Sing hallelujah! After weeks of excruciating calls by replacements, the NFL referee lockout has ended! Meanwhile, in a far less publicized incident, Chicago’s public school teachers executed a rather — pardon the pun — childlike strike, and as juvenile as their efforts were, I will give them this: by the end of their maneuvering, they literally had people — like Helen Lovejoy on “The Simpsons” — screaming for someone to think of the children.
What, you may rightly ask, would drive public servants accountable to taxpayers — and more importantly, parents — to abandon their essential posts for seven full days? Perhaps massive layoffs coming down the pike? The closure of an unacceptably high number of schools? Severe cuts in pay? Sadly, none of these are correct. In reality, this most recent strike of Chicago’s public school teachers constituted perhaps the most selfish political act this year.
The facts of Chicago’s public school system are so appalling that even this conservative possessed fleeting respect for Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s (a former chief of staff to President Obama) efforts to bring about serious reform. Indeed, Emanuel’s demands were quite reasonable. Chicago’s school year, currently and by far the shortest in the nation, would be brought in line with the average length of a standard school year. Those teachers that perform best would receive merit pay raises. Rather than a last-in, first-out layoff system, where seniority matters most and performance falls by the wayside, ineffective teachers would be fired first regardless of the length of their tenure while the best teachers would be justly shielded from layoffs in hard times.
Regrettably, Chicago’s public school teachers’ union promptly spit on such ideas and handed Emanuel back his proposed contract. Instead, in the midst of the worst recession since the Great Depression, the union demanded of the taxpayers of Chicago (who they already, on average, make nearly twice as much as) a 30 percent increase across the board in their wages over the next three years. Needless to say, Emanuel’s demand that teachers be evaluated on *gasp* their performance was a non starter.
Regrettably, the strike has ended with the union getting most of what they wanted, to the detriment of the people of Chicago. Though the 30 percent across the board increase in wages will not happen, wage increases based purely off continuing education — another broken part of the system Emanuel sought to reform — survived the negotiations and most teachers who have a master’s degree or better (i.e. most of them) will see close to a 20 percent pay raise.
There is no doubt that this represents a serious temporary setback for educational reform. One teacher interviewed after the strike said that she was glad to be going back to work but that “this isn’t over.” I couldn’t agree more. Luckily, the momentum of educational reform is firmly behind those that are sick of expensive unionized education that gets extremely mediocre results. Hopefully, in time, people may even consider having a voucher system — which has done immeasurable good for our nation’s poorest young students — replace our nation’s broken public school infrastructure. Until then, perhaps we Californians could learn something from the chutzpah of Chicago’s mayor; Obama loyalist or not, he seems to care for the children.
Hold up — Jeffrey Robin doesn’t care about the politics either, he, too, cares about the children.
Rebuttal from Michael Dean
First off, the Chicago teachers’ strike was not in response to Mayor Rahm Emanuel proposing to cut teachers’ pay from what it is now. The mayor’s starting line for negotiations was to only give the union a roughly 16 percent across-the-board wage increase over the next three years. I agree that more good teachers are necessary in the worst areas of the country; all the more reason to base their pay raises off of merit rather than protecting inept teachers from layoffs while firing younger but more competent teachers. Let’s face it: Standardized tests in the U.S. are a complete joke, which is all the more reason why it shouldn’t be difficult for teachers to educate their students well enough to perform adequately on such exams.
Finally, if my “Left Said” peer truly cared about the disparity that exists between Black and Hispanic students and their White and Asian counterparts, he ought to be more than willing to embrace a more widely applied voucher system to replace our nation’s existing education infrastructure. Such a system has already done wonders for students from various poor neighborhoods and would undoubtedly improve our nation’s overall educational performance.
To read the “Left Said” column from this topic, click here.