Chicago Teacher's Strike Defines Election Issues

Members of the Chicago Teacher's Union have gone on strike, shutting down the third largest school district in the country with over 404,000 students now in disarray.

Chicago's teachers have the highest average salary in the country at $76,000/year and according to the Mayor's office, the financial side of the $400 Million deal is done. 4%/year raises have been agreed to, taking them to $88,900/year by 2016.

The Mayor's office stated that:

"The two remaining stumbling blocks involve re-hiring laid off teachers from schools that get shut down or shaken up and a new teacher evaluation process that the union says puts far too much weight on student test scores."

So while 404,000 students are missing school, the real issues are accountability and union job protection.

Chicago is not really different from Wisconsin, but while it is only 90 miles away, it is a universe away in its political realities. The city has seen the same economic straits as most large cities in the country and yet at a time when everyone else is cutting back and trying to get by, the Chicago Teacher's Union, who have already been financially sated, wants more control with less accountability.

This crystallizes two of the major issues we face. The terrible state of our K-12 educational system and our out of control public sector unions.

Chicago has a 50% drop out rate; better than Los Angeles at 70%, but still what should be an insult to every teacher in each district.

Whether it is for gross misconduct by teachers or for regular evaluations and student testing, the union expects to remain unaccountable. In Chicago, standardized test results are destroyed almost immediately after the tests are scored. They have it down in Chicago.  No Atlanta scandals there.

And at a time when the average salary in Chicago is $47,000/year and the city is running massive deficits, the disparity between results, compensation, and accountability in the school district is growing even larger.

The issue is national. In California, the unions own the state government as well as most of the largest cities. Across the country states and municipalities are running huge deficits and there is a massive pension crisis.

And Chicago perfectly summarizes the issue. This was an insider deal to begin with and now the union is pressing its advantage. They play rough in Chicago. It's not about the kids. It is about continuing to rob the taxpayers blind and give them as little as possible in return.

It is interesting to note that back in the 1990's our president was at the forefront of educational reform in Chicago and to note the lack of progress since. The Annenberg Challenge spent hundreds of millions of dollars and in the words of its own final report in 2003 achieved almost nothing.

Mayor Richard M. Daly took control of the School District in 1995 and put Arne Duncan, now U.S. Secretary of Education in charge, to no effect.

One of the obligations of local government is education. It is obvious that Chicago's school district and its teachers are failing in this responsibility. Their answer is to blame the system but it is their system. They did build it.

In Wisconsin, Governor Scott Walker and the state legislature were able to make difficult choices that benefited everyone in the state. Teachers kept their jobs and compromised with economic reality. Public worker's unions were reined in but retained their basic rights.

In education, the Wisconsin reforms allowed schools to hire and fire based on merit. School districts can pay teachers for superior performance. The law allows districts to hire and retain the best and brightest and to shop for insurance, which turns out to have saved hundreds of millions of dollars. Basic stuff, but when a system is corrupted, bloat and graft and gaming the system become the norm. The Wisconsin reforms are already bearing fruit. The lack of reform in Chicago is also apparent.

Chicago's teacher union is symbolic of much of what has gone wrong in our country. Self-interest, cronyism, corruption and sloth when our children need the best we have to offer, are completely and utterly unacceptable. The Chicago strike defines what is wrong while the Wisconsin reforms point to a possible solution.

It is the statism and crony interests of one side versus the freedom to innovate and improve of the other. As a key stakeholder our president also must take ownership. His Secretary of Education is a part of the problem, not the solution.  The timing and issues cannot be more clear. The Chicago strike is a defining moment.

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