2) Review of Chicago Annenberg Challenge (CAC) documents shows that Ayers and Obama each chaired the two CAC operating bodies from 1995 to 2000
3) CAC was at heart of Chicago school “wars” in 90s
4) CAC handed out more than $100 million in Chicago school system
5) CAC failed to improve student achievement but Ayers and Obama’s political goals were tackled
As my readers are aware I have pointed to the joint participation of Senator Obama and Professor Bill Ayers in the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, an education reform project, as evidence of an older and deeper relationship between Ayers and Obama than the Senator has acknowledged. Because the political views, as well as the past criminal behavior, of Professor Ayers represent, in my view, an authoritarian approach to education and society as a whole, I believe that it is important for the public to have as complete an understanding of the Ayers-Obama relationship as possible.
Of course, many well-intentioned supporters of the Obama campaign who, for example, share my opposition to the war in Iraq and perhaps share my views on many other issues, will argue that this kind of discussion can only help the McCain campaign. It may indeed be true that the McCain campaign will benefit because of the relationship between Obama and Ayers.
But if that is the case then I think the left has to take responsibility for attempting to build its opposition to the war in Iraq and other policies of the Bush Administration on the basis of the objectionable political tactics used by, and the political views of, those who lead the Democratic Party. Thus, my hope is that by confronting the truth about that Party we can build an independent progressive movement that is transparent and accountable to its members.
It so happens that on a crucial political issue – education policy – I think there is a potential problem with the views of Bill Ayers and others in the Obama camp and potentially with the views of the candidate himself. Thus, I think it is important to pay careful attention to those views.
B. Enter the Obama Campaign
As evidence of the lengths to which the Obama campaign is willing to go to discourage an open and forthright exploration of the Obama-Ayers relationship, this week I received an unsolicited email from Professor Linda Darling-Hammond, of the Stanford University School of Education. Professor Darling-Hammond is an education advisor to the Obama campaign. In the email, she said she was writing to me about my blog which she found “completely mysterious” because I “tie [her] in” with Bill Ayers. She states “while I know Bill Ayers, I have never talked to him about policy in the Obama campaign or about whatever you mean by ‘reparations.’”
Now, as it turns out, I have no evidence that Professor Darling-Hammond has ever talked to Ayers about policy in the Obama campaign or reparations. I have, in fact, never said that on my blog. I have only said that Bill Ayers endorsed the proposal for the repayment of the centuries of “educational debt” that some allege is owed to people of color. This is a proposal that Professor Darling-Hammond has also endorsed. Both Ayers and Darling-Hammond support the idea of replacing the widely used concept of an “achievement gap” between different groups of students with the idea of an “educational debt” that has accumulated over centuries and that is responsible for poor academic outcomes for black and some other minority students.
Professor Gloria Ladson-Billings first proposed the “repayment of centuries of educational debt” idea in her Presidential Address to the American Education Research Association (AERA) in April 2006. AERA is the leading professional body for faculty in schools of education. Bill Ayers is currently a Vice President of AERA.
Ladson-Billings based her argument for the “educational debt” idea, in part, on the work of Randall Robinson in his book arguing for reparations for slavery. She quoted Robinson to support her approach as follows:
“What is it that we might owe to citizens who historically have been excluded from social benefits and opportunities? Randall Robinson (2000) states: ‘No nation can enslave a race of people for hundreds of years, set them free bedraggled and penniless, pit them, without assistance in a hostile environment, against privileged victimizers, and then reasonably expect the gap between the heirs of the two groups to narrow. Lines, begun parallel and left alone, can never touch. (p. 74)’”
The title of Robinson’s book is: The Debt: What America Owes to Blacks.
Professor Darling-Hammond endorsed the same proposal in an article she wrote for The Nation magazine in early 2007. Professor Darling-Hammond then released a report for the Forum on Education and Democracy (“FED”) earlier this year in which she stated that the #1 priority of the federal government should be to repay the “educational debt.” A co-convener of the FED is Gloria Ladson-Billings.
So I wrote back to Professor Darling-Hammond and pointed out that I had never said what she was now denying but asked her to correct any inaccuracies or mischaracterizations that might have appeared on my blog.
