The Chicago teachers strike and the privatisation of a generation

The Chicago teachers strike and the privatisation of a generation

John Jacobsen reports on developments in the tentative contract between Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Teachers Union in the context of increasing school privatizations.

For the full, original article, feel free to visit the Seattle Free Press.

CTU Delegates voted this week to end the 7 day long strike which had effectively shut down all of Chicago’s public schools.

The decision comes after the latest round of negotiations between Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Teachers Union succeeded in reaching a deal that negotiators felt they could recommend to the union’s embattled teachers.

The strike originally began on September 10, after the CTU and the city failed to reach an agreement during their most recent rounds of contract negotiations. Following the breakdown in the discussions, nearly twenty-six thousand teachers and support staff walked off their jobs for the first time in 25 years .

Teachers immediately hit the streets following the strike vote, followed in suit by throngs of supportive students and parents. Marches were held across Chicago, shutting down traffic in the city centers, and pickets were established at over 675 schools, as well as at the Board of Education.

The strike has highlighted both the rocky relationship of the labor movement with the Democratic Party, with Mayor Rahm Emmanuel – a high-end fundraiser for President Barack Obama, as well as his former Chief of Staff – going so far as to seek an injunction on the teachers union during the strike, as well as the need for the Teachers Union to take a stronger course of action in opposing the coming school privatizations we call “charter schools”.

The contract:
The negotiations to date have revolved around several contentious issues – pay and benefit issues, Mayor Rahm Emmanuel’s push for a longer school day and new teacher evaluations (which originally would have tied teachers pay to their students’ test scores), issues involving the rehiring of laid off teachers, as well as issues of pensions.

Negotiators have recommended a new three-year contract to the membership, which, pending approval by referendum, includes a number of concessions for both the city and the union.

“I personally believe that the CTU will agree to the tentative contract eventually,” says Agnieszka Karoluk, an education worker close to the Chicago Teachers Union, although “many CTU members do not trust CPS due to their history of slipping in language and caveats to original promises.”

The contract as it stands includes a 4 year agreement to raise teachers’ pay by 17.6% over the next four years, just over half of the original 30% increase the union originally sought, but still far better than CPS’s original offer of 2%.

Teachers’ workloads will also increase with the school day and year, adding more than two years of instruction over the course of a new students career, Mayor Emanuel boasted, even though teachers in Chicago already work an average of 10 hours a day at school with an additional 2 hours at home (or roughly 800 hours more per year than their current contracts require).

Reports also indicate that the union was able to fight off Mayor Emmanuel’s push for a teacher evaluation system which would have linked teachers pay directly to student test scores.

The controversial system has been criticized by many in the education system for punishing teachers for factors largely outside of their control, especially in low-income neighborhoods, where a student’s performance can and often is impacted negatively by problems at home, in access to transportation or research tools, and a myriad of other issues.

“Either way,” concludes Karoluk, “CTU is not looking for a perfect contract. They just want a fair one.”

Many workers, however, remain skeptical of the city’s promises, notes Ms. Karoluk.

Chicago teachers were infuriated, for instance, when last year, the newly appointed school board voted to cancel contractually mandated pay raises for teachers. It surfaced later that the public schools had secretly diverted millions of dollars from teacher’s salaries and pensions in order to claim they were too broke to afford the pay raises.

Some in the union, however, were equally concerned with what was not in the contract.

“In addition to details to be worked out in the next 48 hours,” noted Ms. Karoluk in an article published on Libcom. ”CTU members criticized the lack of language about school closings in the contract. This was evidently the number one concern of both the union delegate and all the CTU staff and teachers who were present at the meeting this morning at Jordan.”

“CPS already has an agreement with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to open 60+ charter schools in Chicago, causing the closing of neighborhood schools in the process.”

The new schools:
There have been numerous school reforms proposed over the preceding decades which have challenged the old public school form.

Voucher systems have been proposed to allow families now enrolled in public schools to instead send their children to private primary and secondary schools; school choice and outcome based education have been prominent themes in school reform debates, as have basic questions of class size and drop out rates.

Charter schools, however, have been an implicit and ongoing subject of contention during the latest teachers strike in Chicago.

