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School strikes of choice – in Chicago and Tacoma

Post by TNT Editorial Board / The News Tribune on Sep. 17, 2012 at 7:11 pm with 4 Comments »
September 17, 2012 6:13 pm

This editorial will appear in Tuesday’s print edition.

Chicago’s teachers – now into the second week of a citywide strike – don’t need a new contract as much as they need a new union.

Tacomans may get get a sense of déjà vu watching Chicago’s catastrophe unfold. Last year’s strike in Tacoma threw the city’s students – most of whom are poor – out of school for eight days.

The governor had to intervene to end the walkout. When it was over, the Tacoma Education Association’s modest contract gains hardly justified the damage done by the strike. The TEA could have kept the schools open while it continued to bargain.

Expand Tacoma’s trauma by an order of magnitude and you get Chicago.

There, more than 350,000 students are shut out of school. More than 80 percent of them are from impoverished homes. As in Tacoma, working parents have had to make emergency child-care arrangements and seen their jobs disrupted.

The Chicago school district estimates that 50,000 schoolchildren qualify for some form of special education; some have profound disabilities. For many of them, school is a life raft.

Chicago’s walkout – like Tacoma’s – is a strike of choice.

The district says it has offered pay raises that average 17.9 percent over four years. The union’s top leadership had actually settled with the district on the remaining issues, but internal politics have so far delayed ratification.

So the union is now striking over an offer its own president has signed off on. At the moment, more than a third of a million Chicago children are out of school over an intramural dispute within the labor organization.

In Chicago, the mayor – Rahm Emanuel – effectively calls the shots in the school system. His aggressive style helped provoke the teachers.

But much of the argument revolves around the use of test scores to evaluate teachers and performance-driven staffing decisions. These are at the heart of the education reforms championed by Barack Obama and other critics of American public education.

This kind of accountability is anathema to traditional trade unions, which historically have protected their members by insisting that seniority be the paramount factor in employment decisions. But Americans are increasingly fed up with the trade union model when it comes to their schools. It serves adults, not students.

Some teacher unions get this. In Boston, for example, the union and the district have just negotiated a contract that emphasizes student achievement in teacher evaluation. It took two years, and the union was dogged in pursuing safeguards for good teachers, but it ended without an explosion.

“Neither side let their frustrations spill onto the students of the Boston Public Schools,” said Mayor Thomas Menino. It’s too bad the same can’t be said for Chicago – or Tacoma.

Leave a comment Comments → 4
  1. goddardr says:

    Imagine for a moment you worked for a monopoly. The monopoly required you to satisfy a set of goals except you had no control on the materials that came in and the work was hampered by the changing conditions of the workplace. Then, once a year, you hoped that the measuring stick used by the monopoly didn’t fail you and make it so you could not work in that town, possibly that state, ever again. You’re one and only livelihood removed and facing an uncertain future.

    That is what the Chicago teachers are facing and any other teacher facing student evaluation directed performance. There is a reason why teachers have a union. They are working for a single entity and without the union rules to protect positions, teachers face varying administrations that hold the power to end their careers at their whim.

    Don’t even pretend you know what this atmosphere of indirect performance job review is like. If you are like me, you have bosses that require certain performances that are quite measurable and you really have to screw up to get fired. Even if you do get fired, you can find another work place that needs you and can’t find out the circumstances you left the last place (there are laws protecting your reasons for leaving, did you know that?). For most of us, we are given chances if we don’t meet our goals as long as we have mitigating circumstances and we don’t keep missing goals, so we can depend on keeping our jobs. The stakes for teachers facing evaluations by student testing are going to be extremely high.

    This whole “strike is a choice” bit is bonkers. There is no impetus for resolution if the workers return to work. And, in the end, all they will do is exactly what Tacoma did and that was shift the school year so summer started late. Teaching days were not lost due to the strike. It just sounds so much more wretched when listing the number of days “lost” for these kids.

