The heroic strike of Chicago public school teachers and support staff, represented by the Chicago Teachers Union, has entered its third day. While receiving mass support from working-class students and families in Chicago, and the solidarity of organized labor across the United States, the strike has predictably come under attack by the ruling class, its corporate media and “education reform” lackeys.
The bogus anti-strike narrative goes like this: The teachers are greedy, lazy and incompetent, and want to maintain the status quo in Chicago Public Schools, while Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is heroically fighting to implement reasonable reform measures that will fix a broken school system.
This narrative is wrong on so many levels.
Corporate newspapers like the New York Times, which denounced the strike in a recent editorial, have harped on the alleged high salaries of the teachers, focusing on the figure of a $75,000 median salary. (Of course, the starting salary for entry-level teachers is much lower.) But the focus on wages is a distortion. While teachers deserve to make a living wage, the strike is not primarily over wage increases.
The focus of the strike is saving the public schools from a corporate reform takeover that aims to privatize the system and sell off the schools to the highest bidder. An example of just this is happening in Philadelphia. Emanuel and his cronies are looking for ways to shut down and de-fund public schools. If these corporate “reformers” have their way, much of the school system will be turned into charters, non-union and above any sort of public accountability. That is what is at stake.
Against this corporate model, the CTU is raising many demands that are in the immediate interests of students such as for smaller class sizes and funding for arts programs and school libraries. The teachers are in fact fighting for true education reform in the interests of both teachers and students.
A key issue in the strike is that Emanuel and the CPS administration want to impose a teacher evaluation system in which ultimately 40 percent of a teacher's evaluation will be based on standardized test scores of students. Teachers are rightfully outraged by this for several reasons.
For one, standardized test scores are an inaccurate measure of a teacher’s contributions. It is well-documented that success on these tests is best predicted by class background and the financial status of one’s family. Such emphasis on testing means that teachers are being evaluated on something over which they have little control: the economic conditions of their students.
Secondly, the weight given to testing in the CPS proposal will turn teaching into test-prep tutoring, not true learning. Mayor Emanuel’s own kids won’t be subjected to this type of education. Why? Because he sends them to a pricey private school, where the director has resisted test-based teacher evaluations on the basis that it will reduce teaching and learning to a rote exercise, devoid of creativity or critical thinking!
The strike has come at an inconvenient time for the Democratic Party. The Democrats will gladly accept hundreds of millions of dollars in labor union contributions for their electoral campaigns, but in times of struggle such as this they reveal themselves clearly as enemies of labor. Emmanuel is carrying out the education program of the Obama administration and Democratic Party as a whole.
While Republican Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan has proudly declared “We stand with Rahm Emanuel,” President Obama’s spokespeople have offered mealy-mouthed statements urging both sides to come to an agreement in the interest of the children. In reality, standing with the children means standing with the teachers who are fighting to save public education.
Distinguishing her campaign from the Republicans and Democrats, PSL presidential candidate Peta Lindsay told Liberation: “If CTU wins and puts a stop to the insanity of the corporate, test-based ‘reform’ process, it will be a win for teachers and students all over the United States who will take heart from this victory. They deserve our complete and unconditional solidarity.”