Chicago School Closings And The Joyce Foundation: The Obama Connection

An investigation into the major players behind Mayor Emanuel's push to privatize public education reveals the president's ties to the issue.
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    The Windy City is is undergoing a tumultuous historical moment, with the uprising of the Chicago Teachers Union occurring alongside the ongoing restructuring and privatization of the Chicago Public Schools system.

    Most recently, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel oversaw the closing of 50 public schools, many of which will be replaced by charter schools. A bulk of the 550 laid-off teachers will be replaced by Teach for America contractors, many of whom teach in charter schools.

    “Statewide enrollment in charter schools has surged from 6,152 students in 2000 to 54,054 this school year — with most of them in Chicago — according to the Illinois State Board of Education,” an April Chicago Tribune editorial explained. “The first charter school in Illinois opened in 1996. Now there are 132 campuses operating under 58 charters.”

    A thus-far underreported story of the retooling of CPS concerns a foundation close the epicenter of it all: the Joyce Foundation.

    Joyce is a major liberal foundation. President Barack Obama sat on its board of directors from 1994 to 2002, as did Valerie Jarrett, his former senior advisor and assistant to the president for intergovernmental affairs and public engagement .

    A look at major organizations dedicated to restructuring U.S. education turns up a slew of current and former upper-level Joyce staff and board members.

    Between 1995 and 2012, the Joyce Foundation spent $135.58 million on education reform.

    “They’re really in bed now with conservative elements nationwide,” said Mike Klonsky, a Chicago public schools activist and professor at DePaul University, in an interview with Mint Press News. “Anything that has to do with corporate-style school reform, you’ll probably see Joyce’s name in it.”

    A Mint Press News investigation reveals the veracity of Klonsky’s statement — and then some.

    In the sphere of school privatization, Joyce mirrors Milwaukee’s Bradley Foundation, a key foundation of the Republican Party referred to by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel as the “Bradley Empire” in a November 2011 investigation.

    In his book, “The Gift of Education: Public Education and Venture Philanthropy,” Kenneth Saltman, Klonsky’s colleague at DePaul, describes the activity of Joyce and allied foundations in the sphere of education reform as “venture philanthropy” — transforming a once-public education system into a for-profit market.

    “Such a view carries significant implications for a society theoretically dedicated to public, democratic ideals,” Saltman explains in the book’s introduction. “This is no small matter in terms of how the public and civil roles of public schooling have become nearly overtaken by the … perspective [of] public schooling as principally a matter of producing workers and consumers for the economy and for global economic competition.”

    With assets of over $900 million, Joyce has helped in applying “shock doctrine”-type “venture philanthropy” to CPS, with tight-knit ties to the highest levels of the Democratic Party and the Obama administration.


    Nuts and bolts: Mayoral takeover as launching pad for reform

    Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel — derided as “Mayor 1 Percent” by some activists and “One-Term Mayor” by others — formerly served as White House chief of staff under Obama.

    Obama’s secretary of education, Arne Duncan, is the former CEO of CPS. Duncan’s federal policy agenda — notably the Race to the Top program — is Emanuel’s agenda in Chicago.

    To understand the origins of that agenda, rewind to 1995, when Chicago joined numerous major U.S. cities in granting full control of the public school system to the mayor. Other members of that club included Boston, Cleveland, Washington, D.C., New York City and Los Angeles.

    Photo of a September 2012 protest against school closings and budget cuts in Chicago, Ill. (Photo/Shutter Stutter via Flickr)

    Photo of a September 2012 protest against school closings and budget cuts in Chicago, Ill. (Photo/Shutter Stutter via Flickr)

    ”I think the reason for the crisis in American education is that no one was accountable,” Duncan, then CEO of CPS, said in a 2002 article published in The New York Times. ”Mayors could throw rocks and criticize, but they couldn’t really do anything about it. If you have a mayor who says he’s in charge of the schools, he’s the one on the line, and he has to get results or he’ll be voted out.”