She wrote back and while she did not point out any inaccuracies or mischaracterizations, she did deny, once more, something that I had never said:
“Bill Ayers has no connection to the Obama campaign or to Obama’s policy proposals in education or any other area. I would appreciate your not attributing his views to me – or to the Senator.”
Of course, I think the Senator can speak for himself. Certainly Professor Darling-Hammond can. But I have never said that Ayers spoke for them.
C. The Competing New Education Agenda from EPI
Professor Darling-Hammond, interestingly, also signed another educational policy document recently. This one, called the Bold Approach, was prepared by a task forced convened by the Economic Policy Institute. While the Bold Approach document that resulted from this effort mentions race as one issue in education it does not mention anything about repayment of educational debt.
In her first email Professor Darling-Hammond stated, “Indeed, I am a signer of the EPI document that you applaud.” Of course, this is true, but it was not news to me – I had in fact already stated this on my blog.
The EPI-led “Bold Approach” represents a comprehensive, progressive multi-factor assessment of the education crisis and the responses necessary to confront it. Unlike the proposal by FED or the views of Bill Ayers, it does not put a racial perspective on the top of the list of things to do about education.
Ayers has put a racialist stamp on his politics for several decades. He was part of the leadership of the Weather Underground group in the late 1960’s that broke apart the Students for a Democratic Society, or SDS. He argued then, as he does now, that “white supremacy” is the original sin of American life.
White racism represents for him the same kind of “oppression” that the maoist movement he was influenced by then said was responsible for the plight of poor countries. Just as rich countries (like the United States or Germany) exploited poor countries (like China or Cuba) on an international scale, the Weather Underground argued, white people in the United States exploited black people. Thus, the role of the “revolutionary vanguard” of students was to support black revolutionary groups at whatever cost, including armed robbery and bombings. While Ayers and his wife Bernardine Dohrn no longer engage in violence their political views have not changed.
While I do not think Professor Darling-Hammond, much less Senator Obama, endorses these particular views of Bill Ayers, she, too, emphasizes race when it comes to her assessment of the American school system. Recently, she wrote of
“the growing number of ‘apartheid’ schools that serve racial/ethnic minority students exclusively – schools that have little political clout and are extraordinarily impoverished.”
While there is no doubt that there is a resource disparity between many (but not all) schools with predominantly minority students and those with predominantly white students, it seems more than a stretch to compare this to apartheid, a system of government-imposed racial separation, fifty years after the Supreme Court held “separate but equal” to be unconstitutional.
In fact, government spending is actually weighted to favor low-income and underperforming school systems. The differences occur because of the private resources that some (by no means all) white dominated school systems are able to raise. But it is not altogether clear that additional resources would result in improved outcomes – at some point additional resources are not likely to overcome other deficits such as those linked to parental involvement, cultural support for learning or the health of young students.
So in my answer to the first email from Professor Darling-Hammond I wrote:
“I was certainly happy to see that you signed the EPI Bold Approach document, but it seems to me that the FED blue print that you co-authored takes a completely different approach, placing ‘repayment of education debt’ at the top of your list. As I assume you are aware, Gloria Ladson-Billings roots that concept, which I believe she originated (in her 2006 AERA speech), in the reparations work of Randall Robinson. I do not understand how repaying the ‘education debt’ can be reconciled with the multi-factor assessment of education of the Bold Approach; in any case, clearly that is not a road the EPI group went down, as far as I can tell.”
In her reply, Professor Darling-Hammond suggests that the two blueprints are, in fact, closer than might be apparent to the naked, or untrained, eye:
“The FED approach is very much aligned with the EPI approach and most of us work together. You will see there are a number of co-signers in common. FED’s policy proposals overlap substantially with the EPI proposals. The phrase ‘repaying the education debt” is used in the FED report to mean closing the opportunity gap that has accrued over a long period of time by investing in pre-school education (also in the EPI proposal) reducing inequalities in state and local spending on schools and boosting the federal investment in high-need schools (also in the EPI proposal). I’m not sure what the ‘reparations’ idea you are referring to would mean in education but I’d like to learn more about what you think about this when we have a chance to talk. I suspect you are interpreting the phrase we used in a way that is different than the way we meant it.”
Of course, this only seems to beg the obvious question: if the two blueprints are the same, then why are there, well, two of them? And why do they use different terms to mean, well, one and the same educational policy?
