Did Obama work for Bill Ayers?

Pretty much, claims Larry “No wonder Karl Rove’s mother killed herself” Johnson. I can’t bring myself to link to him, strange bedfellows or no, so I’m sending you to Maguire’s site for the precis and a question or two about what Obama’s role really was at the Annenberg Challenge. Ayers co-founded it; Johnson says Obama was the first chairman of the board but cites no evidence to support that. A piece last year at Education Week apparently claimed that Obama “led” the Challenge (it’s behind a reg wall so I can’t check) but a blog post from one of EdWeek’s own contributors disputed that: “I wrote a long report about the CAC in 2001 … that failed to unearth Obama’s name as anyone of any influence — and never came across his name in an education context in the following six years during which I wrote a book about school reform in Chicago.” A 1995 article in the Chicago Reader backs Johnson up, though: “He sits on the boards of two foundations with long histories of backing social and political reform, including his own community work–the Woods Fund and the Joyce Foundation. Recently he was appointed president of the board of the Annenberg Challenge Grant, which will distribute some $50 million in grants to public-school reform efforts.”

So the guy worked for an education fund. So what? Who cares? Over to Jeralyn Merritt, who I can bring myself to link:

It is pretty curious that Obama called Ayers an English professor at the ABC debate when he knew from their work together at Annenberg that he was an Education Professor. Did he not want to be further connected to Ayers so he changed the name of his field from Education to English? Or did he really forget? That doesn’t bother me much either.

The relevant point here is that Obama seems to be minimizing his legitimate ties to Ayers for some reason. He’s spoken about being on the Annenberg Challenge Board and lists it on his resume, but he didn’t mention it at the debate — or that Ayers was intimately involved in it He also, according to many articles I’ve read that appeared in mainstream and professional publications, didn’t do much for education while he served on them.

The obvious exit question: How closely did Obama and Ayers work together at the Challenge? It may be that they had little contact, that Ayers’s role ended in setting the thing up and he was sufficiently uninvolved in day to day operations that Obama sincerely forgot he was associated with the program. If they did have close contact, though, how come His Holiness didn’t think to mention that tidbit when asked about it by Stephanopoulos? Something for an enterprising journalist to press him on, assuming there are any left who aren’t in the tank.

Update: A tipster sends along the EdWeek article via Lexis-Nexis. Here’s the relevant passage, which doesn’t tell us anything about whether Obama and Ayers worked together:

But Sen. Obama may have a unique perspective among the candidates seeking the presidency in 2008. As a private citizen, he led Chicago’s portion of the Annenberg Challenge school reform initiative financed by the late philanthropist Walter H. Annenberg–an experience that shaped Mr. Obama’s perspective on the critical importance of principals and teachers.

The Chicago Annenberg Challenge spread $49.2 million across the city’s schools in an effort to support emerging community-based public school reforms in the nation’s third-largest district. It was ultimately unsuccessful in raising student achievement, according to evaluations of the project. But its leaders and participants agreed that high-quality teachers were the key ingredient the school system was missing.

“All of the networks [of Chicago schools] we were funding came to that same conclusion after about three years,” said Ken Rolling, the former executive director of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge. To improve urban schools, said Mr. Rolling, “we have to increase and improve the pool of qualified teachers.”

Mr. Obama led the Chicago group’s board from the start in 1995 and for about the next three years, Mr. Rolling said. He stayed on the board until the project closed in 2001.