CHICAGO – It began with No Child Left Behind and the move towards accountability using standardized measures — this carefully crafted disdain of teachers in the public eye, this disrespect.
The idea that teachers of the Chicago Teachers’ Union are striking because they don’t want to work longer hours, or they just want more money, is not only incorrect, but also the result of the most cynical PR job of the 21st century. The teaching profession is being maligned here in Chicago, even as public school teachers routinely work countless extra hours trying to round out their children’s education, with extra-curricular activities that the city and state will not longer fund – programs such as theater, music, varsity sports, and physical education in some instances.
The division of resources between the haves and have-nots is woefully disparate; because of this, the vast majority of Chicago Public School teachers are being asked to make a dollar out of fifteen cents.
Let’s get to the sticking points.
I literally know hundreds of Chicago public school teachers. They tell me that they’re not striking about benefits, pay or hours. Those issues, raised in intial contract negotiations, are actually pretty much worked out. But for history’s sake, let’s be clear: they’re NOT asking for a raise. They’re are asking to be paid for the extra work. They’re being asked to work more hours at the same pay. For mothers and fathers with children in daycare that means paying for an extra hour or two per day for daycare. Simple arithmetic tells us that means these teachers are working longer hours for a pay CUT.
Rahm and the board are also trying to increase class sizes. Many are the Chicago teachers who already have more students than desks and chairs. They also want teachers to pay more for benefits, which obviously would result in another pay cut.
Another major issues at work here is merit pay for teachers based on standardized testing. Even if we could magically make the circumstances for educating across the spectrum of socioeconomic, geographic, and race factors affecting schools and school districts equal, every research group to have investigated standardized testing or the idea of basing teacher effectiveness on it, has concluded emphatically that it is woefully ineffective. To compare a teacher whose students are coming to school hungry, or who are distracted by gunfire in their neighborhoods, to the performance of teachers elsewhere — based on how their students perform on standardized tests — is beyond unfair. It should be illegal.
Never once did Rahm Emanuel ask the teachers, the ones doing the educating, how to fix education in this city before calling for his changes.
The United States has a longer school day than most first world countries, yet our scores are among the lowest. Clearly extending the day even further isn’t going to solve anything. In fact, the only thing that seems to be proven time and time again is that a student’s teacher will determine his or her success in school.
The countries that are succeeding in education highly value public education and its teachers. The backlash against the strike shows that neither are being valued in Chicago.
The controversy over the strike, and the tying of student success monetarily to teacher performance, is also a smokescreen for the work of what some call the Prison Industrial Complex. The move to gut public education throughout the country through tactics such as underpaying teachers must be seen contextually.