On the Chicago Teacher's Strike

For the Old Mole Variety Hour 17 Sept 2012

Joanne Barkan in Dissent Magazine notes that,

Yes, schoolchildren in Chicago are victims, but not of their teachers. They are victims of a nationwide education “reform” movement geared to undermine teachers’ unions and shift public resources into private hands; they are victims of wave after wave of ill-conceived and failing policy “innovations”; they are victims of George Bush’s No Child Left Behind law, which turned inner-city public schools into boot camps for standardized test prep; they are victims of Barack Obama’s Race to the Top program, which paid states to use student test scores—a highly unreliable tool—for teacher evaluations and to lift caps on the number of privately managed charter schools, thus draining resources from public schools. Chicago’s children are victims of “mayoral control,” which allows Rahm Emanuel to run the school system, bully parents and teachers, and appoint a Board of Education dominated by corporate executives and political donors.

As Barkan observes, not only did test scores not improve, but students displaced by school closures ended up mostly in other low performing schools and … mass closings led to youth violence as rival gang members ended up in the same classrooms.

After nearly twenty years of reform in Chicago, “Racial gaps in achievement have steadily increased, with White students making more progress than Latino students, and African American students falling behind all other groups.” ….

In 1995 African Americans comprised 45 percent of the teaching force in Chicago. Today, after a decade of closing neighborhood public schools and opening charters, just 19 percent of city teachers are African American. About 42 percent of their students are African American. “[T]he private managers who run charter schools tend to favor rookie teachers who are younger and far less likely to be minorities.” …

According to recommendations of the American School Counselors Association, there should be about 1,600 counselors working in the Chicago public schools. Instead there are only 731. Much of the workday of these counselors consists of coordinating test administration and paperwork.

Some 42 percent of neighborhood elementary schools are not funded for a full-time arts teacher or music teacher.

The tax funds collected for Chicago’s “tax-increment financing” program (TIF) are supposed to be used for development in blighted communities. [ but instead ] “…the TIF program is contributing to income and race/ethnicity place-based inequality in the city of Chicago.…White communities are overrepresented in TIF revenues allocated to school construction programs….School construction projects funded by TIF revenues favor exclusive schools (selective enrollment schools, charter schools and magnet schools, etc.) while underfunding inclusive neighborhood area attendance schools.” …

[Members of ] the mayor-appointed Board of Education, “… generally do not attend hearings related to school closings." [nor do they ] read the transcripts of these community hearings even [when] they [are voting] on school closings"

In a Reuters news article we learn that

Across the U.S., poverty is irrefutably linked to poor academic performance. On last year's national reading exam, nine-year-olds from low-income families scored nearly three full grade levels below their wealthier peers. The gap was nearly as large in math.

The poor performance of poor students accounts for all of the achievement gap between U.S. students and their peers in academic powerhouses such as South Korea and Finland. On the latest international reading test, U.S. teens from more affluent schools were at the very top of global rankings, while those from schools with high poverty rates were near the bottom….

Chicago teachers speak of children coming to school hungry and unwashed, with throbbing toothaches, without proper shoes. They talk of kids, scarred by violence, who desperately need counselors in schools that have none. They note that Chicago, where 87 percent of students qualify for federally subsidized meals, spends less than half as much per student as wealthy suburbs.

Peter Brogan, on the Solidarity webzine, asks,

Why are attacks on teachers and their unions at the center of both the Democratic and Republican Party’s political agenda? Why are both parties in such staunch agreement on the "education reform" agenda, which is fundamentally about dismantling the institution of public education, replacing it with a hybrid, largely privatized and corporate form? Why is the attack on public education so fundamental, not just for the right wing, but actually for the broader ruling class, in this country and globally?

Part of the answer is understanding that political and economic elites, from former Mayor Richard M. Daley and the Commercial Club of Chicago to current Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Oregon-based Stand for Children, are fighting to produce the city in a particular way. This has been outlined in numerous planning documents from different city administrations, some of which have been drafted by the Commercial Club and have at the center an urban development strategy based on revitalizing the downtown core and prioritizing the financial, real estate and tourist sectors of the economy while at the same time demolishing public housing and schools in order to gentrify historically African American and Latino working class neighborhoods. These transformations are deeply related to the larger structural crisis of capitalism. The background to this is the crisis of profitability that comes to a head in the early 1970s, and the ushering in a period of capitalist regulation known as neoliberalism, marked by savage attacks on unions, workers and working class living standards. Reconstructing the built environment of the city has been absolutely central to all of these changes. This is one attempt to deal with the structural crisis of capitalism at this critical juncture. And destroying unions, and teachers’ unions in particular, have been key to that attempt.

As members of Chicago Solidarity note,

The teachers union has been transformed under the leadership of the Caucus of Rank and File Educators (CORE), who were elected to lead the [Chicago Teachers Union] in 2010. CORE has worked tirelessly to get members engaged in their union and help build a movement for education justice—with grassroots community organizations, parents, and students across the city of Chicago. Fighting for teachers and staff in their schools and building relationships with neighborhood allies and communities of color has allowed the CTU to turn a contract fight into a movement for quality public education. They have shown workers across the country how to fight back against the capitalist assault on working class people and our unions, an assault supported by both the Republicans and the Democratic Party. In organizing this strike as a broader social movement for education justice, the CTU has illuminated a new path of resistance for those who are sick and tired of the attacks on workers under the guise of “reform.” Their focus on having members engaged at all levels of the union and their advocacy for a democratically controlled school system that serves the most disadvantaged and historically marginalized communities has been a major reason why the strike has garnered wide public support. It is also why we need to recognize that this is only one battle in a longer struggle to make Chicago a city for people and not for profit. …

Winning a good agreement with [the Chicago Public Schools] is not the end goal of this movement. We have to look beyond just the next contract and make this strike the spark for a rebirth of the labor movement—a force not just for good contracts, but for social justice for all working people.

Forum, Rally and Fundraiser in Solidarity with Chicago Teachers

Thursday, September 20, 2012


Portland Association of Teachers Union Hall 345 NE 8th Avenue, Portland, OR


Chicago teachers are fighting for all of us! Public education is under attack, and Chicago teachers are taking a stand. The Chicago Teachers Union is lighting a new path for the labor movement and it is crucial we gather, as others are doing across the country, to learn the lessons of this fight. Please join us for a solidarity event to show Chicago that Portland supports their struggle.


    Confirmed Speakers:

    Gwen Sullivan, president, Portland Association of Teachers

    Tom Chamberlain, president, Oregon AFL-CIO

    Bob Tackett, executive secretary-treasurer, NW Oregon Labor Council

    Margaret Butler, executive director, Portland Jobs with Justice

    Adam Sanchez, Social Equality Educators


    Hosted by Portland Association of Teachers

    Co-Sponsored by Oregon Save Our Schools, Portland Jobs with Justice, Rethinking Schools, Social Equality Educators


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