The Chicago Teachers Strike

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Teachers strike in Chicago over pay, benefits, and unions rights. (peoplesworld/flickr)

Ester Fuchs, professor of international and public affairs and political science at School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) at Columbia University and former advisor to Mayor Bloomberg, explains what the Chicago teachers strike tells us about the national conversation about education, and what it means for New York City teachers.

Comments [49]

Julius Galacki from Los Angeles

I found Ester Fuchs an utterly annoying, anti-union person, and Brian exhibited ignorance. First and foremost, a union exists to protect its members. Federal law requires that unions represent their members who are accused of not performing their duties. And yet, the complaint this woman made was that teachers' unions have to stop protecting bad teachers. And the way, she dismissed a caller who quite rightly made the point that teachers are being blamed for the failings of society. Did this woman who supposed is so knowledgeable about Chicago say that 80 percent of public school children there are on a lunch program. Obviously that's one of the best indicators of poverty. The charter schools in Chicago take the best students and leave the public system with the most difficult. Public schools are overcrowded, starved of getting new books and then closed down because they don't meet standards. You want to get a better idea of what going on in Chicago, skip this crappy interview and listen/watch to Monday Democracy Now broadcast.

Sep. 12 2012 12:32 AM
rich at the shores from palm beach county florida

as sinclair lewis said, "It is difficult to get a man to understand something
when his salary depends on his not understanding it."

Sep. 11 2012 02:40 PM
Donald Sepanek from Bayonne, NJ

These reforms must not be watered-down. The issues are too important and too urgent.

Sep. 11 2012 01:41 PM
education policy professor from NYC

Brian, I usually love your show, but this was an incredibly one-sided discussion of the strike. It would have been nice to have someone who could really analyze the issues instead of present a pro-"reform" perspective. If you couldn't find that (and there are many of us out there) then you should have had someone else on the air to present an opposing viewpoint.

Sep. 11 2012 01:08 PM

I agree with RJ below -- where is Diane Ravitch? Bloomberg's education policies have failed by every measure, so Fuchs has no authority here.

Sep. 11 2012 12:41 PM
Kathryn from Queens

The best way to stop failing our children is by addressing their poverty. A wealthy child who is a poor student will always do better than an impoverished child who is a good student. I was a NYC public school teacher who taught special education with no support. Administrators claim they support you but you would be hard pressed to find any evidence of that. The current system of judging teacher performance lends itself to quite a bit of dishonesty and nsubjectivity in my own personal experience.

Sep. 11 2012 11:58 AM
Edward from Washington Heights AKA pretentious Hudson Heights

lesterine from manhattan,

When your parents were thinking of what to name you, were they using mouthwash?

Sep. 11 2012 10:53 AM
Holly from Nassau

What I absolutely despise about the way the education system works is the farce of the budget votes. Every year, we get a letter asking for more money and if the budget does not pass we are told that after school activities, sports, AP classes, music, art, transport, etc will be cut.

At the same time, the unions want raises in the contracts. Here on LI, 6 figure salaries are extremely common, plus lifetime pensions based on those high salaries, medical etc. Property taxes are unfordable -(basically you never stop renting even if you own). You never hear anyone talking about reducing the labor costs instead of holding the kids hostage or letting the buildings crumble.

Politically, I am pretty left of center and think teachers deserve support and fair pay; that education is the foundation of our society. However, at the same time the home owner and the children also deserve to not be extorted. It so so not about the kids. To say so is laughable.

Sep. 11 2012 10:48 AM
Peter Bunten

"Accountability" must apply to education, but this issue has been drawn too narrowly. It is not just a question of teacher accountability. If we want to maintain our democratic society - our "united" states - we MUST provide a common education for our children. And that means education must be overseen by the federal government. The real significance of charter schools is not that they undermine unions (though that is important); rather, their popularity reflects the failure of our government to promote and ensure equal access to education for all children and the insistence on broad curriculum standards. The attack by the far right against teachers and failing schools has as its goal something far more dangerous than the demise of unions: they are pushing for the end of government involvement in education, just as they have for the end of government involvement in all aspects of public life. Navigating the treacherous waters of school, student and teacher performance is difficult. But those who want to destroy our federal union in favor of state and individual rights are lurking in these waters.

Sep. 11 2012 10:46 AM
anna from new york

Professor, I too found her really irritating for the reasons I mentioned above and the fact you mentioned.

