Chicago Teachers Take a Stand Against Mayor Rahm Emanuel and His Contract Demands

Submitted by Elaine Magliaro, Guest Blogger

CPS Parent Matt Farmer Puts Penny Pritzker on Trial at CTU’s Stands Strong Rally

Rahm Emanuel promised to “shake up the Windy City’s schools” when he campaigned for mayor of Chicago in 2011. One of his main goals was to change the teacher evaluation process. He is a big proponent of using students’ standardized test scores in determining the effectiveness of classroom practitioners.

On September 12th, Mike Klonsky wrote the following on his blog SmallTalk:

It appears this morning that our autocrat mayor has decided to stonewall the negotiations. While he’s moved on compensation issues, he’s refusing to even discuss teacher evaluation and the power of principals to hire and fire teachers at will.

Rahm is operating here without the benefit of knowing much about education. He’s that just-right combination of street-thug ward politician and Wall St. hustler who thinks that because he believes something to be true, he has the right (power) to force it on the public. First case in point was his notion that more seat time in school necessarily produces better results. It doesn’t. Now he’s convinced that you can evaluate a teacher based wholly or largely on their student’s score on a standardized test. You can’t.

Yesterday Rahm hauled a few of his pet principals, (including Ethan Netterstrom, principal at Skinner North) in front of the TV cameras, to claim that in order to be “successful” they need the unchecked power to hire and fire whoever they choose, regardless of qualifications and experience and without any due process. This is a recipe for City Hall-style patronage and going back to the days when teachers (and principals) worked at the pleasure of ward politicians. It is also a recipe for principals getting rid of teachers who may be the wrong color or political persuasion. It’s interesting to note here that principals already have lots of authority over faculty hiring and that black and Latino teachers have been the victims of these kinds of hiring practices. Today, just 19 % of the teaching force in Chicago is African American, down from 45 % in 1995.

This is what happens when you make the school system a wing of City Hall, weaken collective bargaining, take power away from popularly-elected school boards and Local School Councils, and dismantle public space and public decision making.

This strike really represents a last stand for teachers and all public employees against moves by Tea Party governors and their Democratic Party counterparts in urban districts like Chicago, Cleveland, and Detroit, to eliminate teachers collective bargaining rights altogether. This was the original idea behind SB7 which made it illegal for teachers in Chicago (nowhere else in the state) to bargain over anything except salary and benefits — two issues that could easily be reneged on after the contract was signed for budgetary reasons. Remember, the board agreed to a 4% raise in the last contract only to take it back once the contract was signed.

All this leaves Chicago’s teachers with only one option. Dig in and fight back with the only tactic left to them under SB7 — the power to withhold their labor and put their bodies on the line in defense of their profession and of democracy. What happens here in Chicago will ultimately determine the fate of teachers and public worker unions everywhere.

Emanuel’s children do not attend public schools. They are enrolled at an elite private school—the University of Chicago Lab School, where the tuition is said to be more than $20,000 a year. According to Mike Elk, the conditions at the school Emanuel’s children attend are far different from those one finds in the Chicago Public Schools (CPS).

Elk provided information about the U of C Lab School:

The Lab School has seven full-time art teachers to serve a student population of 1,700. By contrast, only 25% of Chicago’s “neighborhood elementary schools” have both a full-time art and music instructor. The Lab School has three different libraries, while 160 Chicago public elementary schools do not have a library.

“Physical education, world languages, libraries and the arts are not frills. They are an essential piece of a well-rounded education,” wrote University of Chicago Lab School Director David Magill on the school’s website in February 2009.

Magill also wrote the following in his Director’s Address to Returning Faculty in 2010:

I believe that the “business model” of improving education will fall on its own sword.

It is unfortunate that the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation developed primarily by politicians and enacted in 2002 morphed into what many refer to as a “business model” of improving education. Measuring outcomes through standardized testing and referring to those results as the evidence of learning and the bottom line is, in my opinion, misguided and, unfortunately, continues to be advocated under a new name and supported by the current administration.

In the past decade, there have been many critics of the educational policies promoted by the so-called corporate reformers. Only recently have some voices been taken seriously—in particular, the voice of educational historian Diane Ravitch. Her recent book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System, provides a compelling argument to examine the data that tells us that reforms of the past ten years are not working and are actually degrading the intellectual potential of students. And this comes from one of the early architects of many of those reforms. This is a book worth reading, authored by a person who admits she was wrong yet is forceful when advocating for change. Listen to this from Ms. Ravitch:

“We must honor those teachers who awaken in their students a passionate interest in history, science, the arts, literature, and foreign language. Such teachers (if acting today under NCLB) would be stifled not only by the data mania of their supervisors, but by the jargon, the indifference to classical literature, and the hostility to their manner of teaching that now prevails in our schools.

