When I first started reading this Slate piece by Alexander Russo ("Chicago School Days: Obama's lackluster record on education"), I felt my head spinning. Not only would I have to reassess my admittedly optimistic views of Barack Obama, I'd also have to concede that Russo might (in this case, at least) know what he's talking about.
Then I finished the article and reclaimed my equilibrium. As it turns out, I wouldn't have to change my mind on either front.
Here's the rub. Russo dives into an important dispute from a decade ago that is little known to national audiences: whether Chicago's local school councils???a.k.a., "mini school boards"???should have the power to fire school principals, as a 1988 law allows. At issue was an ugly history of minority-dominated boards firing white principals for little reason other than their race. By the mid 1990s, Paul Vallas, Chicago's then-superintendent, wanted to strip the boards of this authority because he was tired of good principals getting thrown under the bus. As a state senator, Obama shadow-boxed around the issue, Russo claims, and then eventually sided with the local boards once the issue was resolved in their favor (not surprising for a former community organizer).
I don't know whether Russo captured that part of the story accurately or not, but his analysis for what this could mean for NCLB is preposterous:
Based on Obama's actions in Chicago in 1999, it's hard to imagine him taking charge of the continuing debate...