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Chicago Strike: Day Three

8:12 AM, Sep 12, 2012 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
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“To say that the contract will be settled today [Tuesday] is lunacy,” CTU president Karen Lewis told cheering teachers. 

Ms. Lewis sounded like she is digging in for the long haul when she said,

... two sides remained far apart, noting that they have signed off on only six of the 49 articles in the contract. Main sticking points include evaluations and the rehiring of laid-off teachers.

And Lewis sounded, also, like she might even be enjoying herself or, at least, finding the whole business of negotiations and going out on strike just a little amusing.  Before departing the rally where she had been speaking and heading back to the negotiations, she told the crowd,

"I've got to go back to the silly part of my day. . .Y'all continue to have fun. Show each other some love."  

With a poll of registered Chicago voters showing 47 percent supporting the teachers and 39 percent opposed, Ms. Lewis and the members of her union have reason to be cocky. They may not get everything they want but they will get what they want most, which the preservation, in its essentials, of the status quo when it comes to the critical matter of teacher performance and accountability.

Unions exist to protect the jobs of their most vulnerable members.  If the union can't come in and help you win a fight to keep your job, then what reason do you have for joining. After this strike, it will be no easier to get rid of underperforming and incompetent teachers, and it is close to impossible now. If the woeful performance of the Chicago schools – 40 percent dropout rate, 20 percent of graduates functionally illiterate, etc. – is due to underperforming teachers, then there is no reason to hope that things will get any better once the strike is settled. The people who run the city will have lost a minor skirmish to the people who run the schools and life will go on.  

Meanwhile, the kids and their parents will have been kicked to the curb. As usual.

If we really wanted to know who the bad – and the good – teachers are, it would be easy to find out. Just ask the parents and the kids. They know. But they have no way to act on this knowledge, except to try to wrangle a way into the classrooms of the good teachers. Or, perhaps, to petition and beg and grovel before the authorities for relief from incompetent teachers, with no expectation that it will accomplish anything.  

But what if students and parents had an actual choice? Could, under a voucher system, decline to attend the classes of the known bad teachers and sign up, in droves, for classes taught by teachers who inspire and prod and insist on performance from their students?  

But choice? In education? Lunacy, as Karen Lewis might say. Sheer lunacy.

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