Fifty protesters chase after Arne Duncan chanting against the PARCC tests... Rahm defends Common Core and PARCC as protesters greet U.S. Secretary of Education during another White House publicity stunt for Emanuel's desperate election run...

Ignoring the fact that his own high-school-age son attends a school (the University of Chicago Lab School) that does not follow Common Core or obsess so-called "standardized" testing, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel mounted a vigorous defense of the Common Core and PARCC tests during a visit to Chicago by U.S. Secretary of Eduction Arne Duncan on March 12, 2015. Before he refused to answer additional questions from reporters during the event at Ariel elementary school, the mayor said that his hand-picked seven-member Board of Education and schools "Chief Executive Officer" accepts the common core standards. He added that he also believes those standards are the right thing to do to raise our kids sights educationally to national and international standards.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan (above in white shirt, second from right) entered Ariel elementary school in Chicago on March 12, 2015 followed by protesters against the Common Core "standards" and the PARCC tests. Duncan came to Chicago to promote Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel's education programs at a time when Emanuel's political future was in danger in a major part because of his dictatorial education policies. Photo by Jenny Briggs. While Emanuel made those remarks inside at the press event, outside protesters criticized the PARCC during the early days of the largest Opt Out movement in Chicago history. The PARCC testing program began in Chicago's elementary schools on Monday, March 9, and continues next week into the city's elementary and high schools. By March 12, more than 100 of the city's nearly 600 public schools had large numbers of students opting out of the PARCC (disclosure: including the two sons of this reporter), many joining in other protests as well.

One of the ironies of the Duncan visit was that because of a wrong turn on the part of Duncan's driver, the Education Secretary had to sprint a block towards the school while being followed by a group of at least 50 protesters. An additional irony of that moment was that Duncan's Chicago home is near the school where the event took place, and Duncan himself had served as Chicago schools "Chief Executive Officer" from 2001 through 2008, leaving most people to believe that he still knew his way around the city.

The Ariel school event was another example of the desperate efforts by Rahm and his expensive media team to create "free media" by holding publicity stunts on various supposedly important public issues. The Duncan visit was supposed to reward Chicago under Rahm for being an exemplar of "financial literacy," with Barack Obama's friend John Rodgers, who rutns Ariel Investments, as part of the rainbow of adults and children arrayed around Rahm.

Earlier in the day, the "Mayor's Press Office" issued the notice below, as usual announcing "*There will be no media availability following" to the press:


March 11, 2015

CONTACT:, Mayor's Press Office, 312.744.3334,

The Public Schedule for Mayor Rahm Emanuel March 12, 2015

Mayor Emanuel will join Secretary Duncan and City Treasurer Summers to discuss student financial literacy.

Time: 10:15AM Location: Ariel Community Academy, 1119 East 46th Street, Chicago, IL*

*There will be no media availability following.


Secretary of Education Arne Duncan arrived at a South Side elementary school Thursday morning for an event but his driver took a wrong turn down a dead-end alley, and Duncan was forced to walk half a block to the school amid protesters whod been waiting for him to complain about standardized testing.

About 50 parents and children stood outside Ariel Community Academy so they could deliver their message to him about their opposition to the PARCC test. They chased his black SUV when it turned short of the school into an alley.

But the alley was a dead end. The SUV stopped. Duncan got out in his shirt-sleeves, his suit jacket over one arm.

He strode back up the heavily puddled alley to the nearest school entrance, smiling at the chanting (Chicago hates the PARCC) and signs (Arne, Rahm, Park the PARCC, stop test bullying.) Aside from a few pleasantries, he did not speak to the people surrounding him.

Theres no way he didnt see why were here and why we were protesting, said Lynn Ankey, mother of two at Belding Elementary School on the Northwest Side. Despite the bullying by ISBE (Illinois State Board of Education) and by him to ISBE, were not giving up and were still going to stand up for our kids.

Duncan was expected inside along with Mayor Rahm Emanuel, CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett and Ariel Investments President Mellody Hobson to announce a new financial education program.

Once safely inside the school, Duncan was asked about the protest outside.

Why is his U.S. Department of Education forcing a controversial standardized test one many parents dont want and that Mayor Rahm Emanuel has argued is not ready for prime time down the throats Chicago Public Schools?

Im not, Duncan said. The state works it out without Chicago. . . . Thats the states decision.

But isnt the mandate being dictated by the federal government? Isnt that whats behind the threat to withhold $1 billion in funding that forced Chicagos hand?

No. Youre wrong. . . . Youre making stuff up. You dont have your facts straight, Duncan said.

The secretary was asked about the parental animosity stemming from the PARCC test and the resulting protest that forced him to go through the gantlet of protesters to get into Ariel Community Academy, 1119 E. 46th Street.

I welcome the conversation. Its good. . . . Its a healthy conversation to have, he said.

But he said, Its important to assess kids annually. . . . Millions of kids around the country are taking the test. Were fine.

With that, a press aide to Duncan stepped in and ended the interview.

Emanuel and Byrd-Bennett entered through a back school door, but CPS parent Jennie Biggs said Byrd-Bennett gave her a fist pump through the car window when the schools chief saw Biggs sign reading Arne! and PARCC bullying with a red circle and line through it.

CPS began administering the new PARCC exam Monday to students in grades three through eight, as well as some high schoolers; CPS backed down on a plan to test just 10 percent after ISBE threatened to withhold $1.4 billion in state and federal money. The state board said giving PARCC is a federal requirement, which Duncans department hasnt waived for Illinois students.

