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"Strike Transformed Teachers from Powerless to Powerful"

Three posts reflecting on victory of Chicago teachers & students after the strike - Diane Ravitch, Jesse Jackson and Juan Gonzalez

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by Diane Ravitch
September 18, 2012
You have heard the news by now that the strike is over. I was lecturing in Chattanooga and meeting with leaders of the community from 2 pm until now. My brother tweeted to ask why I was behind the curve. Oops, offline.
Pundits and commentators will be poring over the Deep Meaning of all this for weeks and months to come. There will be countless articles about Lessons Learned.
Personally, I think we have a good idea already about why the teachers went on strike. No, it wasn't greed or money. The compensation piece was more or less settled before the strike. Pundits and talk-show hosts who take home hundreds of thousands a year will express outrage that teachers - teachers! - might make $80,000. I ask you, who adds more social value - a first grade teacher in Chicago or a talk show host on national radio or TV?
Why did they strike? After 17 years of reform and disrespect, they were fed up with the bullying. They were tired of the non-educators and politicians telling them how to teach and imposing their remedies. Reform after reform, and children in Chicago still don't have the rich curriculum, the facilities, and the social services they need.
They were sick of the incessant school closings. They were sick of seeing charter schools open that get wildly uneven results yet are praised to the skies by Arne Duncan and now Rahm Emanuel. They knew that the charter schools are non-union and that the Mayor will use them to break the union.
In the end, the union pitted itself against Rahm Emanuel, Arne Duncan, Chicago's business and civic leadership, and the Race to the Top. It took on the most powerful forces in the city, and yes, even President Obama, who remained neutral.
And by taking a stand, by uniting to resist the power elite, these teachers discovered they were strong. They had been downtrodden and disrespected, but no longer. They put on their red T-shirts and commanded the attention of the nation and the admiration of millions of teachers. Powerless no more, they showed that unity made them strong. 98% voted to authorize the strike, and 98% voted to end it.
The union was fortunate in having Karen Lewis as its president. She was one of them. She had taught chemistry in the Chicago public schools for more than 20 years. She is one of the few - perhaps the only - union leader in the nation who is Nationally Board Certified, a mark of her excellence as a teacher.
Not only is she a teacher through and through, she is a graduate of Dartmouth. She is neither impressed nor intimidated by the elites who flaunt their Ivy League credentials. Hers are as good as theirs. Maybe better. She is a woman of valor.
Karen Lewis gave courage to her members, and they gave courage to her.
The strike is one of the few weapons available to the powerless. Without the union, the teachers would have been ignored, and the politicians would be free to keep on reforming them again and again and again.
The strike transformed the teachers from powerless to powerful.
The teachers said, "Enough is enough. With us, not to us."
Regardless of the terms of the contract, the teachers won.
Thank you, CTU.
by Jesse Jackson
September 17, 2012
The Chicago teachers strike has gotten national attention, much of it presuming that the biggest issues are pay and evaluation. But the Chicago Teachers Union has stated that the two sides have been very close on pay.
And union members have no objection to evaluation; they just want a system not so skewed to standardized, high-stakes testing. These tests aren't particularly good ways to measure teacher performance and, even worse, have the perverse effect of forcing teachers to teach kids to take tests rather than to love learning.
But the big issues for these schools and for the teachers aren't talked about because they are officially "off the table." CTU teachers are most concerned about class size, about adequate facilities, about wraparound services from social workers to nurses, about well-rounded curricula including art and music and languages, about early childhood education that helps children come to school ready to learn.
This isn't fancy stuff. One concern is classrooms that reach temperatures of up to 98 degrees in summer; only 29 percent of schools are air-conditioned. Another is about textbooks for the first day of school. Many of Chicago's elementary and middle schools have no safe place for recess, and few have age-appropriate playground equipment. There are 160 elementary schools without a library; 140 are in the poorer South Side of the city. Even though a staggering 80 percent of inner-city teen boys are exposed to violence, 675 schools share about 205 social workers. Schools often must choose between art and music, if they are lucky enough to have either.
Too often, Chicago is not providing the basics in public education for its most needy children. The CTU published a report detailing these concerns. But under state law, they can't negotiate about them unless their employer agrees - and neither Mayor Rahm Emanuel nor school officials will consent to enter into negotiations about these crucial conditions.