As their budgets have shrunk, local governments across the country have found the idea of charter schools increasingly attractive.

Because charter schools pay lower average salaries to their teachers, supplement public funding with increased private donations, and have introduced private management firms into the school structure to help keep costs down, many charter schools have proved to be significantly less costly than traditional public schools. In fact, while the schools themselves are still considered public, nearly 16% of charter schools are managed by for profit Education Management Organizations.

The rise in charter schools can also be accounted for by the amount of Federal money being invested in them. As of 2002, nearly 2/3 of charter schools had received federal money in their start-up phase; as of 2010, over $130 million had been awarded to various charters around the country by the Charter Schools Program alone, only one of several government programs which now provides support and assistance to charter schools.

Of note was also assistance provided by FEMA, which by June of 2006, was reimbursing charter schools for “costs related to repair, restoration, or replacement of disaster-damaged facilities,” helping the school district effectively restructure the whole of the city’s education system. (As of today, New Orleans remains the only city in the United States where a majority of its public school students attend charter schools).

These shifts towards charter schools, we must remember, have come from both democrats and republicans alike. And for good reason.

The new economy:
The state recognize that we no longer live in a society in which strong, publicly managed programs can be the solution to many of our the economies needs.

During the reign of Keynesian policies – the era of the GI bill and the public works programs – it was not only possible to enact policies which provided a strong social safety net for the population, but structurally necessary. Possible because capitalists had little recourse or opportunity to move their production overseas (following the second world war, the infrastructure of most other industrial countries had been bombed out) – meaning higher tax rates were easier to impose on less mobile capitalists - and necessary because the United States was still reeling from the depression, with millions of its citizens returning home who needed jobs.

It goes without saying, of course, that we no longer live in that society. We live in a time when it is not only possible to offshore production and service work, but often more profitable; a society in which capital is less and less bound up by nation states (which, of course, makes it possible to impose high tax rates on its largest earners), and more and more needs to circulate globally in order to remain competitive.

As Peter Brogan writes in his piece, What’s behind the attack on teachers and public education?,

Quote:
“an arena of economic investment and capital accumulation the global market for educational services is tremendous! Two and a half trillion dollars globally as of last year, and in the U.S. it’s close to $600 billion that [investors are] looking to get their hands on. This is why what have been called “venture philanthropists”, most prominently the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Eli and Edyth Broad Foundation and the Walton Foundation have been the chief financial backers of the “school choice,” so-called “education reform” movement. Education needs to be recognized as a vital arena for economic development and capitalist accumulation.”

Privitisation has thus become the great policy goal behind our economies ability to remain competitive within a global market place, as well as meeting the growing needs of industry in training the new workforce (without the budgets which previously were able to support public schooling as we knew it).

This shift is having a profound effect on the ways in which education is structured domestically – not only how we fund education, but in how the classroom itself is now being reorganized.

“[Workplace] practices have significantly altered in the last few decades,” notes Amanda Credaro, in her 2006 paper Innovation and Change in Education.

Evoking images of the new workforce – increasingly employed in providing services and forced to change jobs frequently – she continues, “No longer is the accumulation of skills and knowledge the primary prerequisite for employment, but an ability to be able to adapt to new situations, to continue to learn independently, and to work cooperatively have become imperative.”

The strike, in context:
In good business union fashion, there was a disconnect during this strike between what may be considered more “political demands” and purely “economic” ones.

While individual members of the CTU have rightly come out against the charter school system, the union still chooses to frame its opposition in terms of ”shifting funding away from public schools;” in other words, to couch the debate in terms of its economic impacts on public schools.

Simply stated, the knee jerk reaction of defending our traditional public institutions – be they public schools or even the unions themselves – is not realistic.

Unless teachers, parents and students can begin re-imagining what schooling should look like in this the new economy; unless they can begin organizing around a new vision for education – one which neither looks to the past of a dreary assembly line public school or to the hyper alienated and profit driven system of the charter school – they will be swept aside by the steady march of capitalism.

In a time when not just unions, but the very institution of public school as we have known it is undergoing enormous attacks and changes, it would bolster the teacher’s defenses to move beyond simply fighting over their pay, class sizes and their job security – and to offer a deeper critique and more far-reaching proposal for reforms to the education system.