Professor Darling-Hammond says she is not sure what “reparations” idea I am referring to. If not, then perhaps there is another “educational debt” idea floating around out there proposed by Professor Darling-Hammond’s FED colleague, Professor Ladson-Billings, that is not rooted in the reparations argument of Randall Robinson. But if there are, in fact, two versions of what Ladson-Billings means by “educational debt” I have not been able to find the evidence for it.
Professor Darling-Hammond has generously offered to speak with me directly about these issues and I look forward to that conversation, the results of which I will be happy to share with my readers.
But for now I am left with the conclusion that the purpose of Professor Darling-Hammond’s unsolicited communications about my blog was an attempt to discourage anyone from thinking that she, Senator Obama or the Obama campaign’s views on education have anything to do with reparations or Bill Ayers.
I can certainly understand why the Obama campaign would see the tactical political advantage of doing so now – but it seems to me that should have been thought of long ago, when Senator Obama first began to work with Bill Ayers or when Professor Darling-Hammond first encountered the idea of repayment of the “educational debt.”
While I take her at her word that while she “knows” Bill Ayers she has not talked with him about the policies of the Obama campaign, I am not entirely convinced that Professor Darling-Hammond, much less the wider electorate, understands the close relationship that has existed, at least in the past, between Bill Ayers and Senator Obama when it comes to education policy.
D. Back to the Annenberg Challenge for a Closer Look
So let’s turn, then, to the other leg of this important conversation: the Chicago Annenberg Challenge (“CAC”).
The CAC was established in 1995 as a result of a $49.2 million grant from Walter Annenberg to support education reform in Chicago. Bill Ayers and Anne C. Hallett co-signed a letter submitting the grant proposal to Brown University President Vartan Gregorian on November 8, 1994 where the national Challenge office would be headquartered. The letter was on the letterhead of the University of Illinois at Chicago (“UIC”). Ayers identified himself as representing the UIC and the “Chicago Forum for School Change.” Ms. Hallett is identified as the Executive Director of the Cross City Campaign for Urban School Reform. At the bottom of the letter, a parenthetical states: “On behalf of the Chicago School Reform Collaborative.”
The letter and the attached detailed proposal grew out of a process that began in December 1993 when a small group led by Ayers, Hallett and Warren Chapman of the Joyce Foundation “met to discuss a proposal to the Annenberg Challenge for support of this city’s public school reform efforts.” This group became the nucleus of the larger Chicago School Reform Collaborative, one of the two operational arms of the CAC, which Ayers would co-chair and on which Hallett and Chapman would serve. (Program Report, CAC, Jan. 1, 1995 through Mar. 31, 1996 at 1).
The letter makes the goal of the grant proposal explicit:
“Chicago is six years into the most radical systemwide urban school reform effort in the country. The Annenberg Challenge provides an unprecedented opportunity to concentrate the energy of this reform into an educational renaissance in the classroom.”
The attached proposal is titled: “Smart Schools/Smart Kids: A proposal to the Annenberg Challenge to Create the Chicago School Reform Collaborative.”
The six year old “radical reform effort” that Ayers/Hallett refer to, of course, was the establishment of local school councils (“LSC”) as a new center of power in the Chicago Public Schools (“CPS”) in 1988, in the wake of a 1987 teachers’ strike that proved unpopular to parents and reform activists in both community groups and business groups.
The Alliance for Better Chicago Schools (“ABCs”) was formed then to push for the LSC idea in the Illinois state legislature. Active in the ABCs was Barack Obama’s Developing Communities Project, and Chicago United, a group of businessmen concerned about race and education issues founded by Bill Ayers’ father, Tom Ayers, once CEO of the large Chicago utility, Commonwealth Edison (now Exelon). Bill Ayers, very active in the school reform effort in 1988, would later chair the ABCs.
By the early 1990s there was controversy about the LSC idea from many directions. At one point the 1988 law was actually declared unconstitutional and it had to be restructured. Another effort was underway to re-centralize control over the schools in the hands of the mayor’s office when the possibility of the Annenberg grant arose. This counter-reform effort, if you will, partially succeeded in new laws passed in 1995 and 1999.
