The Windy City is engulfed in a stormy teachers'
I'm afraid so, even though the issues at stake in Chicago are not irrelevant.
First, it's noteworthy that the stumbling block is not teacher pay. That's a vital lesson: We must work harder to understand other factors that count more in the all-important recruitment and retention of good teachers.
In Chicago, the biggest battles are over how much weight should be given to students' test scores in evaluating teachers and whether seniority should control filling vacant positions. But two subtexts appear more troublesome: the willingness of Mayor
On the strike issues, "Rahmbo" — despite his combative style — has the better of it. Like two other big-city mayors,
But there is more to it than that. And here the news (no matter which side prevails) is not good for kids or the country. The dispute is a distraction from much larger issues that are crucial to national school reform, especially in urban centers like Chicago and Baltimore.
The first distraction is that the strike will encourage the tendency of conservatives and even some liberals to scapegoat the unions. True, teachers unions can be too protective of weak teachers. But an eye-opening study by the conservative Thomas E. Fordham Institute showed that there is nothing in most collective bargaining contracts that prevents school administrators from taking stronger action to weed out poor teachers, if they are so inclined. But the education establishment, including school boards, hasn't been so inclined.
Further, both national teachers' unions — the
The second distraction is that the Chicago strike does not address the critical root causes of the failings of public education, no matter which side one takes in the big political divide over school reform. One side in the debate, spearheaded by
The other side, led by President
I fall in the latter camp, but I think both schools of thought fall short. Neither side has sufficiently taken on the most neglected subject in school reform: the mismanagement of classroom instruction. My 2010 book, "It's the Classroom Stupid," calls for "better weapons of mass instruction." This means better management of the instructional infrastructure that should support teachers: research-based curricula aligned with realistic expectations, smaller pupil-teacher ratios, better training including classroom coaching, and stronger supervision, monitoring and R&D.
The absence of such a support system is fueling teachers' frustration and high turnover rates, causing otherwise manageable labor conflicts to explode, and stifling student achievement. The Chicago strike will eventually be settled, but unless we address the more fundamental causes of teacher dissatisfaction, school reform will remain elusive.