Sunday, February 10, 2008

More on Obama and Education in Chicago

Finally, we are getting some hard core information on Obama and the Chicago school issue from someone involved in the front lines and this looks like somewhat of a plus for Obama. (See my comment below after Julie Woestehoff's points.)

Leonie Haimson has gone to a source and sent the following to her listserve:

As you know, I have always been reluctant on this list and elsewhere to get involved in partisan politics; for one thing, my organization's non-profit status depends on not endorsing any candidates for elective office.

But I think because of the previous discussion of Obama on this list and assorted claims that he supported or was somehow involved in some of the worst aspects of the so-called education reform agenda in Chicago, its important to set the record straight.

I turned to my friend Julie Woestehoff, the president of Parent United for Responsible Education, who has worked in Chicago in support of parent rights and parent involvement in the public schools for many years. Julie is a fantastic advocate, and she co-authored our letter to the parents of LA which we wrote in June 2006, when they were considering Mayoral control in that city. (For a copy of this letter, which received a lot of media attention at the time, see

Just a little background – LSC’s or Local School Councils are like our School Leadership Teams – teams made up of parents and staff that are supposed to make important decisions at the school level and that the administration in Chicago has been trying to weaken over many years (sound familiar?)

I urge you to read Julie’s unedited observations about Barack Obama below.

Leonie Haimson
Executive Director
Class Size Matters

Hi Leonie-
Glad to offer my 2 cents, and I don't mind your sharing any of it.

First of all, Sen. Obama is my neighbor (we vote in the same polling place), and he has also been my state senator and currently my US Senator. I've always voted for him and we have a nodding acquaintance. He is just as charming, funny, straightforward, and thoughtful in person as he seems. Our community is absolutely thrilled with his candidacy -- but it's the senior African-Americans who seem happiest ("Never thought in my lifetime..."). In addition, my husband is a minister in the United Church of Christ and has enormous respect for Obama's church and its pastor, both of which are major influences on him. So I'm not unbiased. But I do have some history to relate.

As a state senator, Obama supported our elected, parent-majority local school councils during a time when we were under attack by Paul Vallas, the schools CEO at the time. Vallas wanted to be able to veto LSC principal selection decisions in cases where the LSC decided not to rehire a principal when his/her contract was up. PURE proposed a compromise, to bring in independent arbitration. There's an entry on my blog that quotes Obama in support of that process, which was made law and has worked well for almost 10 years now:

We wanted him to take up the LSC cause more vigorously than he did, and he disappointed us from time to time, but never on anything major. As a sidelight, I encountered Michelle Obama when she was a member of the Chicago Board of Education's Accountability Council, a now defunct group whose responsibility at the time was to review schools for potential interventions. She and a couple of other women on the council were the only ones who stood up against CPS's efforts to get them to rubber stamp any intervention that Vallas proposed. Again, she didn't get out and rock the boat, but she was strong and intelligent.

As our US Senator, Obama made the effort to get onto the Senate Education Committee and his office has been very responsive to our communications about NCLB and related matters. I've had some extensive discussion with his education aide. Where we agree most is on the importance of parent involvement. If elected, I believe that Obama will direct the USDE to take significant steps to promote and strengthen the role of parents. Obama also gets the problems with testing and has begun highlighting that in his speeches and campaign themes.

It's not true that Obama supports Renaissance 2010. He has been publicly supportive of charter schools, but his support developed prior to the wholesale appropriation of charter and other new school strategies that undergird the disaster Mayor Daley calls Renaissance 2010. Even the heretofore positive notion of small schools is tainted, at least in Chicago, by their being used to justify massive school closing and privatization. This is all fairly new stuff and even we have to work hard to keep up with the various mutations. I believe that Obama is aware of what's really going on and that he gets the issues.

Finally, the fact that Obama was recently excoriated for having Linda Darling-Hammond as one of his education advisors speaks pretty well for him. If you haven't read Mike Klonsky's blog on this topic, here's an example:

I hope this helps!!
Norm's follow-up:

On this point:
Even the heretofore positive notion of small schools is tainted, at least in heretof, by their being used to justify massive school closing and privatization. This is all fairly new stuff and even we have to work hard to keep up with the various mutations. I believe that Obama is aware of what's really going on and that he gets the issues.

It seems I've veen hearing about some of this for years, way before this occurred in NYC. Schmidt's Substance has been running stuff on this for many years. Debbie Lynch ran and won in the Chicago Teachers Union election back in 2001 I believe partly on the school closing issue. I ran articles in Ed Notes around 2001/2 addressing this issue in Chicago and that was one of the lessons we tried to bring to the UFT when the small schools business started in NYC. So I would love to hear more than a belief he is "aware" and "gets" the issue. Silence is still complicity and if we are electing a president I would sure like to know where he/she stands on the kind of educational malpractice we've seen in Chicago and NYC and other places.

Comment on out previous post from anon:
So let me get this straight. You want Klonsky to join George Schmidt in attacking Obama in the middle of campaign against Clinton and McCain? And on what issue? Mayor Daley's school reform plan. Have I got that right?
Response: Al
I want to put up as much information unfiltered on where Obama has stood on the Chicago school - I won't honor it by calling it a reform plan. I would like to see Schmidt and Klonsky and others give us some hard info on where Obama has stood if anywhere at all over the past 13 years. Klonsky was correct to crit. Russo but provides nothing much more than that. By the way, I don't consider Schmidt's criticism more of an attack on Obama than on Clinton.

Read more on Chicago school un-reform at Under Assault in this post.


  1. If it's not "more of an attack on Obama than on Clinton," where's your (and Schmidt's) equally tough stand on Clinton's position towards Mayor Daley's school policies? After all, your union has endorsed Clinton--not Obama.

  2. Maybe you are a new reader to this blog but I can assure you we have been tougher on Clinton. Schmidt's comments were quite favorable to Obama in a personal sense and I'm sure if you do any reading of Substance it would castigate the Clintons. This blog constantly talks about how the Clinton Team included Joel Klein (and we should also add Rotherham). The Clintons laid the groundwork for NCLB. And the UFT support for her despite history and without allowing discussion is undemocratic to say the least. What she says is her policy on education is irrelevant because of that history. Since people trust Obama more than Clinton we think taking a look at his positions might bear some fruit. My question to you if you are from Chicago, is where exactly has Obama stood on many of the Chicago "reforms?" Does he believe it is a good thing to close down these schools and create a privatization of the system? I noticed a few statements that might indicate that. I see nothing from Hillary.

  3. Hello All,

    I didn't have the time to look at Hillary's positions, but glancing at Obama's I saw that he supports Charters and corporate funding of the public schools.

    This corresponds to much of what George Schmidt said about his position vis-a-vis Renaissance 2010 in Chicago, and by implication Children First here in NYC, where charters, small schools and privatized corporate and foundation funding are creating policies that would be far less likely to be enacted through open democratic debate. This is very insidious, dangerous stuff, and people should not have any illusions about what it means for teachers and students.

    I voted for the guy in the NY primary, but his educational positions suggest that he may not be the transformative figure that people are hoping for. No matter who is elected, only an educated and aroused citizenry can force these characters to do what's right.


    Michael Fioriollo


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