School Choice & Charters Opinion

Paul Horton: The Chicago Tribune’s School Voucher Campaign: The Road to Gatopia III”

By Anthony Cody — September 21, 2013 5 min read
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Guest post by Paul Horton.

Most hog farmers in the Midwest say that when you go “whole hog” on something there is no turning back. People who live down wind of hog farms pray for the wind to shift.

Many Midwestern farmers also have a historic hatred of the Chicago Tribune because it has been closely aligned with the interests of that infamous breeding ground of Midwestern plutocrats: Chicago Board of Trade, the late nineteenth and early twentieth century equivalent of Wall Street in the Midwest.

In the last week, the Tribune, not to be satisfied with “yellow caking” support for the Chicago school shutdowns by rolling out an Augean stable’s worth of misinformation from the Joyce Foundation, is returning to its former unabashed support of speculative free enterprise when it comes to schools.

In the last week, the Tribune has rolled out three pieces on its editorial pages in support of Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal and vouchers.

On September 8, the Tribune reprinted an op-ed originally published in the Washington Post that called the Obama Department of Justice and the Obama administration out on prosecuting the disparate racial impact of Louisiana’s voucher laws. This piece is hilarious reading that describes the defense of vouchers as the Civil Rights issue of our time that Martin Luther King would have clearly supported. It is almost as though Jindal was channeling King through Michelle Rhee who has recently given such speeches in Birmingham, among other places.

Yesterday (Friday 13th), again on the editorial page, a very long human-interest piece (“In Search of an Education”) about a young student looking for a decent education was published. The story, written by a paid libertarian policy wonk from the newly formed Illinois Policy Institute, could have been taken straight from a late nineteenth century “Ragged Dick to Horatio Alger” story. A young Chicagoan from a poor Chicago community could not find a decent education within the Chicago Public School system where drop out and college admission rates always fell below fifty per cent even at the best schools available. But this young person, who lives only a few miles from Indiana and the Educational freedom of the most open voucher system in the country, faces a three hour commute every day to get a decent education among students who are more likely to go to college at a private charter.

Of course this article fails to mention that the private charter routinely weeds out students with learning challenges and students with any academic or disciplinary issues.

And the article also fails to mention that the most comprehensive and thorough study ever done on voucher programs in Milwaukee, Wisconsin found that there were no appreciable performance differences among public, public charters, and private charters in the city.

Nor did the piece mention that the Board of the Illinois Policy Institute is heavily invested in charter school chains.

Last Sunday, Sep 15th, the lead editorial was “The United States vs. Minority Children.” We can only assume that the piece was written by Paul Weingarten, the Tribune’s Education and Health issues editorial writer, who uncritically published Joyce Foundation polling information this spring that vastly overrepresented the number of white parents of Chicago public school students on the day that the school closing lists were first announced. Prewritten editorials that supported the first were rolled out in the following days, almost as though they had been coordinated with the Mayor’s office and CPS announcements.

You can probably guess what the editorial says. It pretty much repeats what Jindal said about vouchers as a critique of Obama administration’s prosecution of corrupt private charters. There is nothing here about the context of huge Obama and Duncan support of private charters in Louisiana, and, of course, nothing about the stench of incomprehensible levels of corruption in those private charters that smells worse than southern Louisiana paper mills. Indeed, we in Illinois should take heart that there is one state that produces more corruption than we do!

We can expect more of the same in the next few days. Aside from the obvious tack to the right away from identification with Mr. Emanuel and the Obama administration that these editorials represent, the Tribune seems to be trying to steer potential Republican candidates for governor and other state offices away from criticisms of the Common Core Curriculum and loss of local control in Education and more toward a less divisive focus on vouchers. The Illinois Tea Party is all over Common Core Standards and loss of local control. These editorials attempt to heal the rift on the right on education.

The Tribune also faces issues with its circulation and income. Because the Sun-Times and local blogs are being read and viewed more in the city because they are more sensitive to communities impacted by the mayor’s draconian education policies, the Tribune is obviously trying to build more circulation in the suburbs and semi-rural areas that might be more sympathetic to harder conservative editorial stances. To do so they must tack harder to the right to compete with the Arlington Heights Daily Herald.

And finally, and most importantly, the Tribune’s publishers are trying to sell their paper to remain solvent. As we know, the Koch brothers could not get the deal that they wanted, or decided that the Tribune was not worth any risk. Potential buyers of the Tribune Company that includes the LA Times include a group led by Eli Broad, whose foundation has supported school privatization all over the country.
The LA Times has published a few pieces critical of the Corporate Education Reform movement. Even though other potential suitors include Warren Buffet, the group that owns The Chicago Sun-Times, and Rupert Murdoch, my money is on the group led by Eli Broad to buy the Tribune Company.

This might go a long way to explain this new embrace of vouchers by the Tribune, and it would not be too big of a leap to speculate that the Illinois Policy Institute that is feeding the Editorial Board all of the voucher stuff gets a huge chunk of change from the Eli Broad Foundation.

The irony is, of course, that the Broad Foundation is “whole hog” on both voucher’s and Arne Duncan, whose career and policies are defined by the Broad Foundation. Just follow the money and the Democrats and Republicans are no different when it comes to education policy.

The Tribune does not want you to learn that the stench comes from the same farm: Democrats and Republicans are feeding at the same trough and it all comes out in the same place. If you read the Tribune, you cannot smell the stockyards.

How can we make the Corporate Media more accountable?

Paul Horton is the product of public schools and has spent half of his thirty-year career teaching in public schools. He is a member of AFT Local 2063 of the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools that stands in solidarity with the Chicago Teachers Union

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