Dr Mark Naison, Fordham University
The Chicago Teachers strike is an incredibly important development because it is a the first time a union local has threatened to strike against education policies pushed by the Obama Administration through its Race to the Top initiative, policies, in my judgment, that have had incredibly destructive consequences for Urban school systems and distressed urban communities
The policies pushed by Rahm Emmanuel, which are being simultaneously implemented in New York and many other cities, involve evaluating teachers and schools on the basis of student test scores, closing schools whose test scores fail to meet a certain standard and firing half their staffs, replacing public schools with charter schools, some run as non profits and some run for profit, and trying to weaken teacher tenure and introduce merit pay
The first three components have been already introduced in Chicago and the mayor wants to intensify them and legnthen the school day. The union is saying enough is enough.
I support the union in taking this stand for the following reasos
1. Closing schools, many of which have been a bulwark of neighborhoods for generations, has been a complete disaster. It has destroyed one point of stability in the lives of young people who have precious little. It removes teachers who have been a part of students lives. It is not an accident that Chicago has seen a serious uptick of violence since Emmanuel became mayor. Young people in distressed neighborhoods need to see community institutions strengthened and teacher mentors protected. School closings and staff turnover take away needed anchors
2. Rating teachers and schools on the basis of student test scores, and threatening to close schools and fire teachers if the proper results aren’t achieved have not only ratcheted up stress levels in schools, they have led to the elimination of art music, sports, school trips and even recess for test prep. The result is that more and more teachers hate teaching and more and more young people hate school, increasing the drop out rate in neighborhoods which desperately need schools to become community centers where young people want to go. The union wants to make schools welcoming places where students want to come by reducing class size, and bringing back sports and the arts, and strengtheining struggling schools rather than closing them. That makes a lot of sense to me
3. Favoring charter schools over public schools has resulted in the systematic creaming off of high performing students by the charters and the warehousing of ELL and special needs students, along with students who have behavior issues, in the remaining public schools. The result is that overall academic performance in the district has not improved
4. Removing teacher tenure and job protections has resulted in the most talented teachers leaving the city system or trying to move from low performing schools to high performing ones where they are less likely to be fired. The result is an accentuation of racial and economic gaps in performance
Basically, what the union wants is to strengthen neighborhood schools an invest in making them places where students are nurtured and want to come, rather than stress filled test factories which the Emmanuel plan and Race to the Top guarantees
The union, in this instance is far better advocate for the children of Chicago than the mayor.