But in 1993 the CAC grant proposal was seen by Ayers as an attempt, in part, to rescue the LSC’s. The grant proposal states,
“We envision a process to unleash at the school site the initiative and courage of LSC’s….” Later, it states “[t]he Local Schools Councils…are important both for guiding educational improvement and as a means of strengthening America’s democratic traditions.”
As I have argued elsewhere on this blog, I do not think that the link made here between the LSC’s and “democracy” is, in fact, accurate. I think that such “councils” look eerily similar to efforts by regimes like those in Nicaragua under the Sandinistas and Venezuela under Chavez to impose control over teachers and their independent unions by an authoritarian regime. Thus, it is not a surprise to me that Bill Ayers has traveled several times in recent years to Venezuela where he has spoken in front of Hugo Chavez and has enthusiastically applauded that regime’s efforts to link education policy to the Chavez “revolution.”
As Ayers stated in a speech there in November 2006 “La educacion es Revolucion!” He applauded “the profound educational reforms underway here in Venezuela under the leadership of President Chavez” and he said he “share[d] the belief that education is the motor-force of revolution.”
Thus, in the midst of an intense political battle in Chicago over the LSC role in the schools, securing the CAC money was very important to the LSC reform effort backed by Ayers and Obama from the late 1980s. The Ayers/Hallett proposal stated that the money would provide
“a powerful catalyst for Chicago educators and parents to build on this base toward a sustained and serious advance….This is the critical step, that must be taken now, and the time is now.”
Indeed, the CAC proposal effort led by Ayers and Hallett was a critical part of what the Project Director of the CAC, Ken Rolling, described as the “political wars” being waged over schools in Chicago at that time. Ken Rolling was a veteran of those wars because in his previous role he had been a program officer of the Woods Fund, which supported the school reform effort through its grants, including grants to Barack Obama’s Developing Communities Project.
Other groups in other cities were competing for the same pool of funds (a total of $500 million made available by philanthropist Walter Annenberg) and, perhaps even more importantly, other groups in the city of Chicago with different policy views were applying to receive funds.
However, the Ayers/Hallett proposal was successful in the end with the decision made in late 1994. In January of 1995 the formal announcement of a grant of $49.2 million was made. That money would have to be matched by contributions from the private and public sector 2:1 for a total amount over the life of the project of approximately $150 million dollars to be disbursed in Chicago. (Apparently the actual amount raised was an additional $60 million for a total of $110 million.) The CAC set up an office in rent-free space at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where Bill Ayers taught.
E. The CAC Structure: The Board and the Collaborative work hand in glove
The Ayers/Hallett proposal described a three-piece structure established to carry out the CAC. The three “over-lapping entities each of which has clear tasks and responsibilities” included:
“The Chicago Annenberg Challenge Board (the Board); the Chicago School Reform Collaborative (the Collaborative); and the Consortium of Chicago Schools Research (CCSR).”
The Board would handle “all fiscal matters” including raising the required 2:1 matching funds (nearly $100 million required in a five year period) and “creating a grant-making system to disperse monies to schools and networks.” The Board would hire the Project Director, a full time professional staff position.
The first chairman of the CAC Board was Barack Obama, at that point, 33 years old and a third year associate at Davis, Miner, Barnhill & Galland, a small Chicago law firm.
He began the Board position in early 1995 and stepped down from the chairmanship in late 1999, though he remained on the Board until the CAC phased itself out of existence and handed off its remaining assets to a permanent new institution, the Chicago Public Education Fund, in 2001. The Board began to meet in March of 1995 and formally incorporated the CAC as a non-profit entity in April 1995.
Other board members included numerous already prominent Chicagoans: Susan Crown, Vice President of the Henry Crown Company; Patricia A. Graham, President of The Spencer Foundation; Stanley Ikenberry, President-emeritus of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; Handy Lindsey, Executive Director of the Field Foundation; Arnold Weber, former President of Northwestern University and then President of the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago; and Wanda White, Executive Director of the Community Workshop on Economic Development. Some of these individuals would resign and be replaced by other equally prominent Chicagoans.