“Without a comprehensive liberal arts education, our students will not be prepared for the responsibilities of citizenship in a democracy, nor will they be equipped to make decisions based on knowledge, thoughtful debate, and reason. . . . Not everything that matters can be quantified. What is tested may ultimately be less important than what is untested, such as a student’s ability to seek alternative explanations, to raise questions, to pursue knowledge on his own, and to think differently.”

And to that, I say AMEN and thank you, Ms. Ravitch, for seeing the light and for cracking the armor of the “business model.” Because of her and others like her, I believe this disturbing chapter in American education history is coming to a close.

I must admit that I am not as hopeful as Mr. Magill is that this chapter in American education history is coming to an end. What I hope is that the teachers’ strike in Chicago will awaken many Americans to what has been happening to our public schools over the past decade in the name of school reform…to how high stakes testing of students has perverted the educational process in this country…to the narrowing of the curriculum because everything is focused on prepping children for tests and not on helping them to become critical thinkers and doing what is best for each individual child…to the elimination of art and music teachers and school librarians.

Matt Farmer, the speaker in the first video that I posted, is a lawyer, musician, local school council member, and a CPS parent. He stands with and supports the striking teachers. He wrote the following in an article for the Huffington Post titled Teachers Don’t Like Bullies last May:

Teachers and their union representatives are simply gearing up — outside of the classroom, mind you — to fight for their professional lives this summer, and I’m glad they’re finally getting engaged.

I say that both as a longtime CPS parent and as a local school council member.  I talk to a lot of teachers around the city, and from Rogers Park to Gage Park they’re angry.

They’re tired of being made scapegoats for the devastating effects of the generational urban poverty that Emanuel and his aides would rather not talk about. They’re tired of having their students used as over-tested lab rats by an ever-changing cast of out-of-touch, out-of-town “reformers” who specialize in “public education by press release.” But what really angers the teachers I’ve talked to is the absolute lack of respect that this mayor and his hand-picked team have shown them during the last year.

In fact, I’d fear for my fourth-grade daughter’s next eight years in the CPS system if her teachers were not mentally and emotionally invested in the ongoing contract negotiation process.

Make no mistake — I want my kid in class next September. But if her teachers ultimately vote to go on strike, my daughter will know why.

She may not have a deep understanding of tenure issues, pension contributions, or “step and lane” increases, but (like most kids I know) she has a solid grasp on the basic concept of “fairness.”

Even a 10-year-old can understand that if 75 percent of the CTU’s membership ultimately concludes that our charter-school-loving mayor is trying to give them (as Emanuel might say) “the shaft,” then those teachers need to stand up and fight, not only for their individual jobs and their profession, but also for the well-being of the kids in the classrooms in which they now teach.

The deck is undeniably stacked against the teachers in their current negotiations with the Board of Education, and a strike vote is the only leverage teachers have to secure a fair contract.

You want to call mock strike votes a scare tactic, be my guest.  But don’t forget to call out Emanuel and his high-priced media machine the next time the mayor starts talking about putting 55 kids in a classroom, or complaining that CPS teachers enriched themselves for years while “cheating our children,” whom, he claims, teachers effectively “left on the side of the road.”

It’s easy, I suppose, to make a habit of dumping on CPS teachers if the only parent-teacher conferences you ever have to attend take place at a private school.

Chicago Public Teachers Stage Historic Strike in Clash with the Mayor on Education Reforms

Striking Teachers, Parents Join Forces to Oppose “Corporate” Education Model in Chicago

Chicago Teachers Strike Could Portend Referendum on Obama Admin’s Education Reform Approach

CTU President Karen GJ Lewis Speech May 23 Rally

Addendum: The Worst Teacher in Chicago (This is a true story.)

CHICAGO. In a poorer city school, one English teacher–I won’t use her name–who’d been cemented into the school system for over a decade, wouldn’t do a damn thing to lift test scores, yet had an annual salary level of close to $70,000 a year. Under Chicago’s new rules holding teachers accountable and allowing charter schools to compete, this seniority-bloated teacher was finally fired by the principal.

In a nearby neighborhood, a charter school, part of the city system, had complete freedom to hire. No teachers’ union interference. The charter school was able to bring in an innovative English teacher with advanced degrees and a national reputation in her field – for $29,000 a year less than was paid to the fired teacher.

You’ve guessed by now: It’s the same teacher.

It’s Back to School Time! Time for the editorialists and the Tea Party and Barack Obama’s Education Secretary Arne Duncan to rip into the people who dare teach in public schools.

And in Arne’s old stomping grounds, Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel is stomping on the teachers, pushing them into the street.

