Thursday, September 13, 2012

I Stand With Chicago Teachers

I want to be perfectly clear: I stand behind the Chicago Teachers Union strike one hundred percent. They are fighting not just for themselves, but for everyone who values public education. And that should be all of us.

A couple days ago I wrote a piece about the Chicago teachers strike, one that was based upon incomplete knowledge on my part. I've really had my head down these last few weeks, concentrating on getting my own school year up and running, so my awareness of things happening outside of my little Lake Union lifestyle has come mostly from skimming headlines. I stand by much of what I wrote in that piece, but it was irresponsible to have published it nevertheless, you know, because of the propaganda.

It was my understanding at the time that the major sticking point was pay, but I've now come to understand that I bought into the line that the mayor and his corporate education reform buddies are peddling, the one that is designed to demonize teachers as (say it with me) "greedy, lazy union thugs." As I've done more digging, and as people I've trusted have weighed in one the matter, I've come to understand that what the Chicago teachers are doing is nothing less than drawing a line in the sand for all of us who stand opposed to the corporate reform experiment of high-stakes standardized testing, the turning over of our public schools to corporations, longer class days, the de-professionalization of teaching, fierce competition between teachers and schools, and larger classes. Every single plank in the corporate reform agenda is, at best, unproven: none of it is supported by research. I'm going to repeat that: none of what the corporate education reformers are proposing can be supported by research. These so-called hard-headed businessmen are attempting a wholesale take-over of our public schools based on nothing more than theories, a few pie-charts, and their hatred for unions. And, in fact, many of the things they are proposing, like their testing regime, merit pay, charter schools, and larger classes, have been proven time and again to actually produce worse educational outcomes. 

Corporate education reform is damaging children and must be stopped.

In my last post I called for good faith negotiations on both sides. I now know that it is not both sides, but rather Rahm Emmanuel and his hand-selected school board that have refused to budge on most of the important issues behind this strike. Like I said in my last post, Emmanuel has a long history of creating toxicity wherever he goes, so this shouldn't surprise anyone.

But don't take my word for it. Two of the leading voices advocating for genuine, research-based, reality-tested education reform have written outstanding pieces detailing what is actually happening in Chicago, what is at stake, and why what Emmanuel and his cronies are doing is so dangerous. Please take a moment to read them:

Education historian Diane Ravitch, writing in the New York Times Review of Books, provides an excellent thumbnail history of Chicago schools, which have been subject to a tragically failed experiment in corporate education reform for the past 20 years, as well as a very clear look behind the propaganda at what is really in play, not just in Chicago, but for all of us who care about public education.

Columnist Valerie Strauss, in her always brilliant Answer Sheet column in the Washington Post, takes apart the corporate reform argument piece by piece, paying particular attention to test-based evaluations and merit pay, charter schools, and longer class days. For those of you wanting to dig deeper, she provides plenty of links to support her claims -- something the corporate reformers can never do.

Please take the time to look behind the propaganda. You too, will stand with the Chicago teachers because it is clear that they are the critical thinkers in this, while Emmanuel and his corporate allies are trying to sell themselves to you simply on the idea that they are heroic "tough guys" and nothing else. This is too important for headline skimming.


Update: Something has gone wonky and I've not been able to post comments to my own blog for the past couple days, so I'm hoping it suffices to reply to comments here. In fact, when I look at the blog, the wrong comments are being attributed to the wrong posts and some posts are even missing. I don't believe it's anything I've done, but I'm hoping it's something that will "correct itself" (Blogger?) soon. In the meantime, rest assured I am seeing your comments. Thank you!

@Suschada (Mama Eve) . . . I have written about the propaganda film "Waiting for Superman," you'll find it here. There you'll find a link to Diane Ravitch's piece on it. If you want to read more of what I've had to say about corporate education reform and my view on the state of our public schools, you can click on the education reform label at the bottom of this post. I've written quite a bit!

@Julie Toole . . . I couldn't believe what I was reading when I learned that Chicago's school board is not elected, but rather appointed by the mayor. I don't know how parents stand for it. Thank you for fighting for us, Julie!