Sep. 11 2012 10:41 AM
RJ from prospect hts

It is sad to have any coverage of current education policy in NYC to leave out the terror caused by not only Mayor Bloomberg but Esther Fuchs herself, by dint of the power he gave her. Those who disagreed were silenced by loss of funding, and subsequently by noting what happened to others. There is no sense of or willingness to acknowledge the history of patronage and failure in the choosing teachers and officials up and down the power lines. The changes in policy over the years and their impacts or lack thereof, and the current role and self-interest of the hedge-fund moneymakers in infusing private money--and goals--into the *public* system. Esther Fuchs could have at least attempted to use her influence in a productive manner--but of course Mayor Mike might have ceased using it if she disagreed too strongly; i.e., Diane Ravitch, whose turnabout on charter schools has been dramatic (and highlighted previously) and whose point of view on the Chicago strike would be more interesting and informed than one that agrees with the current policies.

Sep. 11 2012 10:41 AM
Martin Chuzzlewit from Manhattan

...about "Anna from New York"......

As the famous line in the movie goes..."I'll have what she's having."


Sep. 11 2012 10:40 AM
Edward from Washington Heights AKA pretentious Hudson Heights

The Teachers Unions are victims of their success.

Teachers receive compensation that outstrips compensation of regular working people, AND the Teachers union frame their demands for more pay for themselves as something that benefits the kids in their class.

Sounds like a mafia protection racket.

Sep. 11 2012 10:40 AM

Having been both a public school parent and educator I find these conversation so unbalanced. The education of our students is based on both the quality of teachers as well as societal issues. No excuses intended. One of the most ignored issues is what has happened to teacher training and teacher quality and standards for all (behavior as well as academic). When we ignore the value of teacher training, including candidate qualities, we open a pandora's box. Districts and schools that are more successful hire teachers that speak, read, write well AND care for their students. They also have strong content knowledge and skills.. Teaching is not the same as being a caring person. Real skills are needed. Not everyone can be effective teachers and teacher leaders.
Charter schools are no more effective than any other publicly funded schools. They were fine experiments but are now fixtures whether or not they succeed.
Fiscal and public support, teacher qualities, student standards, and famiky and social issues contribute to the success or failure of schools. Can we stop beating up on isolated symptoms and deal with a complex problem that deserves serious remedies?

Sep. 11 2012 10:40 AM
lesterine from manhattan

i don't have children, but i have friends who teach and i have friends with children.

for a person such as myself, who spends A LOT of time consoling and being a good friend to teachers who ARE EXTREMELY UNDERPAID and who work EXTREMELY HARD, i see an enormous amount of problems with the PRINCIPALS and with THE FAMILIES.

i've heard horror story after horror story about principals who are uncaring of the kids, selfish, just plain stupid and absolutely unprofessional and uncaring toward their teaching staff.

let's see the moms and dads do some teaching. if they think the teachers are doing such a terrible job, why don't the give it a shot for themselves?

of course, there are bad teachers, but there are also bad principals and many MANY more bad parents.

ultimately, children are the responsibility of their parents and parents need to step up and do MORE for their children.

if the schools are failing children in america, i certainly blame the parents EQUALLY if not more for that failure than i do teachers.

parents are failing their children if their children are failing in america's schools.

stop demonizing teachers!

i've met many many horrible parents.

i've met considerably fewer horrible teachers.

Sep. 11 2012 10:40 AM
martha from greenpernt

Esther F seems even more schizophrenic (on the issues, that is) than she did all those years ago. She spends her first few minutes explaining how the unions are wrong, aggressive new leader, 21st century, protecting bad teachers, etc etc and then says we shouldn't 'demonize' the teachers.
Also interesting how ill informed about particulars almost all the commenters are here. But Brian, you invited as usual someone representing management and not a teacher spokesperson or even anyone from Chicago.
How about presenting the striking teachers' point of view? They REJECTED a 16% /4 yr raise... and are striking over classroom conditions... spell it out! Union busting is in the air, as some have commented on our show. Charter schools have been proved to do NO BETTER on the metrics than regular schools, and their whole basis for existence is de-unionizing the workforce /aka teachers... and yet the privatization of public money continues.

Sep. 11 2012 10:34 AM
nyc professor

It is striking how Esther Fuchs managed to conclude that it is necessary to "get the politics out" of public education, even as she bashed the teachers' unions for the past half hour, all the while claiming that she wasn't bashing the unions. She tried position her profoundly political point of view as neutral and even-handed, a classic ideological move of the right.

It is precisely this kind of circular, hypocritical discourse that demonstrates the profound need in American society courses in critical thinking at all levels and all ages.

Sep. 11 2012 10:33 AM
bernie from bklyn

why are neighborhoods w/ high stop n' frisk rates also the neighborhoods w/ failing schools and therefore failing teachers? is it the socio-economic conditions and the food deserts and the racist authorities? there's got to be someone or something to blame besides the women and men that produce children and then do nothing to raise them as good citizens. parents, or lack thereof, are the biggest factor and the root cause of the problems in this entire discussion.