There is a frenzy in this country over the state of our public schools, and for the union to focus this strike purely around economic issues – caring rhetoric surrounding children aside – was naive and short-sighted, as it cedes liberals a monopoly on school reform, allowing a Seattle Times editorialist to claim, without challenge, “reasonable reforms, such as stronger teacher evaluations and innovation through public charter schools, transcend partisan politics;” Or for CNN contributor Ruben Navarrette Jr. to claim that teachers unions see their role as protectors of teachers “from public demands for greater accountability, higher standards and a better education for our children,” and in the next breath threaten: ”If the teachers aren’t back in their classrooms on Monday, the mayor needs to decertify the union, fire the teachers and hire replacements.”

This limitation – the union’s inability to move beyond traditional “bread and butter” issues – is directly related to the CTU’s legal status and structure. If unions continue to see themselves as they are legally defined – more or less as legal bargaining agents tasked only with bickering over wages and benefits – they will remain unable to effectively combat the coming changes to the schools.

For the full, original article, feel free to visit the Seattle Free Press.

Posted By

John E Jacobsen
Sep 25 2012 22:14

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Comrade Motopu
Sep 26 2012 09:49
Quote:
Unless teachers, parents and students can begin re-imagining what schooling should look like in this the new economy

Why should the economy determine what schools should look like? Isn't that the whole point, that the economy is shaping education, which is precisely what is driving public schools into privatization?

Quote:
unless they can begin organizing around a new vision for education – one which neither looks to the past of a dreary assembly line public school or to the hyper alienated and profit driven system of the charter school – they will be swept aside by the steady march of capitalism.

This seems reductionist, that public schools are all simple assembly lines. Bill Gates and others call them "drop out factories" disingenuously invoking the image of oppressed workers to further oppress workers. A separate problem is that when reforms are implemented in public schools, which happens pretty much every single year as the latest hot shit theory comes down the pike, they do little or nothing to address what kind of learning students need based on their very real position as proletarians of one type or another. If that is what the article is getting at, I would agree I suppose.

As an example, you see this a lot in public schools, the notion that you are educating kids to become "entrepreneurs," a silly fantasy based on some weird Horatio Alger notion of class mobility. That's the kind of thing that has to be stopped in the schools, but that can be addressed with old fasioned, boring, critical thinking. This business of reimagining seems out of touch to me.

The reason to fight for bread and butter issues is because we live in a world of exchange value, and the kids are going to be (or often already are) waged workers who face the exact same austerity and war on workers when they enter the work force.

I agree that this fight needs to be radicalized, that workers should be organizing based on the principle that labor is not a commodity. But part of addressing that is dealing with the disparity in funding for charters versus massive budget cuts for public schools. The article mentions that teachers are talking about their students lives, that poverty is the main factor in lower measured outcomes. The US scores low precisely because we have the highest wealth/income disparity in the developed world (last I checked). Is this not "economic"?

Jonathan Kozol had a good story about being at a cocktail party where some rich guy says to him "you can't solve the problems of education by throwing money at them." He responds by saying "Really? It seemed to work pretty well for you!"

So yes, some of this is "economic" and it's not "bourgeois" or lacking in imagination to say that.

John E Jacobsen
Sep 26 2012 10:13

I didn't mean to imply that the economy ultimately should decide what schools look like - I meant it more as in, "hey, here's our wake up call to start thinking about new possibilities."

Additionally, I didn't mean for the article to come off as opposing economic demands in the least. They were necessary, and I'm sorry the union didn't win the initial 30% salary increase it had asked for. I just meant to point out that ultimately, making a case for radical education reform would put the teachers in the drivers seat, as opposed to just having to resist everything that comes through the pipes from the liberal reformers in Chicago.

Comrade Motopu
Sep 26 2012 10:28

Thanks John. I was just concerned over what we already have that is worth defending. I think we agree on a lot though. And your response helped clarify that.

TomJoadsGhost
Sep 26 2012 15:45

It is tempting to talk of teacher's responsibilities to education reform when you make two assumptions that I think are mistakes:
1) That there were some good ol' days when teachers acted as anything besides prison guards for children while their parents were being exploited as work (with exceptions for upper classes, this is what they are now and what they mostly were then).
2) That there is any interest from state agencies and the capitalists that control them in educating young people (who are not of the right classes).

