The Left’s ‘Education Justice’ — Chicago Teachers on Strike

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How much sympathy the teachers can garner for their cause remains to be seen. The Chicago school district faces a $3 billion shortfall over the next three years, engendered largely by a crushing burden of pensions promised to retiring teachers. And depending on the source, teachers command an average salary — before benefits are added in — somewhere between $70,000 and almost $75,000 per year. Furthermore, Chicago teachers received total wage increases ranging from 19-46 percent during their 2007-12 contract, depending on several factors, including length of service.

The political implications of the strike must also be considered. Emanuel is the former White House chief of staff who has just agreed to take a large role in the president’s re-election fund-raising efforts. His strained relationship with the teachers union, and by extension organized labor, is likely to anger one of the Obama administration’s key fund-raising and get-out-the-vote constituencies. Moreover, the strike comes during a time when local governments across the nation are struggling with large budget gaps, substantial portions of which are due to union contracts that are unsustainable absent major reforms.

Tim Knowles, director of the Urban Education Institute at the University of Chicago, illuminates the schism with the Democrat Party’s rank and file regarding such issues. This is “a fight between old labor and new Democrats who support education reform, and it has been brewing for a long time in cities across the country,” he said.

That disagreement may be part of the reason for the strike. Last year the national advocacy group, Stand for Children, angered the union when it got the Illinois state legislature to pass laws mandating teacher evaluations, and a requirement that CTU have 75 percent of its membership agree to any strike. Stand’s research also gave Emanuel ammunition during his mayoral run, where he pointed out that that Chicago’s schools have the shortest days in the nation, spearheading his request for the longer school day.

Standing in stark contrast to Chicago’s public school closures are the city’s charter schools that serve 45,000 students–and remain open. “We think our parents have gotten the message. We think our kids have gotten the message, but we wanted to make sure that we were very clear to every person who lives in Chicago that charter schools will be open tomorrow,” said Beth Purvis, the CEO of Chicago International Charter Schools.

Xian Barrett, a Chicago high school law and history teacher, expressed the union position to the Huffington Post on Sunday. “We’re all very nervous about the outcome,” said the teacher. “But I’m also hopeful that we’re finally taking a stand on issues that have more to do with educating children than salary or benefits. It’s about who has the right to determine how children are educated in the community.”

It certainly does, not only in Chicago, but across the nation. Unions exist for one purpose and one purpose only: to promote and protect the rights of their members. That means, all platitudes aside, that even under the most optimal circumstances imaginable, the concerns of parents and their children come second. Thus, the idea that this strike is “for the children” rings extremely hollow. Nothing highlights this reality better than a CPS fact sheet sent to parents in preparation for the strike. “While academic instruction will not be provided [because it’s prohibited by law during a teachers strike], students will participate in positive activities to keep them engaged,” it stated. In other words, no union teachers, no teaching.

Furthermore in resisting the evaluations, CTU president Karen Lewis alluded to a familiar fallback position for teachers unions around the nation: we can’t be responsible for lousy parents, or the chaotic lives of children. Who taught the parents, Ms. Lewis? Furthermore, when have teachers collectively bargained, not just for their own well-being, but over issues such as the ability to expel unruly or dangerous students, a decent dress code, or higher education standards — as opposed to lower ones?

The best Chicago teachers can do is apparently demand that schools be air-conditioned and class sizes be smaller. Whether air-conditioning is a necessity in a school district hundreds of millions of dollars in the red located in a northern city is debatable at best. And while there are some teachers who are unavailable for teaching during a given time frame, 400,000 students divided by 20,000 teachers–six thousand less than the reported number employed–comes to 20 students for every teacher.

“We know a strike is really going to be painful,” union delegate Jay Rehak told The Chicago Tribune. “People will be hurt on both sides. But in the end, it’s like saying, ‘I’ll be bloodied and you’ll be bloodied, but at least you’ll know not to bully me again.’” Parents are being completely inconvenienced, and children are being denied an education–but teachers who make an average of fifteen hundred dollars a week are being “bullied.”

That’s the real CTU’s “children first” worldview.

