The Chicago battle between the teachers union and the city/school district is about the “reform agenda,” not about salaries and benefits. That agenda focuses on standardized tests — to test students, to judge schools, to evaluate teachers. If students fail, they don’t move from one grade to the next, or don’t graduate. If schools fail, they are closed, or restructured (with principal and teachers fired), or privatized and turned over to charter schools to run. Teachers are evaluated on how their students perform, though study after study shows that the numbers don’t provide consistent or accurate evaluations.
A Reuters article characterizes the Chicago strike as the battleground between reform and resistance:
“Nowhere else has a teachers union said, ‘Enough is enough,’ ” said Mark Naison, a professor of African-American history at Fordham University and a union supporter. “This is ground zero of resistance to corporate education reform.”
That battleground makes for some strange bedfellows, with Republican vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan declaring. “We stand with Rahm Emmanuel.”
Democracy Now interviewed University of Illinois education and policy studies professor Pauline Lipman. She says the Chicago Teachers Union has “a different vision of education, a vision of education that involves a rich curriculum for all students, that puts equity at the center. They’ve named what these [reform] policies have resulted in in Chicago “education apartheid,” especially for African-American and also Latino students.”
And not only for students. According to the Reuters article:
Today, just 19 percent of the teaching force in Chicago is African American, down from 45 percent in 1995, the union says; organizers fear that shift means fewer teachers have deep roots in and passion for the communities where they work.
A teacher interviewed on Democracy Now described what happens with the “laser focus on standardized tests,” and the subsequent movement to charter schools:
What I see at the school at the neighborhood school level—where I work is a neighborhood school—I see the best students of my neighborhood sort of getting pulled out toward the charters, because their parents have the impression that they’re better. And then, when the charter struggles with a student with behavioral difficulties or learning disabilities or language disabilities, that kid ends up getting pushed out of that charter, and then I see them at my school.
Those charters with good scores, those with a reputation for high performance, end up with long waiting lists. A parent described what she fears:
“If everyone who can get out, does get out, there isn’t going to be much of a system of public education left, and that terrifies me,” she said. “For some of us, the public school system is all we have.”