a typical African woman's life in rural areas EXCEPT:

A. preparing food

B. taking care of children

C. helping her husband grow cash crops

D. selling crops at the market

(World Studies, CASE, Semester One, Pilot form B, 1998 - 99 school year Chicago Public Schools).

The URL for this week's [July 4 week, 2013] Susan Ohanian report, for those who cannot get the hotlink above, is:

Susan's entire piece is reprinted, along with Rob Tomsho's article from the front page of The Walls Street Journal, at the end of this historical review.

In our January-February 1999 edition, Substance, under my editorship, published six of the 22 CASE tests. We published the tests after they had been administered -- and supposedly graded -- based on so-called "standards" which were not make public, or revealed to either the teachers who had been forced to administer the tests or the students who had been forced to take the tests. The tests had been developed, according to the test booklets, by the Office of Accountability, Chicago Public Schools, Gery Chicago, President Chicago Reform Board of Trustees, Paul G. Vallas, Chief Executive Officer.

Although the tests were supposedly still in their "Pilot" phase, as early as the previous school year, Paul G. Vallas was utilizing claims based on those tests to formulate attacks on the city's teachers. Since the education reporters in Chicago were virtually all "in the tank" for Vallas and corporate "school reform," no critical questions were asked as claims, pseudo-statistics, and pronouncements poured in torrents from Vallas.

Back to basics, Vallas style, 1999 edition:

2. What kind of essay offers an opinion on a topic?

A. evaluative

B. persuasive

C. expository

D. comparison/contrast

(English I, Multiple Choice, CASE, Semester One, Pilot form B, 1998 - 99 school year Chicago Public Schools).

The CASE tests had been administered to all of Chicago's more than 90,000 high school students a during the first two weeks of January 1999. We published them in Substance at the end of January. Within three days, we were sued for a million dollars and I was suspended from my teaching job. By the week's end, both the Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Tribune, on the same day, editorially stated that the Board of Education should fire me.

By the time the entire debate, suppressed for the most part, was over, Chicago had fired a teacher (me) for the crime of "copyright infringement." The ruling class had blacklisted a teacher (me) from public school teaching in the entire state of Illinois. The highest court in the USA (the Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court) upheld the power and right of Chicago to copyright its ludicrous tests, thereby shielding them from public review, and the First Amendment had been subordinated to a dubious claim of "copyright" on behalf of a government agency.

In the end (December 2002 - January 2003), the Chicago Board of Education failed to get one penny of the million dollars (ultimately, $1.4 million) they claimed had been the damages caused by my infringement of their unprecedented copyright, they had succeeded in one thing. They had, for a decade frightened away many otherwise serious people from challenging the underlying mechanism of control (and racist ranking and sorting) that has characterized the corporate "school reform" movement in the USA for nearly two full decades -- under three two-term presidents.

But here is another piece of copyrighted Chicago testing:

30. Islam came to Africa as a result of:

A. missionaries

B. trade

C. war

D. ethnic unity

(World Studies, CASE, Semester One, Pilot form B, 1998 - 99 school year Chicago Public Schools).

The decision to publish those tests -- in their entirety -- had been made by me as editor following our receipt of a complete collection of all 22 of the tests from an anonymous source. For more than two decades, Substance had published accurately the facts about Chicago's school debates that corporate media chose to ignore. In 1984, we reported that one of the early darlings of Wall Street, Chicago "superteacher" Marva Collins was a fraud. Our reporting was based on a teacher who had worked with Collins during the years she was receiving praise from Wall Street and Hollywood, who brought us evidence that Collins's carefully staged "classes" and self-reported test score gains were both lies. A few years later, based again on sources we protected for a long time, Substance reported that James Moffat, who had been Deputy Superintendent of Schools, had been raping students, both male and female, in his offices at Kelvyn Park High School.

In both cases, the people we reported on threatened to sue -- and didn't. An early version of Michelle Rhee, the hysterical Marva Collins eventually was withdrawn from the center stage of the early discussion of how to "fix" the public schools after several reporters verified what I had reported in Substance. James Moffat was eventually found guilty in criminal court based on the dramatic testimony of five of his victims and went to prison for five years.

But in both cases, the original publication, in Substance, has been a lonely reality. Chicago's corporate media had generally been willing to go along with propaganda (in the case of the Marva Collins tales) and power (in the case of Moffat, whose friends included the Daley family).

By January 1999, we had been publishing a critique of the CASE developments over the previous year, but only when we had the complete set of the tests did we have the proof that Chicago, under Paul Vallas, had embarked on one of the most comprehensive, expensive, and ridiculous forays into corporate school reform imaginable.

Or, as I first thought reviewing the tests, unimaginable. "This has to be a joke," was my first response. I knew that the English tests were dumb, because I had been forced to administer them. What I didn't realize was that all the CASE tests were just as dumb, each in its special unique way.