    Mayoral control, though described by Duncan in terms of “accountability” because of the ability to quantify things like standardized test scores, is key for advocates of reconfiguring K-12 education systems.

    “This is when the role of power philanthropy really began to play its role,” said Klonsky. “They were very much worried about this democratic movement. It was too broad, too difficult to control and there were too many radicals involved in it. Thus, they were afraid of how it would play out politically.”

    Put most concisely, the mayoral takeover in Chicago served as a launching pad for the modern school reform movement in the Windy City.


    The Chicago Public Education Fund and its Obama-run precursor

    Not long after the mayoral takeover took place, the Chicago Public Education Fund was created. The fund is a public-private enterprise bankrolled in part by Joyce. Its precursor was the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, which launched in 1995 and morphed into its current form in 1999 via $2 million in seed money.

    Obama, well before his rise to national fame, served as the chair of the board of directors of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge. He also sat on the board of the Joyce Foundation.

    “[A] group of corporate and civic leaders in the Chicago area believed they could help their home city do a better job educating its students, so they put their minds, financial assets, and talents together, and the result was The Chicago Public Education Fund,” the right-wing organization Philanthropy Roundtable wrote. “The Fund’s strategy is to serve as a catalyst and investment partner … to invest dollars and ideas into high-impact programs that will improve student achievement and school leadership system-wide.”

    An ode to “venture philanthropy,” Joyce invests somewhere between $1 million and $2 million of its assets in the Chicago Public Education Fund, according to its website. Joyce was the key funding stream behind the fund’s launch.

    “Joyce… was one of the first foundations to commit significant dollars to The Fund,” Janet Knupp, former CEO of CPEF said in an interview with Philanthropy Roundtable. “They played a critical role in helping us forge relationships with larger foundations across the nation. They saw the value of our work on a local level but had enough of a national reach to start connecting us.”

    The fund’s connections to power centers are illustrative:

    — CEO Heather Anichini once worked in the CPS Office of Planning and Development under Duncan, leveraging that gig to become vice president of Teach for America.

    Jesse Rothstein, former chief economist at Obama’s Labor Department, sits on the fund’s External Advisory Council.

    — Alice Phillips, who lobbied on the fund’s behalf in 2006 and 2007, formerly worked alongside Loretta Durbin — wife of U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) — as a lobbyist for Government Affairs Specialists Inc.

    — Penny Pritzker, once a member of Obama’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness and now his secretary of commerce, served on the fund’s board of directors and the Chicago Board of Education.

    Elizabeth Swanson, now the deputy chief of staff for education to Emanuel, formerly served as executive director of the Pritzker Traubert Family Foundation, which is overseen by Pritzker’s family. Earlier, Swanson led the CPS Office of Management and Budget under Duncan.


    Arne Duncan: ‘Tapping into’ CPS restructuring with teacher incentive fund

    As CEO of CPS, Duncan “tapped into” President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind policy. He subsequently rebranded it as “Race to the Top” when he took over the U.S. Department of Education.

    “Pushing competitive market approaches and armed with unprecedented funding and support from the president, he is possibly the most powerful education secretary ever,” The Christian Science Monitor wrote in an August 2010 article.

    A cornerstone of Duncan’s agenda as CPS head was the Recognizing Excellence in Academic Leadership/Teacher Advancement Program, funded by a five-year, $27.5 million U.S. Department of Education grant.

    The program fit under the umbrella of Bush’s No Child Left Behind: standardized testing, “teacher accountability,” charter school promotion and the creation of an online charter school market. Its origins center around right-wing financier Lowell Milken’s System for Teacher and Student Advancement program, now overseen by his National Institute for Excellence in Teaching, founded in 2005.

    The Teacher Advancement Program, or TAP, “was launched in 1999 as a comprehensive school reform that restructures and revitalizes the teaching profession by providing teachers with powerful opportunities for career advancement, ongoing professional development, a fair evaluation system and performance-based compensation,” the program’s website explains.

