The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
Chicago Teacher Strike: A News and Opinion Roundup

The Chicago teacher strike is a time bomb ticking away inside the blue coalition, a conflict between the producers of government services (like teacher unions) and the consumers. The Democratic Party wants to represent them both, as we noted earlier today.

We’re not the only one watching this drama unfold in the heart of America’s third-largest city. Here’s a roundup of some of things others are saying around the web:

Diane Ravitch, a historian and professor of education at NYU, isn’t optimistic about any of Mayor Emanuel’s ideas:

. . . little noticed by the national media is that none of these so-called reforms works or has any evidence to support it. Merit pay has failed wherever it was tried. Teacher evaluation by student test scores is opposed by the majority of researchers, and practical experience with it has led to confusion and uncertainty about whether student scores can identify the best and worst teachers. The charters in Chicago and elsewhere do not get better test scores than the regular public schools. Even in Detroit, only 6 of 25 charter high schools got better scores than the much-lamented Detroit public schools.

Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, stands with the striking teachers but pleads for compromise: ”We have to unite those we serve and those we represent. . . . And we have to think . . . what’s good for kids and what’s fair for teachers?”

Here’s former Governor of Vermont Howard Dean in a conversation with Ms. Weingarten:

“Are there crappy teachers? Yes, and the reason there are is because administrators didn’t do their job five years ago when they should have been either improved or told, ‘OK, it’s time to go find something else.’ . . . I have not heard the American Federation of Teachers saying, ‘We want to keep crappy people in our system.’ What I have heard them saying is, if you’re gonna treat teachers fairly, then you have to evaluate them and tell them early on to go find something else to do, and you can’t do it based on bias or personal dislike or personal animosity.

The Chicago Teachers Union itself:

Our students deserve smaller class sizes, a robust, well-rounded curriculum, and in-school services that address their social, emotional, intellectual and health needs. All students deserve culturally-sensitive, non-biased, and equitable education, especially students with IEPs, emergent bilingual students, and early childhood students. They deserve professional teachers who are treated as such, fully resourced school buildings, and a school system that partners with parents.

The schools our students deserve cost money, but the money to fully fund these schools is there. Tax Increment Financing (TIF) proceeds can be channeled into CPS schools. The wealthy residents of Illinois can pay their fair share through the implementation of progressive taxation policies and the ending of corporate subsidies and loopholes. When it comes to fairness in education funding, only two other states rank lower than Illinois!

The editors at the National Review:

On the merits, the case isn’t close. Chicago teachers currently pay just 3 percent of their own health-care costs, and nearly three-quarters of new education spending over the last five years has been gobbled up by their retirement costs. This sort of thing isn’t sustainable in a strong economy in a well-governed city in a state with its fiscal house in order, much less in Chicago, Illinois, in the midst of President Obama’s lost decade.

John Fund, also for the National Review, is a little less PC:

The city is being bled dry by the exorbitant benefits packages negotiated by previous elected officials. Teachers pay only 3 percent of their health-care costs and out of every new dollar set aside for public education in Illinois in the last five years, a full 71 cents has gone to teacher retirement costs…

The showdown in Chicago will be a test of just how much clout the public-employee unions wield at a time when the budget pressures they’ve created threaten to break the budgets of America’s major cities.

At the opposite end of the political spectrum, Matthew Cunningham-Cook for the Nation:

The corporate media’s initial dispatches on this fight have been disappointing. Instead of reporting on what the Chicago Teachers Union’s vision for education is (explained quite clearly here), they have instead zeroed in on the CTU’s demand for a 20 percent wage increase (which corresponds to a 20 percent increase in their workweek) and the so-called “personal feud” between CTU President Karen Lewis and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Along these same lines, media reports have emphasized the “dire” fiscal situation of the Chicago public schools—failing to note that the Chicago district spent $25 million on strike contingency plans, that the schools could gain $43 million if the city stopped providing slush funds for wealthy developers or that the state recently gave a $528 million tax break to the owners of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange…

On the picket line, there is a palpable sense that the teachers who created the fighting-est teachers union in the country are about to do the same to their school system. The city is awash in red, and honks in favor of the strikers are cacophonous. Reuters recently quoted a spokesman for Stand for Children Illinois, a pro-education reform group that is a favorite charity of hedge fund managers, saying “Teachers need to decide if they’re going to be part of this [reform] process or not.” They have, but it’s going to be on the terms of the 99%.

To conclude our roundup, Charles Lane at the Washington Post:

I cannot describe the moral repugnance of this strike by aggrieved middle-class “professionals” against the aspiring poor. Well, I could describe it, but only by plagiarizing Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s unprintable vocabulary…

But the outcome matters — a lot. If Emanuel can open a pay-for-performance beachhead in the nation’s third-largest school district, it would send a message across the country. If not, the setback would reverberate well beyond Chicago, too.

Actually, it should be lesson enough that about 400,000 mostly poor schoolchildren, and their parents, and the voters of Chicago generally, are regularly held hostage to closed-door bargaining between politicians and union chieftains — not to mention grander partisan political machinations.

Published on September 11, 2012 5:00 pm