It’s hard to remember Chicago being the center of such significant national attention since the convention days of ’68. And, as was the case then, the confrontation between the establishment (Mayor Emanuel) and protesters (Teacher Unions) may have ramifications well beyond state lines.
As of this writing, 350,000 students remain at home, while 25,000 teachers and support staff walk the picket lines. A proposed solution seems to be on the horizon but the fallout of the strike will effect policy decisions around the country.
While not the only issue fueling the teacher’s action, at the center of the debate is the subject of last week’s blog post; tying teacher evaluation to student scores on standardized tests. The fact that Mayor Emanuel was given the podium at this year’s Democratic National Convention, and used that opportunity to praise the Obama administration’s willingness to embrace such change, speaks volumes as to the extent significant school reform is deemed necessary in order to correct the perceived ills of the public school system.
Some went so far as to claim that the democratic party has abandoned one of their staunchest and most loyal support groups, teacher unions, and has instead embraced a very different vision of public education. The pre-release screening of the anti-union drama “Won’t Back Down,” sponsored by Democrats for Education Reform, clearly demonstrated to which side of the debate the party line had subscribed.
And, it doesn’t stop there. This past week the Associated Administrators of Los Angeles, which represents the district’s school administrators, agreed to have school principals evaluated by student achievement. The decision brings the LAUSD in line with a California State Superior Court judge’s ruling on Doe v. Deasy that said that teacher and principal evaluations must account for student achievement. And while the extent of that linkage will be closely monitored over the next few years, one would have to be both blind or rather clueless to miss the direction all this is headed.
Much of this debate, as is the case in most debates, centers on misunderstandings, and misrepresentations. The above mentioned film is a case in point. It portrays teachers, and certainly teacher unions, in an ugly light. They are seen as lazy, irresponsible, unprofessional, unbending and uncaring. You and I, who have spent the better parts of our lives dedicated to children, know well the lie being presented. But we would be foolish to think this representation and the call for quantifiable teacher and principal evaluation were not, at least in part, the result of such thinking.
As educators we can, and must, react in two ways. We must continue the good fight against systems that would harm our profession and inhibit our ability to teach our students. At the end of the day we are the ones who are trained to educate, and the trust placed in America’s teachers by the parents of our students is well placed and well deserved. At the same time, we must examine the policies of our unions, and our own professional conduct to uncover the source of the significant dissatisfaction that fuels the call for reform. If you have trouble finding fault in our current system of education, then take a truthful look around, the problems are fairly easy to identify. What we have to realize, is that if we do not actively confront those faults, others, by in large much less qualified, will step in to correct them for us. What CSN&Y said in the summer of ‘68, still rings true, “We can change the world.”