Thursday, April 14, 2011

Big victory for the corporate "reformers" in Chicago

Big setback for teachers and unions
“The changes to Illinois’ education system agreed to by all parties will make Illinois a national model, and set a standard for other states to follow,” said Jonah Edelman, CEO of Stand for Children.

“Everything is agreed to,” said Sen. Kimberly Lightford (D-Maywood), who oversaw five months of negotiations between teachers unions, business and reform groups and school boards.
“Feel like I was hit by a truck with members of my own family driving.” --Comment on Brother Fred's blog
Less than a week ago, thousands of union teachers were marching and rallying in solidarity with their brothers and sisters from Wisconsin at the WE ARE ONE rally in Chicago. But after yesterday's deal, cut between the state's union leaders and corporate reformers, all that militant solidarity talk seems as old and stale as a presidential campaign speech.

I'm not sure what, if anything, teachers, kids or parents got out of yesterday's deal. I know it wasn't more autonomy for teachers, or smaller class sizes, or improvements in pay or working conditions, or better outside-of-school conditions for kids and families. None of that was even on the table. But here's an early look at what was given up--apparently without even much of a fight:
  • Limitations on the right to strike, especially in Chicago. In Chicago, three-fourths of the members of the Chicago Teachers Union would have to approve before a strike could take place. Downstate teachers could still call a strike via majority vote. Why this was even under discussion, I have no idea. Are teacher strikes really a pressing problem these days. There hasn't been one in Chicago in 23 years and since so many concessions were already made by union leaders, there's probably not much left in contract negotiations to strike over. 
  • Longer official work day for teachers without assured additional pay. Doesn't that violate the 13th Amendment which bans involuntary servitude? And what happened to CTU prez Karen Lewis' heralded plan to add recess and put teachers' lunch back in the middle of the day?
  • No more job security for teachers. Tenure has been all but eliminated when it comes to firings and laying off teachers. The business reformers were able to shape the entire discussion so that the firing of thousands of teachers without cause is now a narrative acceptable to all parties and the only debate is over which teachers will be fired first and who second. A gift to Teach For America? U bet.
  • Teacher pay and firings will be tied to student standardized test scores ("value added") despite tons of evidence challenging the validity of such measures. And judgments about teacher evaluations will be moved a step further away from the school house and into the hands of politically appointed panels. The legislation also gives the state school superintendent new power to revoke the teaching certificate of a teacher deemed "poorly performing".
  • It looks like it even limits collective bargaining to pay and work hours.
And the list goes on. What makes this especially troubling (and enlightening) is that this latest attack on teachers' collective bargaining rights wasn't made by a Tea Party governor or even by Michelle Rhee. It was a deal brokered by Lightford and supported by the state's Democratic machinery and cheered on by Arne Duncan.

I could even understand it if teacher union leaders would have come to the rank-and-file and to parents and community groups and said, "Look, we've been overpowered and forced to make concessions we didn;t want to make." But instead, while corporate reform groups like Stand For Children are claiming an historic victory over the unions, and billionaire heiress head of Advance Illinois Robin Steans is patting union leaders on the head, saying, "good job, boys," that leadership is clapping in unison. Stand for Children became a key player in state legislative races last year when it dumped more than $600,000 into candidates’ campaign funds. Much of that money went to Democrats.
Steans acknowledged the role Stand for Children’s bank account played in the effort. However, she also cited the federal Race to the Top program, in which states competed for federal money based on their willingness to reform their education laws. “You bring in a new player with some dollars to put behind education reform, so you have a lot of good and strong conditions and they remain in place,” she said.
IEA spokesman Charlie McBarron confirmed the IEA, the Illinois Federation of Teachers and the Chicago Teachers Union “are in agreement with the final product.” He went so far as to say the deal, “puts kids first and will move education forward. We are proud that reforms that we supported, that we brought to the table, are part of this bill.”

IEA president Ken Swanson called the agreement “a landmark, historic piece of legislation.” “I think this is an opportunity for Illinois to be a lighthouse for the other states.”
A lighthouse indeed.

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