The Chicago teacher’s strike … a lost opportunity to revitalize America’s public schools!

We all know about the current Chicago teacher’s strike, the first one in twenty-five years in the windy city. In addition to being America’s 3rd largest school district and effecting 350,000 students and their families, it also has direct implications on the national political front.

Point person the for city of Chicago is Rahm Emanuel, Barack Obama’s former chief of staff. Emanuel’s stance on school reform mirrors that of Obama and his administration. And they are not the only ones riding this wave. Also endorsing their policy of teacher evaluations based on standardized testing are Newark mayor Cory Booker, former D.C. Chancellor Michelle Rhee as well as other up-and-coming members of the Democratic party. This puts them square at odds with the union position, traditionally stalwart backers of the party.

The issues at play consist of:

  • teacher evaluations
  • job security
  • salary and benefits
  • longer school day

Rather than going into copious detail here, you can read it for yourself here.

Anyone who has read my blog knows of my distaste for standardized testing. In fact my repulsion is so strong, I view standardized testing, along with ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) as the two main obstacles to American success, equality and prosperity.

But I must bring up those dreaded tests again, because they are front and center in the Chicago strike.

The union contends that the main determination of testing success lies outside the home. It’s the economic and social conditions of the family and environment the child is brought up in. Children living in poverty or in single-parent households, along with being raised by uninvolved parents will score worse than their counterparts coming from “stable” households.

This may be true. But if you’re the union – is this really the way to present your case to the public, your ultimate judge and jury? For without the support of the public – a teacher’s strike, whether it results in often short-lived gains, will create long-lived scars amongst the populus it is there to serve.

It’s no wonder that only 45% of Chicago supports this strike. After all, the union pretty much is telling them it doesn’t make any difference what their teachers do. Because of you and your lifestyle – you have committed your offspring to a fate no better, if not worse than yours. This is hardly what I would call a stellar marketing message. Add to that, parents having to scramble for a place to “house” their children during the strike. It’s amazing even 45% support the teachers and their union.

Now let’s assume what the union is saying about standardized test is true, at least part of it. Let’s assume the tests don’t accurately assess a student. But let’s stop there. Instead playing the blame game, why don’t we look for solutions. And to their benefit, several individual teachers have actually brought up a point that makes sense, but it’s getting virtually no coverage by the media.

The teachers really don’t want more money. After all they are the highest paid in the nation, averaging $76,000 annually. The teachers don’t really want shorter days or less work either. They want their students to succeed. And a focus on standardized testing and the inevitable “teaching to the test” isn’t going to accomplish any success, especially long-term success. But rather the teachers believe by re-incorporating the arts (music, theatre, and visual art) into the classroom, students will become engaged, and develop their brains because they want to. This they believe will prove to be the correct path to a “life of success and happiness.”

In 201o, John Kay wrote a book named, “Obliquity.” Obliquity is the principle that complex goals are best achieved indirectly. Jack Welsh, former CEO of General Electric, realized this late in his corporate career. Rather than focus on the bottom line, he had GE just make the best possible products it could. He poured money into research and development, must to the dismay of many of his shareholders who only looked as far as the next quarter. He believed through this strategy, he would indirectly create a profitable and valuable company. And that is what it became. Art and creative studies are prime examples of obliquity in the classroom. In the end students will become successful through indirect means. They will have developed their “whole self.”

Now imagine if the Chicago teacher’s union presented their case this way. No blame on the teachers. And no blame on the parents. But rather blame the inanimate object, the standardized test. The test’s only defense is provided by bureaucrats that aren’t viewed too highly in the first place. The teachers would be seen as championing the effort to bring back the things in school that their student’s parent grew up with. These are things that could actually spur parental involvement rather than hinder it. I wouldn’t doubt their support would be close to 70%, a number that might very well initiate a referendum on the ill-conceived testing model of public education so in vogue presently. And in the end, the union and their teachers, would get what they wanted – no teacher assessment based on standardized testing.

And what if this “marketing approach” spread to other school districts facing the same situations, and believe it there’s a whole lot of them out there. This could be the catalyst that enables us to put public education back on the track it so dearly needs to be on.

But all this is based on a “what if.” And it doesn’t look like this “what if” is going to happen.

At least this time …


You can find me on Twitter at @clayforsberg


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4 thoughts on “The Chicago teacher’s strike … a lost opportunity to revitalize America’s public schools!

  1. An interesting perspective

    I haven’t read anywhere that any of the union issues have to do with education reform – advancing individual,long term learning outcomes (wanting their students to succeed)

    Not only is the CPS mission vision not being realized, long term learning, transfer and application skills are being ignored resulting in poor student proficiency

    It’s a dismal situation where the teachers and their union can contribute to a solution, but I’m only seeing resistance to reforms

    1. Thanks for the comment Tom. It’s good to see you migrate over here from LinkedIN. You have to look deep to find accounts and interviews from individual teachers to find mention of reform, specifically the re-introduction of arts and physical education. The union has made the discussion about the teachers, not the students. And that’s where my issue lies.

      Even without the politics, education reform is a thorny prospect. But then when you add the self-interests of all parties involved, the ones left out in cold … are the children, the people the whole is there to serve.

  2. Clay, you make some strong points. Not an easy problem to solve.

    Chicago, like many other large cities, has an education system that needs an overhaul. Although the complications intensify when we factor in the lack of family involvement (for some) re education.

    1. William I agree wholeheartedly! The system needs help and we can’t underestimate the effect of home and environment has on a child’s ability to learn – no matter what the material.

      But we can’t just sit back and assess blame. While we can put pressure on institutions to help, ultimately we have to play the cards we’re given. And as parents and neighbors – we can’t shirk our responsibility. For we are the first and last lines of defense in the battle for the salvation of our future generations.

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