Sep. 11 2012 10:32 AM

@Shoniqua, jgarbuz, Zakariah

You are all right on. Public employees, mandatory tax increases every year, and no choice in schools. Why would anything ever improve?

Socialism does not lead to excellence. Like it or not, humans only excel in competitive environments.

Sep. 11 2012 10:32 AM
anna from new york

What a moronic "discussion."
How can one discuss education without mentioning "society," socio-economic circumstances of parents and society in general, values of society etc.?
It does matter whether children live in a stable economically household or in a shelter, it does matter whether parents have time for their children or work 80 hours a week to turn their CEOs into billionaires and collapse in front of TV. It does matter whether a society values decent, honest and compassionate individuals or corporate crooks, charlatans and Hollywood prostitutes, etc.
Two days ago, I saw Scarlett Johansson in an embrace with the son of the Sultan of Brunei. I saw her embracing countless other billionaires. Today dear Scarlett wants me to vote for ... Obama. OK, I personally would rather die than vote for this charlatan, but please admit that children can be confused and discouraged.
dr anna

Sep. 11 2012 10:30 AM

Ms. Fuchs has to also realize about charters like Harlem Success Academy that those charters are so "successful" because any students that struggle academically and/or behaviorally, those kids are expelled. If the public schools had that option, we wouldn't be having this discussion.

Sep. 11 2012 10:29 AM
Edward from Washington Heights AKA pretentious Hudson Heights

The bottom line is that teachers should not be a protected class.

Teachers should be subject to market forces, performance evaluation, examination of the end product of their efforts as any other worker.

Considering how poorly the students are educated, based on test results, the best thing would be for all current teachers in Chicago to be replaced by a whole new batch of fresh, trained teachers.

There is no down side.

Sep. 11 2012 10:27 AM
mck from NYC

Marty, your nom de plume is well chosen since your thinking clearly belongs in the early 19th Century.

Sep. 11 2012 10:26 AM

I am posting a link to a document created by the CTU in February outlining the teacher's perspective on the issues facing CPS. I think Ms. Fuchs' is way off base. She is advancing the patently ridiculous line that teachers are craven beings with no regard for students needs or futures. I am an independent school teacher, who cannot imagine dealing daily with a system that demeans and diminishes my efforts. Brian you just asked if considering societal factors is excuse making. I think that not addressing the bigger societal challenges is teacher scapegoating. We must do better.

Sep. 11 2012 10:24 AM
amalgam from NYC by day, NJ by night

I wonder how much non-union public school administrators make?

Probably not a lot, right?

Why would we ever talk about management, etc.?

Sep. 11 2012 10:24 AM
Zakariah Ali

Poor performance cannot be laid solely at the feet of the teachers. The zoning system itself is the cause of the education system. As long as we are zoned and limited to go to specific schools there is no incentive to improve the system by both the teacher political elites. Teachers and the powers have no incentive to improve even if we put in teacher evaluation abolish the zoning and the system would improve. Countries with no strict zoning and are free to make choices have better outcomes.

Sep. 11 2012 10:23 AM
David from Elmhurst

Failing schools are in the sorry state they are in for many reasons (economic constraints, inept administration, disengaged parents, etc.) -- ineffective teachers are pretty far down the list of those reasons (if not at the bottom). I'm tired of seeing teachers blamed for letting our children down.

Sep. 11 2012 10:22 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

If schools are blamed for having "failed" our students, a large part of that blame has to be put on the liberal changes, particular adopting Jean Piaget "constructivist" theories, as well as over-stressing academics over practical vocational-oriented curricula starting in the mid-1960s.

Sep. 11 2012 10:21 AM
mck from NYC

Change is not necessarily "reform". Only change that works can be called reform. I'd like to hear Diane Ravitch on what is actually going on in Chicago schools. There is no evidence that charter schools improve student outcomes. The parents who were interviewed were all supportive of the teachers and the strike because they know the issues of the strike is for more resources for the students. So the scapegoating of teachers is only the next step in destroying unions, which have been the major force changing creating a middle class by the transfer of income to the those who already have a majority of the wealth and power in society.

Sep. 11 2012 10:21 AM
Martin Chuzzlewit from Manhattan

Union officials (I have known several) and Democratic politicians (ditto) send their kids to private schools.
Black and Latino New Yorkers .... you are being played. Big Time.

Oh, and little Barry Obama went to a private school!

