Posted by MataHarley on 21 August, 2008 at 3:18 pm. 11 comments already!

H/T to Gabriel Sutherland’s insightful comment
for setting the mind… and added research… a’whirl.

There is most certainly one intrepid blogger/lawyer who’s got the info jump on the Obama-Ayers-Chicago Annenberg Challenge issue. And that would be Steve Diamond, author of his blog, Global Labor and Politics.

Diamond is a lawyer, a law professor and a political scientist on the faculty of Santa Clara University School of Law. Diamond is also a former Chicago member of the, as he puts it, “limousine liberals” from the leafy green suburbs that surround the city.”

Diamond was able to secure a small amount of documentation of the 70 linear feet of records housed at the U of IL Daley Library INRE the Chicago Annenberg Challenge. *Prior* to the door being slammed in Kurtz’s face, that is. These include: board minutes, financial records and annual reports”. As he says, they are far from a complete picture, but they do help explain the close relationship between Ayers and Obama that he has, to date, played down.

Coming from a progressive point of view, the entire story is apt to get a “what’s the beef?” response. Afterall, on the surface, Ayers and Obama were working together on what appears to be an admirable cause… empowering local school councils (LSCs) as the new center of power for community schools.

Diamond has a very complete analysis of the CAC (Chicago Annenberg Challenge) in his post yesterday, “Behind the Annenberg Gate: Inside the Chicago Annenberg Challenge Records”.

And it comes down to this… Obama and Ayers together controlled $160 mil in cash. Unfortunately the only ultimate beneficiaries from all this cash ended up being their political friends.

This is complex and worthy of an entire read, but I’ll just excerpt some of the highlights, including his summary of the whole Obama-Ayers link.

Below is an analysis of what I found in the documents I was able to obtain. They evidence:

    the leading role that Bill Ayers played in the Annenberg Challenge;
    the equally important role played by Barack Obama; and
    the intensely political nature of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge.

It all started with a letter to Brown University from Bill Ayers (as the UIC and the “Chicago Forum for School Change” representative and “On behalf of the Chicago School Reform Collaborative.”), laying out the goals of the $50 mil grant proposal:

“Chicago is six years into the most radical systemwide urban school reform effort in the country. The Annenberg Challenge provides an unprecedented opportunity to concentrate the energy of this reform into an educational renaissance in the classroom.”

The “radical” reform he was referring to was the LSCs, that had come into existence after a 1987 teacher’s strike.

The Alliance for Better Chicago Schools (“ABCs”) was formed then to push for the LSC idea in the Illinois state legislature. Active in the ABCs was Bill Ayers, Barack Obama’s Developing Communities Project, and Chicago United, a group of businessmen concerned about race and education issues founded by Bill Ayers’ father, Tom Ayers, once CEO of the large Chicago utility, Commonwealth Edison (now Exelon).

Wow… there’s an interesting extra tidbit. We all know of Obama’s monetary benefits from the Exelon employees. What I did not know was that it was once Bill Ayers’ father’s company. Yet another Obama-Ayers (the elder) link.

But back to CAC from Diamond. This grant proposal from Ayers in 1993 was actually in contradiction with what the mayor’s office was attempting to accomplish… and that was to get the control of the schools out of the hands of the LSC’s and back into the hands of the Mayor’s office. BTW… Diamond has a whole theory on the Daley-Ayers relationship in a different, and earlier post. But I won’t go into that here.

But in 1993 the CAC grant proposal was seen by Ayers as an attempt, in part, to rescue the LSC’s. The grant proposal states,

“We envision a process to unleash at the school site the initiative and courage of LSC’s….” Later, it states “[t]he Local Schools Councils…are important both for guiding educational improvement and as a means of strengthening America’s democratic traditions.”

As I have argued elsewhere on this blog, I do not think that the link made here between the LSC’s and “democracy” is, in fact, accurate. I think that such “councils” look eerily similar to efforts by regimes like those in Nicaragua under the Sandinistas and Venezuela under Chavez to impose control over teachers and their independent unions by an authoritarian regime. Thus, it is not a surprise to me that Bill Ayers has traveled several times in recent years to Venezuela where he has spoken in front of Hugo Chavez and has enthusiastically applauded that regime’s efforts to link education policy to the Chavez “revolution.”

As Ayers stated in a speech there in November 2006 “La educacion es Revolucion!” He applauded “the profound educational reforms underway here in Venezuela under the leadership of President Chavez” and he said he “share[d] the belief that education is the motor-force of revolution.”

