George Schmidt (along with Susan Ohanian) has been a prescient voice in opposition to the corporate and political hack attacks on public schools, teachers and ultimately, students and parents in the urban schools. He was interviewed by Bruce Dixon on WRFG Atlanta 89.3 on December 22, 2008 about Obama's choice of Arne Duncan as education secretary.
Did Barack Obama Just Appoint an Underqualified Political Hack & Privatizer to be Secretary of Education?Audio Version: http://www.blackagendareport.com/newsite/sites/all/sound/interviews/20081222bd_george_schmidt_interview.mp3
The entire transcript is also posted on norms notes.
BD: In Chicago, for the benefit of our audience, we're in Atlanta GA now, the mayor is Richard Daley. 2009 marks his 20th year in office. His father was the mayor too for almost as long, from about 1956 if I remember right to 1975, I think, eighteen or nineteen years. So out of the last fifty or so years, for forty of them the city of Chicago has been run by the Daley clique, the Daley Regime, or as we call it in Chicago, the Machine. Arne Duncan, is he a product of the Machine.
GS: Exactly, Daley as I pointed out, in 1995 was given dictatorial power over the Chicago Public School system. It was based upon the lie that the system as a whole had failed, and the repetition of that lie from the eighties on. Daley has appointed two CEOs and roughly two school boards since then. Both of the CEOs have been white non-educators who replaced African American educators. Both of the CEOs had no experience in education or in corporate America. This is an important point since it's supposedly a corporate model. They were fundamentally political puppets who would do his bidding.
BD: So it does say something that out of all the superintendents of school systems, CEOs or whatever nationwide, Barack Obama reached around and found one that not only liked the corporate model but liked the military model too.
BD: Arne Duncan is going to be the nation's number one guy on education. Surely this guy must have years and years of classroom and administrative experience,
GS: Wrong. He has none.
BD: So he's never been in a classroom?
[Ed Note: George tells Bruce that he has never seen a Duncan resume despite years of asking for one. Bruce seems astounded.]
BD: Of course the new Obama administration is pledged to openness and transparency everywhere, so I'm sure that Arne's resumes and cv's and all that will surface really soon.
GS: If that's the case, people are going to find out that he spent most of his adult life either playing basketball or working with some very wealthy financiers from his old neighborhood of Hyde Park in Chicago.
BD: Since we are talking about applying this Chicago model of public education nationwide, what has the regime of high stakes testing and closing schools that don't meet testing goals which is now national policy thanks to No Child Left Behind meant to Chicago – oh, and one other thing I'd like to see if I can get your comment on is that Hillary Clinton at one point said let's repeal No Child Left Behind while Barack was saying, well, he didn't quite say mend it but don't end it, but something like that. So what has the regime of high stakes testing done for African Americans in Chicago and public education in Chicago?
GS: Basically the vast majority of the schools that have been closed for supposed academic failure, which means low test scores, have been those schools which served a population of 100% poor black children via a staff that was almost always majority black teachers and usually a black principal. Since Arne Duncan took over in 2001, he has closed over 20 elementary schools. Most of them have been privatized into charter schools, and he's closed six high schools. In all the cases I know of, the majority of the staffs of those schools who were then kicked out of union jobs and forced on the road to try to get new jobs, were majority black teachers and principals, many of which I knew personally. The six high schools he closed, Austin HS, Calumet HS, Collins HS, Englewood HS, Orr HS, and Harper HS, were either all black, in the case of five of them, or majority black and Latino in the case of Orr. That's the active record of what Arne Duncan has done in his school closings for which Barack Obama has praised him.
GS: On the night of the Dec. 15th it [Duncan's appointment as Ed Secty] was made official. On the 17th, the Board of Education had its regular monthly meeting scheduled for downtown Chicago. Even though they apparently, expected it to be a love fest for Arne Duncan, what happened was that more than a dozen teachers and community activists from seven schools got up and exposed Duncan's public record of sabotaging public education, of privatizing schools, of union busting, and of fraudulently cooking the educational statistics books. By the middle of the meeting Duncan had walked out for an hour and these testimonies continued to go on. By the end of the meeting members of the board were heatedly arguing with the teachers, and after the meeting two of the teachers were threatened. Members of Duncan's staff called their principals demanding to know why they had been allowed to take the day off work to talk about Arne Duncan's crimes (against public education) before a school board meeting.
Not one of the TV stations was there to film or video any of this activity during the board meeting. The only photographer there besides me, because I cover every board meeting for Substance, was a woman from the Chicago Tribune and the only photograph the Tribune did was of Barbara Easton Watkins, who according to speculation here is in line to succeed Duncan here in Chicago. The TV stations boycotted the meeting completely, the story in the Tribune was a wacky one that ignored most of what happened in the meeting. The Sun-Times which is our other major daily newspaper covered the meeting slightly accurately, and NPR had a reporter there who missed 98% of what was actually going on, typical for the way Chicago Public Radio has been covering this type of story.
The place where the impact of high stakes testing has been most devastating has been in those schools which serve the poorest children with the fewest resources and in the most challenging environments. In that area, the schools have not been improved, but instead the teachers and schools have been under attack for failing at things the society has never taken responsibility for.