Some Quick EduSanity on the Chicago Teacher Strike

Bill Parcells, the legendary NFL coach and executive once expressed his frustration over not being given enough control over his New England Patriots team by saying, “They want you to cook the dinner, at least they ought to let you shop for some of the groceries.” He was being held accountable for winning with players that he didn’t get to pick.

NFL coaches are in the ultimate “results or bust” profession. They either win or they are shown the door. Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel wants to institute a similar system in which the city’s teachers either facilitate the achievement of higher test scores, or they are likewise on the street.

EduSanity wonders what Bill Parcells might think about an urban public school system of do or die. Teachers in Chicago certainly don’t get to “shop for some of the groceries” because they take whoever comes through their door with open arms. They educate the poor, the hungry, the abused, the promising, the dedicated, and the apathetic. As we said in our last post, this is the beauty and the disadvantage of public education in the world’s greatest republic.

Chicago Teachers “turn their back” on their students by taking to the streets.

Not only do Chicago teachers educate many disadvantaged students who are far more concerned with basic survival than trying to eek out another few points on a standardized test that is culturally meaningless to them, but they also teach under some of the most disadvantaged conditions in the United States. Chicago has been a corrupt city for a very long time, but the way the Chicago has managed to outfit some schools with all the benefits of modern resources and technology, while other schools don’t even have libraries, gymnasiums, or air conditioning (in CHICAGO!) is criminal. The result is an uneven playing field between teachers who have students with the ability and resources to learn and those who might as well be attending school in the third world. Chicago teachers don’t get to shop for the groceries and many of them are cooking dinner with the equivalent of a rusty can opener and a broken hot plate.

President Obama has wisely kept his mouth shut while his friend Rahm Emanuel takes on the Chicago teachers unions in the spirit of Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s race to nowhere. Obama cannot afford for more teachers to figure out that what is currently going on in Chicago is a direct result of his education policy. Mitt Romney has also wisely publicly expressed his disappointment in the Chicago teachers “turning their backs on their students”. This statement is wise because it is currently fashionable to disparage public education, which will certainly garner him some ignorant votes. It’s not like the majority of educators were going to vote for him anyway; they still believe Obama cares about them.

EduSanitarians know that the vast majority of Chicago teachers are not attempting to protect the status quo or rally behind lousy teachers. The Chicago strike is an effort by educators who are on the front lines of teaching under lousy conditions to stand up for what is right for their students. They want better schools and they want district leaders to realize that educating disadvantaged students, many of whom come from living conditions that Mitt Romney cannot even fathom, means giving kids a safe place to learn, grow and have a chance for the future. These are not educational outcomes that are measured by a standardized test yet they are the most important outcomes that the best Chicago teachers produce. What dangers do these students face if teachers in Chicago become so focused on test scores that they do not have time for anything else? Make no mistake, this is happening all across this country in schools everywhere as principals and teachers feel the pressure to achieve higher test scores at all costs. Not only is it unfair to hold teachers accountable for relatively meaningless educational outcomes with the same cut throat results of professional football, it is flat out wrong for their students. Chicago teachers are standing up for their students, not turning their backs on them. Their success in getting Emanuel to compromise on his accountability at all costs system of teacher evaluation is a glimmer of hope for EduSanity in America.


  1. It’s heartening to read a reasoned and sensible defense of public school teachers in Chicago. The commentary’s underlying dissent regarding profit-driven standardized testing exposes the fallacy of right-wing opposition to the strike. Well done!

  2. I read a huffpost article that claimed the beginning of the strike was a public school student in the inner city area was a victim of a drive by shooting. It is sad that the teachers are becoming targets, when passing tests in no way should be the top priority for children affected by daily tragedies such as this in the Chicago area. Great post.

  3. While I completely agree that the substandard teaching conditions and available resources in Chicago are deplorable, and think that good educators are woefully undervalued and underpaid, I think there is more to this strike and other similar strikes across the country.

    Chicago is in major trouble financially and has no money to spend on the upgrades and improvements that are needed to foster good learning environments. Now it looks as though the city is going to be on the hook for greater than COL compensation levels and pension commitments. There is going to be even less money to invest in infrastructure, and there isn’t going to be educator and student evaluations to measure how they are doing. How does this accomplish anything in regards to the issue of school conditions and student performance? The answer is it doesn’t.

    At the end of the day, what is needed is not a new contract with the teachers, it is a MAJOR overhaul of the entire financial structure of the city and the teacher union mentality. In other words, we as a nation can no longer accept the status quo. This is something that should be done not only in Chicago, but many other failing cities and school districts around the country.

    Our students are underperforming compared to other countries. Address the ways in which our tax dollars are allocated for education (for both infrastructure and compensation) so that they are maximized and waste is minimized while at the same time coming up with a progressive system for measuring student AND educator performance in more ways than just standardized tests (although I contend that these are still very valuable measurement tools), and I think we would find ourselves in a much better position globally.

    But this is not something EITHER side is proposing in this strike, which is extremely disappointing. It is just more of the same from both sides, and I think just about everyone is tired of it. To me, that is the problem.

  4. Blake, I appreciate the comment. While the U.S. may lag behind on simple comparisons between test scores from other nations, the differences are not as drastic as many would lead you to believe. Also, the claim that test scores predict economic prosperity is based on a flawed premise from only one study that is also very flawed in its methodology. I’d be happy to share an article that critiques those claims and demonstrates the misconception that many people have been lead to believe is fact.