When the teachers strike ends and children return to class, teachers will get the blame for the performance of the students. But they can't negotiate about crushing poverty, broken families and hard streets that impact the hearts, souls and minds of the children they teach. And teachers can't even negotiate about the quality of the facilities and the educational opportunities provided by the schools where they teach.
It's not surprising that teachers react when a contractually agreed 4 percent pay raise is revoked or the school day and school year are lengthened without negotiations. They are frustrated at the lack of respect paid to the needs of the children they teach. And they are bound to be frustrated at the lack of respect paid to their own contracts.
No one likes teachers strikes. But teachers are on the front line. In a time of spreading poverty and rising hunger, with harsh exploitation of the poor by landlords and payday lenders, poor children too often come to impoverished schools.
Teachers take the rap for poor student performance without having the power to change what gets in the way of learning. Grading teachers on the basis of a machine-graded test cannot substitute for schools with playgrounds and social workers, classes with manageable numbers, or roofs that don't leak.
Poverty, inequality, violence, race and investment matter.
They must be a part of any long-term solution.
by Juan Gonzalez
September 17, 2012
Karen Lewis, who last week led 29,000 Chicago teachers on a school strike heard across the nation, has suddenly emerged as the new champion for millions of frustrated public school teachers.
Many of those teachers are sick and tired of being made into scapegoats by politicians and corporate honchos who never spent a single day in front of a classroom.
They are fed up with overcrowded classrooms in rundown buildings, with bureaucrats who keep hiring high-paid consultants despite huge budget deficits, with new state laws that tie teacher evaluation to their students' test scores, with the constant closing of neighborhood schools and the stampede to charter schools.
But most of all, they are furious at the lack of respect for them and their profession.
Until this week, no one - not even American Federation of Teachers chief Randi Weingarten - had found a way to turn back the tide of teacher bashing.
Then the feisty firebrand Lewis burst on the scene.
For a week, she went toe-to-toe against Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the former Obama White House chief-of-staff known for his short fuse, foul mouth and take-no-prisoners style.
And by any measure, Lewis came come out a winner.
The preliminary deal that emerged over the weekend - once it's approved by the rank and file this week - will restore respect for teachers nationwide.
Lewis came out of nowhere in 2010, after two decades as a top high school teacher, to lead an insurgent group that swept out the old Chicago Teachers Union leaders.
That old leadership had meekly gone along for nearly a decade with the agenda of Chicago's former public schools chief, Arne Duncan.
And once Duncan went to Washington as President Obama's Secretary of Education, his Chicago agenda became Obama's Race to the Top. Duncan used federal aid to states for more closures of low-performing schools, teacher layoffs, merit pay raises, charter schools, and more standardized tests.
It's the same agenda our own Mayor Bloomberg, a handful of billionaire philanthropists and many Republican leaders across America have been pursuing.
Lewis and her insurgent group vowed to challenge these so- called reforms head on. Once in command, she forged a close alliance with several Chicago parent groups whose members were equally furious at being excluded from educational decision- making.
Meanwhile, Mayor Emanuel showed Lewis' members complete disdain. He rescinded a 4% pay raise in the existing union contract. He sought to have 40% of teacher evaluations based on their students' test scores. And he vowed to close more schools without offering laid-off teachers a chance to be rehired.
Little wonder that Lewis won a huge mandate from her members for their first strike in 25 years.
Once the walkout began, Emanuel was forced to back down on some major items. He gave up his demand for merit pay. He agreed that least 50% of laid off teachers would be rehired when new positions became available, and to allow teachers to "follow their students" when schools closed.
Pupil test scores will still count for 30% of a teacher's evaluations, but teachers will have the right to appeal those evaluations.
Lewis even won new "anti-bullying" provisions against principals and supervisors, and new faculty diversity commitments to stem Chicago's disproportionate firings of black teachers in recent years.
The contract, moreover, calls for the school district to immediately hire more than 500 art, music, foreign language and gym teachers - welcome news to parents.
Which is why wherever public school teachers gathered last week, the strike in Chicago was the subject of conversation.
Finally, a group of teachers had stood up back against all that bashing.