After Governors Chris Christie and Scott Walker took on their states’ teachers unions and won, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel seemed confident that taking on the Chicago Teachers Union would run a similar path. Here we are in Day 5 of the city’s first strike in twenty-five years with 350,000 children home from school, and politicians are posturing more confidence in a contract settlement than may be realistic.
In a tough economy with many in the private sector out of work and with retirement plans having gone belly-up, the complaints of tenured teachers looking forward to comfortable retirement pensions have at times seemed whiny. Whereas in New Jersey and Wisconsin public sentiment seemed to be on the side of government wanting to reign in spending, Chicagoans seem to siding with the teachers. Thousands of red t-shirt clad demonstrating teachers met with virtually no oppositional demonstration. This may be due to Mayor Emanuel’s sarcastic rhetoric and well-known strong-arm tactics that seem to have resulted in his looking like a bully and CTU President Karen Lewis emerging as a modern day folk hero.
One of the issues Lewis refuses to give up at the bargaining table is that of teacher evaluation reform. Proposed change wants a large percentage of teacher evaluation to be tied to student performance on standardized tests. While this may seem logical to the business world, it is not in the educational world. In the private sector there is more control over product quality because there is more control over the materials involved in the final product. Buyers are constantly rejecting inferior materials and looking for better ones to produce superior products.
Educators cannot do that. And even if they could, they wouldn’t because the materials they have to work with are people who, because of genetic, nutritional, environmental, and socio-economic circumstances, often come to school needing more than points on a standardized test. Many of them need food and each day get their meals at school. If they were materials, they would be rejected by the same corporate and political moguls who want to impose their evaluation standards on the educational world.
Karen Lewis and her teachers are working with children and know there is much more to teaching than dispensing information. They also realize there is much more to their final product than a standardized test score.