    The now-extinct Chicago Teacher Advancement Program website explicitly states that the program is modeled after Milken’s program. Furthermore, Milken’s website lists the Joyce Foundation as a financial supporter of its national TAP system. The Chicago Teachers Union, then run under different leadership, signed the original contract to take part in TAP.

    “When teachers are given powerful opportunities for career advancement, ongoing professional growth and recognition for outstanding achievement, we see increased student achievement in TAP schools,” Lowell Milken said in a December 2008 press release. “Chicago TAP schools are off to a strong start in continuing efforts to achieve these goals.”

    Milken, unmentioned in most accounts, has a vested financial interest in school reform efforts and “fixing failing schools.”

    That’s because Milken is a major investor in K12 Inc., a corporation traded on Wall Street that sells online schooling and curriculum to state and local governments. Milken invested $10 million in K12 Inc. in 2000, a stake that is now worth over $125 million, according to a July 2008 article in Forbes.

    “If it were a school district, K12 Inc. would rank among the 30 largest of the nation’s 1,500 districts. The company, which began in two states a decade ago, now teaches about 95,000 students in virtual schools in 29 states and the District of Columbia,” The Washington Post reported in a November 2011 investigation.

    Duncan now oversees the federal Teacher Incentive Fund, which “supports efforts to develop and implement performance-based teacher and principal compensation systems in high-need schools,” according to its website. It’s the funding arm for Race to the Top and served the same function for “No Child Left Behind.”

    Yet another player is Deane Mariotti. According to her biographical sketch, she “led [the] joint effort with the Chicago Public Schools to secure the … Teacher Incentive Fund” while working as manager of program investments for the Chicago Public Education Fund in 2007.

    In fall 2010, CPS received another five-year Teacher Incentive Fund grant, this time worth even more: $34.1 million. It did so, once again, with the helping hand of the Chicago Public Education Fund.

    In a clear depiction of aligned interests, the Michigan-based Mackinac Center for Public Policy — funded by the right-wing Devos Foundation and Koch Family Foundations and a key proponent of “emergency financial managers” of cities in fiscal trouble, such as Detroit and Benton Harbor — praised Chicago’s TAP system and “merit pay” for teachers in a September 2008 policy briefing.

    The prominent liberal group Center for American Progress — run by John Podesta, who served as co-chair of Obama’s transition team after he won the 2008 presidential race — also praised “merit pay” in a May 2009 report funded by Joyce. One of the co-authors of that report, Raegan Miller, is now the vice president of research partnerships for Teach for America.


    Revolving doors, interlocking directorates: Joyce’s K-12 restructuring machine

    The government-industry revolving door and what sociologist G. William Domhoff coined as the “interlocking directorate” are the name of the game with Joyce. Joyce’s ties go straight to the commanding heights of power of CPS and national K-12 school restructuring.

    The executive director of Joyce, Ellen Alberding, serves as a case in point of how intricately the web is wound.

    Alberding was personally invited to an Obama-led event convened in June 2009 to “highlight innovative non-profits programs that are making a difference in communities across the country.” She also sits on the advisory board of Obama’s Skills for America’s Future initiative, which was launched in June 2011. Prior to being named secretary of commerce, Pritzker also served on the advisory board.

    Alberding also sits on the board of directors of Advance Illinois, a powerhouse pro-charter school and school restructuring think tank.

    Alongside Alberding on Advance Illinois’ board sits Obama’s former chief of staff, Bill Daley, who has tossed his hat in the ring to run for governor of Illinois in 2014. Dennis Hastert, former speaker of the U.S. House, also sits on Advance Illinois’ board, as does Timothy Knowles, who simultaneously serves on the board of the Chicago Public Education Fund.

    Advance Illinois took $1.37 million from Joyce from 2010-2012, according to Joyce’s annual reports. Its policy director, Benjamin Boer, worked as an interim project manager for Obama for America during the 2008 election cycle.

    The group’s lobbyists work for Taylor Uhe LLC, which is co-owned by Mark Taylor and Rob Uhe. Taylor formerly served as legal counsel for the Democratic Party of Illinois, while Uhe formerly served as chief counsel to Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan.

