October 15, 2012

Chicago Teachers Strike Misses Mark

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Some critics will say that the Chicago Teacher’s Union (CTU) strike that ended two weeks ago was motivated by greed: teachers who, on average, earned more than any other public schoolteacher in the country but wanted more. They’ll claim that the union’s request for a 35 percent raise in teacher salary was unreasonable considering the short school days, the long breaks enjoyed by teachers, and the poor economic climate of Chicago.

Others will claim that the teachers were irresponsible for shutting nearly 350,000 children out of school and failed their in loco parentis (in the role of parents) capacity. They’ll say that schools, at the very least, have a responsibility to take care of their students by feeding and protecting them, noting that 80 percent of public school children rely on school meals for their basic nutrition.

Still others will critique the CTU for fighting against teacher evaluations based on student performance. They’ll say that the best way to eliminate the least effective teachers is to evaluate their students’ achievement on standardized tests, and that the best way to incentivize, attract and retain the most effective teachers is to reward for increased student performance.

When the situation resolved itself, these grievances were eventually addressed. In the midst of the strike and perhaps in spite of it, the mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel, opened several schools to provide breakfast and lunch for students. When the strike ended and the dust cleared from the negotiating room, the CTU settled for a 7% salary increase over 3 years and allowed for 30% of their overall evaluation to come from student performance.

Ultimately, however, the debate between the city of Chicago and the CTU on whether salary, teacher evaluations and job security translate to a better education for children remains a political, rather than constructive, venture: It’s about cutting or expanding budgets, reducing or increasing the teacher workforce, and deciding how schooling is administered.

The “other” discussion, the one that will likely determine the future of American public education, is unfortunately being ignored. It involves questioning all the structures of education that we take for granted, such as: Why do we group children based on their age? Why do we segregate subjects like Math from History and English from Physics? Why is there a standard curriculum? Why are standardized tests the primary measure of success?

Contemplating on these questions and researching solutions could provide valuable insight into the current failure of K-12 public education to create college-ready students and encourage new policy at the local, state, and federal level that extend effective techniques to teachers and administrators and expand opportunities to every student.

Original Author: Jacob Newman