Education Funding Opinion

Videos Reveal Frustration with the Chicago Strike

By Anthony Cody — September 21, 2012 2 min read
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Follow me on Twitter at @AnthonyCody

This has been the year of the revealing video. This week we saw that Governor Romney and many of his millionaire donors view almost half the country as parasitic dependents. That famous 47% includes many of our students.

Last summer’s video of Stand For Children leader Jonah Edelman at a conservative gathering in Aspen revealed how his group had maneuvered to pass a law that they thought would make a strike in Chicago impossible.

Our schools are being starved of funding, at a time when taxes have never been lower, and the concentration of wealth has never been higher. The four hundred richest Americans saw their wealth grow by 13% in 2011, according to this report, but somehow it has become accepted wisdom that as far as public services like schools, “we are broke.” A combination of austerity for public employees and privatization of public services is the preferred solution for the wealthy reformers. This is just my opinion, but it seems to me that wealthy people think the power of their money comes with special wisdom. The way some of them have behaved during and after the Chicago strike reveals this thinking.

Videos tell the tale again

A week ago, as the strike was in full swing, the cable business network Larry Kudlow Show focused on Chicago. Mr. Kudlow pulled no punches in his introduction:

We begin tonight with the biggest ripoff perpetrated on the American people. The Chicago Teacher's Union strike over outrageous demands by the union. Today in day two, thousands of teachers and their leftist supporters picketed. Three hundred and fifty thousand students out on the streets, police on alert and parents leaving work to care for them. Will Democratic Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Rhambo he's sometimes called, is he going to fold, give teachers their election year rewards or what?

Several things seem to have Mr. Kudlow worked up here. First, he is under several important misapprehensions. He cites the number of students who can read at the 4th grade as 15%. This appears to be derived from NAEP proficiency rates, which indicate students who are well above the norm. In fact, 62% of Chicago’s fourth graders meet or exceed expectations on state reading tests.

He is also very worked up about the idea that Chicago teachers earn an average of $76,000. This also turns out not to be true. Teachers in Chicago earn an average of $56,720. Maybe this is still too much, because it is more than the average family income in the area.

The ever-calm Leonie Haimson shed some light on the situation, but her take was not welcome here on the business channel.

Venture capitalist and education “reformer” Bruce Rauner said this week to the George W. Bush Institute forum at the Art Institute of Chicago:

The critical issue is to separate the union from the teachers. They're not the same thing. The union basically is a bunch of politicians elected to do certain things -- get more pay, get more benefits, less work hours, more job security. That's what they're paid to do. They're not about the students. They're not about results. They're not about the taxpayers.
The good teachers know they'll do fine. They've got the confidence. I've talked to them. I know. It's the weak teachers. It's the lousy, ineffective, lazy teachers that -- unfortunately there are a number of those -- they're the ones that the union is protecting and that's where there's a conflict of interest between the good teachers and the union bosses.

Mr. Rauner expanded on these remarks in a TV appearance.
Watch September 19, 2012 - Mayor’s Adviser Attacks CTU on PBS. See more from Chicago Tonight.

This is the first step in a long battle to take the schools back from the union bosses and put it into the control of parents and the taxpayers. Schools have been out of the parents' control for far too long, and the results are evident.

But his enthusiasm for parental control seemed to evaporate when the host pointed out how many parents had supported the strike. He said:

Many parents don't really understand what's going on inside their schools. As long as their child feels safe and their teacher is a pleasant person they think things are alright. The tragedy is that hundreds of thousands of children in the Chicago Public Schools are receiving an inadequate education, and their futures are being damaged because of it.

The Chicago teachers have won an important battle. They showed that once they were united behind strong leadership, with parent and community support, they can prevail. But the comments from Mr. Kudlow and Mr. Rauner make it clear that this fight over who will set the direction for our schools is far from over.

What do you think? What can we learn from these videos?

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