Monday, October 27, 2008

Debating School Reform: George Schmidt on Bill Ayres and Mike Klonsky

NOTE: 2 versions of this article were posted accidentally and each elicited comments, which have been consolidated into one post while the other was deleted.

Small schools, and charters as well, have often been pushed by well-meaning people who were then overwhelmed by the tsunami of corporate and foundation money that used the force if its investments to put in place policies that are anti-student and anti-teacher. Anything short of open and active opposition to this is political log-rolling.
-------Michael Fiorillo

We sort of fell into the current Bill Ayres/Obama controversy by wondering where Ayres (and Obama) stood during these 13 years of Chicago mayoral control/education reform and its exportation to other cities like New York.

Education Notes has consistently lined up with people like Susan Ohanian and George Schmidt amongst many others to call the high stakes testing and standards movement a major instrument of school privatization and the bash the teacher and union as the cause of failures.

This is a long post but I didn't want to cut any of it. We may take George up on his suggestion to hold a conference on school reform next year and I will throw that idea out to ICE, Teachers Unite, NYCORE, Class Size Matters, ICOPE and other activists that may be interested.

Reading George (and Michael Fiorillo, a UFT HS chapter leader and member of ICE) will get at some of the core issues facing education reformers, so hang in there.

[Bill] Ayers and [Mike] Klonsky both were part of the union bashing "left" here in Chicago in those days. Their disciples in the "small schools" stuff exported those things elsewhere.

By the late 1990s, the same time I was being sued for a million dollars and Mayor Daley and his appointees were trying to drive Substance out of business, Mike and Bill were collecting hundreds of thousands of dollars a year from the Chicago Board of Education directly as a "external partner" to a handful of "failing schools."


George Schmidt

I made charges (here and here) the other day about Bill Ayres and teacher unions based more on instinct than knowledge and received comments from both Fred and Mike Klonsky challenging my assertion that behind the Ayres' world view is a certain level of anti teacher (and union) bias. Klonsky urged me to read "Renaissance 2010 Meets the Ownership Society"* and "Private Management of Chicago Schools is a Long Way from Mecca,"** (Feb. 2006 - see abstracts at the end of this post.)

Mike Klonsky said that after reading these articles (I just read the abstracts) I should send a letter of apology to his brother and Bill Ayres.

Not so fast, Mike. Your articles were written in 2006. Where were you guys when Bloomberg and Klein instituted their assault on the NYC school system in 2002? Due to George Schmidt's warnings Ed Notes was able to be out there since 2001 when before Bloomberg took over, Randi Weingarten came out for mayoral control. Wouldst there have been more voices out there then. Besides, I've learned by watching Randi Weingarten, who can say good things but act directly opposite. Watch what they do, not what they say. But there's more.

George had direct experience with Ayers and Klonsky as his school was one of the closing schools:

One of those was the school (Bowen High School) where I taught and was union delegate until I was suspended (February 1999) by Paul Vallas, later to be fired (August 2000) by a vote of the Chicago Board of Education for publishing the CASE (Chicago Academic Standards Examinations) tests in Substance and consistently opposing the use of high-stakes secret multiple choice so-called "standardized" tests for "accountability."

Part of that "accountability" in Chicago was that if your school was "failing" (as measured by the test scores; nothing else mattered) you were forced to buy an "external partner" (in the case of Bowen, Small Schools Workshop; headed by Mike and Bill).

Instead of joining in the critique of the use of so-called "standardized" tests for the corporate accountability attacks on public schools (and unions) in Chicago, Bill and Mike (and most of their colleagues at the University of Illinois at Chicago, as well as others at other Chicago colleges and universities) got on the gravy train, soaked up hundreds of thousands of dollars of CPS money every year, and came into the schools to tell veteran teachers how to "reform" the schools we had worked in for years, decades, and in some cases, generations.


A familiar refrain to NYC teachers.

I want to make it clear. What Ayres did in the 70's has no relevance here. We're more concerned what he did in the 90's and early years of this century in relation to the Chicago model of mayoral control/ed reform that is entering its 14th year and served as a model of the Bloomberg/Klein shakeup of NYC schools, with the destruction of teachers union influence by attacking unions as being the major obstruction to ed reform (see the debate between Linda and Lisa last week.)

So where did Ayres stand through those years? As supporters of small schools (I hear Klonsky's new book is a must read) one must also think of the consequences of how this movement is implemented. In other words, if you get your small schools going in a manner that results in the undermining of public education and teacher unions then where did you really stand? If you acted in a way that contributed to tearing down teachers and teacher unionism, then it's a duck because you quacked. As Mike Fiorillo calls it: political log-rolling.

More from George Schmidt

I'm going to return to the details of the small schools activities in relation to corporate school reform in Chicago after November 4.

