The Chicago teachers strike is officially on, with thousands of teachers walking off the job today in Chicago’s first teacher strike in 25 years. It is also the first major American teacher strike in years.
The stakes are high for all sides. In some ways, the strike is a test case for the labor movement, particularly among public sector workers. A loss for the teachers would motivate anti-union officials across the country to increase their attacks on public sector workers, giving them the confidence that the unions are just too weak to mount an effective counterattack. There is also a lot at stake for Democrats, particularly Obama, as the strike is in his old stomping grounds. Republicans would certainly take advantage of a teacher victory to claim that Obama and Rahm’s education and labor policies have been a disaster.
Emanuel called the strike “wrong, avoidable and unnecessary,” according to the Seattle Post Intelligencer. Of course the strike would be unnecessary if CPS had bargained in good faith, offered a decent raise, lowered class sizes, and abandoned their abusive evaluation policy. However, considering the district’s recalcitrance, the strike is not wrong for teachers or students. Low pay and abuse evaluation systems will drive away the best teachers, thus harming students, while the overwhelming majority of studies indicate that students benefit from smaller class sizes.
The new teacher evaluation system relies heavily on student test scores, something that measure students’ knowledge and test taking abilities, not teachers’ skill in the classroom. The test scores are influenced far more by factors external to school (e.g., students’ socioeconomic backgrounds) than by teachers. CTU President Karen Lewis said the new evaluation system could cause 6,000 teachers to lose their jobs over the next 2 years. Many critics have accused the district of implementing the system to get rid of its most experienced and highest paid teachers in order to save money and weed out its most vocal opponents.
Most Chicago schools were closed, but the district vowed to keep 140 open to provide food for low income students in need. The police chief vowed to take officers off of “desk duty” and place them out at the schools, to “protect” the children and to “deal” with teacher protests.