This marks the first year in which PARCC is being given on a full scale in about a dozen states. While pleading for the pilot program, Byrd-Bennett said that CPS students werent technologically ready for the computer-based test, saying PARCC would end up testing their computer literacy rather than their reading comprehension. CPS students are also in the rare spot of having to take another standardized test this year the NWEA MAP to fulfill state requirements for teacher ratings.

Some parents have responded by opting their children out of the test which in Illinois requires the child to refuse the exam when presented with it.

Last week, Mayor Rahm Emanuel maintained that the test was not ready for prime time, but said elementary school students must take the exam because Chicago Public Schools simply cannot afford to lose $1 billion.

Once the federal government and the state were threatening to cut hundreds of millions and billions of dollars off, which would have dramatically increased the teacher-student ratio, it was clear that that was . . . a bridge too far, the mayor said.

Emanuel noted that Chicago was one of the nations first big cities to adopt and integrate the state standards widely known as Common Core.

That said, it doesnt mean that the federal government was right in where the test was. We wanted to see them work through the bugs, Emanuel said.

But once the kind of threat [was made, Chicago had no alternative]. Theres no other way to say it. They were going to cut off the resources. It was either take the test or [else]. Given all of the financial challenges, you could not have the school system [defy the mandate]. It would affect the classroom itself. So we were quite clear that we would bend to that order, not willingly, but accept the reality that losing $1 billion was a bridge too far for the schools.

Emanuel cut off the questioning before he could be asked about parent-led student boycotts or about whether he had lobbied the state and federal government behind the scenes to delay the test or drop the threat of penalties.

But before he left, the mayor made it clear that his hand-picked school team not only accepts the common core standards, but also believes those standards are the right thing to do to raise our kids sights educationally to national and international standards.

Arne Duncan's visit to Chicago to praise so-called "financial education" (actually, the dangerous stock picking gimmick at Ariel that boomed and then busted around the years of the collapse of 2008) and give Rahm Emaneul some free TV time. Instead, protesters again made the focus Rahm (and Arne's) policies. Every day Emanuel tries to host some media event that will draw attention, always he refuses to talk to real reporters or anyone from the general public. Most of the stunts that once worked for Rahm are failing like this one, as he is flailing for footage prior to the April 7 voting. The test itself the measure was not ready. Not the children. Not the teachers. [We had hoped] we would do it next year when they have worked through the problems, he said.


The end of the bad dream?

By Julie Vassilatos, Friday at 11:17 pm

What does it mean when you're at a protest against Arne's failed ed policy, Rahm's failed ed policy, and the PARCC, when Barbara Byrd-Bennett gives you fist pump of solidarity and a policeman laughs, smiles, and nods at your sign that says RAHM NEEDS A FINANCIAL EDUCATION?

Where are we here?

What does it mean when Arne tells reporters saying there is no federal push connected with billions of dollars to implement the PARCC even though you've heard your own state board of ed tell you this in letter after threatening letter?

Who is right? Who is lying?

What does it mean when the news media does all it can to prop Rahm up? When big donors keep on shoveling millions at Rahm even though $30M didn't fix it for him the first time?

Why does it matter so much to them?

Folks, we're at a strange place. Maybe--for once--we're not the bottom of Alice's rabbit hole like I always think. Maybe we're at a different part of Alice in Wonderland.

I think we're at the end of the story. The part where Alice is on trial, and the Queen of Hearts has just declared of Alice, "Off with her head!" And Alice--what does she do?

She's in a little bit of a scary spot, being the only one in the whole story all the way through who is reasonable and sees things clearly. The whole world of the story is senseless, kookoo, pitted against her, and has pronounced their final judgment.

But Alice retains her clear-eyed perspective and amps it up with new courage, gained partly from the fact that she has slowly returned to her full size. She yells at the entire Queen's court and brings an end to her creepy bad dream: "Who cares for you? You're nothing but a pack of cards!"

And all at once, the judge, the jury, the court, the Queen--all fly into the air, whirling about in a frenzy before settling onto the ground around Alice, just a pack of cards.

And then Alice wakes up and the story is over.

That's where I think we are.

This bad dream of corporatists controlling so much of our lives and our children's lives for their own profit, and calling it reform and improvement and excellence--I think it is starting to collapse in on itself.

Too many of us have a clear perspective on what we see.

We know that tests aren't teaching. We know that the new "standards" for young children in particular are preposterously age-inappropriate and curiosity-killing. We know that most ed tech is a sorry substitute for teachers. We know that our schools have starvation budgets because hundreds of millions are given to companies like Pearson for their vast and bloated testing apparatus. We know the starve-the-school-bring-in-the-charter-profiteer drill very well by now. We know corporate ed reform is not the new civil rights. We know Arne Duncan is totally unqualified to lead our nation's schools, and we know he and Rahm dance only to the corporatists' tune.

The number of us who know these things is growing every day.

And just like Alice amidst that crazy court, that wild-eyed vengeful Queen, the King with his ever-changing basis for insane rules, we look around and know what the corporate ed reformers really are.

We Chicagoans, we parents of children in CPS, most of us who live and work here, that chuckling policeman, and maybe even BBB, know that those we are surrounded by who have sought to control us for so long, when we call them out for what they are, have as much power as a pack of playing cards in a bad dream.


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 + 5 =