Once you overcome these assumptions you recognize immediately, I think, that teachers are simply workers, and workers' main interest is resisting the attempts of capital at further exploiting them and eventually destroying capital itself. The charter school movement is capital's attempt to destroy the teachers' unions, and thus should be resisted by working class folks and allies. But I think it is a mistake to paint over what is essentially a struggle over workers' rights with the narrative that capital and their state minions are pushing--that this is somehow about the kids--because what you are effectively doing is demanding that workers (teachers) sacrifice at the alter of "education" at the very moment capital is intensifying the struggle, because at the end of the day--"caring rhetoric surrounding children aside"--capitalists will sacrifice nothing.

In other words, demanding that teachers accept the burden of fixing schools in the context of their showdowns with capital, and calling teachers naive for not doing so, is asking teachers to be at a disadvantage. Let liberals and other have a monopoly on pushing this fantasy. That is simply their attempt to frame the debate and if labor accepts this frame, that is a concession in itself, and a lie as well. Teachers and allies should not respond with, "Yes, we should sacrifice for the kids!" but with, "That is BS, you (capital) could care less about the kids, and until we get rid of you, there will be no decent education for any lower class person." If teachers want to do their best to serve and protect their students on the side, then power to them, but this activity is done as citizen and class allies, not as "teachers," and therefore they have no more obligation than the rest of us. But the context of a strike is not the time to chastise them for not wasting energy on what is essentially a non-issue until capital can utilize it for PR. At the end of the day, it is not the duty of labor to brainstorm creative ways to conform the capitalist myth of public education to the changing economic landscape. Instead, labor should be working to understand this changing economic landscape so they can better recognize and act against the forces working to exploit them and, in the end, destroying capital. Until this happens, a true education will not be had in any public school anyway.

Comrade Motopu
Sep 27 2012 03:50
Quote:
That there were some good ol' days when teachers acted as anything besides prison guards for children

I can't agree with an equivalency of teachers and prison guards. I think many teachers act responsibly and thoughtfully (including with an understanding of students as working class) with their students to the point where their authority is legitimate. Teaching people to read and write, for example, is not inherently correlated to imprisonment.

So it doesn't make sense to me to use the wording: "acted as anything besides" which implies strongly that you have just given 100% of what a teacher is, and that a teacher is nothing else.

I think there is a difference between noting that we all reproduce our chains daily as proles, and categorizing groups of workers negatively with no real evidence other than "they work for the state."

And just in case you were going to go there, no I'm not saying that cops also deserve our solidarity even though they too are "workers."

Quote:
That there is any interest from state agencies and the capitalists that control them in educating young people (who are not of the right classes).

I think there is, but so what? Lots of education goes on in public schools. They sometimes even have programs similar to what the children of the rich have: computer labs, robotics teams, top notch music (playing and recording tech) programs, business prep, math and science, jouranalism classes, sustainable and city gardening project participation, and direct channels into Ivy League colleges through AP programs etc. [Please note I am not implying there is anything inherently "good" about any of those things, but listing them rather as evidence that the state agencies and capitalists DO care about educating the lower classes.] I'm not saying there is not a class divide in education, there is, and of course the austerity measures will increase class inequity, but it's not the same as saying that the state agencies and capitalists have no interest in them. But I guess we would agree that their "value" in the system is largely defined in terms of a commodity to be used efficiently and thrown away.

Most teachers do care about the kids. I mention this leading to my next point. Teachers can fight for less sacrifice, less homework, less work hours, smaller classes, better pay, meaningful curriculum with community input, student centered learning, critiques of capital in the class room, attempts to analyze the effect of capitalism on education, and all the rest precisely because teachers don't want kids to be forced into a world where they are expendable flexible interchangeable commodities. I agree with you that there is a horrible "work ethic" ideology forced onto teachers, who are told that if they don't give up hours and hours of their daily lives to do extra work for no compensation (and who cares even if it was compensated?) that they are "shitty teachers." I say this as someone who had administrators tell me this exactly. I appreciate your point about it not being the teachers' job to take on more and more of the burden of "saving" schools, especially since the entire "crisis" is largely manufactured, or misidentified.

