Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Chicago Teachers's Strike, A Wake-Up Call!

     The Teachers' Strike in Chicago is a Wake Up Call!

     Put teachers and professional educators back in charge.

Mr. Emanuel has pressed for longer school days, more control for principals
in picking teachers, and an expansion of the city’s charter school system.
He is wrong on all counts.

We need shorter school days. Forcing children to start school before their   parents start work has been counterproductive. Youngsters need eight hours sleep. They should not be required to be in class any earlier than 9 am.  By 3pm they should be dismissed and either sent home or released to participate in after-school activities. Teachers should show up by 8am and stay until 4:30 pm. The most current research supports later start times for schools.

Principals are administrative personnel. They may or may not be professional educators. Principals are responsible for making sure our schools function.  This includes scheduling classes, meetings, building programs, maintenance, purchasing, promotion, public relations, and public-speaking engagements. Principals should have little, if any, input in the selection of materials, educators, curriculum, or teaching methods. These tasks should be reserved for trained professional educators: our teachers.

Our primary focus should not be on charter schools, but on repairing dysfunctional public schools.

Our teachers are willing to sacrifice and work the picket lines because they feel under-siege and disrespected. Threats of school closings, increasingly large class sizes, and an evaluation system that judges teachers based on the test scores of their students, are unacceptable working conditions. 87 percent of the students in Chicago schools come from low-income families. While these students may be economically handicapped, it serves no useful purpose to handicap their teachers.

Robert Bloch, the lawyer for the teachers’ union, said both sides are still working out the details but that union officials were hopeful that they could present a complete agreement sooner instead of later.  But he cautioned that, “It’s for the House of Delegates to determine whether we will suspend the strike so kids can go back to school.”  The agreement must represent our teachers and their concerns for their students. 

Much of the contract dispute has focused on teacher evaluations and job security, but few details of the deal have been made public. The new resolve to keep the details of the agreement private seemed questionable. During a closed meeting of the union’s House of Delegates on Friday afternoon, union negotiators did not share details of the proposed agreement among those assembled.  Depriving the rank-and-file of this information seems foolish.

The tentative agreement may include several provisions Mr. Emanuel and
school officials had pressed for — a longer school day, principals’ ability to
hire teachers, and a teacher evaluation system that would include student
test scores. But many details are not known, including a final agreement on raises and benefits for teachers. It seems foolish to write an agreement based on the demands of management while working teachers are ignored, their complaints dismissed, and our clients, the students, get lost in the shuffle.

Karen Lewis, the often outspoken president of the Chicago Teachers Union, who had described the sides as far apart, said many teachers had renewed hope that they could soon be back in their classrooms with students. But some teachers were waiting for the details before they allowed themselves to grow too invested in ending the strike. “We’re not going to rush it,” said Sara Echevarria, who works at the union as a coordinator for grievances. “We’re not desperate.”
For families across Chicago — even those who support the striking teachers, joining the line of pickets near every school or honking as they drove past clusters of teachers all in red — the thought that school may reopen soon comes as a huge relief.  Many described a week of chaos: missed work days, searching  for baby-sitters, and children who are confused about missing the second week of a new school year.

But the bottom line is this: During the past few years, when school boards and school administrators have interfered with academics in our  schools, our schools have continued to fail. We need to reverse this process and repair our schools.  It is time to put teachers back in charge.

Timothy Martin Flanagan
writer, editor, activist, and organizer.
JWJ steering committee, Labor Radio Collective, The Portland Alliance,, and retired educator: AFT Local 2277, Portland, Oregon.