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  • clarespark

    When I was in science teacher training at Cornell, we argued that teaching was a profession, not the sort of thing that linked one with the working class and its strikes. Education reform is the vanguard position now, and here is my index of blogs questioning or describing all the major figures: http://clarespark.com/2012/05/03/index-to-blogs-o…. I would start with anything related to Diane Ravitch, that turncoat.

    • Rifleman

      Good point, I've always been struck by that myself. One can't be a professional and a union worker at the same time. The taxpayers and children get the worst of both worlds. Pop culture and the socialist ran education system are the biggest reasons socialism hasn't been completely discredited to it's roots for decdes now.

    • tagalog

      Why would you have to argue that teaching is a profession? It's been recognized as a profession for a very, very long time, probably since the time of the Classical Greeks.

      That should be a given.

      Oh, you were a science teacher, that must be why.

      That's why public employees should not only not be allowed to strike as a matter of law because of the public nature of their employment, it's also why teachers going on strike is totally unprofessional.

  • Rifleman

    Degreed white collar 'professionals' going on strike, how oxymoronic. I hope they negotiate themselves right out of a job. An internet high school and a child sitter could do a better job these days than they are, with less cost and hassle. That's why over 40% of these Chicago (oh no, I said the city that cannot be named, I'm a racism, I'm a racism) teachers send their children to private schools. If nobody has to enroll in their school, they have to perform.

    Rahm had a press conference in a church that was caring for its' congregation's children during the strike. The dp and the teachers' unions had better hope the parents and staff at the Churches like the one he's standing in don't ever decide they can provide a safer and better learning environment for their children and educate them better than government schools. If they do, I suspect they'll test much higher, whatever their denomination. When that day comes, the unprofessional 'professionals' will have nobody but themselves to blame.

    • mlcblog

      I can only imagine their real intent is to foment the left's much cherished idea of "the revolution," with people taking to the streets and civil law being broken down. Otherwise, it makes no sense. Maybe that is the explanation. It is insane thinking.

      • Rifleman

        That is their intent, straight from their favorite philosophers, but they just may end up obsoleting themselves, and significantly, perhaps even drastically reducuing the number of students in government schools. I think that would mean far fewer children indoctrinated into socialism at government schools, and higher test scores.

  • Jim Kilpatrick

    The kids will probably get just as much real education with the "teachers" out on strike. At least they won't get nearly as much liberal indoctrination.

  • Jim_C

    The real difference between public and parochial schools is stark: at a public school open house, you'll find a disheartening amount of parents there.

    At a parochial school open house, you'll find EVERY parent there.

    In that sense, Karen Lewis is 100% correct. It's not a matter of "Who taught the parents?" and I feel sorry for every person who embarrasses themselves by asking that question.

    At a parochial school, parents are invested, literally–at some sacrifice in most cases. They have skin in the game. Such schools are self-selective–you have to be able to pay to attend. Doesn't mean you're "smart"–but it does mean your family values education enough to put their dollars behind it.

    Public schools take EVERYONE'S kids. Think on that: every child, with all their different backgrounds and needs, gets processed through these schools. Public school teachers, therefore, have something in common with police and emergency room personnel–they see it all from the public, they take it all. So crap parents have the luxury of taking public school for granted. And teachers have to deal with kids who have no examples for manners, values, behavior, respect. That takes time away from the kids who do things right. It's simple as that.

    Do Chicago teachers need a pay raise? I don't know. But judging them as if they all have the same raw material to work with is institutional, bureaucratic absurdity which ultimately undermines teacher's dignity, which undermines the job they're trying to do while they're getting hit, called names, and spit on by students whose family can't be bothered to correct their behavior.

    • al222

      Public schools have historically taken "everyone's kids." the difference between the past and today is that the real trouble-makers were weeded out and sent to something called "reform school." it was the same progressives who, when they decided every child "deserves" an education, curtailed the use of reform schools and eliminated expulsion as well.

      and most of that happened in concurrence with the progressive movement's greatest triumph of all: the destruction of the nuclear family via the Great Society–leading directly to kids "who have no examples for manners, values, behavior, respect."

