As Chicago’s teacher strike begins its second week, one thing is clear: the stakes are getting higher, especially when thinking about upcoming elections. More on that in a minute. First, the issues.
This Chicago Tribune article titled “Chicago teacher strike: Issues at the center of contract negotiations” does a great job of outlining the issues at the center of the strike:
· Teacher pay – how much and for what (tenure, education/credits earned) teachers are compensated
· How teachers are evaluated – specifically how much of the evaluations would be based on student achievement data
· The length of the school day and year
· How teachers are laid-off and rehired in the event of school closings
Some of these issues, especially teacher evaluation, are the same issues being pushed by President Obama and the Department of Education led by Arne Duncan. This makes sense considering Rahm Emanuel, the current Chicago mayor sitting across from the Chicago Teachers Union at the bargaining table, is Obama’s former chief of staff. As Rick Hess correctly points out in his blog post,“Five Thoughts on the Chicago Teachers Strike,” this could be a problem for President Obama:
“…the whole thing is an unhelpful squeeze for President Obama… On the one hand, Obama can’t afford to undercut a major public employees union less than two months before the election… On the other hand, Obama can’t walk away from his former chief of staff as he fights for reforms that Obama championed. Doing so would fuel the Romney assertion that Democrats may talk a good game on school reform but that they’ll ultimately back down when challenged by the teachers unions.”
In the first paragraph, I said this strike could affect elections – plural. My super-smart colleague, Lillian Pace, picked out a line in Rick Hess’ most recent post, “The Chicago Teachers Strike, Week 2,”that could prove to be interesting, “Indeed, I’m now hearing murmurs that [Karen} Lewis [the president of the Chicago Teachers Union] may be angling to challenge Randi Weingarten for AFT president.” As Lillian pointed out, this could have far-reaching implications on education policy as Ms. Weingarten has made it acceptable for American Federation of Teachers members to work more closely with, instead of against, reformers. If Lewis successfully challenges Weingarten for AFT president, the Chicago strike may be a sign of things to come.
Depending on how the strike ends, and how the two sides are perceived as “winners” and “losers,” this labor stoppage could mean a lot for the future of education reform in the U.S.