Obama Ordering States to Close 5,000 'Failing' Schools!... Chicago Lies Go National

by George Schmidt

The corporate narrative that public schools in minority neighborhoods are "failing" and must be replaced by unaccountable but often highly profitable "charter schools" is an inheritance from the Bush era that the Obama administration intends to continue and intensify.  Despite any proof of improved educational outcomes, and contrary to the democratic wishes of the American people the push to discredit and privatize public education appears to be a hallmark of the Obama era.

Obama Ordering States to Close 5,000 'Failing' Schools!... Chicago Lies Go National

by George Schmidt

This article was originally published in the print edition of Substance, May 2009.

Using language that most of the United States has not yet heard, but which will become familiar to democratically elected school boards from rural Maine to the Mexican border south of San Diego and El Paso, President Barack Obama's Secretary of Education, former Chicago schools Chief Executive Officer Arne Duncan, launched a national campaign in May 2009 to privatize between five and ten percent of the remaining public schools in the USA.

Under the headline "Obama Wants to See 5,000 Failing Schools Close," Associated Press reporter Libby Quaid released a three-paragraph story on May 11 that rocked the nation.

"Barack Obama wants to see 5,000 failing schools close and reopen with new principals and teachers over the next five years," the AP reported.

"Education Secretary Arne Duncan says kids have only one shot at a good education. He told The Associated Press on Monday that chronically underperforming schools need a new start," the story went on.

STOP: As Chicagoans know, and the rest of the USA is about to learn, when a Chicago politicians talks about "underperforming" schools, he is slipping into that weasel wording that Chicago came to know from Arne Duncan. Just as he did in Chicago, Duncan talked about "underperforming" schools — not "failing" ones. Why? Because Duncan wanted to obfuscate, not illuminate, the complex issues arising from the use of biased so-called "standardized" tests to rank and sort schools and children. By using terms out of the corporate world — "underperforming" stocks, for example, should probably be dumped from your "portfoliio" — Duncan evades reality, rather than illuminates it. And that's how Chicago's corporate school reform wants it. "The administration wants to spend $5 billion to facilitate school turnarounds," the AP article went on. "[This] could translate to $1 billion for every school that is closed and reopened. Much of the money is already approved: The federal school turnaround program gets about $500 million a year, and the stimulus legislation boosted funding to $3.5 billion."

Among other things, Arne Duncan refuses to say how any district will know how to proclaim "underperformance." Just as it proved impossible in Chicago, so it will be across the USA.

But behind the rhetorical smokescreen typical of corporate Chicago's school reform jargon, Duncan is wielding the biggest stick in the history of American public education: the second wave of federal "stimulus" money. The Obama administration intends to force the entire country to begin the massive privatization of public education or face the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars in federal money.

Of course, the feds won't be forcing any policy on anyone: "The various school districts themselves would have to actually order schools closed," the AP article concluded. �

George Schmidt is a longtime Chicago organizer and activist on education issues who taught in that city's public schools for 26 years. As a former candidate for presidency of Chicago's 28,000 member teacher union he received 40% of the vote. He is a founder of Substance News, an invaluable resource for parents and educators.