Let’s stop kidding ourselves. This is what Mitt Romney and Obama and Arne Duncan and Paul Ryan have in mind when they promote charter schools and the right to fire teachers with tenure: slash teachers’ salaries, bust their unions.

NOTE: Chicago Teachers Strike May Near End As Union Releases Deal (Huffington Post)


Autocrat Rahm draws a line in the sand on test-based evaluation (SmallTalk)

Director’s Address to Returning Faculty 2010 (University of Chicago Lab School)

Director of Private School Where Rahm Sends His Kids Opposes Using Testing for Teacher Evaluations (In These Times)

Teachers Don’t Like Bullies (Huffington Post)

The Worst Teacher in Chicago (Chicago Tribune)

153 thoughts on “Chicago Teachers Take a Stand Against Mayor Rahm Emanuel and His Contract Demands”

  1. Eeyore,

    Regarding promotion/non-promotion : I would make a decision based on each individual case. Not all children are the same. Accommodations can be made by classroom teachers for students who scored below grade level on reading tests the previous year. I had students who made way more than one year of progress in my elementary classroom. Children mature at different levels. It is best to have a policy that is flexible–one that makes accommodations for each child. It is best to assess the needs of each child–and to help that child to progress to the next level. Teaching to the test is not the way to achieve that goal. Education should be about the children–not about the tests!

  2. Raf’s comment from a couple of days ago says that the tendency here is to pass those kids along and I have no stats but I bet that is mostly what is done across the nation.

    What was the policy when you were teaching? If you were “king” what policy would you enforce?

  3. Eeyore,

    Here’s some information that I found about student promotion in NYC–which I believe is current:

    Promotion Standards

    In February 2006, the New York City Department of Education put in place a promotion policy with clearly defined standards that children in grades 3 through 12 must meet in order to be promoted to the next grade. These standards apply to all NYC public schools.

  4. Eeyore,

    I don’t think children are always promoted to the next level. I believe in NYC–at least in the past–children had to pass state tests before being promoted to the next grade. After graduating from college, one of my daughter’s friends taught in a tough section of NYC for a couple of years. I think she had some thirteen and fourteen year old students in her fifth grade classes.

  5. Elaine,

    Yes, they salivate at the hope of privatizing public schools (and social security) in order to make billions. But they have another goal that takes precedence. Destroy the unions so there won’t be any more campaign donations going to opponents of the right.

    Can you give us any insight as to why seriously failing children are always promoted and the impact that has on teachers. This was true in 1950 and is still true today.

  6. Eeyore,

    I’ve read about this movie.

    I think it’s easier for people and politicians to point their fingers at teachers and blame them and their unions for ALL of the problems that plague failing schools in big cities and poor rural areas rather than to address the major causes–poverty and societal problems. Certainly, the people whose motive is to privatize public schools and to make billions of dollars off of the taxpayers want you to believe that all of our schools are failing and that only private and charter schools can provide our children with a quality education.

  7. Elaine,

    Tweet from Roger Ebert:

    please read this excellent analysis – “Won’t Back Down” Film Pushes ALEC Parent Trigger Proposal

    Have you been in contact with Nal concerning the link he gave you that had incorrect info on average teacher pay (written by a retired teacher)?

    It boggles the mind how Obama has gotten so imbedded with ALEC on education reform. I think this was a case of a slippery slope and the slope has taken him right into the maw of ALEC and the Koch brothers.

  8. In teachers’ strike, Emanuel pushing Democrats’ new view
    By Tom Watkins, CNN

    (CNN) — The hard-nosed stance taken by Mayor Rahm Emanuel in the Chicago teachers’ strike dovetails with the education goals of his former boss, President Barack Obama, but observers disagreed Monday over how well it serves the city’s schoolchildren.

    Critics such as Fordham University professor Mark Naison say Emanuel is slavishly following the Obama administration’s educational policies to the detriment of children and teachers.

    “It makes teachers look at students as their adversaries,” said Naison, who works with public school teachers as part of the Bronx African American History Project and is a professor of African American Studies and History at the university.

    “It makes teachers hate their jobs and it makes students not want to go to schools, because all you do is study for bubble tests,” he said, referring to computer-scored standardized tests…

    Key issues behind the strike

    The idea is that by rating teachers on student test scores and closing failing schools, bad teachers will be weeded out and students will get a better education, he said.

    The Obama initiative attempts to apply a business model to public education, according to Naison.

    Mom homeschools during teacher strike Bloomberg: Run schools for kids Tony Danza on the Chicago teacher strike

    “They’re trying to see if by putting pressure on teachers to raise student test scores, they can reduce the performance gap between schools in poor neighborhoods and schools in more affluent neighborhoods,” he said.