@melanie . . . I'm really sorry, but your comment got deleted in my process of attempting to "fix" my comment problem. You wrote to disagree with me, saying that you do not support a worker's right to strike. You feel that teachers who strike should be fired and replaced by one of the many out of work teachers. You said that you do not support corporate education reform, but feel that it can only be fought from within the system. I hope that fairly summarizes your points . . . Breaking unions is one of the primary objectives of the corporate education reform movement. If the unions are gone or weakened, the field will be free for them to implement their dangerous, unproven agenda. I simply don't understand how any American can be against unions, especially public employee unions. This is how we bring democracy into the workplace. I don't understand why corporations are free to form whatever strategic alliances they want in the name of profit, while workers, people with skills and talents to sell, can't form alliances with one another in the name of better pay, benefits and working conditions. And this isn't even a corporation we're talking about: these are our public schools. If democracy belongs anywhere, it's here. Beyond that, you seem to be under the misapprehension, like I was, that CTU was primarily striking over pay. This isn't true. If you click on the links I provided in the post, you'll learn that there is much more at stake, not just for teachers, but for children and their parents.

Finally, the reports are that CTU and the mayor's office are very close to a contract deal. It probably helped that despite the propaganda efforts by Emmanuel and his corporate allies, polls are showing that majorities of parents and citizens in Chicago support the teachers. In other words, most people have been able to see through the smokescreen and genuinely want what's best for our children. Strikes, while sometimes necessary, are hard for everyone. I hope we get an official announcement soon!

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Carrie said...

I'm not a fan of unions, but in this particular case, I applaud CTU for sticking up for what every teacher in the US (and probably all over the world at this point) is muttering under their breath - please just let us teach the children the they learn.

I applaud you as well for publishing new thoughts on this matter. If it was just about money, your previous post would have been right.

Teacher Jessica said...

I, too, stand wit hChicago Teachers! They are blazing a trail for real education reform. The kind that makes schools better!

Unknown said...

I am so with you, Tom! Here in Los Angeles the public school system is in such a shambles that people are scrambling to find a better way for their kids. But not everyone can afford private, not everyone is lucky enough to get into a charter or magnet school and even if you manage to bypass public education, it doesn't always mean your child ends up in a school that really understands what children need to become lifelong learners or what teachers need in order to teach effectively! It's mind boggling to me the way "education experts" approach schools as if they are simply business to be run effectively. As if children and teaching methods can be simply evaluated by tests & numbers.

What's happening in Chicago isn't just about Chicago...the outcome is going to have a ripple effect on every other school in our country.

I'm with you. I stand behind the Chicago teachers. I stand for REAL education reform where the children have to be put first. That means allowing the real experts, the teachers, to decide how this is going to happen.

Anonymous said...

Your awesome, Teacher Tom!

Sally Haughey said...

This post is so important. Thank you for stating so clearly. Your statement "Corporate education reform is damaging children and must be stopped" is the heart of the matter. A teacher's personal capacity for educating children is no longer honored and I am tired of watching so many amazing teachers leave the profession because of the lack of integrity the establishment holds for children.

I stand behind the Chicago teachers with you. It is time we bust open the insanity surrounding our nation's educational system.

Julie Toole, Baker Demonstration School said...

I am a CPS art teacher and PROUD CTU member. Thank you for your support and for taking the time to research the true facts behind the strike. I have just returned from day #4 of the strike after an inspiring evening march through downtown Chicago. We are so close now to a contract, but we cannot stop the good fight. There are still some fundamental problems with the system. The biggest one for me is the appointed school board. We are one of the few cities in the U.S. where the board is not elected. The mayor chose the entire board and it is full of charter school advocates and millionaires with a very specific agenda for privatizing education and breaking the teacher's union. They messed with the wrong group. We know this fight is bigger than just Chicago and are fueled by the knowledge that we are standing up for democracy and for all those dedicated union members who are being stripped of their collective bargaining rights.

Suchada @ Mama Eve said...

Teacher Tom, I appreciate this post and your perspective, and now understand how many issues about public education I *don't* understand. Have you written about the documentary "Waiting for Superman"? Much of its criticism is directed at unions, and I've been curious about how that ties in with the current situation in Chicago.

Anonymous said...

I teach in a small coal-mining community in the Appalachians where we are second lowest paid teachers in the state. Last month our community determined that the reason our county schools were $1,700,000 in debt was because we teachers were demanding more money. In fact, for four years we had been denied the $400 annual increase we were promised and so our salary had been decreased and the debt was due to mismanagement. But it's common and entertaining to use teachers as scapegoats and vile things were said and published online about us. Our "union" is so diluted that it didn't even attempt to defend us. Good for Chicago teachers; keep on fighting and think of other teachers in the weakest of positions, barely hanging on to their jobs. We feel supported when you stay strong. Great writing on this blog, TeacherTom