Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Chicago Teachers Strike Ends in Defeat for Teachers and Unions

The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) voted today to end their strike. 98% of the 800 delegates voted in favor of ending the strike, according to the New York Times, though the union’s 26,000 members would still have to ratify the new contract, which could take several weeks.

The new contract would give teachers a modest raise and prohibit merit pay, but it would also lengthen the work day by 90 minutes and require that 30% of teachers’ evaluations be based on their students’ test scores. The new contract would also reserve half of new job openings for laid off teachers, but only if they had strong ratings based on these test scores.

Virtually everyone is reveling and calling it a victory for teachers and a defeat for corporate Ed Reform. Mike Klonsky called it a “Big victory for teachers.” His brother, Fred Klonsky, said “Most thought it was a win. Few of those I talked to were satisfied. None thought the strike should continue. All mistrust the Mayor. Most know that the fight doesn’t stop here.

Am I missing something?

How is it a victory for teachers (or students), or a defeat for the corporate ed reform agenda, to accept that 30% of teacher evaluations will be based on unreliable and inconsistent student test data (see here, here and here)? Considering that student test data, also known as Value Added Measures, or VAM, is almost entirely worthless as a measure of teacher effectiveness, it should not be allowed at all. Furthermore, the 30% rule will only encourage more teaching to the test, dumbing down and narrowing of the curriculum, and laying off of perfectly good teachers because they happen to work in low income schools, where student test scores and gains on those scores tend to be lower.

Likewise, how is it a victory for teachers if only half of new job openings go to laid off teachers and only to those who have high VAM scores? What about the good teachers who were laid off from low income, low performing schools? What about all those current teachers who will be laid off over the next five years as Chicago shuts down another 120 schools and converts 60 more to private charter schools? How is it a victory for the union, if they will lose thousands of members as a result of these layoffs? How is it a defeat for the corporate ed reform agenda when they will get another 60 charter schools and a weakening of the union as a result?

Yes, a prolonged strike would have been difficult to maintain and could have cost the union millions of dollars in fines and legal fees if the injunction sought by Mayor Emanuel were to go through, which it likely would. Yes, it would have been difficult to maintain public support. And yes, according to Illinois state law (SB 7), teachers are forbidden from bargaining anything less than the 30% floor they won for the percentage of their evaluations that will be based on student test scores. So, yes, this 30% is certainly better than 50%.

Nevertheless, SB 7 was an attack on collective bargaining and union power. Therefore, by accepting the 30%, CTU is capitulating to state-mandated restrictions on union activities. For the rest of the nation, the message is clear: Collective bargaining does not have to be banned outright, as it was in Wisconsin. It can simply be so hamstrung by legislatively-imposed pseudoscientific mumbo jumbo (e.g., VAM) that it becomes an impotent and meaningless endeavor.

Ending the strike may have been the most expedient tactic under the current circumstances. It certainly is easier, cheaper and less fraught than continuing to fight. And the teachers did halt some of the most onerous concessions that were being sought. However, the 30% should be seen as a defeat, not only because it will cause many good teachers to receive bad evaluations and potentially lose their jobs, but because it will encourage further legislative and legal attacks on union power.

1 comment:

  1. The attack on public education and all the other social rights of the working class will be increasing and teachers are faced with the same question of how to fight as before and during the strike: how can you fight Obama's business-model reforms to privatize education and reduce teachers to the same a low-wage, no security workforce with unions support Obama. I recommend "The two paths open to Chicago teachers" at http://www.wsws.org/articles/2012/sep2012/stat-s19.shtml on the World Socialist Web Site of the Socialist Equality Party.