    John Luczak, former Joyce Education Program Director, left his gig to became a co-owner at Education First. One of the clients Education First highlights as a success story is Advance Illinois.

    “Over the course of nearly a year, Education First, together with … the Joyce Foundation … researched effective practices and staffed a steering committee and launch team of prominent Illinois leaders,” the Education First website says. “Education First also prepared the organization’s first major report, a case-making analysis of why Illinois education performance must improve dramatically if Illinois and its residents are to prosper.”

    That report, titled “The State We’re In: Advancing Public Education in Illinois,” served as Advance Illinois’ launching pad on Nov. 18, 2008, just two weeks after Obama was elected president. The report and the public relations pageantry surrounding it followed the “tobacco playbook” — the tactic of using of industry-funded research to promote industry objectives.

    That’s because the Hill & Knowlton, the multinational firm that did PR on behalf of Big Tobacco during that industry’s zenith, also did the groundbreaking PR for Advance Illinois, a press release announcing its entrance into the public square demonstrates. Hill & Knowlton also did graphic design work for that initial report.

    Luczak’s successor at Joyce’s education program was Angela Rudolph, now policy director for Democrats for Education Reform’s Illinois branch and vice chair of the Illinois State Charter School Commission.

    Rudolph, wearing her Democrats for Education Reform hat, aided in spearheading a media blitz called “Put Students First” in fall 2012 to fend off the nascent Chicago Teachers Union strike.

    Despite a campaign clearly meant to discredit teachers and unions, Rudolph told Catalyst Chicago in a June 2012 article, “What we have been most troubled by is this notion that we are anti-teacher or anti-union. We are a Democratic organization and one of the cornerstones of the Democratic Party is unions.”

    The “man behind the curtain” in that PR campaign was Ben Schaffer, the owner of Media Mezcla and media consultant for Howard Dean’s 2004 run for president, according to a web domain search for the “Put Students First” website.

    Rudolph’s successor, now head of Joyce’s education program, was Butch Trusty, who before coming to Joyce in May 2012 worked at The Bridgespan Group, a Bain Capital offshoot. Obama’s 2012 Republican Party opponent in the presidential race was Mitt Romney, a former upper-level executive at Bain.

    Though most famous for its Romney ties, Bain actually gave far more money to Democratic Party candidates for elected office before the 2012 election than it did Republicans.


    Teach for America’s ‘scabs’ and principal (CEO) development

    Just over a month after the 50 CPS school closings and firing of 550 teachers, the Chicago Board of Education announced an increase from $600,000 to $1.58 million in spending to hire 570 Teach for America teachers. Klonsky told Mint Press News that Teach for America contractors serve as de facto strike-breaking “scabs”  — usually unknowingly.

    “They’re providing the non-union teachers for the charter schools and they’re almost like a scab organization,” he said. “What you do is you close public schools and fire hundreds of teachers like we’re doing here, then you open neighborhood charter schools and bring in Teach for America 5-week wonders who work cheap and last for about two or three years. Then they’re gone and another batch comes in.”

    The Joyce Foundation gave $23.77 million to Teach for America in its first 20 years in existence, according to The Washington Post. It is one of 10 foundations whose funding accounted for over half of Teach for America’s budget during that time period. Joyce gave Teach for America another $400,000 grant in 2012.

    The Chicago Public Education Fund also has lended a modest amount of money to Teach for America. Between 2000 and 2005, the fund gave just under $400,000 to the organization, tax filings reveal.

    Since 2001, the Chicago Board of Education has doled out close to $6.6 million in contracts and hired 1,931 teachers from Teach for America, Board of Education contract records show. During that same period, thousands of CPS teachers got pink slips.

    The rubber meets the road in the relationship between the Chicago school restructuring movement’s goal of creating CEO-type school principals and Teach for America’s Principal Leadership Pipeline, which was launched in September 2007. The Principal Leadership Pipeline was a collaboration between CPS and Teach for America, financed by the Chicago Public Education Fund and the Pritzker Family Foundation.

