The Chicago Teachers Union Is Putting Politics Before the Needs of Students

Apr 1, 2016 12:00:00 AM

by Andrew Broy

Today, the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) is participating in a Day of Action. CTU members across the city have abandoned their classrooms to picket outside of their schools and then rally downtown. While CTU characterizes this action as a way to show solidarity, it is really further evidence that the CTU is principally a political organization less concerned with student learning than symbolic shows of force. [pullquote]CTU’s one-day strike is just another example of the union prioritizing the politics of teaching over the profession.[/pullquote] Indeed, its public policy positions—from defending the shortest school day in the country to fighting the use of any sort of teacher evaluation tied to student growth—suggest a view that student learning is ancillary to teachers’ jobs. As a former high school teacher, I understand the critical need to elevate the teaching profession and protect it. But professionals do not walk out on their students. Professionals do not oppose the need to measure how their work impacts student learning. Professionals do not cling to one-size-fits-all compensation and reward systems. This is a travesty since student learning should be at the core of the teaching profession. Focusing on student learning may seem to be a quaint notion for CTU’s leadership, but it should be the focus of all teachers in Chicago. To be sure, many rank and file CTU members share this opinion. A substantial minority voted against authorizing this one-day action, and many are expected to cross picket lines today. According to recent reports, any teacher who dares to teach will be hit with fines and ousted from the union—the very one that was supposed to protect them—for choosing to educate students. Whatever one may think of this action, one thing is certainly clear: [pullquote position="right"]This “strike” does nothing to solve the real problems[/pullquote] faced by a district staggering under the weight of fiscal pressures and a seemingly interminable state budget standoff. At a time when all interested parties should be united in fixing a student funding formula that penalizes low-wealth school districts, the CTU prefers to wage war against city leadership in a display of faux progressivism. And what about the needs of more than 300,000 students in district-managed schools across Chicago and their families? Don’t worry, remarks CTU President Karen Lewis, “look at it as a holiday.” A holiday? I wonder how a struggling single parent who is paid hourly will feel about this forced “holiday,” especially when missing a day of work equates to missing a day of pay. My guess is that bosses across the city will not be as forgiving as Ms. Lewis about a voluntary work stoppage by parents. Today marks the second of three consecutive Fridays when students are not in session, sacrificing precious instructional time and compromising recent academic progress. ACT scores, high school graduation rates, and college placement and persistence rates are at all-time highs citywide. A student who enters ninth grade in Chicago public schools has a higher chance of graduating from college by age 25 than at any time in our history. The district’s overall ACT attainment is now far higher than 10 years ago, despite the fact that the student body has gotten progressively poorer over the past decade. All of these gains are at risk, especially if this “strike” is a prelude to a more prolonged strike later this year. If the CTU continues to saber-rattle and put politics before student interests, we can expect our continued progress to end. The 60,000 students enrolled in charter public schools across the city will be in session today. Their schools will be open, their teachers will be teaching, and they will be learning. Included in this group are charter school teachers who are members of the local charter school union (ACTS). [pullquote]The fact that unionized charter school teachers are in class reveals that this one-day “strike” is not a referendum on labor solidarity.[/pullquote] Instead, it is about an organization whose bellicose actions are starting to wear thin. Despite all the rhetoric about schools our students deserve, the CTU is first and foremost a political organization that willingly sacrifices the needs of Chicago’s children and families for their political agenda.

Andrew Broy

Andrew Broy, a former public school teacher and civil rights lawyer, is president of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools, a group that supports and advocates on behalf of Illinois charter public schools.

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