Chicago’s George Schmidt on Martin Koldyke, “Golden Apples,” and School “Turnaround”
On June 4, 2014, I posted this piece by a guest writer, a Chicago area teacher, who has concerns about Martin Koldyke’s “Golden Apples” teacher recognition program. Her concern is that the “Golden Apples” program is a benevolently-disguised, self-serving effort for Koldyke to use teachers to staff his Academy for Urban Leadership “turnaround” schools (AULS).
The guest writer read my book, A Chronicle of Echoes, which includes three chapters detailing the history of mayoral control of Chicago public schools, and wished to add to the details in my book.
In response to the guest post, George Schmidt of Chicago-based Substance News offered the following details. Schmidt originally posted the information below in the comments section of the guest post. However, his experience with the topic warrants its own post.
I give you George Schmidt:
As I’ve posted before at various points and on substancenews.net, 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 substancenews.net. 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.