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A Chicago Teacher Questions Martin Koldyke’s “Golden Apples” Program

June 4, 2014

A few days ago, a Chicago teacher contacted me to make me aware of a program in Chicago, the “Golden Apple” program, one that supposedly rewards good teachers yet seems more like a front to supply a temporary teaching staff in schools that businessman Martin Koldyke has taken control of in the all-too-common corporate reform name of “turning them around.”

This teacher read my book, A Chronicle of Echoes, which has three chapters focused on the history of mayoral control in Chicago. She noted that I did not mention Koldyke, which is true. My book is a 24-chapter survey of corporate reform, and I had to cut information in order to limit its size. (Even with small font, the book is over 500 pages.) Plus, I ran out of both energy and summer vacation. (I wrote the body of the book in a single summer. It needed to be done before the fall and my return to teaching full time.)

In February 2013, I had written about Koldyke as part of my 17-post NCTQ series. In my post, I concluded that Golden Apple looked like a legitimate program but that Koldyke’s connections definitely put him in the category of “corporate reformer”:

Koldyke is also founder and chair of the Academy for Urban School Leadership(AUSL). It is here that I read Koldyke’s name in association with Arne Duncan. I read that this group “manages” 25 Chicago public schools and that AUSL’s partners include the Dell and Gates Foundations; the Walmart Foundation; theALEC-connected Boeing Corporation, and– yep– McGriff’s NewSchools Venture Fund.

Koldyke is a corporate reformer.

If only Koldyke’s AUSL could deliver. Alas, they cannot:

Since the latest Chicago Public Schools “reform” efforts began in 1996, Orr Academy High School in the West Side’s Garfield Park neighborhood has beensubjected to nearly every faddish attempt the corporate reformists have to offer. It has been reconstituted, reengineered, intervened, broken up into “small schools,” and combined into one large school all over againThe Academy of Urban School Leadership (AUSL) has managed this newest iteration since the 2008-09 school year. [Written in Feb 2012]

When it took control of the school, AUSL promised an increase in student achievement, strong involvement with the community, and a new school culture—but the changes it has delivered are criminally short of these ideals.Some Orr teachers, worried for the safety and future of their students, shared their experiences with the Occupied Chicago Tribune. The picture they paint of the school is gruesome—complete chaos in the hallways, blatant sexual assault against female students and staff, open drug use by students in the lunchroom, bigotry so severe that LGBT students have stopped attending school, and the falling test scores and attendance rates that one would expect amid such havoc. [Emphasis added.]

Not the picture of reformer success, is it?  There’s more. As one Orr teacher notes:

We’ve been through 15 administrators in three-and-a-half years, including principals, assistant principals, and directors of operation. In the middle of the last school year, our principal left. Our new principal [Tyese Sims—Ed.] was put in place. She brought with her two new assistant principals and removed our old assistant principals and directors. Since then, she has replaced one of the assistant principals she brought in last year and replaced her with a new one at the beginning of this year. So it’s constant turnoverAnd, there’s no real continuity in terms of initiatives, mission, vision, philosophy within the school…  When AUSL has complete control over schools, and there’s no mechanism in place for oversight and raising objections or concerns about what is happening, it’s going to keep being the same thing—they’ll move into a school, establish a large presence for maybe a year or two, and then move out and on to the next batch of sick schools[Emphasis added.]

The entire article is worth an eye-opening read.

The Chicago teacher who contacted me hoped that I would write more about Koldyke.

Since much of my time this summer will be devoted to writing a second book (this one on the origins of Common Core), I invited this teacher to write a guest post on her concerns about Koldyke and Golden Apple.

Below is her post, as she chose to write it.


I recently read Mercedes’ new book, A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who in the Implosion of American Public Education.   I am a Chicagoland area public school teacher who is observing and experiencing the dismantling of the public education system.   I am a union leader as well.   Mercedes’ book has an overwhelming amount of information exposing the corporate greed behind the reform movement.

As I read the three Chicago chapters, I noticed that a very influential reformer was not included.   I contacted Mercedes to share this information, and she suggested I blog it on her site. I am happy to share this information, but I would like to remain anonymous. I am a regular person and I would like to keep my job teaching. With the new tiered evaluation system, teachers can be targeted for speaking out and fired. I have seen it happen in my own district this year.

The person I would like to tell you about is Martin “Mike” Koldyke.   He is a wealthy venture capitalist that founded Frontenac Investment Firm in 1971. He is a list of other organizations he is connected to:

·        Founder and chairman emeritus of the Golden Apple Foundation

·        Founder and chairman emeritus of the Academy for Urban School Leadership(AUSL)

·        Trustee of Chicago Education Fund

·        Board member of the Golden Apple Foundation of New Mexico

·        Board member of After School Matters

·        Board member of the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ)

·        Director of Chicago News Cooperative

·        Director of Rasmussen College, Inc.

