September 12, 2012

Chicago Teachers, the truth

Educators in Chicago made the hard decision to go on strike this Monday, September 10. They did not make this decision lightly as they knew it would cost them both in time away from their jobs but also it could possibly cost them the good will of parents and community members who follow the simplistic reporting on the strike which usually ignores the core reasons for the strike in the first place. This strike strikes a chord with many educators here in Des Moines and its not because we envy the chance to go on strike, which is a right we do not have in this state. The reason this strike will be closely watched by many educators in Des Moines and around the country is because what Chicago’s teachers have decided to stand up to and what they have decided to take a stand for.
This strike is NOT mainly about salaries and benefits, although that is what the enemies of unions would want you to believe, rather it is about striking for better teaching and learning environments in the schools of Chicago. The CTU and Chicago Public Schools were close enough in their negotiations on salary and benefits those issues alone would not have led to a strike. The Chicago Teachers Union is striking because it has decided to take a stand against some of the harmful reform ideas that are being pushed on our schools, especially urban schools.
The Chicago Public Schools,under the direction of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel, wants to start using new teacher evaluation systems that would largely evaluate teachers based on student standardized test scores. This commonly used tool of education “reformers” is harmful to students and strangles teachers because it overemphasizes teaching to a test, rote memorization, test drills, and cutting back on learning that isn’t directly related to the tests. There have been no studies that show tying teacher evaluations to student test scores actually improves student learning. There are plenty of studies that call into question the fairness of evaluating teachers using student test scores. Such studies frequently show that there is little to no real connection between student scores and teacher quality, at the most this reform might create teachers who are better at drilling for a test but not better at actually teaching students so they can learn. Teachers in Des Moines and around the country have been living under this cloud of accountability by sham measures now for many years and many of us have our fingers crossed that the CTU’s stand against this kind of harmful reform succeeds.
Chicago teachers are also striking, in part, to force the school district and the state to provide better teaching and learning environments. Many  of Chicago’s schools are not air conditioned and the CTU is asking the district to provide that in every Chicago school. Furthermore, the Chicago Public Schools and mayor are comfortable with the thought of allowing class sizes of up to 50 students, most of whom would be students living in poverty who have increased needs for individual help. The Chicago teachers are taking a stand for these students and asking for reasonable class sizes. Teachers in Des Moines and around the country are applauding the Chicago teachers for taking a stand for their children who have no one else to speak for them.
In the eyes of many teachers around the country this stand has been a long time coming. We are tired of having reforms pushed on us that we know do not improve student learning and attach importance to the wrong things. We are tired of teaching in environments that do not allow us to provide the individualized attention and time we know is necessary, especially for children of poverty. We are tired of being used by so-called reformers whose real intentions are to open up our public schools to corporations and private, for-profit groups who want to make quick bucks off our kids while losing the true spirit of public education in the process. We watch Chicago with fingers crossed that this time someone stands up to the ed “reform” bullies and fights back for our schools and ultimately for the good of our kids.
In Solidarity with the CTU,
Andrew Rasmussen
Des Moines Education Association President

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