Wednesday, September 12, 2012


So it's the end of Day 3 of the 2012 CTU strike and I'm feeling much the way I felt on August 27: utterly sick of my children. To quote a fellow Disney II parent, "I've grown tired of attempting to be cheerful with my kids." The boredom-induced bickering is just one of the reasons that I hate summer. 


I get that this is what the CTU and our teachers need to do. And suffering through more stretches of time in forced home-schooling with my children during this strike is the price that I'm willing to pay for (possibly) real education reform. Because Ms. Lewis's "real schools" comment had nothing to do with $7,500/year private school. To borrow a tired sports analogy, I'm willing to take one for the team on this.

Because I recognize that we, on the NWside of Chicago, live in a bubble. Our children, in large part, attend schools that are CPS's education superstars. Our teachers willingly gave up extra pay to give their students extra classroom time. Our teachers work evenings and weekends, and they are pleasant to us when we run into them in our daily lives when school is not in session. Our teachers have our support as parents every hour of every day. But it's not like this for every teacher or at every school. I think it's like this for very few teachers at very few schools within the system. Some of them are schools that I never want to enter to confirm that what they report is true. 

Like many parents, I'm frustrated by the necessary lack of transparency in what the hold-up is between CPS and CTU at the contract negotiating table. Why can't they compromise? Karen Lewis and Mayor Rahm Emanuel seem locked in a battle of wills that's holding the rest of Chicago in a captive standstill. It's anyone's guess who'll prove him or herself to be the biggest donkey in the end. 

But I'm also frustrated by what is reported in and opined by the media. Like balanced government, balanced reporting also seems to be a thing of the past. I've long known that the Chicago Tribune is a screamingly conservative paper, so maybe it's not surprising to anyone else that the only source in Jon Kass's opinion piece from today is from a man who formerly led a group called Americans for Limited Government before he came to lead the neutrally named Illinois Policy Institute. The IL Policy Institute's directors also include an equity firm partner, a portfolio manager, a lawyer and political appointee in the Reagan administration, and a former CEO who now works to "reduce government involvement in commercial enterprise." To quote The Girl: seriously?

Mr. Tillman, will your "nonpartisan" group consider reducing the involvement of commercial enterprise in (setting policy for) government? The only thing that introducing corporate practices to the public education system has done for it is to make it as unstable as corporate America. I'm neither a Republican nor rich, and I was fortunately raised in an educational era where learning to think--and speak/write--critically was more highly valued than not seeming to fall behind my peers, so I'll be lucky if five people read this. But I must say it: Of course executives like Mr. Tillman are anti-union. They're not offshoring their jobs to India or Bangladesh; they're just offshoring their money.

Union labor got its start in the Gilded Age, as a response to the rich-get-richer and the poor-get-poorer political climate of the late 19th century. Some Many argue that the need for unions is over, and that many protections advocated by union labor have been codified in our society. But I look around at the rapidly disappearing middle class and think we're headed back to the Gilded Age, if we aren't there already.  "Soon the government was protecting the rights of wealthy Americans instead of all Americans." (italics mine)

Mr. Tillman's statement is disingenuous. People like Mr. Tillman are trying to break the union because they think that teachers are like widgets--entirely interchangeable. I'm quite sure there are teachers within CPS who phone it in--just as there are employees everywhere in America who phone it in. But what a huge disservice it would be to Chicago's children to get rid of teachers with 20 years of experience because they've gotten too expensive for the district's books. Too bad we can't offshore teachers, eh? 

But even if CPS can separate the wheat from the chaff, can the best teachers overcome poverty in the absence of adequate resources and supports (and the funding for these)? This Tribune editorial conveniently omits some critical points in its assessment of the importance of great teaching: 

First, the metro areas mentioned in the editorial--Boston, NYC, Houston--put their money where their mouths are. All of these cities spend more per student than Chicago does. Houston ISD ties teachers' pay to student test scores, although what that actually means will be anyone's guess in the next few years as most of the country moves to the Common Core State Standards while Texas remains with its state-developed STAAR. 

Second, Amy Wilkins of the Education Trust mentioned the importance of great teachers in her statement. But she didn't just say strong teachers. She said strong, well-supported teachers. And this is what teachers on the line are asking for: more/better resources. It's not just about pay. But because of SB7, pay becomes the focal issue.

The Tribune bills Education Trust as an advocacy group. It doesn't specify for what or whom the Education Trust does its work. Not surprisingly, the group's senior leadership has strong ties to the Children's Defense Fund, which in turn has strong ties to Stand for Children and charter schools. It's not that difficult to understand why Ms. Lewis isn't going to urge her teachers back to work without a contract while they work the details out. This infamous video is partially why. That and they've been negotiating for over 10 months already.

The Trib wrote, "Parents and principals need to know which teachers excel and which take up space." I agree with this because I already know which teachers excel and which take up space. As do most parents who are nominally involved in their children's education. I consider this part of my job as a parent. Good principals know this too. 

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