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For citizens and friends of the USA: an important article in Education Week

16 Oct

I had an email alert from Education Week just now and it is important enough to pass on. Read Backers Say Chicago Project Not ‘Radical’.

The Chicago Annenberg Challenge, chaired from 1995 to 1999 by Barack Obama, is being portrayed by John McCain’s campaign as an attempt to push radicalism on schools.

The project undertaken in Chicago as part of a high-profile national initiative reflected, however, mainstream thinking among education reformers. The Annenberg Foundation’s $49.2 million grant in the city focused on three priorities: encouraging collaboration among teachers and better professional development; reducing the isolation between schools and between schools and their communities; and reducing school size to improve learning.

The other eight urban projects that received money from the foundation under the Annenberg Challenge initiative, launched in 1993 by the philanthropist Walter H. Annenberg, pursued similar aims…

Last week, the campaign of Sen. McCain, the Republican nominee, posted a Web ad asserting that “Ayers and Obama ran a radical education foundation together” that distributed more than $100 million to “ideological allies.”

Mr. Ayers and Ms. Hallett, who was then the executive director of the Cross City Campaign for Urban School Reform, led a citywide group called the Chicago School Reform Collaborative that met frequently throughout 1994 to write a proposal to secure Annenberg funding.

“They are taking what was a very positive civic undertaking to improve public schools and characterizing it as something it was not at all,” Ms. Hallett said of the bloggers, commentators, and TV and radio hosts who for months have been discussing Sen. Obama’s association with Mr. Ayers. (“Ayers Controversy First Smoldered, Now Flares Bright,” Oct. 15, 2008.)

Critics have focused not just on Mr. Ayers’ involvement in violent opposition to the Vietnam War, but also on what they see as his espousal of a radical “social justice” approach to education…

The context for the Chicago proposal to the Annenberg Foundation was the 1988 decentralization of the city’s public schools by the Republican-controlled Illinois legislature, a response to frustration over years of teachers’ strikes, low achievement, and bureaucratic failure. Among other changes, the law set up “local school councils” at all district schools and gave the panels, which included community representatives, the power to hire principals…

 

The proposal was backed by letters of support to the Annenberg Foundation from Illinois Gov. Jim Edgar, a Republican, local education school deans, the superintendent of the Chicago public schools, and the heads of local foundations…

Critics of Sen. Obama assert that Mr. Ayers must have played a role in his selection as the chairman of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge. Stanley Kurtz, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Ethics and Public Policy Center, wrote in a Sept. 23 opinion essay in The Wall Street Journal that it was an “unsettled question” how “a former community organizer fresh out of law school could vault to the top of a new foundation.”

Those involved in selecting Mr. Obama, however, say it was precisely that background that attracted them to him.

Mr. Obama, then 33, was an associate at the law firm Davis, Miner, Barnhill, and Galland and a member of the board of the Chicago-based Joyce Foundation. He also served, as Mr. Ayers later did with him, on the board of the Woods Fund of Chicago, which had financed the Developing Communities Project, a South Side community-organizing project that Mr. Obama ran from 1985 to 1988 before leaving to attend Harvard Law School.

‘Grassroots Level’

Mr. Obama brought that organizing perspective with him to the new education project, telling the Chicago Tribune in a June 1995 article about the Chicago Annenberg Challenge: “If we’re really going to change things in this city, it’s going to start at the grassroots level and with our children.”…

The trio of foundation presidents met for breakfast to begin their work. Ms. Leff, who is now president of the Washington-based Public Welfare Foundation, said in an interview that she suggested the young lawyer to the group.

Ann C. Weller, a special-collections librarian at the University of Illinois at Chicago, transports three boxes of documents that are part of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge files. The university library made them available for inspection in August after questions were raised about Barack Obama’s involvement with the project and one of its founders, William C. Ayers.

Ms. Simmons said she also knew Mr. Obama at that time, but Ms. Graham did not. She had, however, heard of him while both were at Harvard University, Mr. Obama as the president of the Harvard Law Review and she as dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

“I knew of his deep commitment to improving urban education,” Ms. Leff said. “I also knew in watching him on the board at Joyce that he was extremely intelligent, able to deal efficiently with a variety of points of view.”…

Mr. Obama’s role as chairman of the board included working with lawyers to set up the group as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and appealing to donors for matching funds.

Mr. Obama was active, challenging the staff and pushing the researchers on the project to do more, said Ken Rolling, who was the executive director of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge and a former associate director of the Woods Fund.

“Barack was all the best people already see in him,” Mr. Rolling said. “He’s very smart, a quick study, and somebody who listens to a range of opinions and takes in data, information, and viewpoints, and helps work toward a decision that is often much more broad than the initial recommendation.”…

“You can’t work in school reform in this community without coming across Bill Ayers. He’s been involved in every area of Chicago reform going back 20 years now,” said Michael Klonsky, who has known Mr. Ayers since their days in the leftist group Students for a Democratic Society in the 1960s. Mr. Klonsky later founded the Small Schools Workshop at the University of Illinois at Chicago with him.

In a Sept. 23 statement, the Obama campaign said: “The Annenberg Challenge records only serve to establish clearly that while Barack Obama and Ayers had occasional contact during Obama’s six years of service on the bipartisan board, they did not work closely together to exchange and develop policy ideas. In fact, as these same records show, Ayers attended a total six meetings of the board during the six years of Obama’s board service.”…

Those extracts give the main points, but I recommend you visit the whole article and its discussion thread.

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Posted by on October 16, 2008 in America, culture wars, current affairs, education, Teachers Who Change Lives, teaching, USA

 

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