Chicago teachers strike


Too many interesting things being written for one post (part one here).

* Chuck Goudie asks: Is the teachers strike legal? Rich Miller responds: doesn't look like it, but it's been illegal before, and it didn't stop them: "Teachers went on strike a whole lot more back in the days when state law expressly prohibited strikes. Drastically limiting their collective bargaining rights will not stop them now."

Which raises the question in the Capitol Fax comments: if the strike is illegal, would Emanuel go the full PATCO and break the CTU? I doubt it, and here's why:

Perhaps somewhat surprising was the support the teachers union garnered over Emanuel. On the question of who voters sided with in the more comprehensive debate over improving the city's public school system, the union scored a better than 2-1 ratio over the mayor, who has had a testy relationship with the union's leadership.

Among all respondents, 40 percent sided with the union, compared to 17 percent who backed Emanuel. Thirty-six percent said they supported neither. Among public school parents, 48 percent sided with the teachers union and 18 percent sided with the mayor. Thirty percent said they sided with neither.

A big majority of respondents backed the reform of the longer school day… but also backed a subsequent pay increase. That was back in May, and it's possible the strike could change opinions, particularly among the substantial number backing "neither," now that the kids are out of school with no timeframe for the end of the strike. But even so, Emanuel was facing an uphill battle. Plus, as MrJM points out in CapFax comments, it could put a burden on the Obama campaign in critical Midwestern swing states. The Sun-Times commissioned a quick poll (500 respondents, YMMV) and found a majority supports the strike.

Emanuel was asked about this today at a press conference, and while acknowledging that he thinks the issues in question aren't strikeable, said that he wants to settle it at the table.

* Reddit has a good AMA (Ask Me Anything) with a CPS teacher. It's actually really helpful, since it's a look into what the teachers' concerns are (not necessarily those of the union), and why people are skeptical of the union and its demands. And the people involved are much more thoughtful than in much of the official dialogue over the subject:

I cannot speak to the motives of the union and what I will say is rather anecdotal but I'll say it anyway. Of the teachers I work with and talk to ALL of them would happily take the smallest raise offered (2% for the first year) in order to see that our students have the essential services they need in order to be successful. I don't care about making $1,000 more against making $2,000 more next year. I wouldn't mind the extra money especially when considering my student loan debt (approximately 40k which is not as bad as others…) but I would much rather my students have a dedicated nurse, therapists to work them through tough times in their lives, specialists to provide speech and occupational therapy to students, and aids to help out those students during instructional time.

* Speaking of services, the subject of un-air-conditioned schools made Emanuel's first press conference (he dismissed its importance to the strike). It may not be a central issue, but the complaint has come up before:

Despite two fans and drawn shades, the temperature soared to 93 degrees in teacher Jennifer Johnson’s Lincoln Park High classroom Wednesday, just as her students and thousands of others sweltered through the first of two days of final exams.

CPS had to cancel summer classes a couple times this summer due to a lack of AC in some school buildings.

* Jared Bernstein, a former member of the Obama administration and Department of Labor economist, looks further into "value added modeling":

It’s not just unions.  Rigorous academic work, some of it associated with my friend and Berkeley Prof Jesse Rothstein, has shown that such testing—using “value-added models,” or VAMs–is often a highly incomplete and unfair way to evaluate teacher performance.

VAMs are designed to isolate individual teachers’ value-added—new skills and knowledge acquired by students—from year-to-year.  Often, as in the Chicago case, the results are then used for teacher promotion or demotion.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, assuming the tests are valid and reliable.  But Jesse’s careful work has convinced me that they’re not, at least not yet.

* Aaron Renn, in a post that's substantially in defense of Rahm Emanuel, writes: "even if the strike situation is resolved, there are big problems at Chicago Public Schools, financial and otherwise. A long time employee I greatly trust tells me he’s never seen the central office in worse shape."

Which would not be a surprise: CPS has seen massive turnover at the principal level, and has been through four chiefs in four years, not to mention the profoundly important switch from Daley to Emanuel. Going through a contract renegotiation is complicated enough, but the new contract includes a lot of changes to the teachers' jobs while management is in transition as well. Critics of the new mayor should probably at least keep in mind that he inherited a lot of chaos, and not just at CPS.


Photograph: Chicago Tribune