·        Trustee Emeritus of Window to the World Communications, Inc.

·        Trustee Emeritus of WTTW 11

·        Board member of the New Mexico Highlands University Foundation

·        Life Trustee of Northwestern University

·        Life Trustee of the Ravinia Festival Association

·        Former Vice President of Morgan Stanley Financial Advisors

·        Former Director of Healthways Inc.

His son, Laird Koldykewas appointed Commissioner of Chicago Park District. He is involved in:

  • Co-founder and Managing Partner of Winona Capital Management, LLC
  • Board member of boards of Top Driver, LLC and Laird Norton Company, LLC.
  • Worked for IBM Corporation in the National Marketing Division in Los Angeles, California and Chicago.


The Golden Apple Foundation, founded in 1996, is an organization that is multifaceted. The original mission of the organization is to acknowledge and award excellent teachers from Chicagoland. The organization awards 10 teachers a year. Each teacher receives $3000, a paid quarter sabbatical, and two semesters of free classes at Northwestern University.

The winners are surprised in their classrooms with members of the Golden Apple board, fellows, the school board, the school administrators, their family members, their students, and some lucky winners will be surprised by the mayor of Chicago or governor of Illinois. The winners then become inducted into the organization as fellows.

The fellows are expected to work within the organization to promote great teaching. I believe the fellows in the organization are honest, hardworking teachers. They care about their students and the integrity of education.

The scholars program started in 1989, as described on their website, “identifies talented high school seniors and college sophomores who have the promise and drive to be excellent teachers in high-need schools. We prepare them for immediate and lasting success in the most challenging teaching environments.”   Scholars get their tuition paid for.   I am not sure if it is full or partial scholarships. I am sure they must commit to teaching in a school of need for 5 years.

This year the Golden Apple awarded 175 scholarships.   Next year they want to expand and double the number of scholars. The Golden Apple partners with many colleges and universities to traditionally train and license teachers.

The Academy of Urban Leadership, AUSL, was founded in 2001 by Martin Koldyke, who founded the Golden Apple. (For further interesting reading on AUSL, click here and here and here and here.) The city of Chicago turned over 19 schools to the AUSL. The AULS turnaround schools are still public schools that have a contract with AUSL.   So the non-profit AUSL is profiting.

What I find interesting is that when AUSL takes over a Chicago school, they fire all staff and rehire their own staff. Could the Golden Apple scholars be the some of the new hires in AUSL schools?   The GA scholars are required to work in schools of need for 5 years. Turnaround schools are schools in need.

The AUSL also has its own “Training Academies.”   Anybody can get trained here, in new business model for education, and earn a license to teach. Resident teachers spend one year teaching in a training academy with a mentor teacher.

It is something worth investigating.






  1. As I’ve posted before at various points and on, Koldyke is one of the main leaders of corporate school reform in Chicago. His original smokescreen was the Golden Apple Foundation. The Foundation began awarding the “Golden Apple” academy awards for “excellence in teaching” in the 1980s, by the way. Chicago’s public television station, WTTW, was part of the Golden Apple hype by 1990. Every year, they aired a ceremony which was basically like the Academy Awards. Some teachers ate it up. It turned out there was a lot of phony stuff about the program.

    (Disclosure: I was a semi-finalist one year; I was told by one of the judges that I didn’t make the final cut because they were afraid I would “pull a Jane Fonda” at the TV show. At that time, I had pioneered the “Macintosh Computer Classroom” at Amundsen High School and among other things was featured in a four-page Apple promotional on using the Macs in classrooms…).

    Within a few years, the Golden Apples had evolved into as much hype as anything else. One friend of mine who won one told me she did everything but audition for the “show,” changing her wardrobe, practicing a certain kind of telegenic lesson, and even losing some weight while her kids (at one of Chicago’s “better” high schools) worked overtime on their nominating letters.

    By the early 1990s, Koldyke, in partnership with then mayor Richard M. Daley, had become the Chicago “School Reform Authority” chairman. As such, he was overseeing the mandated “reform” programs in Chicago, using powers that still lingered from the old “Chicago School Finance Authority.” Koldyke was a right wing ideologue the entire time. The “Reform” authority paid a quarter million dollars a year for an expert “consultant” to evaluate Chicago’s “reform” initiatives. The consultant: Chester Finn, then a professor at Vanderbilt.

    As Koldyke became more powerful through the corporate “school reform” leaderships in the 1990s, he also began pushing each successive flavor-of-the-year “reform” thingy. For several years, that was “small schools.” At one point, I was union delegate and on the leadership team at Bowen High School, one of the most challenging urban high schools in the United States. (Example: we had seven present or former students murdered during one school year, 1997 – 1998; I was at that time “gang security coordinator” at the school and knew each of those students; one I watched die with a bullet through his heard just outside the building a week before Christmas 1997).