Suffice to say, a lot of people profited in the early days of "standards and accountability" here in Chicago and elsewhere, and among those were Chicago's small schools advocates. The fact that the process continued under George W. Bush and No Child Left Behind after 2001-2002 does not wipe out the history between 1995, when Chicago got mayoral control, and 2001, when the Republicans became dominant nationally.

The "ownership society" is in ways a distraction from the neoliberal project that was well on its way via "housing reform," "welfare reform", and "school reform" by the year that Bush defeated Al Gore for President. And the people who supported and profited from the teacher bashing, union busting, and other activities of corporate school reform in Chicago between 1995 and 2001 included Mike Klonsky and Bill Ayers.

I agree with Mike Klonsky about one thing. The stuff from 1968 to around 1976 is mostly irrelevant (except perhaps some of the origins of the myths of "small" as a solution to massively segregated urban school systems).

I'm still waiting to be invited to have at it at a public forum on these questions. Let's just say that certain people for a long time were given the high ground for their theories, while many of the facts that we've published over time in Substance were suppressed.

Finally, about "piling on" [Ayres.]

When Mayor Daley and his appointees at the Chicago Board of Education sued me and Substance for $1 million -- in January 1999 -- and set out to destroy me and Substance, Mike Klonsky was one of the people who assured "progressives" that I was the bad guy. He put it in writing and devoted some considerable energy to that project.

It hurt us dearly back in those days, because it cut off a large swath of potential support at a time when we were under unprecedented attack by the ruling class. Without attributing causation to Mike's behavior back then, let's just say it was a few years later that his projects became defunded by the Daley dynasty. While I might agree in the abstract that there is some general need not to allow the ruling class to pile on "progressives," there is no record of praxis in Chicago that the rule currently being invoked in defense of Bill Ayers was part of the culture of our official progressives. And I don't personally think anything's changed that much since.

George N. Schmidt
Editor, Substance

www.substancenews.net


Mike Klonsky's original comment:

Sad to see leftists and progressive educators piling on Bill Ayers right at this opportune moment and pronouncing various educators at "anti-union." The Weatherman faction of SDS is pretty easy pickens from the right or the left. I ought to know, having led the fight against them in 1968. Problem is, that was 40 years ago and the Weather faction is not really the problem facing New York's teachers or their union at this moment.

And the charge that Ayers is "anti-union" today, or that he supports the current Chicago school reform initiative, Renaissance 2010, is pure bullshit and the people feeding you that crap know it. So if you are really interested in this question, read Bill and my Kappan (Feb. 2006) articles, "Renaissance 2010 Meets the Ownership Society" and "Private Management of Chicago Schools is a Long Way from Mecca," and then go back and tell my brother Fred that he was right all along, and send Bill a note of apology.

Michael Fiorillo's response

My original comment about Bill Ayers was not intended to address whether he has anti-union sentiments. I assume he would declare he does not, and I would believe him.

But that was not really the purpose of my posting, though I perhaps could have expressed it more clearly.

The point to be made about Weatherman was less its arrogance - which was ample - but rather its self-delusion, and there continues to be much self-delusion among so-called political progressives who've signed on to various ed reform programs, only to have them hijacked by the corporate drive to control and privatize public education, with its beach head being urban school systems. From what I've read, that drive has been underway longest and has achieved its greatest influence in Chicago, with DC quickly gaining ground.

Mr. Klonsky, please point out what Mr. Ayers has done to resist these attacks against public education, teachers unions and democracy, by Messrs. Daley, Duncan and others, and I will stand corrected.

Small schools, and charters as well, have often been pushed by well-meaning people who were then overwhelmed by the tsunami of corporate and foundation money that used the force if its investments to put in place policies that are anti-student and anti-teacher. Anything short of open and active opposition to this is political log-rolling.

Call me old-fashioned, but I don't think that activism that results in the neutralization and weakening of unions - even ones as incompetent and misguided as most AFT Locals - constitutes progressive politics.

And it's self-delusion to claim otherwise.

Michael Fiorillo

More follow-ups from George
As I note (and you can print) I look forward to the day when these historical realities can be debated in public and full frontally with equal time to me and Mike (and Billy). On the basis of the realities of Chicago's public schools, the history of what they've been part of, and the alternatives that were rejected when their theories became praxis.

[Bill] Ayers and [Mike] Klonsky both were part of the union bashing "left" here in Chicago in those days. Their disciples in the "small schools" stuff exported those things elsewhere. Oakland was one example I got some information about. But I think the toxic impact of their theories is as close as Bushwick, if I'm not mistaken.