Each of the tests, which purported (as the "Common Core" tests are purporting today) to be a valid, reliable and fair end-of semester testing program for a 20 week high school course was worse than a joke, it had every quality of a bad test.

But let's go back 14 years and take a close look at this early foray of Vallasism: -- Insulting student intelligence. The questions were often ambiguous, combined with downright stupid. This meant that good students -- i.e., those students who knew a subject, either through course study or through other reading and interest -- would be stymied trying to answer the one "correct" answer.

Vallas's hysterical response to our publication of his CASE tests didn't surprise us. We were surprised, however, that the entire ruling class of the city, as exemplified by the editorial boards of both the Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Tribune, supported his attack. I had thought, going into the debate, that there would have been some discussion of whether citizens had the power to evaluate these "instruments of accountability" in their purest forms -- the form of the tests themselves. And when I first heard that the claim against us was "copyright infringement," my response was: "That's crazy. Who is going to rule that the government has the right and power to copyright and keep secret something as important as a high-stakes test?"

Obviously, that was wrong. in 1999, the sacred texts of school reform were the tests. They had to be kept secret -- at all costs -- or the entire edifice of corporate test-based "accountability" would collapse as quickly as any of the claims stated by Paul Vallas that cold be subjected to fact checking.


Ohanian Comment: It occurs to me that since this website was not launched until a year after George Schmidt's courageous Act of Principle, many readers of this site don't know exactly what he did. Substance cannot survive without the support of people who claim to believe in resistance. We all owe George--big time. Subscribe--and donate--now. Today.

A Chicago Teacher's Action Inspires Antitest Crusaders

Page One Feature. The Wall Street Journal, May 25, 2001 By Robert Tomsho

CHICAGO -- When copies of the citywide Chicago Academic Standards Examinations came into teacher George Schmidt's possession in 1999, he did something unusual: He published them in his newspaper.

Although the tests, completed by students earlier that year, were still being given on a no-stakes trial basis at that point, the act got Mr. Schmidt denounced, fired and sued for $1 million. But as President Bush pushes a sweeping proposal for U.S. schools to adopt achievement tests nationwide, Mr. Schmidt was also transformed into a hero among students and educators in the grass-roots antitest movement.

The admirers do not include Paul Vallas, chief executive of the Chicago school district, whose lawsuit against Mr. Schmidt alleging copyright violation is pending. Chicago, like most other school districts and states, doesn't want the exams published because it would cost too much to produce or buy all new questions each year. "His intent here was to sabotage," Mr. Vallas says.

But the publication of the CASE tests in Substance, a newspaper edited by Mr. Schmidt, exposed a number of test questions with sloppy wording or seemingly accurate answers treated as incorrect among the multiple choices.

The world-studies test asked whether economic systems determine: "a) what trade should take place, b) food and language, c) how much goods are worth," or "d) which people should be employed in certain jobs." The answer the school district wanted was "c," but Mr. Schmidt asked Substance readers to "imagine an economic system that didn't help determine trade" or "the kinds of employment people can have."

Another question asked which event was the "spark that ignited" the Civil War. The only answer acceptable was choice "d" -- "the attack on Fort Sumter" in April 1861. But also valid, Mr. Schmidt argues, was choice "a" -- "the election of Abraham Lincoln" five months earlier, which prompted the secession of seven states and the Confederacy's formation. District officials stood by those items and others, saying the answers they deemed correct were the best of the lot. Carole Perlman, director of student assessment, says perfection was too much to expect from a test in the trial stages, but adds that district officials were embarrassed by some of the questions published. "It certainly wasn't something we were happy about," she says. Chicago began moving toward rigorous application of standardized testing after being denounced as the worst district in the country by William Bennett when he was education secretary during the Reagan era. In 1995, the state Legislature handed over control of the schools to Mayor Richard Daley, who put his former budget director, Mr. Vallas, in charge. To make sure that teachers followed its back-to-basics curriculum, the new administration pumped $1 million into developing the CASE tests. Students in grades nine to 12 now take the CASE tests in 11 subjects and junior high students will eventually take them as well. 'Sick of It All' Former President Clinton praised Chicago as a model of school reform, but within the city, testing became a tempestuous issue. Parents protested after eighth-graders were held back or required to attend summer school because of their scores on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, a national test. Already required to take a raft of other standardized exams, high-school students launched demonstrations of their own as the CASE tests were prepared. "We were pretty sick of it all," says Will Tanzman, now a Yale undergraduate, who helped organize the protests.

It was the sort of tumult that Substance had thrived on since 1974 when it was founded by substitute teachers pressing for better working conditions. If the muckraking monthly's tenor could be shrill, it also made a mark with a late-1980s series that helped lead to the conviction of an administrator for molesting students.

Mr. Schmidt was teaching ninth-grade English at Bowen High School when he became its editor in 1996. Under him, the paper regularly harpooned administrators and promised confidentiality to school personnel who provided story-generating tips. The paper also blasted Chicago Teachers Union leaders for being too cozy with the administration. "It's just generally antiestablishment, whether the establishment is the union or the board," says CTU spokeswoman Jackie Gallagher.

