Klonsky Speaks! How the Obama/Ayers Chicago Annenberg Challenge Functioned

Former maoist and 20 year ally of Bill Ayers and former Obama campaign blogger, Mike Klonsky, has finally owned up to his own role in the Chicago Annenberg Challenge here

(When the Soviet tanks rolled into Prague in 1968 Klonsky says he was shocked and decided he had to stop supporting the Russian regime – he decided to support Mao Tse Tung instead. Brilliant move, Mike. I wonder what he did when the tanks crushed the 1989 democracy movement in Beijing?)

I was asked to respond to Klonsky’s comment on another blog and thought I would share it with Global Labor readers and I have included some additional comments about Klonsky and his Small Schools Workshop (SSW) that received hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Annenberg Challenge:

At least Klonsky now admits what he denied on the blog of the Teachers Union (Edwize): that in fact he did receive funding (to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars) from Annenberg.

It is disingenuous to imply that the Workshop received the money and not Klonsky. Who paid his salary? The Workshop. Did they just hand the CAC money to someone else?

Also, we do not really know how fair the process [of the CAC board awarding grants] was since Klonsky’s mentor, Ayers, was a key player and so was Ayers’ protege, Obama.

If those two were not available to Klonsky, would the board’s transparent process have funded the SSW (which was founded by Ayers)? Who is to say.

It would be interesting to know, for example, if any project that Ayers objected to got funded. Or if any project that one board member other than Obama objected to but Ayers supported did not get funded.

I do know that Arnold Weber, the former president of Northwestern, who sat on the board as a representative of the pro-business Civic Committee, opposed the millions of dollars Ayers and Obama wanted to spend to support the Local School Councils as anti-union watchdogs over teachers and principals. 

[One widely known Chicago teachers’ union activist and editor of Substance, George Schmidt, says the LSC’s were engaged in “teacher bashing.”  The CAC used so-called “external partners” – like the SSW – as grant recipients who in turn partnered with schools to push reforms. About these, Schmidt has written: “At best, they are irrelevant wanderers. At worst, they are teacher bashers and ideologues pushing a political line while collecting political patronage.”]
[Weber, by the way, failed in his effort to block the proposal and more than $2 million of CAC funds were spent recruiting and training candidates for the Councils. It was called the Leadership Development Initiative and was one of the core projects of the CAC.]

It is very important here to see the fundamental mistake being made by right wing critics of the CAC: they want to paint it as a “left wing” enterprise and then people like Klonsky and Ayers will point out, as Klonsky does in his comment, the presence of various prominent Chicagoans on the board of the CAC. 

But if you make clear that the CAC was part of an effort to support the authoritarian and fundamentally undemocratic watchdog LSC’s, then you get to the heart of the problem: Ayers, Klonsky and perhaps Obama have a patronizing and authoritarian approach to politics. On occasion business people side with such authoritarians – they did in Nicaragua and today some of them do in Venezuela, sometimes out of frustration with democratic institutions and some times out of opportunism.

In 1995 the business community was turning against the “radical” authoritarian LSC’s and backing Daley’s effort to recentralize control over the schools with his CEO model. That put Obama and Ayers and Rolling directly in opposition to the Daley regime. That is what makes the CAC record so important: it is evidence of Obama siding with an authoritarian approach to education reform arm in arm with Bill Ayers and Mike Klonsky, among others.

Of course, for Klonsky to hide behind the Rove/Swiftboating charge is a way of discouraging open and transparent debate about six of the most important years in Obama’s professional life, the only time he ever held a top level leadership position. The CAC experience deserves a full exploration and discussion by the electorate.

George Schmidt of the Chicago Teachers Union had some direct experience with Klonsky, Ayers and the CAC-funded Small Schools Workshop at Bowen H.S. in Chicago.  

About that he wrote:
Bowen High School, where I taught (and was union delegate, security coordinator, and other things) from 1993 until my suspension without pay in early 1999, was typical of the kinds of schools that got put on “academic probation.” The school is located in the South Chicago neighborhood, which was the victim of disinvestment from the steel industry. The area was in an economic recession for the better part of two decades, as steel mills from Wisconsin Steel to the USS South Works plants were closed. 

By the early 1990s, Bowen has about 1,400 students, half of whom were African-American and half of whom were Mexican American (often, by the way, third or fourth generation). Nearly 90 percent of the kids came from poverty level homes, often working poor (very little welfare poor).

Our “external partner” [required for schools on probation for low test scores] at Bowen High School was from the famous “Small Schools Network” at the University of Illinois at Chicago. The people they sent (several different ones during the time I was there) had little or no classroom experience. Their activities ranged from irrelevant to intrusive when it came to discussing things like classroom instruction with people. On a couple of occasions, they sent out their heavyweights (Mike Klonsky and Bill Ayers), who were equally irrelevant, albeit more arrogant (and a bit more polished).

Bowen High School’s improvements on the tests that determined “probation” in Chicago had nothing to do with the costly (more than $200,000 over the first three years) work of the “Small Schools Network.”

In the opinion of most teachers, our “external partners” were pesky and underfoot. At worst, they were pushing for nonsense.

And, at the end of the 1997-98 school year, they tried to push for the elimination of some teachers, but failed. By that time, Ayers was reportedly into proving how serious they could be by forcing principals for [sic] fire some teachers. Not once did they criticize the “standard” that had been set or mention the economic and social problems of the community (including a terrible gang problem which I was partly responsible for keeping under control).