Paul Horton is a history instructor in the University High School at the University of Chicago Lab Schools. This post explains the Obama administration’s love for charters and its disdain for public schools.
Martin Nesbitt is the President’s best friend, and close associate of Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, who provided much of the start-up capital for Parking Spot, a very successful off airport parking company that Mr. Nesbitt directed for several years before Ms. Pritzker sold the company. Nesbitt and Pritzker also are invested in the Noble Charter Schools chain in Chicago. In the last year, Mr. Nesbitt has created an investment firm called the Vistria Group that seeks, in part, to bundle capital for Charter School investment.
Mr. Nesbitt grew up in Columbus, Ohio and credits the discipline he acquired at the private Columbus Academy for helping him deal with the violence, drug use, and the social dislocation that surrounded him growing up in a tough neighborhood. He sees the Noble Charter Schools as a vehicle to instill discipline in inner city youth. Like the President, he grew up, for the most part without a present father. They both see themselves as self made men and view charter schools as a potential path to success for inner city youth. (http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2013-01-21/business/ct-biz-0121-executive-profile-nesbitt-20130121_1_martin-nesbitt-michelle-obama-penny-pritzker)
Mr. Nesbitt and the President are basketball addicts. They play as much as they can and talk basketball incessantly. They, of course share this addiction with Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education and Craig Robinson, former Oregon State coach and Michelle Obama’s brother. Mr. Nesbitt sponsors and participates in three on three basketball tournaments all over the country.
During his first campaign, the President narrowed his friendship group, forcing long time friends Bill Ayers and Rashid Khalidi out of their social circles in response to attacks from the right concerning Mr. Ayers’s political past and from AIPAC on Professor Khalidi’s advocacy for Palestine and criticism of American Middle East Policy.
In Chicago, Mr. Nesbitt was the President of the Chicago Housing Authority in the late 90s where he worked with Rahm Emanuel and other power brokers to create public-private partnerships that created housing on Chicago’s south and west sides to replace the drug and crime ridden behemoth projects, the Robert Taylor Homes (see Gang Leader for a Day) and Cabrini Green.
The Commercial Club of Chicago worked with CHA to re envision the development of mid south and near west sides. A subcommittee created the “Renaissance 2010″ plan that sought to create mixed income housing in these area that was open to former project residents who worked thirty hours a week. “The Renaissance 2010″ plan resulted in heavy real estate investment in these areas and the creation of charter schools were seen as essential to attracting young urban professionals into these areas.
So the connection between real estate developers who speculate on land and building investment and the push for charter schools is very strong. Chicago real estate moguls lead by Bruce Rauner, the Republican nominee for Illinois governor, and the Crown family drive much of the Chicago push to close public schools to expand the charter sector. Indeed, the Commercial Club of Chicago, known as “the billionaires club” on the streets of Chicago, drives the Education policy of the mayor and funds, through connections with the Joyce Foundation (the Director of the Joyce Foundation sits on board of the Commercial Club) funds education “research” (non peer-reviewed) that is printed on the editorial pages of the Chicago Tribune to legitimate public school closings.
This pattern of connection between real estate developers, the creation of and public-private partnerships to build low density mixed income housing in impoverished neighborhoods, and the drive to close public schools and open charter schools has been chronicled in powerful detail by Education theorist and sociologist Pauline Lipman. I have addressed these issues in more detail in an Education Week piece, “Why Obama’s Education Policies will not Change and why ‘Change is Hard.'”
Mr. Nesbitt and Mayor Emanuel are the leading political actors who have orchestrated and executed public policy for the interests of the Commercial Club. Their chief supporters need the value of the land that they bought in gentrifying neighborhoods to increase. They see charter schools as a key magnet to attract middle class professionals back into neighborhoods within a three to four mile radius of downtown on the south and west sides.
The process appears to be working for developers on the near west side with the construction of a massive shopping mall, the sales of condos that were intended to be mixed income to middle and upper middle class white and black professionals, and the plans to build a new selective enrollment “Barack Obama High” smack dab in the middle of the former Cabrini Green.