    So go ahead, sling your rocks at the teachers once again; call them over-paid, undeserving, lazy, self-serving, greedy, unconscionable, slackers and the scourge of society because you think they got the easy life. Right now teachers have little or no standing in society because the budgets were busted from the economic mess and politicians, administrators, and the public have spewed their venom toward the one group that impacts our children as much as, if not more than, the parents that spawned them. They are easy targets.

  2. BigSwingingRichard says:

    “The governor had to intervene to end the walkout.”

    This statement is patently false.

    The governor intervened to help the union to avoid a judge’s decision that public teacher strikes are illegal.

    On the Monday after the Governor called everyone to Olympia, a Pierce County judge was scheduled to rule on the illegality of public teacher strikes.

    The union avoided the ruling that the teachers and their union organized an illegal strike, fomented the breaking of the law and ignored a Superior Court order to return to work.

    I was in court when the union lawyer would not even concede that there was a strike in progress when at that very moment, teachers were picketing outside the courtroom.

    The Governor was assisting the union during the strike. She was not helping the kids, she was helping the dues paying adults who donate taxpayer funded cash to her and the other Democrats.

    The TNT editorial writers should know this instead of mis-represnting the facts.

  3. mahinaokeiki says:

    What damage was done by the Tacoma strike? That’s a very interesting word choice. I believe the only damage done was found in the News Tribune’s portrayal of the strike.

    The comparison is wrong. In Tacoma, the district had attempted to work with the teacher’s union on the creation of the teacher evaluation. It began with Conversation Circles seeking input on how important teacher evaluations are and how can they be ‘fair’ and what about merit pay. However, the mood changed when the union took an early pre-strike vote to strike. When the Tacoma teachers’ strike was over, the agreement included the district and union setting up a committee to hammer out the teacher evaluation piece. It was completed without much fanfare. They created a process that makes sense, enabling the school district to hold onto teachers who normally may have lost their jobs when ‘seniority alone’ determined their future.
    Then you look at Chicago. Chicago is closing about 100 of its schools in struggling neighborhoods. Many of its teachers are working in horrible conditions with few resources and support. They have lost art, music, PE, libraries…. They complain of lack of air conditioning in buildings. No playgrounds. Students who have few supports away from school find they have few supports in school, too, due to a lack of counseling and social workers and school nurses.

    If you switch your focus to the teacher evaluation issue in Chicago, you find that there is far more hostility and lack of cooperation coming from the mayor and the appointed (not elected) school board. Teachers do not expect to use a process like Tacoma’s to create a fair teacher evaluation tool. Teachers know that they are unsupported, and without the supports they need, they will surely struggle to be successful. They know that students who come from poverty, violence and dysfunction will not perform well on tests. These are things that have been pushed aside by education reformers who are determined to replace public schools with charter schools. Privatizing education is the end goal in Chicago. It was never the end goal in Tacoma.

    Finally, if the teachers are successful at obtaining life support for their dying schools, and if the teachers can get a contract that doesn’t set them up for failure, then the so-called ‘catastrophe’ will be just what the city of Chicago needed most.

  4. tacomascene says:

    Striking Teachers and the Marriage Debate

    RE: “School Strikes of Choice….” and “Teachers can’t fix all students….”
    Two well-intentioned editorial opinions, yet two distinctly different minds of thought. Chicago, as was here in Tacoma last year, has teacher evaluations high in the pecking order which, by all standards local and national, have very little to do with student achievement. A person need only go to a search engine of choice and search for the relativity between teacher evaluation and student achievement and he or she will soon be blessed with the knowledge to verify what I am saying here. Family life has more to do with student achievement than anything else, bar none.

    RE: Letter “R-74: A yes vote says God made a mistake.”
    What I believe to be a relevant issue that seemingly is being overlooked is that marriage is a civil act and religion has nothing to do with it. Comments regarding, “strange gender equality and persistent rejection of God’s instruction for marriage” has no place in a civil environment. It has been religious environments that have created endless amounts of mental and physical anguish; you have only to consider the Crusades of earlier times for constructive examples.

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