If anyone wants to set that kind of thing up I'll debate any of them -- including Deb Meier -- provided that the structure is equitable. No weighting. Just because I was a classroom teacher and the three of them were honchos (Meier most interesting, let's not forget) doesn't erase the historical realities here.

It's been a very hectic time, but wondrous.

George

MORE
I can't wait until we can all get together, in about a year, for a day-long discussion of urban schools, unions, and "reform." Be sure to write Billy and Mikey and invite them to be on a panel about their projects – especially "small schools" -- and their relationships to corporate "school reform."

Remember, by the late 1990s, the same time I was being sued for a million dollars and Mayor Daley and his appointees were trying to drive Substance out of business, Mike and Bill were collecting hundreds of thousands of dollars a year from the Chicago Board of Education directly as a "external partner" to a handful of "failing schools."

One of those was the school (Bowen High School) where I taught and was union delegate until I was suspended (February 1999) by Paul Vallas, later to be fired (August 2000) by a vote of the Chicago Board of Education for publishing the CASE (Chicago Academic Standards Examinations) tests in
Substance and consistently opposing the use of high-stakes secret multiple choice so-called "standardized" tests for "accountability."

Part of that "accountability" in Chicago was that if your school was "failing" (as measured by the test scores; nothing else mattered) you were forced to buy an "external partner" (in the case of Bowen, Small Schools Workshop; headed by Mike and Bill). Instead of joining in the critique of the use of so-called "standardized" tests for the corporate accountability attacks on public schools (and unions) in Chicago, Bill and Mike (and most of their colleagues at the University of Illinois at Chicago, as well as others at other Chicago colleges and universities) got on the gravy train, soaked up hundreds of thousands of dollars of CPS money every year, and came into the schools to tell veteran teachers how to "reform" the schools we had worked in for years, decades, and in some cases, generations.

In the case of the schools where I taught those years, the majority of the teachers were black (or other minorities) and we were under attack by university and college experts who were uniformly white and petit bourgeois and (in relation to our situations) privileged.

So...

Let's do a decade long review of urban "school reform" and invite the proponents of "Small Schools" to the debate, before audiences of union teachers, veteran teachers, in the context of a real examination of their praxis, and not the flaccid articles they can publish, without real peer review, in publications like "Educational Leadership."

But, as I said, it will take a bit of time after November 4 for us to synthesize all the things we're been learning, both from this intense political experience and from the even more important economic situation.

So, let's talk and actually bring people together. But not among university theoreticians who pontificate about what veteran teachers ought to be doing in our overcrowded classrooms. Let's bring them to us and listen to them explain what they actually did during the years, as school reformers in places like Chicago, when their alliances with guys like Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley brought their organizations more than a million dollars in public money to engage in one part of the teacher bashing that was being sold to the USA (exported from Chicago to just about every other major town) as the "reform" urban (read; mostly minority children; mostly poor children; strongly unionized staffs) public school systems.

The facts of history are clear. They just have to well up from underneath the sludge heaps of lies that "progressives" have heaped over them.


Abstracts:
*Would-be reformers need to beware of those who would co-opt the language of reform to undermine its ideals. Mr. Ayers and Mr. Klonsky examine how Chicago's Renaissance 2010 initiative has used the terms of the small schools movement to promote privatization and the erosion of public space.

**Arne Duncan, the brightest and most dedicated schools leader Chicago has had in memory, wants Chicago to be a Mecca where entrepreneurship can flourish. In this article, the authors contend that private management of Chicago schools is a long way from Mecca. There is no evidence or educational research whatsoever to show that privately run charters can produce better results. They urge a renaissance in schools based on expanding and not selling off the public space. This involves mobilizing communities and engaging and unleashing the talent and wisdom of teachers. At his best, Duncan has upheld this direction. In this contested space, this conflict over principles and fundamentals, they hope that Duncan finds a way to bring the resources and support of his business partners into play while preserving and transforming public schools and respecting the rights and the power of engagement of teachers and communities.


NOTE: Arne Duncan signed on to the Sharpton/Klein EEP project as well as the Broader, Bolder approach.

11 comments:

  1. Very interesting post on the history of Chicago school reform and Ayres's role.

    Former Weatherman and putative friend of Obama's, Bill Ayres, was more than self-deluded. Let's not pretend that he is a well-intentioned person gone astray. Actors like Ayres are witting agents of financial-imperial interests on the local level. George Schmidt described the activities of Ayres and Klonsky thus: "In the case of the schools where I taught those years, the majority of the teachers were black (or other minorities) and we were under attack by university and college experts who were uniformly white and petit bourgeois and (in relation to our situations) privileged." Yet, incredibly, Ayres has written a book (co-authored with his wife, Bernadine Dohrn and due out in 2009) which describes the United States as "white supremicist" society. In the light George Schmidt's description of Ayres's role in the Chicago school reform, it seems that Ayres' superior attitude toward racism in U.S. society is indecently hypocritical.

