Editorial: Barbara Eason-Watkins? You've got to be kidding!

For reasons that have not been made publicly clear, a number of community activists, politicians, and celebrities in Chicago are offended that Mayor Richard M. Daley has appointed his former Chief of Staff Ron Huberman to be Chief Executive Officer of the Chicago Public Schools.

Public criticism of Daley's choice resonated around Chicago on January 28, 2009, when Huberman took his seat for his first meeting of the Chicago Board of Education. Huberman was booed by some in the audience when he was introduced at the meeting.

Apparently, some of the people who are opposed to Huberman wanted Mayor Daley to appoint Arne Duncan's sidekick, Barbara Eason-Watkins, to the top post. Now that Duncan has left Chicago to become U.S. Secretary of Education under President Barack Obama, some people in some parts of town are saying that Eason-Watkins should have gotten the school system's top job. The question is: why? Based on her record in office, Eason Watkins is as bad as Arne Duncan was -- and in some cases she is worse.

Eason-Watkins spent her career catering to the high-stakes testing regime installed under Mayor Daley. She has been an (often outspoken) champion of the privatization of curriculum and just about every teacher bashing stunt that has victimized the teachers working in the hardest inner city schools since she moved into the top office suites seven years ago. We defy anyone to show us one disagreement Eason-Watkins ever had with Arne Duncan on behalf of teachers or the students. She even gives credibility to the odious DIBELS program which is still being foisted on Chicago's elementary teachers and students years after it has been completely debunked in the professional journals. After her appointment to the post of "Chief Education Office" by Arne Duncan and the Chicago Board of Education in July 2001, Barbara Eason-Watkins loyally followed every policy of the Duncan administration. The list of her policy atrocities is long. Eason-Watkins provided the public and press with the dubious data that were used to close and privatize dozens of schools under "Renaissance 2010." It was Eason-Watkins who seconded Arne Duncan's claims -- often ex post facto -- that the more than 60 schools he had closed were "failing" schools (even though at the time, most of those schools were closed of other reasons, including "underutilization" and security problems). Ask the teachers who were slandered, then ousted, at Austin, Calumet, Collins, Englewood, Harper and Orr high schools whether Barbara Eason-Watkins deserves to be remembered as anything other than a teacher bashing hatchet person for the Duncan and Daley administrations.

The people and public figures who have been supporting Barbara Eason-Watkins have not tried to explain how her policies have differed from those of Arne Duncan -- or Mayor Daley -- during the past seven years. Before anyone jumps on the bandwagon to oust Huberman and put in an Arne Duncan clone, perhaps a small examination of the record is in order.

The real problem is the Amendatory Act, the 1995 Illinois law that gave Mayor Daley dictatorial control over Chicago's public schools. That dictatorial control established the post of "Chief Executive Officer" (aping business models) to run the school system instead of a superintendent qualified under Illinois law. The Amendatory Act gave Richard M. Daley the power to appoint a "Chief Executive Officer" -- rather than a superintendent -- to head Chicago's schools. Although the notion of the law was that CPS would be headed by someone with business and executive experience, Daley's first two choices made that idea a joke. Paul Vallas had never run anything larger than his family restaurant in Palos Heights in the private sector before he became the "business savvy" CEO for Chicago's public schools. Vallas had spent his professional life as a flunky for the Democratic Party, first in Springfield and then at Chicago's City Hall. Even his credentials to financial experience (he had served as Mayor Daley's "budget director") were dubious. Vallas did not have a CPA or any credentials in accounting. And, as we reported here, Vallas lied about his experience as a teacher. He had none. And Arne Duncan -- incredibly -- had less executive experience than Vallas when he took office in July 2001. But Duncan had already proven himself the darling of the corporate "school reform" crowd, which was all it took to have him declared competent to be the chief executive of the nation's third largest school system.

Ironically, of the three executives Richard M. Daley has appointed in Chicago, Ron Huberman has the most real life executive experience. He is as unqualified as Paul Vallas and Arne Duncan to head a school system, but he is equally committed to slavishly following orders from City Hall. But Huberman's slavish devotion to Mayor Daley's whims at the Chicago Board of Education has yet to be demonstrated. Barbara Eason-Watkins has already proven her willingness to follow every whim of corporate Chicago no matter how much damage those whims do to children and teachers -- or to the cause of democratic public education in the USA. 



February 8, 2009 at 12:21 AM

By: Jim Vail

Right on George!

That's exactly right - Dr. Watkins with her education background is no different than the other hatchet men from Vallas and Duncan to Huberman. A hack slandering public school teachers while smiling at the pretty charter school people. When guys like Jesse Jackson jump in, be very skeptical. Jackson has said nothing about Renaissance 2010 hurting the African American community, much like his partner-in-crime Marilyn Stewart, until she sees her job on the line and now is ready to lead the fight and take all the credit. Thanks to Substance - we can get our facts straight on this $5 billion mess of contracts, corruption and education.

February 8, 2009 at 4:15 AM

By: John Kugler


I agree if dr. watkins was a true educator she would have protected the children of chicago from the terror tactics of the board. instead she took her money and smiled as the minorities of the city were disenfranchised and subjugated to the tyranny of the city hall throne. she violated the basic principal and duty of an educator: protect your students from harm!

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