The second operating entity of the CAC would be the Collaborative that would represent various constituencies in the Chicago schools and wider community. It would be:
“A clearing-house for ideas, for resources, for information – the place where strategies are created, successes and failures analyzed, and plans made and shared. The Collaborative under the leadership of the [Project] Director will publicize the Challenge, develop the RFP [Requests for Proposals] and application criteria, host seminars to inform and assist schools through the process, select participating schools, establish working groups, oversee program evaluation, develop the metropolitan strategy, broker waivers and resources, and provide services for networks. In other words, the Collaborative is the place where the Challenge digs its deepest roots into the community and the schools – and it is the heart of the operational work.”
The co-chair of the CAC’s Collaborative from 1995 until 2000 was Bill Ayers. In 1997 Ayers was named Chicago’s “Citizen of the Year” for his work on the CAC.
Thus, the leaders of the two operative arms of the CAC from its inception until 2000 were Bill Ayers and Barack Obama.
F. What Happened: The political battle that CAC put itself in
A review of the annual reports submitted to the Annenberg Foundation indicates the close working relationship between the Board and the Collaborative throughout its entire five-year life.
Some examples from the 1995-96 Program Report (prepared in May 1996) include the following:
1) The Collaborative developed the first RFP form for the CAC “which was widely circulated and they held a series of informational meetings throughout the city to acquaint public school staff, school reformers and potential ‘external partners’ with the mission and goals of the CAC.”
2) In the first year, the Collaborative “read each of the letters-of-intent” at least three times and rated them and then made recommendations to the CAC board on the disposition of the applications.
3) The Collaborative and the Board worked together on a job description for CAC staff.
4) The Collaborative and the Board worked together on a “process for reviewing planning and implementation networks” which had received grants.
One critical project of the Collaborative and Board in 1996 demonstrates the closely aligned political views of the two operational arms of the CAC:
5) The Collaborative and the Board became direct players in the Chicago LSC elections held in 1996. According to the CAC Report:
“In 1996 the Chicago Public Schools were scheduled to hold the fourth election of Local School Council (LSC) representatives since the school reform of act [sic] of 1988 was passed. As in the past two elections support from the central office of the Chicago Public Schools appeared to be minimal.
“Until, that is, members of the Collaborative coalesced with school reform groups around the city and began to put pressure on the Chicago Public Schools’ central office to promote the elections both by recruiting enough candidates for the open seats so that contested elections would be held and by urging parents and community members to vote. Members of the CAC Collaborative began their work on the LSC elections in late Fall 1995.
“Part of their effort was to seek funding to support efforts at the school level to locate and elect active LSC members. The CAC board was asked in early 1996 to approve funds for a citywide coalition of local organizations who agreed to work on both candidate and voter turnout for the 1996 elections.”
The Board approved a grant of $125,000 for this effort.
6) One of the first grants awarded in 1995 was a $175,000 Implementation Grant to the Small Schools Workshop. The Workshop had been founded by Bill Ayers in 1992 and was headed up by his former Weather Underground comrade and hardcore Maoist, Mike Klonsky. Klonsky actually visited China and met with its stalinist leaders in the early 1970s. Klonsky still heads up the Small Schools Workshop and now hosts a blog on “social justice” and education issues on the official Barack Obama Presidential campaign website.
A second Program Report was filed for the period ending 12/31/1996. Among its relevant comments were the following that indicate the inherently political nature of the CAC Board and Collaborative’s activities:
The Collaborative (still co-chaired by Bill Ayers) and the CAC Staff (now headed by Ken Rolling) prepared an RFP for potential grantees for $2 million allocated by the Board (still chaired by Barack Obama) for “Leadership Development.” Its aim was “to make clear the connection between organizing a base of supporters for school reform with local schools, and a training program on educational issues to assist parents and community members participate in their schools.”
At the May 1996 Board meeting a proposed $2 million Leadership Development Initiative RFP was discussed. This program was a centerpiece of the CAC’s early efforts aimed at supporting the recruitment and training of candidates and members of the controversial Local School Councils in Chicago. Barack Obama chaired the meeting. The minutes state:
At the December 1996 Board meeting former Northwestern University president and business community representative Arnold Weber asked for clarification on a number of issues related to the Leadership Development Initiative RFP for $2 million. According to the Board minutes he was concerned about the relationship of this planned effort to recruit and train new leaders to the existing LSC structure. He also was concerned about the relationship between groups organized with CAC money to school principals. The minutes state: “Principals may view their presence as a political threat.” Barack Obama was absent from this meeting
Following the Board level discussion and then the Barack Obama-led discussion with the Collaborative, according to an Interim Report filed by Ken Rolling in October 1997:
Presumably this represented a compromise that Board Chair Obama was able to work out with the Bill Ayers-led Collaborative in the wake of the concerns raised by business community representative Arnold Weber about the CAC backed leaders becoming a “political threat.”