A big part of the current battle teachers face has to do with the state and powerful corporate reformers (Gates and Broad Foundations, Walmart, etc.) stripping away any remaining barriers to measuring all (or most) outcomes in terms of exchange value, which is largely what the attempt to remove unions, streamline teaching to standardized corporately created tests, and remove the humanities in favor of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) subjects. And I'm not trying to demonize any of those fields either, but I do of course accept that ruling class ideology taints all learning and teaching, and that it takes effort to go against this tendency.

In their own words, corporate reformers want a "business model" of education. Paulo Freire named a "banking model" in which knowledge is put into students rather than being generated by them as they interact with teachers and curriculum they shape, and the corporate "reform" ideology is related to the banking model.

Hieronymous
Oct 2 2012 19:09
Comrade Motopu wrote:
Quote:
That there were some good ol' days when teachers acted as anything besides prison guards for children

I can't agree with an equivalency of teachers and prison guards. I think many teachers act responsibly and thoughtfully (including with an understanding of students as working class) with their students to the point where their authority is legitimate.

Throw out all the excuses you want, but state-sanctioned compulsory education is always authoritarian.

As an antidote to all this fawning over Freire, trying looking at The Violence of Literacy by J. Elspeth Stuckey to see the class biases in even the concept of literacy. And then ask yourself: reading and writing to what end? Appreciating Shakespeare? Bullshit!

Comrade Motopu wrote:
Teaching people to read and write, for example, is not inherently correlated to imprisonment.

Well, actually, it is. In most states the levels of literacy in the 3rd grade determine how many prison beds get budgeted and built in the future. So yes, it is correlated.

Chilli Sauce
Oct 2 2012 17:47
Quote:
Well, actually, it is. In most states the levels of literacy in the 3rd grade determine how many prison beds get budgeted and built in the future. So yes, it is correlated.

No shit?!

Hieronymous
Oct 3 2012 03:17
Chilli Sauce wrote:
Quote:
Well, actually, it is. In most states the levels of literacy in the 3rd grade determine how many prison beds get budgeted and built in the future. So yes, it is correlated.

No shit?!

Yeah, no shit. Check out this New York Times article that says:

NY Times wrote:
Some states even estimate future prison populations based on third-grade reading scores.

Some claim this is an urban legend. A comrade who's getting an Early Childhood Education certificate in California was taught in her classes that it's true.

Comrade Motopu
Oct 3 2012 10:45

TomJoadsGhost wrote:
That there were some good ol' days when teachers acted as anything besides prison guards for children

Comrade Motopu responded:
I can't agree with an equivalency of teachers and prison guards. I think many teachers act responsibly and thoughtfully (including with an understanding of students as working class) with their students to the point where their authority is legitimate.

Hieronymous responded:
Throw out all the excuses you want, but state-sanctioned compulsory education is always authoritarian.

CM: I'm not making excuses. I disagree with the statement of absolute equivalency between teachers and prison guards. Do you agree with his statement? TJG wrote that there were no "good ol' days when teachers acted as anything besides prison guards for children." I argue that in most cases teachers have not been an absolute equivalent to prison guards. That's not saying much but read on.

When I mention the idea of legitimate authority in a teacher, I mean a teacher who has a genuine caring relationship as an educator and mentor to students, who is aware of the position of the students as likely becoming, or already being exploited workers, and who wants to help students develop skills that allow critical thinking and even (short of abolishing capitalism since we have not been able to do it yet) the ability to survive in this horrible system we all reproduce. Such a teacher, and many who approach that characterization, have legitimate authority in my view, even if they have to earn a wage by teaching in a state school.

I don't view that job as equivalent to restraining someone in a prison, even though there are aspects of coercion in the bigger picture. I don't think it is at all controversial to see differences between what prison guards and what teachers do.

I think, Hieronymous, where I disagree with you is in your implication that because education is state-sanctioned and compulsory, that a teacher is therefore incapable of having legitimate authority (the text you highlighted in what I wrote). This seems to deny agency. Your position seems to qualify teachers as a static, authoritarian, monolithically defined oppressor (but I don't assume you actually view them in that way). If that is not your point, then why do you include "state-sanctioned" and "authoritarian" in a response to the idea that a teacher can have legitimate authority, as if mentioning those terms negates that possibility? This is driven home when you say that stating a public school teacher could have legitimate authority in relation to a student is "making excuses."

