Chicago Teachers Strike Roundup, Pt. 4

Very little of the negotiations that led to Chicago Teachers Union strike have to do with pay, and teachers on the front lines don’t seem concerned about it. The issues are larger and less concrete, which makes negotiations difficult.

Chicago Teachers Strike March

 

[A primer, plus parts one, two, and three.)

* Ben Joravsky on the reasons behind the strike. Or, reason, which is Rahm: “here’s the bottom line: so much of this fight is fueled by the animosity of thousands of teachers toward one man.”

It’s a start to that aspect of the strike; Seth Lavin’s piece from earlier this year (thanks to @ourmaninchicago for the reminder) is a thoughtful look at how Emanuel has alienated so many teachers, enough to precipitate a strike despite the much higher standard set by SB7:

Ever-present is a desire to turn reform into a fight with winners and losers and an arrogant, self-righteous, know-it-all tone that grows from these two flawed beliefs. That tone tells people, at best, “if you doubt these ideas you are part of the political opposition that prevents these ideas from working,” and at worst “if you doubt this plan you don’t want what’s best for kids.” There are so many problems with this….

[snip]

Please, please show some humility. Get over yourselves. You didn’t invent reform. You didn’t invent impatience. You didn’t invent being angry at CPS for failing Chicago. You’re right that Chicago wants reform. You’re right that Chicago is impatient and you’re right that Chicago is angry because it’s being failed by its most important institution. But that’s been true for decades…. Maybe that’s Paul Vallas’ fault and Arne Duncan’s fault and not your fault but it’s certainly your problem. You should expect cynicism, skepticism, anger and mistrust.

It tracks with Joravsky’s reaction—that Emanuel wasn’t sufficiently familiar with CPS when he campaigned, and adopted the national conventional wisdom on the subject, much of which… came out of Chicago. After all, Arne Duncan, the last long-term CPS head, is now in Obama’s cabinet. So what may have seemed like a fresh breath of air from outside can seem like a stale backdraft for people who have been through the reform churn.

* Prior to the strike, Lavin wrote: “Personally I find CTU’s leadership even less compelling than Rahm on what it takes to improve Chicago’s schools. The public feels otherwise, at least according the Trib’s recent poll.” Eric Zorn has a good answer to this: “when teachers go on strike, we do tend to believe it when they claim to have the best interests of students in mind. This is why so many passing motorists are honking their support and approval this week for striking Chicago teachers as they march, walk the line and rally throughout the city.” Put simply: even in an anti-union climate, a teachers union is difficult to go up against.

* Also from Lavin, more evidence that, while the negotiations inevitably hinge on specific goals on both sides of the table, what’s really driving the tension is something much bigger and much less concrete:

“Everyone else – a silent majority, if you will – are relatively unaware and undecided on specific policy issues, BUT they are frustrated by the constant turnover at central office and they perceive themselves as victims of a general “attack” on teachers.  To these teachers, this vote is NOT a referendum on Brizard or the CTU leadership, but something much bigger….an opportunity to declare their allegiance to the profession.  My guess is that these teachers will vote overwhelmingly to strike.”

The fact that the main points of contention aren’t about pay makes the negotiations particularly complex.

* And Jim DeRogatis, who’s been on the front lines (he has a daughter at Lincoln Park High): “Every one of the two dozen teachers I spoke with at length did a better job of articulating the issues at stake and the reasons why they’re on the street when they’d prefer to be in the classroom than union president Karen Lewis or vice president Jesse Sharkey has done to date…. No one mentioned money — not once. Nor did anyone say that principals should not have the right to fire negligent or ineffectual teachers.”

Karen Lewis caught a lot of flack about calling the negotiations the “silly” part of her day; she’s moved the debate away from money, but perhaps CTU’s public communications have something to do with so much media attention being devoted to CPS pay, when it’s a comparatively minor part of the agenda.

 

Photograph: Chicago Tribune

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