I include the above to reinterate that Ayers’ socialist designs have not been altered by time, and now he had both the money and support to implement that within Chicago schools. The CAC grant was at a critical time – when the political forces were at war over Chicago school education. Another involved in that era, and lending support to this school “reform” effort was Ken Rolling, program officer in the Woods Fund… the organization that funneled cash to Obama’s Developing Communities Project (DCP).

By the end of 1999, the CAC had raised additional public and private capital, and had $160 million to be disbursed in the Chicago schools project. So how were they to choose how that money was spent?

The Ayers/Hallett proposal described a three-piece structure established to carry out the CAC. The three “over-lapping entities each of which has clear tasks and responsibilities” included:

“The Chicago Annenberg Challenge Board (the Board); the Chicago School Reform Collaborative (the Collaborative); and the Consortium of Chicago Schools Research (CCSR).”

The Board would handle “all fiscal matters” including raising the required 2:1 matching funds (nearly $100 million required in a five year period) and “creating a grant-making system to disperse monies to schools and networks.” The Board would hire the Project Director, a full time professional staff position.

The first chairman of the CAC Board was Barack Obama, at that point, 33 years old and a third year associate at Davis, Miner, Barnhill & Galland, a small Chicago law firm.

BHO was heading the board from 1995 to 1999, when he stepped down, but remained on the board until “CAC phased itself out of existence and handed off its remaining assets to a permanent new institution, the Chicago Public Education Fund, in 2001.”

The second arm of power was the Collaborative that would “represent various constituencies in the Chicago schools and wider community.” Or, as described by Ayers, “the heart of the operational work.”


The co-chair of the CAC’s Collaborative from 1995 until 2000 was Bill Ayers. In 1997 Ayers was named Chicago’s “Citizen of the Year” for his work on the CAC.

Thus, the leaders of the two operative arms of the CAC from its inception until 2000 were Bill Ayers and Barack Obama.

Between the two, they controlled $160 mil, and worked together on the process for reviewing planning and implementing networks for those that had received grants.

Their aligned political views became prevalent during a 1996 Chicago LSC elections.

…..Members of the CAC Collaborative began their work on the LSC elections in late Fall 1995.

“Part of their effort was to seek funding to support efforts at the school level to locate and elect active LSC members. The CAC board was asked in early 1996 to approve funds for a citywide coalition of local organizations who agreed to work on both candidate and voter turnout for the 1996 elections.”

Obama’s Board approved a grant of $125K for this purpose.

Diamond documents multiple instances of the cronyism funding, until 1997, local community leaders started being concerned about CAC backed leaders becoming a “political threat”. At that time, perhaps as a response to such concern, the CAC did somewhat a change of direction and sought a “changed policy environment.”

It must be noted that while the CAC was trying to bolster the LSCs in these years, a 1995 law awarded complete control of the schools back to the Mayor’s office where “a major emphasis began on administration, financial stability and accountability measures that are tied to specific test scores.”

The CAC continued with their grant disbursement, including $2 mil, allocated for seven “Leadership Development Initiative projects”… again, like the $125K above, political funds dedicated to recruiting CAC supportive candidates and election turnouts.

And what of the grantees student results?

The third CAC arm was the Consortium of Chicago School Research (CCSR)…. charged with monitoring the impact of the projects. Apparently it was a lot of money down the drain. There was no statistical difference between Annenberg schools and demographically similar non-Annenberg schools. Additionally, the report pointed to the political conflict CAC’s promotion of the LSC’s as a possible factor in the lack of impact in student achievement.

The students gained zip, but the political allies gained plenty from the CAC. Or, as Diamond tidily sums up:

The Challenge allowed Barack Obama and Bill Ayers to work together, no doubt closely, in the heat of political battle to help disburse more than $100 million to allies, particularly in the LSCs, in the Chicago School system.

Under the circumstances, it seems more than a bit disingenuous of Senator Obama to dismiss Bill Ayers as “some guy who lives in my neighborhood.”

At best, the whole CAC episode… with what we *do* know… points to one of two things we now know about Obama:

1: He’s a prominent party to the failure to accomplish educational improvement, despite having a healthy sum of cash. If Diamond’s expenditures analysis is correct, the majority of that cash went for political purposes. If unintentional, Obama’s proven his community organizational skills are decidedly overrated.

2: Obama diverted funds for educatonal improvement to politics in order to buck the legal centralized school authority. And, more than probably, to pave his own political path.

Diamond’s site is definitely on a “daily watch” list for this issue now. He’s leaving traditional media in in the dust.

View the documents in his possession at his blog.

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