    “CPS will recruit high-performing Teach For America alumni to attend a school leadership program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and then enter into a one-year residency under the tutelage of a principal at a Chicago elementary or high school,” a press release announcing the program’s launch explains. “After the residency, the new principals will then take the helm of some of Chicago’s most challenged schools…Over the next five years, Teach For America could have as many as 50 school leaders in the pipeline, a group that would reach some 15,000 Chicago children a year.”

    The program arose out of the Public Education Fund’s “Great Principals Blue Ribbon Task Force,” formed in 2005. Its members included Pritzker and Duncan.

    “A consensus has developed over the last few years that a principal is the most important person in the school building,” Pritzker said. “Just like a [CEO], the principal sets the tone, creates the culture, manages the team and ties it all together by articulating a shared vision for what the organization ought to be. So if we get the principal right, other things can fall into place.”


    Battle for the ‘right to the city’

    Pauline Lipman, an education policy studies professor at University of Illinois-Chicago and author of the book “The New Political Economy of Urban Education,” says that what’s taking place in Chicago — the heart and soul of the Democratic Party — is fundamentally a battle over the “right to the city.”

    The concept, she explains in her book, was coined by French sociologist and philosopher Henri Lefebvre.

    “[T]he city’s vitality is its diversity of people, ways of living, and perspectives — and thus its potential as a creative space of vibrant democratic dialogue and debate,” she wrote in the book’s conclusion. “Education is integral to a movement to reclaim the city… It is also a cry for education that develops our human potential, that prepares us to be subjects of history — to read and write the world.”

    It’s a battle for the “right to the city” in Chicago, then, pitting the moneyed interests of Joyce and Friends against the Chicago Teachers Union and grassroots activists. The weeks, months and years ahead will determine who comes out on top.

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    • teeky2

      Connecting the dots then, O’Bama is in support of all the corporate ed, free-market reform, like TFA. We could tell that from his choosing Arne Duncan for the DOE, but this runs far deeper. His ties to for-profit schooling and closing public neighborhood schools are numerous and telling. In other words, he’s a Republican, as many have said for years now. He’s anti-public school, and anti-teacher! What a sham. He really pulled one over on the Dems who voted for him.

    • matthewsailhardy

      This interlocking of interests reminds me of ACORN, organizationally. There may be more similarities in key managerial positions, too. Hard as it is to be a public school teacher, it is even harder when the President and the U.S. Department of Education is working assiduously to destroy the schools where public school teachers work. Thanks a lot, Barack. Take another bow.

    • Jill

      STOP having politicians run schools. START having people who specialize in the well being of children and the experts of their field that speciialize in what is best and appropriate for children’s education have a say!

      • Hank

        I have a good friend that once told me his granddad served on the local school board in a town in Oklahoma back in the late 50s. The board was meeting to decide if they should except federal funds to assist with the finances of running their schools. His granddad was the only member of the board that spoke out against the proposal, he said once they took federal money, they would over time lose any say in what their kids were taught. How prophetic.

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    • Thank You lamama as it is state unconstitutional in California for mayoral control (AB 1381) in California. A friend and myself are the only ones who provided every legislator with 165 pages proving that the data they were using to promote mayoral control was false. I have known about Obama and this game since 1995 for a long time and have been telling people. With all that money and it could have been as much as $160+ million is to, according to their own report, privatize, charter, Chicago. Remember LAUSD now has maybe 280 charter schools with over 80,000 students in them. In 2010 according to the L.A. County Office of Ed. it was 242 charter schools in LAUSD. Go read the new L.A. Weekly and see how they are pounding the new board president Richard Vladavic. Then read my comment on them.

