The Chicago Annenberg Challenge, Barack Obama's only claim to administrative leadership (as covered today by Thomas Lifson), was evaluated by the esteemed Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an independent outside body with expertise on educational reform. A larger study has a section focused on the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, Obama's project.
It does not take much for grantees who receive funds from the Obama-Ayers led Anneberg Chicago effort to sing its praises. When an outside group audits the performance and reveals scores of millions of dollars were all but wasted, I think that should have some bearing on our evaluation of Obama as a leader of change efforts.
No wonder the Obama campaign is engaging in an extraordinary level of secrecy regarding Obama's track record as State Senator (his written records unavailable), lawyer (no list of his clients available) and leader of the failed effort to reform public schooling in Chicago.
I suspect that in his Annenberg work, Obama used his power over the purse strings as a form of pork to reward insiders and allies. Neighborhood control of schools was one of the approaches he took -- a fertile ground for rewarding local allies and political powers-that-be. Also, as was already shown by the history of such approaches in New York City, the concept of more local input might be fine in theory,but in practice often results in localized civil wars-not to the improvement of local schools.
David Hinz noted the Fordham Study and offered some interesting commentary
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.
Educators and administrators are ebullient in their praise for the program. It has been an unambiguous success, according to their testimonials. Again, from the Fordham Institute article:
Anecdotally, there is a strong sense of progress and achievement among those closely involved with the Challenge. "There are more and more schools improving the quality of education" as a result of the Chicago Challenge, said Peter Martinez, a senior program officer at the John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, who has worked closely with the Challenge. "There are more and more good staff development programs, as opposed to half-baked efforts. Overall, there's more movement in this system now than there has ever been."
Others, such as William Ayers of the University of Illinois, paint a similarly positive picture. Ayers said the Chicago Challenge has done an "astonishingly good job" in several key areas. For example, it has "raised for public debate systemwide the issues of school size, professionalizing teaching, and the relationships between communities and their schools." Ayers also believes that the Annenberg Challenge has demonstrated the power of networks to create a sense of community among schools grappling with similar issues.
But, while those who have benefited monetarily from the grants have enthusiastically praised it, there is little evidence to show that the program his enjoyed any actual success.
Beyond testimonials from those associated with the Challenge, however, it becomes difficult to find conclusive indications of the program's impact. Outside of anecdotal examples, few of the networks contacted were able to distinguish clearly what specific role Annenberg funds had played in their effectiveness, and none of the networks contacted could supply research that attributes student-achievement gains to Annenberg funding.
Therein lies the problem. While few connected with them doubt the value of the programs supported by the Chicago Challenge, their impact is not yet established. This lack of hard evaluation data on the effectiveness of the Challenge is a source of widespread frustration in a city where test scores have increasingly become the coin of the realm. "We don't have a lot to tell you," admitted University of Illinois professor Mark Smylie, who is principal investigator for the Chicago Annenberg Challenge Study being conducted by the Consortium on Chicago School Research at the University of Chicago. The Challenge is "a difficult thing to evaluate," he explained. "None of these Challenges reflects a tightly designed programmatic initiative that renders itself useful to traditional evaluation."
While those closely associated with the challenge are certain that it is having a positive impact on the schools, there is no actual evidence to prove it.
So, what we have, is multi-million dollar educational boondoggle, being run by Ayres. What, you might be asking, does this have to do with Barack Obama? Thank you for asking.
Ayres, and the other founders of the Annenberg Challenge chose Barack Obama to be the first Chairman of the Board for the new program. Barack Obama, whose relationship to Ayres was "flimsy at best" worked directly for Ayres for eight years. This would seem to be more than just a casual relationship.