Michelle Obama, not surprisingly, wants to turn the page on Jeremiah Wright and focus on the issues:
“Let’s not elect somebody who has been there and hasn’t done it,” Michelle Obama said in a fairly clear reference to Clinton. She said education was the issue that most concerns parents and her husband is the only one who can make changes there.
“It’s going to take us being, as a nation, deeply passionate and angry about the failing education for all kids,” she said. “When was the last time we heard some really solid questions for these candidates on education in a debate? You know all about the issues in our personal lives, but ... education is the thing we should be angry about.”
I completely agree, so let's talk about Barack and education reform.
An excellent launching point is this April 2, 2008 Slate piece by Alexander Russo, but eventually we will segue to Obama's relationship with unrepentant Weatherman Bill Ayers.
The Obama/Ayers soundbite is this: Obama and Ayers (a professor of education) worked together on the Chicago Annenberg Challenge for several years in an ultimately unsuccessful effort to reform Chicago's public schools. The extent of their relationship is not clear, since Obama has been opaque on this topic both in a televised debate and at his website. However, Ayers was instrumental in founding the Chicago Annenberg Challenge and Obama was the group's first chairman, so there is something being concealed there.
Let's start with Slate:
Chicago School Days
Obama's lackluster record on education.
...the story of Obama's involvement suggests that on similarly contentious fronts involving national education policy, like the No Child Left Behind Act, he might respond the same way—holding back when powerful interest groups collide, only to support the status quo of local control in the end. The candidate's Chicago record on education also raises questions about his much-vaunted ability to bring different sides together to find lasting solutions.
Obama's links to local school councils began more than 20 years ago, when they were first being created. His South Side community organizing group, the Developing Communities Project, supported the 1988 reform act that created the councils. A decade later, when Obama was a second-year state senator, he served on the board of several local education foundations that had supported the councils and chaired the board for the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, a $50 million philanthropic effort that supported local control.
Obama was uniquely well-placed to take the lead in mediating this battle. He had a relatively strong background in community and education issues. He was friends and pickup-basketball buddies with Arne Duncan, who was then in charge of magnet schools (and has since taken over Vallas' job). Obama also knew Vallas, who liked him. Then, as now, he was considered a politician who could unify people and resolve challenging conflicts...
After the outcome was clear, Barack finally ratified the emerging consensus:
In being so late to the debate, however, Obama didn't really have to stand up to anyone—not the groups he was affiliated with, not Vallas, not Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley. He was just approving the final result. He remained loyal to his roots, but only when it was easy to do so...
...Based on Obama's actions in Chicago in 1999, it's hard to imagine him taking charge of the continuing debate over whether and how No Child Left Behind should be renewed. Forced to take a side, Obama's record suggests that, ultimately, he would be sympathetic to local autonomy. But there's not much evidence to show that he would be able to help mend deep and abiding schisms between testing hawks and local-control advocates. And without strong and unifying national leadership, our troubled public-education system stands little chance of making the dramatic improvements that it needs.
Well, well. Please note the reference to the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, because thereby hangs a tale.
In a White House ceremony in December 1993, philanthropist Walter Annenberg announced the Annenberg Challenge, putting $500 million towards efforts to reform public education.
Bill Ayers and two others formed and led a "Working Group" that produced Chicago's grant application; in 1995 Chicago was awarded $49.2 million, creating the Chicago Annenberg Challenge Fund ("CACF") in a well-publicized civic event.
The first chairman of the board of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge Fund was Barack Obama. This is disclosed on Obama's Senate forms and he is mentioned in a history of the CACF [link, p. 54 of the text]. The board was responsible for hiring an Executive Director, Ken Rolling, who should have been involved on a daily basis (and does anyone know anything about Mr. Rolling?).
The "Working Group" mentioned above morphed into the Chicago School Reform Collaborative, co-chaired by Bill Ayers and one of his two co-founders of the Working Group. The Collaborative then worked closely with the CACF for several years. Ayers' role is noted in this history and at his own website on his resume.
A sidebar - my guess is that this link between Ayers and Obama has gone unreported because of the name game; despite a close working relationship, the Collaborative and the CACF don't leap off the page as being obviously associated, although the Ayers resume is clear enough - "The Annenberg Challenge" appears in parentheses right next to "Chicago School Reform Collaborative".
So, what was the nature of the Ayers/Obama relationship back in simpler times? Obama was asked about Ayers in the Philadelphia debate and described him as "a guy who lives in my neighborhood, who's a professor of English in Chicago...". It was left to Hillary to mention the widely publicized link between Obama and Ayers, both of whom once overlapped on the board of the Woods Fund of Chicago.
Obama's website then produced a Freudian's delight - a "Fact Check" (echoing the famous Annenberg FactCheck.org) purporting to explain the Obama/Ayers relationship but omitting any mention of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge Fund.