The gentrification scheme of developers, however, is clearly not working in Bronzeville, on the near south side. According to a recent Harvard study that received some attention on NPR, real estate values in the mId south and Bronzeville areas on the south side is slowed by perceptions of violence. According to this study, white urban professionals are more likely to move into Latino areas like Humbolt Park and Pilsen.
To date, Mr. Nesbitt’s friends are scared to death about their investments in Chicago’s mid south and Bronzeville areas, explaining why this area has been targeted for several rounds of public school closings and charter school openings.
The take away from this piece is that many of the people who provided the funds to transform Mr. Obama into a viable national candidate after he passed the litmus test of Iowa are associated with the Commercial Club of Chicago were heavily invested in real estate speculation and building charter schools as a way to increase the value of property purchased by investors. All of this is couched in the language of making Chicago a global city and creating school choice for parents.
At the national level, Democrats for Education Reform stepped into the discussion over schools in exchange for raising money for Democratic campaigns that was needed to counteract the impact of the Citizens United decision.
The reason why those closest to the President are strong supporters of RTTT and charters is because they are connected to south and west side real estate investment in Chicago and bad press for public schools in the form of low test scores will create the pretext and legitimation for more investment and funding of charter schools that will lead to rising condo sales, condo values, and land values. Once values rise and more middle class professionals move into these areas, commercial shopping and retail investment will do its work to increase the value of real estate.
That the President’s best buddy, should attempt to capitalize on on charter school investment after playing a role in the shaping of the President’s education policy, is either the hallmark of a “free enterprise system” or more grease to the wheels of yet another episode of crony capitalism excreted by the proximity to power of buddies helping each other out.
I taught Mr. Nesbitt’s two oldest children and I have communicated my disappointments about the Obama administrations education policies to him.
I told Mr. Nesbitt several times that the Democratic party would pay a price for creating education policies that did not serve the interests of the majority of parents, students, teachers, and administrators.
He told me that “teachers do not deserve the amount of money that they make,” “that their salaries should be reduced,” and that they deserve no respect for sacrificing other career paths to answer the calling of teaching.
He seemed more concerned about reducing teacher’s salaries to create a profit margin for investors than about the impact the disruptive policies of school closings would have on human communities.
I recently sent him a note that explained to him that the majority of 3.7 million teachers in this country are very upset with policies that denigrate teachers, students, parents and communities for political gain.
For an administration that pretends to care about the disappearance of the middle class and rising income inequality, its lack of support for teachers and public schools is astounding. We have heard nothing from this administration when democratic state representatives all over the country threaten to steal pensions that were not adequately funded due to political incompetence and a willingness to pay political cronies rather than pension funds.
We now see an attack on due process for teachers gaining political support from both parties and the billionaires who will benefit from the destruction of public unions. The attack on due process rights for teacher unions will set precedents for attacks on due process rights for other unions.
Scarcely 12% of Americans belong to unions and real wages in the United States have declined as union membership has declined.
The curtain has been pulled back, and most Americans can see now who are pulling the levers. The Democratic Party no longer supports the working people of this country. it serves the commercial clubs in every major American city, Wall Street bundlers, and plutocrats all over the world.
Mr. Nesbitt, the 3.7 million teachers in this country will not be fooled by staged meetings between a few teachers in the White House, listening to a few BadAss Teachers at the DoEd, or calling for a congress of teachers. WE know that this is political posturing in advance of November elections.
Your administration has disrespected us, our communities, and our families. How stupid do you think we are? Your policies are an attack on our self-respect.
Unless you instruct Senators Harkins and Durbin to defund NLRB and RTTT, fire Arne Duncan, and begin pursuing a new path, very few of us will support you in November.
We know that your billionaire friends will profit from their investments only if you pursue policies that create more charter schools. We know that you and your friends are betting on Pearson and Microsoft stock.
Your blatant disrespect for students, teachers, parents, and school communities will cost you the upcoming election.
You are blinded by greed and ignorance.