Many pundits are throwing harsh words back and forth, criticizing teachers, the Union, Rahm Emanuel, and the idea of collective bargaining. It begs the question: why do teachers strike in the first place? Don't they care about kids enough to stay in the classroom and negotiate in their spare time? One Teacher For America alumna has posted an insightful piece on why she is supporting the strike, directly referencing how the strike will help ensure Chicago students should not have to focus on test prep nor do Chicago teachers have to be demoralized. As the first strike in the city since 1987, the Chicago Teachers Union is certainly making noise - hopefully enough to get their point heard.
And this is the sticking point: teachers want their voices to be heard on what is best for kids.
The national debate on collective bargaining and teacher unions has come to a head with the Chicago strike, leaving many on both sides of the fence unable to understand their counterparts. Political big names like Michelle Rhee (former Chancellor of DC schools), Arne Duncan (US Secretary of Education), and more are attempting to craft policy without respect for what we have to say, yet citing "research" that disagrees with much of what I see every day.
Possibly the most contentious issue for me (and many other teachers) is that of teacher evaluation. Politicians and conservative foundations are advocating for using more and more student standardized assessment data to evaluate the effectiveness of teachers. This is an issue in Chicago but has been drawn out all over the country. As an avid reader on the subject, I have to say I whole-heartedly disagree with most of what is being advocated in this realm. Many support the concept of "Value-Added modeling" which is essentially a mathematical algorithm used to normalize comparisons of teachers to themselves. As you can read in Gary Rubenstein's extensive critique, however, these scores do not correlate at all and thus are almost useless. Instead, I would argue for a system like Peer Assistance and Review, currently being used in Montgomery County, MD.
So, why do teacher strike? Because we want what's best for kids. We believe that evaluation systems like VAM will force high-quality teachers out and narrow teaching to a small curriculum. We believe that pay scales should improve to entice new recruits with lots of skills. We believe that workplaces should be fair and teachers should not be removed due to grudges.
If that is not evident to you from the general media, please be sure to read closer.