[Steve Diamond is the dean of this story - do see his excellent post.]
Barack Obama wants to talk about education reform and has realized he can't duck his history with unrepentant Weatherman Bill Ayers and the Chicago Annenberg Challenge. Fortunately the Times is here to help:
CHICAGO — Senator Barack Obama learned how hard it can be to solve America’s public education problems when he headed a philanthropic drive here a decade ago that spent $150 million on Chicago’s troubled schools and barely made a dent.
Ahh, the old "I learned from my mistakes and occasional successes" spin I had suggested a few weeks back. Let's watch the Times hone in on the Bill Ayers connection - regular readers will recall that Bill Ayers co-wrote the grant proposal that led to the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, then worked for years with the Chicago Annenberg Challenge through a group he formed and led called the Chicago School Reform Collaborative. There is an excellent chance that Obama and Ayers first partnered up on public school reform back in 1988, during an earlier city-wide push for hope and change in the Chicago schools.
The Times takes this up beginning at paragraph seventeen:
Mr. Obama immersed himself in education issues after his return to Chicago, where he began lecturing at the University of Chicago Law School and joined the boards of two education foundations.
Chicago received $49 million from a $500 million endowment by Walter H. Annenberg, the billionaire publisher, for school reform efforts nationwide, and the city added $98 million in matching funds for the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, a philanthropic campaign that financed enrichment projects at a third of the city’s 600 schools.
Mr. Obama was nominated to the Challenge board and was elected chairman in 1995, said Ken Rolling, executive director of the group, which operated through 2001. Mr. Obama continued to teach law during his five-year unpaid tenure as board chairman, and he was twice elected to the Illinois Senate.
Several board members, including two university presidents, far outranked Mr. Obama in education experience.
“Let me say the room had no shortage of egos, including my own,” said Stanley O. Ikenberry, a board member who at the time was president of the University of Illinois. “It was unusual: here you had a person trained in the law chairing a board on school reform.” Still, he said, Mr. Obama won his colleagues’ respect.
Obama's role was unusual? Dare someone ask him whether Ayers lobbied for him based on a joint effort in 1988?
Supporters of Mr. McCain have been trying to taint Mr. Obama by highlighting his ties to William Ayers, a member of the violent Weather Underground in the 1960s, by pointing out that they worked on the Challenge project together. Mr. Ayers was indicted on conspiracy charges that were later thrown out for prosecutorial misconduct.
Mr. Obama has acknowledged that he is a friend of Mr. Ayers but has sought to minimize their interactions.
Records show that Mr. Ayers, now a professor of education at the University of Illinois at Chicago, helped write the Challenge proposal. The records also show that he and Mr. Obama worked on the Challenge project together and that they attended some of the same meetings.
The Challenge’s overall approach — supporting many diverse education projects rather than a coordinated school improvement strategy — had been established before Mr. Obama was named board chairman, and the board came under immediate pressure to approve grant proposals quickly.
No Maoist left behind - one of the first grants went to Michael Klonsky, a Maoist and former SDS colleague of Bill Ayers.
“If you throw $10 on the table in Chicago, people are going to fight over it, and we had $50 million,” Mr. Rolling recalled.
Proposals poured in and the board eventually financed projects involving 210 schools. Some were imaginative: one, for example, connected schools with museums in the Chicago area so that students learned science from a paleontologist at the local dinosaur exhibit. But many were not.
“The project proposals by and large were awful,” one board member told an evaluation team in 1998.
Relations with school authorities were difficult. Just as the Challenge got under way, the Illinois Legislature gave Mayor Richard M. Daley control of the school district, and he began an improvement campaign based on high-stakes testing and other measures. Annenberg’s let-a-thousand-flowers-bloom approach often seemed at cross-purposes with that strategy.
Ben LaBolt, a spokesman for the Obama campaign, said the reading and math scores of the lowest-achieving students improved in the years when the Challenge was investing in the Chicago schools.
But a final report on the Challenge concluded that the huge effort had brought little change.
“The Challenge’s ‘bottom line’ was improving student achievement,” the report said. “Among the schools it supported, the Challenge had little impact on student outcomes.”
But the experience gave Mr. Obama an appreciation for the multiple problems facing urban schools, Mr. Rolling said. The city has been a pioneer ever since in exploring ways to recruit, train and support teachers.
Left unmentioned - the Ken Rolling quoted here is the same Ken Rolling who tried to get the Chicago Annenberg Challenge archives locked down.
And what about an examination of Bill Ayers' hard-left educational philosophy? I love his speech to Hugo Chavez while down Venezuela way in which he explained that "La educacion es revolucion!". Get 'em young.
The Times won't attempt to follow the trail back to 1988 or ask the Obama campaign to explain their misrememberings and deceptions, but perhaps real reporters will.
MISREMEMBERING: I love this candid disclosure from Team Obama last February to Ben Smith of The Politico:
I didn't get to ask Obama about his relationship with Bill Ayers today, but did ask his chief strategist (and reigning expert on Chicago's political tribes), David Axelrod, about the two men.
"Bill Ayers lives in his neighborhood. Their kids attend the same school," he said. "They're certainly friendly, they know each other, as anyone whose kids go to school together."
Their kids go to the same school! By April The Politico knew more:
Information about the pair's connection has been dribbling out over the past few months. Obama first met Ayers in 1995, during Obama's first state Senate campaign, and the two met with a small group of local liberal activists at Ayers' house. Exact details of the meeting are unkown because Obama and Ayers have declined to discuss it.
Bzzzt! Wrong again! That fundraiser was in the second half of 1995, well after Obama had taken his seat as board chair.
Why the cover-up Team Obama? Why the enabling by the Times? Why the absurd rhetorical questions with such easy answers?
UPDATE: Steve Diamond has an excellent post. I picked up the probable Obama/Ayers 1988 connection from him, and we both flogged it today. I also got Klonsky from him, but he let that slide - score one for the MinuteMan (OK, I was kitchen-sinking it, but still...). His background on Chicago school politics is helpful but beyond my pay grade.
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.
He did not bring people together nor did he bring real change.
Attempts to tether Governor Sarah Palin to Pat Buchanan (along with other supposed anti-semites) and a secessionist party have both proven unremarkable — largely because they were so easily debunked. Attempts to tether her to cuts in funding for special needs children, or to economic mistreatment of rape victims, have, too, proven feeble — though I suspect that the goal here is to tarnish her in the aggregate by throwing anything and everything against the igloo wall and see what blubber happens to stick.
And yet here we are, months away from a presidential election, and the mainstream press has only tangentially and defensively explored the connections between Barack Obama and an unrepentant (and largely unreconstructed) domestic terrorist — even though Obama has lied both about the extent and duration of that relationship.
And that strikes me not only as proof of a partisan bias, but also as a failure of due dilligence — and even on the more extreme end, a dereliction of its duty.
Well, yes - they don't even know if there is a story there before deciding there is no story there.