In The Chicago Teachers Unions Strike, The Students Stand To Benefit
This morning, students in Chicago have a day off school thanks to a strike by the teachers union. Parents are scrambling to get daycare for their little ones before heading in to the office. Businesses all over the city have an impromptu daycare running in the conference room. And Mayor Rahm Emanuel is chastising teachers for putting kids and families in this position. However, it looks like the unions are the ones fighting for the best interests of the students.
In an evening press conference, the Mayor of the embattled city said, ““The issues that remain are minor. This is totally unnecessary.
By all accounts, the labor unions and the city have reached an agreement when it comes to economic issues. After the city failed to give agreed upon cost-of-living wage increases to its teachers in recent years, the two sides have agreed to increases that will keep up with inflation and cannot be denied due to budget shortfalls. The mayor’s floor leader, Pat O’Connor, even admitted, “They’re close on the economic parts — but there are other issues that are holding it up and preventing them from signing off on the economic package.”It’s avoidable and our kids don’t deserve this. … This is a strike of choice.” But it’s funny that Mayor Emanuel should bring up what the students of his city deserve, because it looks like those minor issues he was brushing off could benefit kids in a really big way.
So if teachers aren’t holding out for their own paychecks, what are the unions still so worried about? According to the Chicago Sun, they’re concerned about a new teacher evaluation system, class conditions, and additional services like social workers and counselors to help students. Given Chicago’s extreme increase in violence over the last year, it’s easy to see why such services would be extremely important in such schools.
The fact is, these types of issues are all things that will benefit students in the long run. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t think that the unions are always right when it comes to fighting against evaluations. I think it’s too easy for failing teachers to keep their jobs and that an evaluation system is crucial to keeping great teachers employed and getting rid of unsuccessful educators. That being said, basing those evaluations almost entirely on improvement in test scores is not an effective way to rate teachers. Testing needs to be a component, but it can’t be the main focus.
Think about those students who have witnessed violence this year, kids whose neighborhoods aren’t safe and who might have known a victim of gun violence. Those kids are probably having a difficult year. Their test scores are probably the last thing on their minds. Think about students who made huge leaps the year before and then spend the next year perfecting new skills and becoming comfortable with their curriculum. Is the second teacher worse than the first for not pushing a student even further? Kids learn at different speeds and they each have their own personal struggles. Test scores don’t take any of that into account, but teachers have to.
Improved classroom conditions and availability of resources help every student in the school. Even if your child doesn’t need a counselor, the availability will keep teachers’ focus from being pulled away by a single student struggling through a rough time. Teachers will be able to focus on educating, instead of handling family problems.
The fact is, the teachers of Chicago probably won’t get everything they’re asking for. Those counselors and smaller class sizes cost money, and the city is facing another budget shortfall. But every concession they get won’t just help teachers, they’ll help students. It’ll help students get better teachers who have more time and ability to focus on their needs.
For parents, I think a few days of scrambling to cover childcare is worth it in exchange for schools and teachers that are better able to help out kids. Mayor Emanuel is right about one thing: ““The kids of Chicago belong in the classroom.” Those kids belong in the best classroom they can get.