Out of Touch with (Political) Reality

This has been a sad week for teachers unions. As I’ve said before in previous posts, it’s amazing the chronic lack of power wielded by such a large group of educated people. They do it to themselves, though. Well, the union leadership does it to them–but the membership is happy to acquiesce. They will give in again. Soon.

Right now, the Chicago Teachers Union reminds me of the National Rifle Association. The NRA doesn’t really have a leg to stand on right now. The Republicans SCREAM for free, federally funded Rugers for every American over the age of eleven. Family values, you know.

Meanwhile, the Democrats spend exactly no time on this issue. Gun dealers are safe. Gun owners will not be missing any guns due to federal legislation. In fact, Barack Obama has only signed bills that expand gun owners’ rights. There’s not a battle to fight, and the NRA has to raise money to be relevant. That leads to this video chock-full of racism and misinformation. Footage is from 2008, and statistics come from as early as 2006 (“The W Years”). They pair it with people speaking with Hispanic accents and actors wearing guerilla gear telling viewers they don’t care what Americans think–they’ll kill them. It’s about creating a crisis.

The Chicago Teachers Union has a similar political issue. In 2009, a large chunk of treasury money was spent keeping teachers in classrooms and out of unemployment lines. Districts are ready to cut budgets due to a lack of support from state legislatures (like the one in Springfield, Illinois). Chicago teachers tend to make a good wage, when compared with teachers in downstate districts and those of other states. Still, a teachers union cannot rest on its laurels. Otherwise, it becomes a target for another union. You have to create issues sometimes.

Sometimes, a journey of 1000 miles ends very badly, and this one will. Here are some key reasons Chicago teachers will lose on all fronts:

1. Chicago teachers stand to get a 16% pay increase across the board over 4 years, with no acknowledgement of quality variation. Being that CTU teachers fare pretty well in the salary and benefits department, they look like money-grabbing public employees at a time when the economy is struggling to recover from the “low taxes-low regulation” policies of the 2000’s. Thus, they have little, if any, public support.

2. They are at odds with the Mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emmanuel. You may remember him. He was the brilliant brain behind much of President Obama’s campaign. Once Mr. Obama became president, he was kind of wilted. He left to run for the office he holds now, and he has some specific changes (“research“-based) to the school day and evaluation. He has the backing of the President, the public’s trust in this battle, and the ultimate authority.

3. A key reason for the union’s walkout is they don’t want to be evaluated with test scores. This issue runs very deep in union blood. A child is not a test score. A teacher is not the sum of her/his students’ test scores, the average of the scores, or the median of those scores. The test is not always accurate or doesn’t always measure meaningful things. Those ideas are something most people agree with. However, these scores a proposed as one measure in a larger system. Bad student scores wouldn’t necessarily get a teacher fired. They’re not even enough to completely ban a kid from getting promoted to the next grade. That’s where the CTU loses ground: they don’t want to be evaluated at all. It gets worse when you realize that 8% of CPS students graduate from college, while 80% of 8th graders don’t read on grade level (as per test scores).

4. Chicago is in the midst of a crime wave. Dumping 350,000 public school students from inside the city will have a negative effect on safety. This is “found time” to those students. They’re gonna play it for laughs. I hope it’s just laughing. I can hope.  As the New York Times writes:

In Chicago public schools, 87 percent of students come from low-income families. More than 80 percent of public school students are African-American or Latino.

As more crimes get committed by school-age kids, the blame will fall on the union. Parents have issues, as well. Now they have to take care of their kids when they weren’t prepared to do so. It gets worse when charter schools are holding classes. Now, it looks like that model is preferable to the general public.

5. It’s an election year, and Presidential contenders tend to use education to counter-balance their platform. G.W.B. was a teacher-positive governor in Texas, offering raises and extra money for health care. His testing system directed the money from both Texas and Title I to the schools that needed it the most. Schools could choose how to use the money. If nothing changed, then everybody would know that there were issues besides budgetary ones. Meanwhile, Barack Obama has foisted his teacher-reforming ideas on schoolteachers through men like Arne Duncan (“Peg Spellings with a bad haircut”) and initiatives like Race to the Top (“Aim for the Middle?”). Mr. Obama has not addressed either unions’ major conferences, and he has gone so far as to point to where he was “not afraid” to take on the “powerful teachers unions.”

President Obama’s hands are tied now. If he caves, Mr. Romney will jump all over him. If Rahm Emmanuel caves, it will be seen as an Obama initiative. On the other hand, the union has done a poor job of presenting their case to the public. Squashing this strike will no doubt make the President look like he took charge of the situation.

This move by CTU plays right into a Barack Obama campaign plan. One friend postulated that his campaign had moles in the CTU to push this through to a winning vote. I’m ready to promote that idea to a working theory. The place, the timing, the demands, the lack of public support would all lend a thoughtful person to hold off for at least a year, letting the election settle. Nobody within the union tried to stop this, from what I can tell. Now, it becomes a matter of timing: when is the best point in the campaign to break the union?

When this is all finished, I’d like to think the Chicago Teachers Union elects new officers.

I’d liketothink…that. I’m not stupid.


About Paul T. Henley, Ph. D.

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