      • Jim_C

        I'm not sure those reform schools were very successful in their mission, though. Weren't they essentially jails in training?

        If someone came up with a new model for reform school–one where younger kids are kept from being exploited and mentored in crime by older ones–I'd be willing to try it.

        • tagalog

          Boys' Town stands out as an exceptional example of a reform school. God bless the Catholics and Father Flanagan!

          Oops, I said something nice about reform schools that were run by private concerns, not the state. My bad.

        • mlcblog

          They did serve the valuable function of separating the menacing children from the others.

  • tagalog

    In addition, don't think for a second that public school students aren't fully aware that the bottom line is that they're there because the law requires them to be there and that's it. Forget their parents, they know that they HAVE to be there, and, like anyone doing involuntary servitude they are prone to rebellion. For those kids, a teachers' strike is a holiday; for the motivated student, a teachers' strike is another hurdle on the path of their ambitions.

    For the valuable students, public school is treated just the same as any school by any good student. For the thugs, it's just state-mandated baby-sitting -with homework- and they act out the way kids being babysat do.

    • Jim_C

      There's many who go to private school who treat it like involuntary servitude. Kids are kids. The difference is that when the teacher or principal calls home to complain of bad behavior, there's a parent there who understands discipline.

      • tagalog

        Yeah, but whatever else may be true, private school kids know they have one more level to fall before they hit bottom.

  • Ted G

    Lets see now in the private sector…
    *most do not get pensions at all but 401K's and maybe might get a matching contribution from the employer with no guarantee that it will last for the lives.
    *Most because of the current state of the economy have had their wages frozen now for over the last 4 years or so.
    *most have to pay up to 30% of the cost of their medical insurance.
    *Most if not all have NO guaranteed job security.

    While these teachers demand
    **Cushy pensions that can be padded to equal their last few years of salary, for the rest of their lives. without contributing anything towards it.
    **annual raises regardless of the state of the economy.
    **Demand that they not have to contribute more than the current (fantastic) rate of 3% to their medical ins coverage.
    **And Guaranteed job security regardless of how they perform.

    And all this at the taxpayers exspense.

    WOW! So someone tell me how as taxpayer I am supposed to feel sympathy for these people.

    • tagalog

      You're supposed to feel sympathy for these people because they teach your kids. Except that more than half the kids don't graduate from high school. About 80% of them can't read up to grade level. They're illiterate. It's pretty basic when you can't read well.

      But their teachers not only deserve to keep their jobs for some unknown reason, they deserve $80,000 or more a year for nine months' worth of work. In those other months, they get other jobs, assuming they want to break into their leisure to exert themselves in that direction. No wait, such jobs would probably be in the private sector, where they expect results.

      Let's see, $80,000 for nine months; I didn't do the math, but it's obvious that's just under $9,000 a month. Nice work if you can get it. And you don't apparently have to do anything, just show up. Nine months, about 194 working days, or (at an 8-hour day, questionable when it's school) 1,548 hours, not counting holidays, divided by $80,000 comes to $51.68 an hour not counting benefits like defined benefit retirement and Cadillac health insurance. REALLY nice work.

      I know MY heart is bleeding for their desperate plight.

  • Diane Rossi

    It looks like the CPS reneged on their contract of a 4% raise in the last year of the Teachers' contract. As compensation they offered the teachers a longer school day with a 2% raise, Doesn't sound fair to me.

  • Ted G

    I've got to also add another point about this strike. These failed negotiations have been going on for what now a couple of years…
    and all of a sudden when the school year actually opens they decide its time for a strike!?!

    Not to mention another timing concern about the elections coming up and Obama's cronyism and corrupt support of the unions. Curious eh? Its almost like it was being orchestrated or something.

  • Atlas_Collins

    I am from Chicagoland and I had an interesting conversation with one of the CPS strikees that sheds some insight into the mindset of these bloated leech taxpayer-supported parasites who produce nothing of value to anyone.

    I asked: "Why are you guys striking at all in these hard times? Don't you know the city and state are broke as it is?"

    "I don't care," answered this paragon of a public servant who is charged with instilling knowledge and a modicum of social values into our young.

