Politics and the Chicago teachers’ strike

Teacher evaluation — what percentage of a teacher’s rating should be based on students’ improvement on tests? — is at the heart of the Chicago strike, writes Marc Tucker, looking at the politics. The city wants a higher number than the one set by state law. And why did Illinois require the use of student test scores in evaluating teachers? It wanted to please Arne Duncan to get Race to the Top money.

The very policy that the teachers are most furiously opposed to is not just Rahm Emanuel’s policy.  It is core Obama administration policy.  The mayor is carrying the water for the Obama administration’s education reform strategy, and, in doing so, may be undermining the very reelection effort to which the mayor is personally very committed.

. . .  The administration has ardently and successfully advocated a reform agenda that teachers and their unions see as anti-teacher.  They have been successful in this advocacy because a tough-minded stance on teacher evaluations is one of only a tiny handful of issues on which the administration can find common ground with Republicans around the country.

President Obama has taken no position on the strike, notes Stephen Sawchuk on Teacher Beat.

“The president has said what’s appropriate to be said, that this is a local issue,” (American Federation of Teachers president Randi) Weingarten said.

. . .  I overheard the president of the Illinois Federation of Teachers telling the striking teachers that he’d removed his “Reelect Obama” lapel pin.

After vehemently endorsing the Wisconsin teachers’ union’s fight with Gov. Scott Walker, Weingarten “has been careful to not embrace her Chicago chapter too closely,” writes Rick Hess in a New York Daily News op-ed. There’s been no fiery rhetoric this time.

What’s different is that this is a bad fight for the teacher unions – most of the public, seeing the facts, will not be on their side – it comes at an awful time, and an ugly defeat could be a crushing blow.

The district is opening more “Children First” centers to provide games, arts and crafts and recreation for children and expanding to normal school hours, reports Sawchuk.

It’s about power, writes Mike Petrilli on Flypaper. “The unions are feeling whipsawed by tectonic shifts that have occured within the Democratic Party in recent years.”

There’s talk the strike could be settled soon — perhaps soon enough to start classes on Monday. Striking teachers are planning what to tell their students, reports the Chicago Tribune.

Christopher Barker, who teaches math and humanities at an elementary school, said he’ll ask students. “Is there anywhere that you go in life when you do have to speak up for yourself when there’s a perceived injustice?”

Donielle Lawson, who teaches special education at an alternative high school at Cook County Jail, also plans to discuss the strike. “They’re all too familiar with bullying and societal injustices, so it would be a very easy conversation with them,” Lawson said.

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  1. Eric Jablow says:

    What are the chances that any of the students of Mr. Barker or Ms. Lawson will have the strength of character to say that the teachers are doing their students an injustice?

    • ~ 0

    • Can’t wait to see what thought-provoking, critical, high-level thinking discussions elementary students will have about public policies, pensions, salaries, taxes, and teacher evaluation.

      Oh, the teachers will do the thinking for them? Ok.

  2. Chicago polls support the teachers. The mainstream media is much more down on the teachers than the parents are, apparently.

    • Yes, the mean, old mainstream media. If only they’d publish press releases from union headquarters instead of the far less appealing facts.

      Maybe Scott Walker will take his show on the road.

      • How hilarious would it be if Scott Walker did a surprise drop in press conference in support of Rahm? I think some Dems’ heads would explode.

  3. I went to meet-the-teacher nights at two schools this week, a jr high and a high school. We heard from both sets of teachers that their principals want to see improvement on tests over the course of the semester or trimester, and so there is a flurry of pre-test-taking. So, for example, my son who is taking an art class, which he is not interested in, but schedule constraints lead him to, was given a whole page of detailed questions about Alexander Calder, including questions about specific mobile sculptures. Then after they read an article about Calder, they will take a post-test (probably the same test as the pre-test).

    Thus will it be shown that value was added. But first the teacher starts by, essentially, giving everyone a test they will completely fail. It doesn’t matter for their grade, of course, just for their attitude about school.

  4. I just read, on another website, that John Stossel is reporting that 39% of Chicago teachers send their kids to private schools. That says something about teachers’ opinions of CPS and about their financial status. Nationally, 12% of people send kids to private schools. Decades ago, I remember reading that DC teachers, like urban teachers in general, sent their kids to private schools at a much higher rate than the average.

    • The residency requirement for Chicago municipal workers and the city’s very strong network of parochial and religious schools makes any comparison to the nationwide rate very apples-and-oranges-y.

      • Roger Sweeny says:

        Perhaps if every Chicago public school teacher lived in the suburbs, they would send their children to the local public school. This would indicate that they don’t disapprove of public schools in general. However, 39% don’t seem to think that the Chicago public schools are good enough for their kids. That says something.