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  2. Support for the dictatorhsip of mayoral control that takes any say in the school system not only out of the hands of teachers, but parents, mostly of color in the urban schools while 95% of the rest of the nation (mostly white) elect school boards is more than hypocritical.

    How far off are the so-called left from Joel Klein and Al Sharpton who call the achievment gap the civil rights struggle of today but claim fully funding education is not the key but changing the "culture" of the schools is the key - code words for the teachers and often the disruptive students.

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  3. Blogger Mike Klonsky said...

    Sorry to see you've drunk George Schmidt's sectarian Kool Aid. "All reform is evil." It's all a neo-liberal plot. No contradictions. No conflicts. If you are for smaller schools you are a segregationist. What a smear on teacher unions. Feeds right into the right-wing stereotyping of unions as impediments to change and reform. In this parallel universe, the world revolves only around the demigod. If you disagree with his dogma, you're "anti-union." Deb Meier is "anti-union." Her small schools efforts were "racist, segregationist." The whole small-schools movement is racist. Chicago school reform is "corporate reform" and "anti-union" even though the CTU and its reform arm led by Debbie Lynch was right in the middle of it and key players from the start--they were also part of Chicago's original small-schools network. Elected Local School Councils, and the reform groups that fought (fight) for them, according to Schmidt, were all in on the plot. They're not even seen as contested territory. Let's just stand on the outside of the reform movement and the Obama campaign, criticizing and finger waving. Leave all control of the schools in the hands of the machine-controlled bureaucracy. Talking and writing about the Bush policies of the last 8 years (popularly referred to as "the ownership society" and its impact on public education is a "diversion?" On top of that, hey, let's join in on the guilt-by-association attacks on Obama/Ayers 8 days before the election. What's really important is what date you attacked mayoral control (I think Sol Stern was ahead of you, no?). What a pitiful, dogmatic excuse for a union opposition. I'll tell you what's a diversion. You're a diversion. Schmidt is still waiting for someone to invite him to speak or debate. Keeps begging for a speaking gig. Problem is, progressive educators in Chicago just ignore him or at best tolerate him. ("Oh, that's just George bing George.") So since you're carrying his water these days, why don't you invite him? You hold a Schmidt forum. It could be about Obama's ties to the "small-schools terrorist" Bill Ayers and his lackey running dog, Deborah Meier." Maybe someone will come.

    4:22 PM, October 27, 2008

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  4. What a nasty guy! I like the way he takes ownership of Debbie Meier, as if there's no difference between her positive initiatives and the destructive ways the corporate-minded educrats have mis-applied the small schools concept to education systems throughout the country.

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  5. Nice work Mike. Attack George but answer none of his substantial charges. A tactic worthy of the John McCain campaign.

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  6. Boy what an interpretation by Klonsky, bringing up stuff that George doesn't even talk about here.
    If I'm not mistaken, George and Sunstance were major supporters of Debbie and played a not insignificant role in her election and was even hired by her.

    It is not being for small schools that is the problem but supporting their insertion into public schools at the expense of parents, children and teachers at the schools they were forced into. It's all about implementation and here in NYC (and I assume Chicago) there have been too many horror stories of parents ignored.

    As for when I came out against mayoral control, I did so the minute I got reports from George before Bloomberg was even elected. Sol Stern supported Bloomberg's takeover and continued to support him for years.

    Where did you stand in 2001? Waiting for the gravy train coming out of mayoral control and ignoring the fact that mayoral control disenfanchises parents?

    Yes, many of us have been ed reformers since the early 1970's. Reformers informed by our years of classroom teaching.

    And many of us honor and respect Debbie Meier for her work and would never consider her anti-union. She has taken a strong stand against mayoral control and Ed Notes even printed a statement from her back in 2002 opposing the mayor's takeover. Again, where were you and Bill Ayres?

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  7. Did Klonsky really support the firing of George by the Chicago School Board and Vallas? For printing tests? No wonder there's bad blood.

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  8. It was George who raised Debbie's name. He does it again above. He's done it repeatedly in his attacks on small schools, which he usually refers to as "segregationist."

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  9. My union, the UFT, is no impediment to school reform. We have merit pay and testing all the time and stupid rules and a whimper of a grievance system. Randi Weingarten is praised by Rod Paige for being so reform minded. Right now Schmidt's "all reform is evil" is looking pretty good to me.

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  10. Well said, anonymous. All reform "is evil." Let Paige and Weingarten be the champions of reform. We're good with the status quo.

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  11. The status quo is a moving target. Today's SQ is Klein and Rhee and Vallas. Are they asking to change the status quo in Scarsdale? Wonder why not?

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