Free-lancer Alexander Russo recently investigated Barack Obama's involvement in Chicago's "local school council" debates of the mid-1990s. At issue was whether the councils (Russo calls them "mini school boards") should have had the power to fire principals, which several did for dubious reasons. As a state senator, Obama tiptoed around the arguments, Russo claims, and then supported the local boards after the disagreement was decided in their favor. Of course, it's hard to know whether Russo's account is accurate. But to conclude from the story as he does that a President Obama would sympathize with "local control" advocates over "testing hawks" is preposterous. Local control is the battle cry of school-district bureaucracies and citywide school boards. It is not the cry of individual schools and certainly not of civil rights activists, some of whom are the fiercest testing hawks around (e.g., Education Trust). Russo might better analogize Chicago's local councils to mom-and-pop charter schools, which are run by community-based boards. We await further word from the Senator's campaign team as to how forcefully he will advance and defend charters and chartering when key elements of his party's "base" (e.g., the aforementioned Randi Weingarten) seek to throttle them.
"Chicago School Days: Obama's Lackluster Record on Education," by Alexander Russo, Slate, April 2, 2008