Monday, June 20, 2011

The Lies Arne Duncan Tells: Check Those Charter School Waiting Lists

My new tactic: whenever charter school proponents talk about their waiting lists ask them to reveal them and watch them run for the hills. Since they are using these "lists" to claim there is demand for their schools which gives them access to public money they should have to make these lists public.

Chicago-based Substance's George Schmidt has been asking for lists for a long time. He discusses the wait list fallacy in this excerpt from this article:

Orwell at the U.S. Department of Education: The lies Arne Duncan previewed while CEO of Chicago's schools are now going viral and national... Arne Duncan claims he speaks for the 'great silent majority' of American teachers... But he's lying again as usual, just as he did in Chicago for eight years



Duncan's teacher bashing policies were so clear by the middle of his time as Chicago schools CEO that he was afraid to appear in uncontrolled settings with real teachers in the school system he served as overseer. He routinely refused to answer questions at press conference that dealt with the factual realities of the Chicago school system, answering every pointed question with the phrase, "I'll get back to you on that..."
I know, because I was usually the only reporter who asked those kinds of questions. By the mid-2000s, the corporate party line in Chicago's mass media had become so tightly controlled that Duncan's utterances, no matter how ridiculous, were treated as "news", while the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times and electronic media simply refused to look at anything behind the lies Duncan was repeating. 

Many of those lies became the talking points of the U.S. Department of Education after Barack Obama appointed Duncan (and his current group of "Chicago Boys") to revolutionize the public schools of the entire nation the same way he had been allowed to revolutionize the public schools of the nation's third largest city. 

Let me share two examples of the Orwellian nonsense Duncan would routinely spout during press conferences. 

As Chicago radically expanded charter schools during the Duncan years, Duncan regularly hosted what amounted to charter school pep rallies, usually co-sponsored by corporate groups that were both anti-union and anti-public schools. At one of those meetings (announcing "Requests for Proposals" for further Chicago charter schools), Duncan floated the claim that the "proof" that charter schools were successful was that charter schools in Chicago (according to Duncan) had "waiting lists."

Whether or not these words are small or bigger lies, they had two pieces which Duncan regularly refused to answer questions about: 

First, which charter schools have "waiting lists" and how long are those waiting lists?

Second, because Chicago has a dual school system consisting of a small number of elite elementary and high schools and a vast number of regular public schools, the only comparison that would have been valid would be to compare the fictional "waiting lists" Duncan claimed for the charter schools with the real "waiting lists" for Chicago's selective enrollment schools. 

But, as noted, Duncan's answer was "I'll get back to you on that..." Which, of course, he never did.

Over the years, as Duncan kept repeating his mantra about the supposed "waiting lists" for Chicago charter schools, I repeatedly requested the lists to verify what Duncan was claiming. By the end of Duncan's time in Chicago (2008), it was clear that several of Chicago's charter schools and "campuses" were actually suffering enrollment declines and that they had no "waiting list" except in the carefully scripted fictions of Duncan and his media handlers. Because the corporate media refused to follow up with factual questions, however, Duncan could simply repeat his talking points, over and over and over, and those talking points would be repeated as fact in Chicago's corporate media.

The "waiting list" was one of the most notorious. 

The other thing I asked for was the "waiting list" for Chicago's most famous selective enrollment public high schools. Again, there was not answer. As everyone familiar with Chicago knows, before elementary school and then at seventh grade, parents scramble to get their kids into the small number of selective elementary and high schools. The most famous of the high schools today are Whitney Young Magnet High School (for decades one of the best public schools in Illinois), Walter Payton magnet high school, and Northside College Prep high school (there are others, but none who have such a large number of applicants). In fact, by the time Duncan was pushing privatization the most, had Whitney Young been allowed to maintain a "waiting list", based on the number of applications Whitney Young would have had a "waiting list" as long as any "waiting list" that could have included all of the city's charter schools.

But Duncan also refused to answer that question, instead returning to the "I'll get back to you on that."

The reason? Duncan's talking points were basically vapid corporate propaganda. And he knows it.

Another example, now national policy, is that claim that certain schools get "100 percent of their graduates into college..." 

Chicago began pioneering that BIG Lie under Duncan, with the help of the Chicago Tribune. Chicago's corporate leaders needed a charter school that could float a plausible lie that racists would believe, and for that purpose Chicago's Urban Prep provided the answers. Under Tim King, a relentless promoter, Urban Prep is regularly featured in the Chicago Tribune and elsewhere as an example of some kind of miracle because, according to Urban Prep (and Arne Duncan, and Urban Prep's corporate supporters) "all" of Urban Prep's graduates get into college. That version of reality began in Chicago even before Urban Prep had any graduates, and it's still too soon to claim anything about its meaning, because none of the graduates of Urban Prep (which continues to expand with the support of those who run Chicago) has been in college for four years. 

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But the lies or Urban Prep actually began even before Urban Prep had any students, and they were simply repeated by Arne Duncan's and Urban Prep's corporate cheerleaders.

Like the "waiting list," the claims about college required some factual checking.

First, Urban Prep, like all Chicago charter schools, dumps its less successful students before they reach their final year. Only this year has a systematic study of that vicious attack on the students begun, thanks to a coalition of community groups, a couple of reporters, and a group of teachers who are keeping close track of the machinations of Chicago's charter schools.

It's easy to get "all" of your 12th graders into college if you eliminate the most risky of those before they reach 12th grade, which is what Arne Duncan allowed Chicago's charter high schools to do for years.

But there is another trick to the claim.

In America today, anyone who graduates from high school can get into a four-year college somewhere.

The only thing a school has to do is make it a prerequisite to graduation that the student apply to and get into a four-year college.

It's that simple. Whether the college is some fly-by-night for-profit or one of the Ivy Leagues (which corporate Chicago pushes for certain of the charter school students, and has been for years, to the detriment of the city's regular public school students, no matter how talented), if all students are required in 12th grade to get into a four-year college (event those who are going to really attend trade school or go into the military), another privatization "miracle" is easy to claim.

From that point on, the Chicago Tribune continues, year after year, to report the story as if it were (a) news and (b) some kind of miracle (because in a racist world, a bunch of African American teenagers getting into college is supposed to be miraculous).

There are dozens of other examples of the mendacity that Arne Duncan rehearsed during his years in Chicago, which are all now national policy and national talking points. But this is as good a start as will be needed as more and more people begin challenging every simplistic attack on teachers and every privatization talking point that comes from the Obama administration through the lips of the current U.S. Secretary of Education.

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Check out Norms Notes for a variety of articles of interest: http://normsnotes2.blogspot.com/. And make sure to check out the side panel on right for news bits.

2 comments:

  1. Norm,

    Can you start a column "Lies my DR told me?"

    ReplyDelete
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