The Teachers' Union Strikes Back
A short time ago, in a city not so very far away, an insidious organization hijacked an entire school system, putting the education of hundreds of thousands of children at risk and demanding a king's ransom that would destroy the city's budget as surely as any Death Star super-ray.
The galaxy: Chicago. The Empire: The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU). The Emperor: CTU president Karen Lewis.
Yes, it all sounds like harmless science fiction, but you really couldn't make this stuff up. On Monday September 10, the unionized teachers of the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) -- 26,000 strong -- walked off the job en masse, leaving more than 350,000 children without instructors just as the school year was getting started.
Of course, if the new school year is anything like the previous school years, there's not going to be a lot to celebrate come summer. Of all the 4th grade students being "educated" in CPS, only a shocking 15 percent are proficient in reading. Merely 20 percent of the school system's 8th graders are proficient in math, well below both state and national levels.
Most depressing, as Reuters reports, barely 60 percent of the public school's students graduate high school "compared with 75 percent nationwide." Whew. With those kinds of results, one can hardly blame the teachers for quitting -- maybe they headed for the bar.
But wait -- they didn't resign out of shame for their miserable failure to educate. They want to continue to fail: they just want to get paid more for doing it.
The unions demanded a 30 percent pay increase (they later came down to 19) for teachers who already average $74,000 annually, according to the latest CPS data. That's $28,000 more than the average Chicago family earned in 2009. The city offered them an overly generous 16 percent.
CTU also rebelled against new rules that would hold teachers accountable through students' test scores, as well as any increase in their out-of-pocket benefit costs. Oh, and they asked for air conditioning. (Although Mayor Rahm Emanuel was suspicious; "It's 71 degrees outside," he snorted, "we don't go on strike for air conditioning.")
Control over teacher hiring was another barrier to peace in the galaxy. CPS feels that principals should have the autonomy to choose their staff at will, as they are directly responsible for the teachers' actions. CTU feels that power should rest with the unions, who have proven they will fill the schools with union members; regardless of talent, motivation, or lack thereof.
Emanuel seemed sincere in his desire to reunite the students with their course-work. At a late night press conference on the eve of the strike he appeared to some observers to be close to tears as he stated that the strike "is totally unnecessary, this is avoidable, and our kids do not deserve this."
The Mayor may have been crying for more than the children. The teachers' unions are greedy and pernicious, but they aren't stupid; they know Emanuel can least afford this confrontation now -- he remains one of President Obama's key advisors, and the White House will not want to alienate unions a key portion of its base -- less than two months before the election. No small wonder that Lewis on September 11 vowed the union is in this fight for the long haul: "The revolution will not be standardized. The assault on public education started here. It needs to end here."
How ironic that, so loathsome and naked is the Chicago union's power grab, they make even a hardened, cynical pol like Rahm Emanuel seem imbued with Luke Skywalker-esque purity.
Welcome to the Light Side, Mr. Mayor.
Matt Patterson is a DC-based columnist and commentator; Crissy Brown the Director of Outreach for Young Americans for Liberty at the University of Alabama.