A burly 54-year-old with a push-broom mustache, Mr. Schmidt has never shied away from an argument. During Chicago's Democratic National Convention of 1968, he and a few other protesters were arrested for criminal trespassing after they waded into the midst of some bivouacked troops to talk. Later, he worked on a quixotic campaign to organize a labor union for soldiers.

Though rated a superior teacher in job evaluations, he could be unconventional in the classroom. In the fall of 1998, Mr. Schmidt and other ninth-grade-English teachers were advised to cover Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet" in preparation for a trial run of CASE the following January. Since he didn't yet have to use CASE results to calculate class grades, Mr. Schmidt advised his Bowen High students to go see the 1968 Franco Zeffirelli movie based on the play. In his judgment, incoming freshmen had enough adjustments to make in Bowen's tough culture, so he never taught Shakespeare before the second semester.

The English exam that Mr. Schmidt administered was among the six CASE tests that Substance later published -- 140 questions in all: two English tests, two in Algebra, and one each in world studies and U.S. history. Mr. Schmidt, whose basement serves as Substance's headquarters, says he received the tests anonymously at his home in unmarked packages, one of which was left dangling from his doorknob in a grocery bag. School-district officials, who later investigated, say they aren't sure how he got them.

Stumbling Rhetoric Some of the snafus he highlighted involved seemingly careless editing. Of Martin Luther King Jr., one English question asked: "Which of the following activities of King's actions directly led to his imprisonment in the Birmingham Jail?"

But the phenomenon of multiple good answers was more serious. The history test asked which of these items contributed to America's industrial growth: population increase, government regulation, availability of natural resources, or increased taxes. Population increase was deemed correct, but Mr. Schmidt questioned why natural resources should be excluded, or even government regulations "allowing the use of public lands for railroads and the massive immigration to provide factory labor to exploit natural resources."

Ms. Perlman, the school-district official in charge of developing the test, concedes that that item "was possibly not a very good question" but adds that bad questions sometimes slip through multiple screenings before being caught.

Seeing the questions from various tests in Substance "woke everybody up," says Barbara Radner, director of DePaul University's Center for Urban Education, who was working with Chicago schools at the time.

"The questions were uneven and some of them were confusing."

Perplexing the Mayor

But city and school officials accused Mr. Schmidt of violating copyright laws and district regulations while rendering hundreds of expensive questions useless for future tests.

"What kind of people would do this?" Mayor Daley asked at one news conference.

The school district got a court order barring Mr. Schmidt from publishing more exams and sought more than $1 million in damages from him for copyright violations in a pending federal lawsuit filed in Chicago.

Mr. Schmidt contends that, as an editor, it was his First Amendment right to publish the tests. While the union hierarchy kept its distance from the matter, Mr. Schmidt was removed from the classroom and assigned to a central-office job. There, for a time, he designed refrigerator magnets that listed emergency numbers for latchkey kids.

During a three-day disciplinary hearing at the school-district office early last year, Mr. Schmidt flew in expert witnesses, one of whom likened the CASE exams to a game of Trivial Pursuit.

But the district succeeded in limiting the matter to a simple question of whether Mr. Schmidt had violated district regulations, and the presiding administrative-law judge agreed that he had.

In August [2000], the school board finally dismissed Mr. Schmidt.

Seeking his job back, late last year he filed a still-pending lawsuit in Chicago asking a state court to review the firing, claiming the board's move was arbitrary and capricious.

Chicago school officials say they stand by their decision.

"He's not going to teach in our system," Mr. Vallas says.

Chicago teachers and other observers say that recent editions of the CASE tests are much improved. The district has brought in university professors to review questions, recruited graduate students to take tests before they are administered and hired a testing-research concern to evaluate its exams.

Mr. Vallas says the Substance case hasn't influenced such moves. "We have always ignored Schmidt," he says.

'Big Inspiration'

But word of Mr. Schmidt's plight has spread wherever people have taken aim at one-size-fits-all testing.

A call for donations by one sympathetic Champaign, Ill., teacher has helped to raise more than $80,000 to defray Mr. Schmidt's legal expenses, which now total more than $110,000.

"This has really been a big inspiration to people around the country," says David Stratman of New Democracy, a Boston advocacy group that is trying to organize a teacher boycott of state exams in Massachusetts.

Jeffrey Orr says that what Mr. Schmidt did helped inspire him to boycott this year's CASE exams at Chicago's Whitney Young High.

"If you are not shown your mistakes, then there is no way you can ever possibly learn from them," says the 16-year-old sophomore.

Meanwhile, copies of the latest CASE tests continue to arrive at Mr. Schmidt's house. He recently used one of them to help his own son figure out how he had done on the district's algebra test. "I think every parent ought to have that right," Mr. Schmidt says. — Robert Thomsho, Wall Street Journal, 2001-05-25


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