What Christians Can Learn from the Chicago Teacher Strikes
From the outside, it seemed like the 350,000 students in Chicago's public school system had been living the dream—seven whole days, during the school year, with no boring classes and homework.
But in the third-largest school system, where 86 percent of students qualify for free or reduced lunch, missing seven days of school was no cause for celebration. For some families the strike was a headache, and they were glad for the kids to return to school yesterday. Other families joined the Chicago teachers in the picket lines, giving full support to their goals. Mayor Rahm Emanuel used non-union employees to run 147 schools that provided childcare as well as breakfast and lunch. However, for many students, no school meant missed meals and needing to work extra hard to stay away from drug dealers and gang members.
So, what caused some of the highest-paid public school teachers in the country to walk out on the crucial job of educating the budding members of society? Of course, labor disputes are complicated, and this one had its fair share of political wrangling. There were pay raises and longer school days/years and haggling over the rehiring of laid-off teachers. There was the pension fund set up for retired Chicago teachers that experts say could collapse within three years. Never mind the one-liners zinged between Emanuel and Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis. However, one of the biggest sticking points—the one that seemed to cause the most strife—was teacher evaluations.
The Chicago Public School System wanted to phase in a method of evaluating teacher performance based 45 percent on student performance. The other 55 percent would be based on administrative and peer evaluations, but the single greatest influence would be student performance. This seems to make sense. A teacher's job is to teach students. If the students aren't learning, the teacher needs to be replaced. It's Job Performance 101.
However, despite appearances sometimes, our schools are not assembly lines. Teachers do not stand in place mechanically attaching "reading, 'riting, and 'rithmetic" to their students, creating one "college-ready" product after another. There are a myriad of factors affecting student achievement that teachers have little control over, and, they argued, they shouldn't be financially punished for overheated and overcrowded classrooms and chaotic home lives.
I grew up in a middle-class town and made straight As. Yet a fight with my mom before school greatly affected my performance on a first period Algebra test, regardless of how thoroughly the teacher taught. And of course, the challenges faced by many students in urban school settings are far greater than a spat with Mom.
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