The annual report for 1997 made special mention of the surrounding political context of the CAC’s work. Director Ken Rolling noted that a goal of the CAC was “seeking a changed policy environment” but that this “has been the most elusive to date with no major progress to report at this time.” He explained further:
“The Challenge began its work in 1995 at the same time a dramatic change in the leadership and management of the Chicago Public Schools took place. The Illinois state legislature awarded complete control of the…Schools to the Mayor of Chicago in 1995. A new management team and Reform Board of Trustees was installed and a major emphasis began on administration, financial stability and accountability measures that are tied to specific test scores. The Challenge began its program at the time the central administration of the public schools took off in a different direction.”
Indeed, the 1995 law gave the Mayor and the Board the power to dissolve LSC’s – the very bodies that the CAC was trying to bolster.
The 1998 Annual Report notes that the Collaborative (still co-chaired by Ayers) “continued to meet throughout 1998 and provided advice and outreach” while its members “regularly participated in site visits and proposal reviews, assisted schools and their networks in developing leadership programs, and assisted in raising funds for the 1998 Local School Council elections to support a wide range of community organizations who worked to recruit both candidates and voters for the Spring 1998 elections.”
According to the Mid-Year Report for 1999 the $2 million for the Leadership Development Initiative was “now fully committed.” The funds “supported efforts to recruit candidates and build turnout for the [LSC] elections in both 1996 and 1998 and provide support” for efforts to improve the “academic life of local schools.”
By the end of this year Board member Arnold Weber would resign and Barack Obama would step down from the role of Board Chair as he anticipated an upcoming run for Congress.
The CAC Interim Report for 2000 noted that the CAC was “completing funding of seven Leadership Development Initiative projects by June 30, 2001…focused on organizing parents and Local School Councils into more effective relationships with school personnel to affect curriculum and other academic changes in schools.”
Anticipating the end of the CAC the following year, the CAC was “also in the midst of creating a special fund to support future work of the [LSC’s] including ongoing training and development of [LSC] members as well as to assist in recruiting and electing members for the Councils in future years.”
G. The matching money: big corporations and foundations pitch in
A report on the matching funds raised by the CAC indicates that by the end of 1999 approximately $60 million had been raised from a wide range of corporations and foundations. Among the largest contributors were:
Bank of America $1.6 million
DeWitt Wallace-Reader’s Digest Fund $3 million
IBM $2.3 million
Polk Bros. Foundation $6.8 million
Prince Charitable Trusts $1.1 million
Pritzker Foundation $100,000.00
MacArthur Foundation $17.1 million
Joyce Foundation $11 million
Woods Fund $1 million
H. What about the “bottom line”?
The CAC also funded a third arm, the Consortium of Chicago School Research (CCSR), in parallel with the two operational arms, the Board and the Collaborative. This arm was to conduct research on the impact of the CAC’s funding.
In 2003 the final technical report of the CCSR on the CAC was published. The results were not pretty. The “bottom line” according to the report was that the CAC did not achieve its goal of improvement in student academic achievement and nonacademic outcomes. While student test scores improved in the so-called Annenberg Schools that received some of the $150 million disbursed in the six years from 1995 to 2001,
“This was similar to improvement across the system….There were no statistically significant differences in student achievement between Annenberg schools and demographically similar non-Annenberg schools. This indicates that there was no Annenberg effect on achievement.”
The report identified the political conflict between the Local School Council promotion efforts of the CAC – such as the $2 million Leadership Development Initiative – as a possible factor hindering a positive impact on student achievement.
I. Conclusion: an academic failure but political success?
The Challenge allowed Barack Obama and Bill Ayers to work together, no doubt closely, in the heat of political battle to help disburse more than $100 million to allies, particularly in the LSCs, in the Chicago School system. Under the circumstances, it seems more than a bit disingenuous of Senator Obama to dismiss Bill Ayers as just “a guy who lives in my neighborhood.”