    Against those realities, Koldyke was demanding that all large urban high schools be broken up into “small schools.”

    It finally came to a confrontation in the Bowen High School social room, where Koldyke had demanded that he get to meet with the school’s leadership. That was about nine of us. My job was basically to be bad cop, since a lot of people had to protect the school from Koldyke’s predatory whims.


    At a certain point I just said that if “small schools” was such a sure fire way to improve American public high schools, why didn’t Kodyke go to his own community on the North Shore (he lived in the New Trier High School District, Wilmette and Winnetka) and bring the gospel of “small schools” to the rich white suburbs — I listed several huge high schools from the most affluent Chicago suburbs — and then, five years from now, return to Chicago and tell us how it went at New Trier, Glenbard West, etc. Because, I said, it seemed that “small schools” was only a prescription for schools like Bowen that served black and brown children of the poor…

    Koldyke went ballistic. “I will not be called a racist by someone like you!” he bellowed. He talked about how his son was coaching baseball at DuSable (another inner city high school) and how much he and his family had done for people in the inner city. He never, of course, answered my question, which was centered on the class diferentiations and demanded to know why we just weren’t provided with the same resources that they had at places like New Trier, Glenbard West, etc.

    During those years, I was also a regular on WTTW TV shows like “Chicago Tonight” as the voice of Chicago’s rank and file teachers (who were not part of the union leadership). I had run for president of the union in 1988 and 1994, getting about 40 percent of the vote despite all the vote stealing and other Chicago-style issues.

    One night I was on the show with Koldyke. As usual, he was pontificating as only a multi-millionaire who is used to having his ass kissed can. I spoke and pointed out that most of what he had just said was based on not knowing what he was talking about — abstractions that had nothing to do with the real world of Chicago high schools, our classrooms, and our kids.

    Koldyke was furious, and the show’s moderator, Elizabeth Brackett, stopped letting me speak. The camera crew caught on and when I watched the video later, they kept zooming on my shaking my head as Koldyke spouted another stupid pontification. I was never invited to any of those shows again, and within a year my name was blacklisted from all Chicago corporate media. We joke about it — I am the Voldemort for the Sun-Times, Tribune, “public” radio and TV, etc.

    I covered the press conference when the Party Line of the Plutocracy was changed from “small schools” to “turnaround.” Without batting an eye, Koldyke stood with Mayor Daley and people from the Gates Foundation and announced that “small schools” was over and that “turnaround” was the next sure thing. I asked a question to Daley, who had been the “principal for a day” at Orr High School during the small schools years. “Are you going to apologize to the Orr teachers you’ve met when they are all fired when turnaround starts in June?…”

    At that point, Daley’s press secretary announced that the press conference was over.

    In June, all those loyal Orr High School teachers who had dutifully done “small schools” were dumped so that Koldyke’s AUSL could begin the next experiment — “turnaround.” Part of that was to utilize the extra dollars that CPS gives each turnaround ($300,000 in “start up” funds even though nothing is really starting up, plus $420 per pupil for five years) to bribe a few parents for a year or two. As a result, every year, when AUSL is challenged, a couple of sad people get up and give the same speech at the Board of Education — “I was against turnaround, but now I see how it really was the best thing!” Some of them are put on the payroll (like a local preacher who had stormed against turnaround until AUSL gave him a job for a couple of years at Orr “School of Excellence”). Others are just given a couple of crumbs.

    But their salvation narrative is always ALWAYS the same. Turnaround is the bright light that they didn’t at first see, etc., etc.

    Anyone who wants to take the time can watch a few of those testimonials from the May 28, 2014 meeting of the Chicago Board of Education, or read our coverage of them at They have been the same since ten years ago, when the scam was first used at Dodge “School of Excellence” (the school Barack Obama chose to use for his photo ops when he announced that Arne Duncan was going to be U.S. Secretary of Education in December 2009). It’s been used ever since. And always they get away with it because we are among the only people to point out that these “parents” are reading from a script provided by AUSL. Later, like those before this year’s crop, they will be dumped.

    Last night at the Chicago Teachers Union meeting I was talking with one of the organizers from the West Side. I said we should do a satiric video of one of these AUSL turnaround testimoniais:

    My child was raped and murdered at that old school, but once AUSL arrived with turnaround he was brought back to life and is now reading a book a day…


    Thanks for asking. Martin Koldyke may not be as prominent nationally in the corporate “reform” world as Gates, Broad and the Waltons, but his version of reality may be even more important. After all, AUSL is the national “turnaround model” promoted by Arne Duncan and the Ed Dept.

  2. You may want to consider submitting your your NCTQ series as a Kindle Single (5,000 to 30,000 words). If KS accepts it, it would be listed on Amazon and you could sell it through them reaching a wider and newer audience. And your NCTQ KS would probably appear on your author page alongside your recent release.

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