A surprise guestlivened upWednesday's otherwise snooze-worthy story on Barack Obama's education plans by education reporter Sam Dillon. "Obama Looks to Lessons from Chicago in His National Education Plan " is part of the paper's newly launched "If Elected..." series, examining the candidates' stands on various issues:
Senator Barack Obama learned how hard it can be to solve America's public education problems when he headed a philanthropic drive here a decade ago that spent $150 million on Chicago's troubled schools and barely made a dent.
Drawing on that experience, Mr. Obama, the Democratic nominee for president, is campaigning on an ambitious plan that promises $18 billion a year in new federal spending on early childhood classes, teacher recruitment, performance pay and dozens of other initiatives.
About midway through comes a two-paragraph cameo from Obama's domestic terrorist friend, Weather Underground cofounder William Ayers, who bombed the Pentagon and later lamented that he hadn't done enough of that sort of thing.
Mr. Obama immersed himself in education issues after his return to Chicago, where he began lecturing at the University of Chicago Law School and joined the boards of two education foundations.
Chicago received $49 million from a $500 million endowment by Walter H. Annenberg, the billionaire publisher, for school reform efforts nationwide, and the city added $98 million in matching funds for the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, a philanthropic campaign that financed enrichment projects at a third of the city's 600 schools.
Mr. Obama was nominated to the Challenge board and was elected chairman in 1995, said Ken Rolling, executive director of the group, which operated through 2001. Mr. Obama continued to teach law during his five-year unpaid tenure as board chairman, and he was twice elected to the Illinois Senate.
Supporters of Mr. McCain have been trying to taint Mr. Obama by highlighting his ties to William Ayers, a member of the violent Weather Underground in the 1960s, by pointing out that they worked on the Challenge project together. Mr. Ayers was indicted on conspiracy charges that were later thrown out for prosecutorial misconduct.
Mr. Obama has acknowledged that he is a friend of Mr. Ayers but has sought to minimize their interactions. Records show that Mr. Ayers, now a professor of education at the University of Illinois at Chicago, helped write the Challenge proposal. The records also show that he and Mr. Obama worked on the Challenge project together and that they attended some of the same meetings.