If you could be clear, are you accusing me of making excuses for teachers, or are you agreeing with TJG that there is an absolute equivalency between teachers and prison guards, or maybe you're doing both? Are you saying all public school teachers are authoritarians? Maybe you are saying that by noting teachers and prison guards are not exact equivalents, that I'm somehow defending the state or authoritarianism.

Hieronymous wrote:
As an antidote to all this fawning over Freire, trying looking at The Violence of Literacy by J. Elspeth Stuckey to see the class biases in even the concept of literacy. And then ask yourself: reading and writing to what end? Appreciating Shakespeare? Bullshit!

CM: Again, I don't find your characterizations of what I write to be accurate or fair. I mentioned Freire regarding the banking model of education. You yourself sent me a clip from the movie "Waiting for Superman" in which a positive pedagogy is identified as unscrewing the top of a student's head to pour information in, hence "learning." We agreed this was related to Freire's banking model. So I don't know why now find it necessary to impune me as a sycophant.

I haven't read the Stuckey. It sounds interesting, but why should it be used to discredit Freire's contributions? That seems hyper-competitive. I don't agree with all of Freire's views, his views on Mao for example, and yet I find his banking model useful.

Without having read the Stuckey book, I can still say that I'm glad I can read and write, and that I hope everyone has the chance to learn. Recall, this was my initial point, reading and writing. I think these are useful skills, even necessary for hashing out history and developing an analysis of social relationships and capital.

Comrade Motopu wrote:
Teaching people to read and write, for example, is not inherently correlated to imprisonment.

Hieronymous responded: Well, actually, it is. In most states the levels of literacy in the 3rd grade determine how many prison beds get budgeted and built in the future. So yes, it is correlated.

CM: I see a difference between what I wrote and what you imply I wrote. My statement has to do with the way in which teaching people to read and write does not inherently correlate to the role of imprisoning people. What you wrote is that there is a correlation between literacy levels and people who will later go to prison. Obviously I would not disagree with that, but I think it's quite a stretch on your part to imply a meaning I clearly never intended, nor expressed.

Ironically, your citing the statistic on literacy and jail beds could be interpreted as a reason why it would at least be a partial victory to gain more funding for public schools in impoverished areas.

Hieronymous
Oct 4 2012 13:46

[comment deleted] Sorry for going for the flamebait.

Comrade Motopu
Oct 5 2012 02:59

Note: Hieronymous has removed material he wrote from this thread and on another thread I was responding to. I have left everything I wrote up, and stand by it.

Why, because I don't see teachers as absolute equivalents to prison guards? You still have not told me if you do. Do you? What are you even attacking me about?

Hieronymous
Oct 4 2012 04:41
Comrade Motopu wrote:
Why, because I don't see teachers as absolute equivalents to prison guards? You still have not told me if you do. Do you? What are you even attacking me about?

It's simple: your position of claiming "legitimate authority" for state-run education is authoritarian.

Comrade Motopu
Oct 4 2012 06:06
Quote:
Comrade Motopu wrote:
Why, because I don't see teachers as absolute equivalents to prison guards? You still have not told me if you do. Do you? What are you even attacking me about?
Quote:
Hieronymous wrote: It's simple: your position of claiming "legitimate authority" for state-run education is authoritarian.

Not at all. If you could drop the intentional misreading, you'd see I argued legitimate authority in a teacher, dependent upon their treatment of and respect for students. Even Noam Chomsky talks about what legitimate authority is, and does not stem from the state. I know you know this already, and have read the quote, so I won't tell you to go read it.

Hieronymous
Oct 4 2012 06:44

Sorry for derailing this thread.

Comrade Motopu, if you really expect me to respond move it to libcommunity.

pikatron
Dec 10 2012 11:19

This is a good short film about the Chicago Teachers Strike with interviews mainly from the teachers where they talk about their work conditions and the poor learning environment for their students: http://en.labournet.tv/video/6417/chicago-teachers-strike