    But the results have brought unintended consequences that may be worse than the putative reforms, Naison said.

    Schools in danger of closing have cut recess, gym, arts and music, he said, and the atmosphere at many schools has been poisoned.

    “Basically, all kids do is study for the test all day, which is the only way you have any chance of teachers keeping their jobs and administrators keeping schools open,” Naison said.

    “What the Chicago teachers have done is say enough is enough,” he said.

  9. Eeyore,

    PSAT for 12-20-11, Part 1: Support a progressive alderman

    Last week the Chicago Tribune accused progressive alderman Nicholas Sposato of “putting kids on hold” for choosing to gather community input before approving permits for a new UNO charter school in his ward.

    You may remember that, in the last election, firefighter Sposato beat John Rice, the machine-backed candidate and chauffeur for the previous alderman.

    City Council has a long-standing tradition called “aldermanic prerogative,” which gives sole discretion over building permits to the local alderman. Apparently UNO’s founder, Alderman Danny Solis, and current UNO CEO Juan Rangel, Rahm Emanuel’s campaign finance chairman, are trying to replace Sposato’s choice with UNO’s clout.

    Pressure from UNO and city power brokers have led City Council to call for a special Council meeting Thursday to take their own vote on the school, overriding Sposato.

    Sposato sent around an e-mail explaining his position:

    Last April I was elected on the promise of creating a new system of open and accessible government for the residents of the 36th ward and I have worked every day to achieve that goal to ensure that the residents are informed and are able to voice their opinions. This proposed school is no different.

    Sposato rightly wants to be sure that an UNO school is the best fit for his community, especially since some of UNO’s charter schools are already in trouble academically and have been accused of skimming off the better-achieving students from the neighborhood.

  10. Chicago charter schools produce wildly uneven results on state tests
    By Rosalind Rossi and Art Golab–Staff Reporters
    November 30, 2011

    Chicago charter school franchises produced wildly uneven results — even among different campuses of the same chain — on state achievement test data released Wednesday for the first time in more than a decade.

    Only one of nine Chicago multi-site charter operators — Noble Street — beat the districtwide average of all Chicago public schools for the percent of students passing state tests last spring on every campus it oversees.

    The overall passing rate at two city charter franchises — Aspira and North Lawndale — was below the city average at every campus those two groups operate.

    Four other chains — Betty Shabazz, Perspectives, North Lawndale and Chicago International — saw the majority of their campuses with over-all pass rates that were below the citywide average. In fact, one Shabazz high school campus — DuSable — had a passing rate that put it among the bottom 30 high schools in the entire state. One of its elementary campuses placed among the bottom 40.

    And the passing rates of individual campuses within the same chain sometimes differed by nearly 20, 25, 30 or even as much as 37.5 percentages points on the same test, new state report card data showed. The least variation between campuses occurred at some of the worst-performing charters.

    The findings, said David Berliner, education professor at Arizona State University, mean “parents need to be very, very careful in selecting charters because they do not replicate like McDonalds or the Holiday Inn. … Expecting to find consistency like at a Holiday Inn or a McDonalds is not in the nature of large human interaction.’’

    Michael Milkie, CEO of the standout Noble Street charter network, agreed that belonging to a charter franchise doesn’t ensure the same results across all campuses. The performance level of incoming students and the strength of principals and teachers may vary across a chain, he said. A new charter may need time to gain steam before it rises to the level of a mature one.

    At least charters, which are freed from many rules governing traditional public schools, can move more quickly to replace principals and teachers who don’t produce, charter advocates say.

    “You can’t go to every Lettuce Entertainment restaurant and assume they are equal just because of the name,’’ Milkie said. Even with charters, parents “still have to do their research. I think they realize that.’’

    But up until Wednesday, parents—– and the media — were unable to see campus-by-campus state report card results of Chicago charter operators who were allowed multiple charter campuses — presumably because their first charter site was successful. For years, the State Board of Education only released the average score across all campuses, something that obscured the variations evident in Wednesday’s data.

    “There’s this spin out there that charters are better, and we should expand them while closing neighborhood schools,’’ said Wendy Katten of the Chicago parent group Raise Your Hand. “There should be more rigorous examination of what’s going on in these schools before we expand them.’’

  11. Regarding exemptions on religious grounds::

    Another nail in our coffin. Is there no end to the many ways we can screw up this country? And isn’t this policy similar to keeping girls out of school in Afghanistan?

    You’re not making my day, Elaine.

  12. Thanks for the info on differences in teacher’s accountability. I’d love to see some numbers on UNO. The article indicates they are required to measure student growth. Are they required to publish it?

    A little off-track: Are you entirely confident the journalism at HuffPo is trustworthy?

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