A bit later, Obama was asked about Ayers during his Fox news interview and gave an answer that should have left reporters scratching their heads and doing some research: - Obama described an overlapping board membership with Ayers that couldn't be the Woods Fund of Chicago:
Now, Mr. Ayres [Ayers] is a 60 plus year old individual who lives in my neighborhood, who did something that I deplore 40 years ago when I was six or seven years old. By the time I met him, he was a professor of education at the University of Illinois.
We served on a board together that had Republicans, bankers, lawyers, focused on education, who worked for Mayor Daley. Mayor Daley, the same Mayor Daley probably who when he was a state attorney prosecuted Mr. Ayres’s wife for those activities, I (INAUDIBLE) the point is that to somehow suggest that in any way I endorse his deplorable acts 40 years ago, because I serve on a board with him.
The Woods Fund of Chicago focused on poverty and did not work for the mayor; the Chicago Annenberg Challenge Fund focused on education, but did not work for the mayor. A successor group, the Leadership Council of the Chicago Public Schools Education Fund, worked for the mayor and focused on education, but Bill Ayers was not a member (his father, Thomas Ayers, and his brother, John Ayers, overlapped with Obama).
So what does it mean? Well, it is not going to be possible to evaluate this Obama/Ayers link until Obama is a bit more forthcoming about it, so having him or his campaign provide some basic facts would be an excellent starting point for some enterprising reporter.
One might well ask - how would Obama characterize his involvement with the Chicago Annenberg Challenge Fund? This story says he was involved; this one, also by Alexander Russo of the later Slate piece, says Obama was a non-player in Chicago school reform.]
How closely did Obama work with the fund's executive director, Ken Rolling (and what does Mr. Rolling have to say about this)?
What did Obama know of Bill Ayers' involvement (which the rest of us now know to be extensive)?
Eventually, the CACF was viewed as a failure (the final report says it had "little impact") - what did Obama learn from that?
Finally, there is a question of shared values; setting aside Ayers' bomb-tossing proclivities of the 70's, he has a very hard left approach to education; for example, he explained to Hugo Chavez and a Venezuelan audience that public education was a way to promote the revolution [and lots more here from Ed Lasky]. How much of this did Obama know then? Or is this just another situation, as with Jeremiah Wright, where Obama simply didn't know anything about the fellow with whom he was associating?
In some ways, Obama's experience is analogous to Hillary's failed health care initiative of the mid 90's - he tackled a publicized, important, politically charged topic, and belly-flopped. The obvious difference is that his failure is not being discussed. And it's possible he was merely a figurehead who was hoping to take credit for success but distanced himself from failure; I leave it to his spinners to present that lack of interest in education reform more positively.
As to where this story is headed - who knows? I don't think Hillary's staffers are regular readers here, but they may have picked it up from Global Labor, Larry Johnson or Jeralyn Merritt, and they sure could use this now. McCain's people and the RNC ought to like this story since McCain is comfortable bashing Ayers, but September or October may be fine for them.
The MSM has done nothing here, unsurprisingly. As to Rush, Hannity, and the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy - other than Hot Air, American Thinker, and Wizbang this is getting no traction. Michael Barone wrote about how the Ayers story had broken through to the MSM, but they have a long way to go. And we call ourselves a Noise Machine!
A few excerpts appear after the break to document points made above.
1. The Working Group [link]
When three of Chicago's most prominent education reform leaders met for lunch at a Thai restaurant six years ago to discuss the just-announced $500 million Annenberg Challenge, their main goal was to figure out how to ensure that any Annenberg money awarded to Chicago "didn't go down the drain," said William Ayers, a professor of education at the University of Illinois in Chicago. Ayers, who was at that lunch table in late 1993, helped write the successful Chicago grant application.
...Having secured Annenberg funding for Chicago, the working group would soon evolve into a more formal organization, albeit with strong ties to the groups that wrote the grant proposal. Initially run out of shared space in the offices of the Cross-City Campaign and administered through an existing philanthropic organization called the Donors Forum, the Chicago Challenge soon became its own new foundation with status as an independent fiscal agent. By late 1995, Ken Rolling had been named executive director, a board of directors had been established, and the first round of grants had been awarded. Rolling lacked experience in education but came from the foundation world and was well-versed in community organizing. The board, which was intended to set policy, raise matching funds, and hire an executive director, included prominent educators and business leaders. A second entity, the newly-created Chicago School Reform Collaborative, was also established. Its twenty-plus members were elected from the group of educators and advocates who had helped shape the grant proposal. Initially, at least, this offshoot of the working group functioned as the operations arm of the Chicago Challenge. However, this situation created procedural and ethical concerns and in time the Collaborative was transformed into an advisory body.