Education Week - September 19, 2012 - (Page 14)

14 EDUCATION WEEK n SEPTEMBER 19, 2012 n City’s Strike Underscores Reform Rifts CONTINUED FROM PAGE 1 tant and expert on teachers’ unions. In Chicago’s case, one such complication has been the volatile relationship between two powerful city players: Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the famously combative former chief of staff for President Barack Obama, and Karen Lewis, the equally outspoken president of the Chicago Teachers Union. The two have squabbled for months over Mr. Emanuel’s desire to lengthen the school day, which was until recently among the shortest in urban school districts. The strike also raised delicate political questions for the White House during the tense run-up to Election Day. As in 2008, Mr. Obama is counting on the support of teachers, but his own education agenda has pushed for many of the reform ideas contested at the bargaining table here. “The Democratic Party has become much more open to reforms, whether they be charters or merit pay or teacher accountability, that historically labor hasn’t supported,” said Timothy Knowles, the director of the University of Chicago’s Urban Education Institute, a group that conducts research on city schools and runs a teacher-training program. Such divisions were on display last week, as educators, clothed in ctu red, picketed in front of their schools after the walkout began on Sept. 10. Many motorists honked in support as they drove by. In the afternoon, thousands of the teachers flooded the city’s downtown Loop area to attend rallies. Picketers stationed a giant, inflatable rat outside the school district’s headquarters. They held up signs protesting large class sizes, too much standardized testing, and the perceived capitulation by Democrats to the education agenda of influential foundations and interest groups. One sign read, “Democratic Party, where are you?” But above all, the teachers took aim at their city’s mayor, a testament to their frustration with his leadership of the schools, which the mayor controls under authority granted by a 1995 state law. “Hey hey, ho ho, Rahm Emanuel’s got to go,” they shouted. The Chicago district has a history of contentious labor relations, but the strike was the first by the city’s teachers in 25 years. Tough Time for Unions Teachers’ unions have been under significant duress in recent years. Reform measures such as those pushed by the Obama administration threaten teachers’ hard-won seniority and job-security rights. Collective bargaining itself has been under attack by Republicans who gained ascendancy in governorships and state legislatures in the midterm elections. The economic crisis, meanwhile, has left additional K-12 financing, the usual lubricant for advancing contested policy changes, in short supply. The Chicago district, for example, faces a deficit approaching $700 million this school year. And such tensions have taken place against a backdrop of widespread depictions of the unions as the main obstacle to school improvement, whether in newspaper op-ed commentaries or the heavily promoted 2010 documentary “Waiting for ‘Superman.’ ” The combined force of those factors has contributed to falling union PAGE 16 > Chicago Teachers Union members rally outside Marshall High School last week. More than 90 percent of CTU members voted to authorize the strike. In Designated Schools, Children Play Waiting Games By Stephen Sawchuk Chicago With 350,000 students suddenly without supervision as a result of the Chicago teachers’ strike, community groups, churches, parks, and recreational facilities here swung their doors open last week to keep young people occupied while their parents worked. One of the more controversial providers was the school district itself, which kept up to 147 city schools open as a contingency plan for parents without other options. Staffed by principals, administrators, and parent and community volunteers, those “Children First” schools sought to keep youngsters busy—and out of trouble—with nonacademic projects and activities. One such school was Crown Community Academy, located in the Lawndale neighborhood on Chicago’s West Side. On the afternoon of the second day of the strike, the children at Crown, a school serving pre-K through 8th grade, were separated into three groups by age. Primary-grade students were in the gym, dribbling balls, hula-hooping, and playing “double dutch” with jump ropes. Elementary students, roughly grades 3-5, were hard at work with paints and popsicle sticks in an artsand-crafts center. The older students, meanwhile, were quietly concentrating on games: Sorry!, the card game Uno, a word game called Apples to Apples. “I’d much rather it be a school day with teaching and learning,” said Lee M. Jackson, the school’s principal. “But at least we know they are safe for four hours here.” Lawndale is one of Chicago’s poorer neighborhoods. Although there are signs of revitalization—a community garden grows not far from the school—some of the homes are boarded up and lawns need weeding. Many families here are renters or move often. Under normal circumstances, more than 99 percent of enrolled students at Crown qualify for federally subsidized meals. ‘Scab Schools’? One hundred forty-four Children First schools were initially selected with the input of the district’s network chiefs—essentially, regional superintendents—and were picked with an eye toward geographic distribution. School buses weren’t running, but the Chicago Transit Authority offered students free rides during the strike. Additional Children First schools were added as the strike progressed. (The district has a total of 681 schools.) The Chicago Teachers Union protested the program, describing it as a potential “train wreck.” On the union’s website, a document listing the Children First sites carried the filename “scab schools.” The ctu encouraged picketing teachers to make a strong presence at the schools, an action that earned a rebuke from district schools chief Jean-Claude Brizard. But those tensions weren’t on display at Crown Community Academy. “I have the best teachers in the city of Chicago,” Mr. Jackson said. As he walked a reporter out of the building, he greeted the picketing teachers warmly. “You doing OK out here?” he asked. One of them jingled some bells she had, in a friendly response. For their part, the teachers had nice things to say about Mr. Jackson’s leadership. But they voiced concerns that the building didn’t have adults on hand who could at least teach the students second languages, music, or drama. Steve Taylor, a middle school science teacher at Crown, said he had heard that schools in the city’s tonier North Side neighborhoods have such programs. “It’s who has the right ears, the right pull in the city’s power structure,” he said. “It’s old-city politics, nothing new.” Chuck Berman/Chicago Tribune/MCT Students play checkers at the Sheridan Park field house in Chicago. Many local facilities opened their doors to give children places to go during school hours. E. Jason Wambsgans/Chicago Tribune/MCT

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - September 19, 2012

Education Week - September 19, 2012
Table of Contents
News in Brief
Report Roundup
Low Proficiency Seen on Computer-Based NAEP Writing Exam
Global Study Finds U.S. Trailing In Early-Childhood Education
Scholars and Educators Team Up For the Long Haul
Focus On: School Turnaround
Virtual Ed. Providers Work to Influence State Policy in Maine
Blogs of the Week
In Designated Schools, Children Play Waiting Games
Chicago Dispute Puts Spotlight On Teacher Evaluation
Race to Top Winners Plug Away At Promises
Chiefs’ Vacancies Offer Prospect Of Policy Shifts
Policy Brief
Learning From Success
Using National Service To Ignite School Turnaround Efforts
You Don’t Know Me
TopSchool Jobs Recruitment Marketplace
Schooling Beyond Measure

Education Week - September 19, 2012