      This is a very well written and researched article. Thank You for this. This game was set up a long time ago. Obama has been in the middle of it since at least 1995 and must have been long before that. This is not an accident. It has taken two sellout democratic presidents Clinton and Obama to do what the Republicans could not so put Oz behind the screen. Now we are pulling back the curtain and the Emperor has No Clothes. Clinton ended jobs and started offshoring in 1994 with NAFTA and WTO. With the 1996 Telecommunications Act we had the end of the Free Press. Then the 1999-2000 Banking Deregulation Acts wiped out the world financially so they could to the “World Domination” thing which is being operated now. Obama put it all on steroids with his folksy We can get it done stuff. As my friends grandfather taught him “I hear real good, but I see a whole lot better.” Only trust what they do and nothing else. We got nothing, corporations got it all. Now we are starting to turn that around. Philadelphia probably is the next large battleground. Fight Back.

    • lamama

      Los Angeles is NOT, thankfully, one of the cities that has granted mayoral control of the school board. Mayor Villaraigosa tried and was denied. Yes, he raised millions to advance a reform agenda, but most of his candidates to the school board suffered huge defeats this year.

    • Ron Poirier

      People should be aware of Lowell Milken’s connection to his brother, ex-convict Michael Milken:
      “Lowell Milken was never convicted—it was widely reported that prosecutors dropped the charges as part of Michael’s plea deal—but he was banned for life from working in the securities industry, and the New York Stock Exchange also banned him.”

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    • CosmicTinker

      “Joyce is a major liberal foundation” and “The prominent liberal group Center for American Progress”

      No, they are not liberals, but they are neo-liberals, who promote corporate ownership and the privatization of public services –policies fostered by big business, Lewis Powell and Republican economist Milton Friedman (another Chicagoan) which Democrats have also adopted. The Democrats stopped being a liberal party when they put up “New Democrat,” “centrist” Bill Clinton for president, which they did in order to garner swing votes from Republicans, and also since they have built their own alliances with corporate America. (When Obama says, “public/private partnerships,” that’s a euphemism for privatization.) It’s Clinton who’s responsible for demise of American manufacturing through the outsourcing of jobs to slave labor in foreign countries.

      Ever since the GOP incorporated the Tea Party, they have become much more right-wing, and the Democrats today are more like how Republicans used to be in the past. This means that our country now has two major parties representing corporations and no major party representing working people, trade unions, liberals and progressives. (Even though the Democrats are the beneficiaries of millions of dollars from unions, they are trumped by the billions pumped into the party by corporations.)

      We can thank SCOTUS, Citizens United and ALEC for all the politicians and laws purchased by big business, and for enabling a minority ruling class to dominate the majority. We have the numbers to turn this around by uniting and voting these greedy scumbags out of office.

    • jgrim

      These relationships are amazingly incestuous. The notion that the US has a 2 party dichotomy is smoke & mirrors.

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    • Luis Gabriel Aguilera

      With the activities of the past 20 years from both the Dems and Reps, why is any of this of surprise? The actions are telling in this comprehensive essay:

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    • matthewcarmody

      All these foundations that like to tout their philanthropy – Pew, Bradley, Olin – are all the children of right-wing racist robber barons who started their foundations when the tax code gave them favorable treatment.
      Think of them as sleeper cells biding their time acting “responsibly” until the time is right, until the movement to which they belong has gained a solid foothold through takeovers of state legislatures, ideologue judges, ill-informed parents who give up control because they’ve been propagandized to believe that all government is bad, no matter what.
      A little more than a generation and this country has been subverted. The Weyriches, Scaifes, Bushes, et al must be kvelling.

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    • Rdzkz

      What school did these idots go to not be able to do the math that the word PROFIT will always cost more for less? Unbelievable.

      • susanjane

        Most likely the University of Chicago

    • Alan8

      Yet another example of how the Democratic Party is supporting right-wing causes, such as destroying unions.

      Yet another reason I vote Green Party.

      • matthewcarmody

        Yeah, they’ll make a difference.
        It’s the game, not the players, that needs changing. Root and branch change preferably with people swinging from trees around state houses and congress like the good old days only now the fruit will be rich old white men.

    • Casey

      Former Joyce Foundation executive Michelle Boone is now the City’s Cultural Commissioner too.

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    • susannunes

      Excellent piece. It helps explain why Obama is so terrible on education policy.