While no one was happy to hear that Chicago teachers are on strike, the stakes in that struggle go beyond the headlines and sound bites.
In fact, New Jersey educators share many of the concerns voiced by their colleagues in Chicago. They may be members of a different national union, but they are facing the same attacks on their profession as we are.
As the website Labor Notes points out in an excellent overview article, the strike is about “nothing less than a faceoff between two conflicting visions of public education.”
True, the Chicago Board of Education has apparently made a fair salary offer, but this strike is about much more than teacher compensation.
It’s about a corporate takeover of the city’s schools. It has already led to the closing of more than 100 schools and replaced them with charters, and if current Mayor Rahm Emanuel has his way, another 100 (about 15 percent) of the city’s schools will face the same fate.
With all due respect to Emanuel, who told reporters that the remaining issues “are not financial issues,” he’s wrong. One of the key issues for the Chicago Teachers Union is its members’ recall rights when their schools are closed. With Chicago teacher evaluations based to an unacceptable degree on student test scores – something every NJEA member knows is bad policy – the potential is obvious for laying off more experienced teachers to pave the way for cheaper, less-experienced replacements, including Teach for America’s fresh faces, who last an average of three years on the job.
As the Labor Notes article points out, credit should be given to the CTU for insisting that some issues other than salaries need to be resolved.
Those include class size (some reportedly as high as 50), a broadened and enriched curriculum (instead of a narrow focus on only those subjects being tested), and in-school social services so necessary for disadvantaged urban students.
These are financial issues, too, Mayor Emanuel.
For NJEA members – who next year may be facing evaluations based to an uncomfortable degree on student test scores, and whose seniority rights are under constant attack, the events in the Windy City are a troubling reminder that the assault on public education is a national one.
In that regard, we are all Chicagoans.