Friday, August 22

Steve Diamond: The Obama Ayers Alliance: Inside the $160 Million Chicago Annenberg Challenge

Here is part five of law professor and political scientist Steve Diamond's investigative reports on documents associated with the Chicago Annenberg Challenge. Visit Steve's blog Global Labor and Politics for the earlier installments or scroll down this page to find them.

The Obama Ayers Alliance: Inside the $160 Million Chicago Annenberg Challenge

Here is a second group of records of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge ("CAC"), the education reform project founded by Bill Ayers and which he led with Barack Obama from 1995 until 2001. The Challenge spent some $160 million in the Chicago Public School system during that time period with the explicit goal of improving educational outcomes for students. The Challenge failed in that attempt.

These documents were provided to me by the Annenberg Institute at Brown University. They include the original grant application submitted by Bill Ayers and Anne Hallett to Brown which hosted the national Annenberg Challenge.

In addition these documents include the program reports and annual and semi-annual reports prepared on a regular basis by the Executive Director of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge Ken Rolling. Rolling had been recruited to head the CAC from a position at the Woods Fund where he had been active in support for the controversial 1988 reform of Chicago schools. Obama's Developing Communities Project received more than $27,000 from the Woods Fund during that period.

I have posted the documents in the precise form that they were provided to me. There are some missing pages. Within the annual reports are included financial statements and minutes of the Board of Directors, which was chaired by Obama.

My analysis of the history of the CAC can be found here. The key to understanding the CAC is its political context. The CAC was established to shore up support for the Local School Councils established in 1988. The LSCs were a new power center set up to watchdog teachers, principals and school administrators. While Ayers celebrates it as a form of battling "bureaucracies" and as a democratic reform, in fact it has disturbing authoritarian overtones and was the source of resistance by union teachers and professional administrators and was not actively supported by major black organizations like Operation Push.

One example of the political firestorm that the CAC helped fuel was its effort to spend millions of dollars through a Leadership Development Initiative to recruit and train candidates for the LSCs. This proposal from the CAC Collaborative, co-chaired by Bill Ayers, was sent to the Board of Directors, chaired by Barack Obama, where it ran into objections from Arnold Weber, former President of Northwestern University and a representative from the business community.

At about this same time, Mayor Daley was leading the charge to gut the entire LSC structure that Ayers, Obama, Mike Klonsky* and others had fought to create and build. The CAC was seen by Ayers as a way to protect and sustain the LSCs against the attempt to re-centralize power over the troubled schools in the hands of the Mayor.

Obama led the effort on behalf of the CAC board to reach an accomodation with the Ayers-led CAC Collaborative to shape the Leadership Development Initiative. After Obama's intervention, Weber's objections ceased (as far as I can tell from the records I have been provided) and the proposal went forward.

*Mike Klonsky was a former SDS comrade of Ayers and later helped found a maoist party in the United States, travelling to meet with Chinese leaders in 1977 for their endorsement of his effort here. Klonsky's Small Schools Workshop received hundreds of thousands of dollars from the CAC headed by Obama and Ayers.

The Documents

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