Lots of interesting articles coming out about the Chicago teachers strike. Here are some I enjoyed reading:
The enemies of public education and other vital social services are committed to draconian cuts in education, while simultaneously refusing to increase state and federal spending. But this is not solely an economic problem. Rather, it is also a political issue wrapped up in the "gutting [of] vital social services such as education, health care, police and public transit services, spending for the disabled and other areas of state services and employment."
Under the guise of austerity measures, the burden of deficit reduction now becomes an excuse to remove public education from the discourse of freedom and social transformation. Within this regime of repressive schooling, education for the masses now consists of a "dumbing down" logic that enshrines top-down high-stakes testing, vocationalized education for the poor, schools modeled after prisons and teachers reduced to the status of mindless technicians.
The brave teachers in Chicago have had enough of this authoritarian and anti-democratic view of education. They have revolted in the name of a revolutionary ideal that inserts dignity and power back into teaching, and breathes vitality and substance back into the relationship between education and democracy. In rejecting the primacy of "the market as the sole principle of social and political organization," they have recognized that what is at stake in the current struggle they face is "a whole generation 's sense of the future."
Rebecca Mead understands what too many of my friends do not. In an excellent blog post for the New Yorker, Mead warns that the neo-liberal education “reform” movement is not primarily about improving educational opportunities for poor, urban minority students. It’s about breaking teachers unions.
Chicago is currently ground zero for the so-called reformers, and Mayor Rahm Emanuel is their latest champion, picking up the same cudgel that Joel Klein and Michelle Rhee wielded in New York and Washington, D.C. Emanuel has provoked a strike by 29,000 school teachers, refusing to settle unless the teachers’ union gives in to high stakes testing.
The details of the dispute are peculiar to Chicago, but the general issues will be familiar to anyone who has an interest in education in this country. Teachers’ salaries and job security are part of what the teachers are asking for; but they are also trying to limit class size, calling for increased in-school counseling services, and questioning trends toward standardized testing, as well as questioning the assumption that low test scores are always and everywhere caused primarily by bad teaching. Many of Chicago’s schools, like schools in other big cities in the United States, are struggling, and this week the numbers will be presented to prove it: fourth-grade students scored low in math (224 as opposed to a national average of 240 on the standardized National Assessment of Educational Progress test) and reading (203 as opposed to a national average of 220). Only sixty per cent of Chicago students graduated from high school this year.
But the most compelling figure in the debate over education is that more than eighty per cent of students in the Chicago school system qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, which is usually taken to be a measure of poverty. (The number in New York City is about three-quarters.) One problem with Chicago’s schools—like schools in urban centers all over this country—is that their constituents, the students, suffer from the usual hindrances of poverty: having no place at home to study; having no support at home for studying; sometimes having no home at all. Another problem is that talk of breaking teachers’ unions has become common parlance among the kind of people whose kids do not live below the poverty line, polite Pinkerton agents of education reform, circling at cocktail parties. No doubt there are some lousy teachers in Chicago, as there are everywhere. But blaming teachers for the failure of schools is like blaming doctors for the diseases they are seeking to treat.
Teacher accountability and the Chicago teachers strike, Posted September 14, 2012 at 9:56 am by Richard Rothstein
It was bound to happen, whether in Chicago or elsewhere. What is surprising about the Chicago teachers’ strike is that something like this did not happen sooner.
The strike represents the first open rebellion of teachers nationwide over efforts to evaluate, punish and reward them based on their students’ scores on standardized tests of low-level basic skills in math and reading. Teachers’ discontent has been simmering now for a decade, but it took a well-organized union to give that discontent practical expression. For those who have doubts about why teachers need unions, the Chicago strike is an important lesson.
Four years ago, we published Grading Education: Getting Accountability Right. We surveyed national samples of adults, school superintendents, state legislators and school board members and concluded that they all supported a balanced set of goals for public education, including not only basic skills but also reasoning, social skills, preparation for civic participation, a good work ethic, good physical and emotional health, and appreciation of the arts and literature. Accountability systems based heavily on basic math and reading skills will undermine these balanced goals by creating incentives to shift instruction towards those aspects of the curriculum on which the school or teachers are being evaluated.