    "But where do you expect the money to come from?" I asked.

    "They'll just have to raise taxes," answered the smug parasite, adjusting her marxian red union t-shirt and taking a sip of her Big Gulp™ to keep her 280lbs+ frame cool in the early September heat.

    "But we already have the highest property tax rates in the country as it is," I pleaded the case of the lowly taxpayer to this new mandarin of Public Sector privilege. "What about people who are out of work or on fixed incomes who can barely afford their mortgages and taxes now?"

    The answer surprised even me, and it was delivered with a sneer:

    "Well they'll just have to sell their houses and move, now won't they!"

    Such is the "compassion" of a Chicago Public School teacher who only cares "about the children."

    • mlcblog

      Are you any relation to the wonderful Marva?

    • Serafino

      Atlas, excellently written, thank you. I bet her name was Shaniqua or Tanisha :-) They are angry and they don't care about anybody other than themselves. These are the real thugs, these are the real problem in our country. Teaching is the last thing on their mind. Someone on this forum wrote that children can probably learn more with these gangsters out of the classrooms. This is so true. Sort of reminds me of one episode of the comedy TV series "The Office", where the office is managed by a useless man-child who spends his office time between avoiding making supervisory decisions and creating idiotic havoc among the staff. Surprisingly, this very branch reports amazing profit earnings, and when the headquarters people complete their fact finding mission, they are astonished to learn that the productivity is so high because the employees keep their heads down and work hard in order to avoid any contact with the manager. This is exactly how our schools are run. Every single accomplishment should be attribited to our children and not those under whose care they are.

    • Greg

      I had to deal with one of these 280lbs loud-mouth angry teachers when my kid was in the Chicago school system. She kept saying "aks" instead of "ask" throughout her angry rant. Unreal.

    • tagalog

      She better hope those people who will have to sell their houses and move aren't too large a number and don't have kids. She'll be getting downsized if her shortsightedness comes to pass.

      She shouldn't move to New York; no Big Gulps there.

  • Ghostwriter

    Thankfully,I went to elementary school in the Chicago suburbs during the 1980's. I feel sorry for the kids who have to deal with this now.

  • HighPressure

    Government Education is one of the few industries that we pay top dollar for attainng mediocrty and subverting a child's mind against the parent.

    Maybe it's time to end compulsory education.

  • WilliamJamesWard

    Fire all of them and start over, the vast majority of students coud learn a valuable lesson
    in societal action, more than they will being warehoused in Chicago Schools. Unions who
    represent teachers have oversold a product that has lost considerable value and no
    longer commands the cost of action. Underproduce, overprice and fail to deliver, not
    a reason to do business, parents should get real and help their children instead of
    passing the buck to the odious political affiliations, no pun intended……………William

  • Jim_C

    Get this straight–there is no caring parent whose kid fails because of the school. There is no child whose parents feel a stake in his education who will fail to advance. And before you think to give an anecdote, remember that many private schools are poorly equipped to handle both gifted and special needs kids. Their often tight budgets don't allow for that kind of thing. And remember that private school teachers come from the same institutions as public school teachers.

    I went to public high school in Chicago. I learned to draft designs of buildings, to frame houses, to machine tools, to solder wire in addition to trigonometry and English. It was a phenomenal public school. Didn't quite appreciate it at the time, due to being a teenager. But later when I put an addition on my house, darned if I wasn't grateful I had that know-how. (Certainly use it much more than the trig).

    That said, my school was one of several exceptions. Also, I have no idea what these folks are striking over. And this after talking to many teachers. I'd like to get rid of the Dept. of Ed. and restructure and localize the entire operation. What I'd really like to do is get rid of high school altogether and replace it with some kind of work/study program. We've been going to long on a system meant for agrarian kids at the turn of the 19th century.

  • Fritz

    Well Rahm, things seem a lot different now that the shoe is on the other foot? I'm sure you are viewing those teachers unions from a very different prospective now that they are holding a boot on your political neck rather then just donating to the campaign of your former boss. But we both know one thing now even though you won't admit it, Scott Walker was RIGHT!