Thursday, September 20

The Scandal of a Strike


Chicago Public School teachers went back to work on Wednesday after the first strike in 25 years that was contentious, angry, and, in my opinion, pointless.  And 350,000 students went without school for 7 full days while the Chicago Teachers Union made a point.

In July 2012, the Chicago Tribune published an article about teacher evaluations.  The US DOE was pressuring Illinois to put the new evaluations in place for the 2014-15 school year, starting the roll-out of the evaluation system this fall.  The state has an evaluation program in place and CPS wanted the standards to be higher for CPS teachers.  The CTU wanted the standards to be closer to the US DOE minimum.

(Scott Olson, Getty Images)
Karen Lewis, CTU president, was all smiles and relief when a tentative agreement was reached.  After all, she was in the spotlight. . . alot.  She wrote a scathing editorial published in the Chicago Tribune on Friday, September 14 in response to an article in which Bruce Rauner, a wealthy venture capitalist and adviser to Mayor Emmanuel, waded into the fray with some incendiary remarks.  Rauner advocates charter schools and vouchers.  Rauner quotes the remarks of Bob Chanin, general counsel of the National Education Association, saying that Chanin "made it clear at a recent NEA convention when he declared that teachers unions are focused on protecting their massive power '... not because of the merits of our positions, not because we care about children, and not because we have a vision for a great public school for every child. The NEA and its affiliates … have power because there are more than 3.2 million people who are willing to pay us hundreds of millions of dollars in dues every year.'"  Rauner does make the mistake of making a sweeping generalization about the quality of CPS teachers when he reports one instance of a teacher division incorrectly, but the article does not indicate if Rauner used that teacher as an example of greater and more systemic incompetence or if he was just attempting to prove a point with that single example.  If it's the latter, I'd give him a C.

But Ms. Lewis' reply was vituperative.  She accused Rauner of being angry and writing with venom; I thought it was some anger, but mostly sadness and a sense of resignation.  She trashes Rauner and wonders if he'd ever visited a CPS school reporting the inadequacy of facilities and the lack of materials.  Meanwhile, teachers all over the world are doing remarkable teaching with less.  And then she accuses him of some conspiracy, which was even more ludicrous than the rant itself.

At the end of the day, Karen Lewis may think the union "won," but most of the world seems to see this differently.  A CPS parent writes that many recognized the strike was never really about money.  She writes
We parents who want an educational system that can rescue those most at risk, realizing that no contractual agreement will solve those glaring inequalities. Real reform involves shifts in the economy that will take a groundswell of public support, collaboration, research and planning to accomplish. Most parents realize it is not what is happening in Chicago. If CTU continues to position this strike as a referendum on decades' worth of failed public policy while keeping our children out of school, you risk eventually losing my trust and support.
 And that is an important risk; almost as big as risking the education of 350,000 students for not winning much, if anything.  As reported in a Washington Post blog,
All told, teachers won big on school days, got basically nothing on class size or air conditioning, got an ambiguous result relative to the district’s offers on pay and recall policy, and got a big win on evaluations, but not as big as the win they’d have gotten earlier this week. So the teachers definitely got more than they’d have gotten absent a strike, but some of the issues they were loudest on, such as class size, didn’t change at all.
The end result is that the Chicago public schools will base more of evaluations on tests, base more of their layoffs and recalls on evaluations rather than seniority, and have longer school days than before Emanuel took office.

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