That might be a good question for reporters to pose to Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel given his strong stand against Chicago's public school teachers. (It is appropriate to refer to this as a battle between Emanuel and the teachers. Almost 90 percent of the members of the bargaining unit voted to authorize a strike. This is clearly not a case of a union imposing its will on its members.) Emanuel has insisted that the schools need a major overhaul because they are badly failing Chicago's students.
Emanual's position is striking because Chicago's schools had been run for seven and half years, from June of 2001 until January of 2009, by Arne Duncan. Duncan then went on to become education secretary for President Obama, based on his performance as head of the Chicago public school system. Apparently Emanuel does not believe that Duncan was very successful in improving Chicago's schools since he claims that they are still in very bad shape.
There is no dispute that students in Chicago public schools are not faring well. Only a bit over 60 percent graduate high school in five years or less. However, this doesn't mean that the reforms that Emanuel wants to impose will improve outcomes, just as Duncan's reforms apparently did not have much impact, if Emanuel is to be believed.
As Diana Ravitch, a one-time leading school "reformer" and assistant education secretary in the Bush administration, argues that charter schools on average perform no better than the public schools they replace. The main determinants of childrens' performance continues to be the socioeconomic conditions of their parents. Those unwilling to take the steps necessary to address the latter (e.g. promote full employment) are the ones who do not care about our children.
Talks have been productive in many areas. We have successfully won concessions for nursing mothers and have put more than 500 of our members back to work. We have restored some of the art, music, world language, technology and physical education classes to many of our students. The Board also agreed that we will now have textbooks on the first day of school rather than have our students and teachers wait up to six weeks before receiving instructional materials.
Recognizing the Board’s fiscal woes, we are not far apart on compensation. However, we are apart on benefits. We want to maintain the existing health benefits.
Another concern is evaluation procedures. After the initial phase-in of the new evaluation system it could result in 6,000 teachers (or nearly 30 percent of our members) being discharged within one or two years. This is unacceptable. We are also concerned that too much of the new evaluations will be based on students’ standardized test scores. This is no way to measure the effectiveness of an educator. Further there are too many factors beyond our control which impact how well some students perform on standardized tests such as poverty, exposure to violence, homelessness, hunger and other social issues beyond our control.
When Emanuel ran for mayor of Chicago, one of his announced political goals was to “reform” Chicago public schools. The system is the third largest in the country and has a high percentage of children from low-income families (80 percent of Chicago’s public school attendees qualify for free lunches). To understand what “reform” means to Emanuel, we should take the advice of Deep Throat regarding Watergate: “Follow the money.” It is a good guide to what Chicago is and is not doing for its school children.
“Tax Increment Financing” monies nicely illuminate the real priorities of Mayor Emanuel and the Chicago Board of Education. Earlier this year, Roosevelt University professor Stephanie Farmer’s analysis demonstrated that TIF spending for education over the past two decades has been biased against open-enrollment schools (what we use to call “public schools”). These schools constitute 69 percent of all Chicago schools, but they have received less than 48 percent of TIF money for building maintenance, repair, and upgrading. In revealing contrast, nine selective-enrollment high schools (charter and magnet) that make up 1 percent of the total number of schools got 24 percent of the money spent on school construction projects. Overall, CTU estimates that TIFs remove $250 million a year from Chicago Public Schools. This is almost half of the budget shortfall forecast by the Board of Education.
The charter school mantra reigns supreme in the thinking of both Emanuel and his appointed board. In analyzing the board’s proposed budget, the CTU pointed out that itincreases charter school spending by 17 percent, but does not address the rampant inequality in education programs across the district. In 2002, charter school spending was about $30 million; now, CPS proposes a whopping half-a-billion dollars to a failed reform program that has been shown to provide its students with no better education outcomes.
The last decade has seen a huge growth in (non-unionized) charter schools despite the lack of evidence of their alleged effectiveness. Chicago’s 600-plus schools include 110 charters and another twenty-seven schools run by private firms. Meanwhile, what is the situation for the bulk of Chicago school children? A quarter of the open-enrollment elementary schools have no libraries, 40 percent have neither either art nor music instruction, while many others must choose one or the other but can’t get both.
Mayor Emanuel sends his children to the private Chicago Lab School—where all of these “extras” are available.
at its heart, the strike is over the union's deep opposition to what it calls a "corporate reform agenda" that pursues a competitive or punitive relationship with teachers, rather than a collaborative one. Examples include blaming teachers and unions for educational shortcomings, promoting private but publicly financed charter schools, focusing on high-stakes tests and tying pay to merit.
CTU has instead pushed for smaller classes, enriched curriculum, better supplies and facilities, fairer and fuller funding (including the return of some public revenue long diverted into "TIFs" to subsidize developers), more counselors and support staff, respect for teacher professionalism, and a bigger say for teachers in their schools.
That clash puts the union at odds with CPS, the mayor and President Obama--whose education secretary, Arne Duncan, boosted the corporate-reform agenda as former Mayor Richard M. Daley's school superintendent. It also represents a more forceful rejection of such reforms than espoused by the national union, which nonetheless supports the CTU strike.
Unfortunately, CTU's leaders have not pierced effectively through the cloud of misinformation coming from the mayor and allies (including groups with a financial stake in charter schools) to make clear what they're for and against. Also, a new state law limits the union's ability to negotiate many of the most important policy issues.
But Emanuel's unpopularity among unions has lifted union support, including backing from UNITE-HERE members working in the school lunchrooms, who offered to join teacher picket lines even though the food workers' earlier negotiation of a contract precludes their joining the walkout.
Unless you are a teacher, you have no idea the pain, frustration and intrinsic anger we feel when some paid radio ad claims that “teachers are walking out on students”. Some days after teaching, I honestly wish I could walk out on my students and never come back. But no matter how frustrating our day may have been, it's the kids that always bring us back. Teachers spend our lunch periods, before and after school helping, coaching, and listening to our students.After days of teaching we spend nights in grad school, trying to make ourselves better teachers. We raise children and think about how we want our own child to be like __(insert name here)__ whom we taught a few years back.There is nothing about our careers, our schools, and our students that we take lightly.So please understand, teachers are trying to teach you that our careers and professions are under attack. Please understand we are trying to teach you about how your child’s education is under attack.
You may find this dramatic, but education is at a crossroads in our country and our neighborhood, our city is right at the intersection of these crossroads. There is an attempt to make schooling privatized, charter-ized, and more inequitable than it already is. There is an attempt to get rid of experienced teachers who have built relationships with families, who truly know how to teach and replace them with less expensive inexperienced teachers who likely will only be at the school for two years.
There is an attempt to teach through testing, which makes your child so bored from over standardized testing that students aren’t excited for school anymore. There is an attempt to further cut librarians, counselors, nurses, PE, World Language, Art and now classroom teachers, in order to “save” money. A budget is a political document, not a financial one, it’s about priorities. Some priorities obviously need to be re-evaluated.