By the time you read this, the teachers’ strike in Chicago may be over.
But not before dragging the third-largest school district in the country and 350,000 students into a nationwide debate over the future of public education.
Teachers in Chicago went on strike two weeks ago after nearly 10 months of negotiations over extending the length of the school day, objecting to evaluations — and, they fear, pay — being tied to student performance and worries over job losses and school closures. While parents have been supportive of the teachers’ union so far, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has gone to court, saying the strike is illegal in an attempt to force the teachers back to work. For their part, teachers say the evaluation system is not only based on student performance that can’t provide an accurate measure of their abilities, but it’s so stringent that no teacher can achieve high marks. Therefore, teachers say those who have been there longer — and are thus higher paid — will be ousted for by lower-paid, more inexperienced replacements.
And Chicago isn’t alone. The fact is, conditions could be ripe in New York state for a strike. We, too, have a heavy reliance on state-mandated testing, as well as top-down evaluations, risks of layoffs and school closings and anxious budget seasons. How many times have we heard local teachers lament the state of affairs in our schools?
For those of us outside of the classroom, it seems outrageous that teachers could turn to the picket lines, putting their needs first. But a teacher put it this way: “The needs of the teachers, for the most part, are the needs of the students. I see it as trying to stop the bleeding first... A very sick person needs help. But just doing something isn't necessarily the right thing. Putting leeches on the person is doing something.”
In Central New York, it’s critical that we stop the bleeding. We need to stop these “fast fixes,” whether it’s APPR evaluations or state assessments or budget cuts. None of them are doing our kids or our education system any good. We need to address the root problem, which is that we don’t pay enough attention to education. Until we do that, we run the risk of losing good teachers and harming our children. We run the risk of becoming Chicago.