Sep. 11 2012 10:20 AM
Jeff Pappas from Dumbo

In 1977 0r 1978 I was in HS in Westchester Co Lakeland school district and the teachers went on strike for the first time in the USA. We had substitute teachers and I went to school while more than half the kids stayed home. It lasted several weeks and was on national news
Good Teachers need good pay and incompetant teachers need to be culled
But we must take into account the kids home life situation...

Sep. 11 2012 10:20 AM
blacksocialist from BKbaby

Re: Jane from NJ - oh the irony..... mor#n

Sep. 11 2012 10:18 AM
bernie from bklyn

every dog is howling in nyc listening to these voices, especially ms.fuchs....where do they find these guests and callers? these shreiking women, aaaaggghhh! whose next, jill abramson?

Sep. 11 2012 10:18 AM
john from office

So the schools are educating the students and everyone is doing well. Last time i looked I see failure.

How many of these teachers send there own children to the public schools?? Very few.

Sep. 11 2012 10:17 AM

When will the discussion about the failure of schools finally turn towards the fact that too many parents - particularly in poor neighbhorhoods - don't send their children to school prepared to learn and their children are too unruly and disruptive to teach?

Sep. 11 2012 10:17 AM
Edward from Washington Heights AKA pretentious Hudson Heights

Rahm Emmanuel should resign.

He is not up to the task.

The murder rate in Chicago is so high, the police unable to stem the tide, that Mayor Emmanuel concluded that the only "force" to turn to is the racist sinister minister louie farraklan.

Mayor Emmanuel has his hands on the levers of power. He is as effective as former Mayor David Dinkins.

It's Time For A Change.

Sep. 11 2012 10:16 AM
Martin Chuzzlewit from Manhattan

Fuchs is a pro-union hack.
The first caller (Reggie?) wouldn't let HIS kids be ruined by that school system.
"Breaking the unions" .....what nonsense.

Sep. 11 2012 10:15 AM

If the concern is education the Union don't care 1 iota.

Sep. 11 2012 10:14 AM
blacksocialist from BKbaby

wow... four comments, four mor*ns.... no idea what unions have done for this country. well, you geniuses will reap what you sow when this country becomes a true oligarchy....

Sep. 11 2012 10:14 AM
Arthur from Astoria, NY

"Gold plated" benefits? "Protected from firing?" I'm sorry, you mean... benefits and job security? Things that most of our parents and some of our grandparents had? Those are considered exceptional perks now? Give me a break folks. We've gone so far down the Republican rabbit hole that we look at any form of benefit as some kind of entitlement. Tenure = you can't be fired at the drop of a hat. Tenured teachers do get fired, and they don't get tenure initially - they have to earn it by staying at the job (your parents may remember about company loyalty being rewarded). If people want to take children's education seriously, lobby for greater allocation of resources to schools - better facilities, smaller class sizes, serious curriculum revamping.

Sep. 11 2012 10:14 AM
Wally from Hell's Kitchen

I'd like your guest, Mr. Lehrer, to answer what are the specific changes that lead her to say that Unions have little to ho place in the 21st Century classroom.

Sep. 11 2012 10:14 AM
Jane from New Jersey

Any teacher who "feels disrespected" needs to go back to school to learn grammer and shouldn't be teaching.

Sep. 11 2012 10:13 AM
Martin Chuzzlewit from Manhattan

What a job of deceit and deception by the unions ... who say they are doing this for “the children.” Only 21% of 8th graders can read at that level in Chicago schools ... and only 20% are at the 8th grade level in math. FOUR OUT OF FIVE are already behind !!!

They don’t deserve a raise, but an angry mob of parents to buggy whip them.

Sep. 11 2012 10:13 AM
Leonie Haimson from NYC

I really question the choice of your guest to comment on the Chicago strike given the fact that she is a close adviser to Bloomberg. The teacher evaluation system based on test scores that the teachers in Chicago, NYC and elsewhere are facing has been debunked by many experts as unfair and unreliable, including the National Academy of Sciences (twice!). Perhaps you ought to have a guess who is not so biased.

Sep. 11 2012 10:12 AM
Thomas Pinch

Edward, you are so wrong. Tenue does not stop a teacher for being fired for cause; it prevents them from being fired for no cause.

Sep. 11 2012 10:11 AM
marco from new york

The ugly (and obese) face of the labor movement. What a disgrace.

Sep. 11 2012 10:08 AM
john from office

The sad thing is that the intent of the administration is to improve the schools for Black and Latino students. But no one cares about that in the Union. It is aboout job security for the union, while the students don't meet basic standards. The teachers are in a bad spot because there is no family or home values that help these student do better, but, the bottom line is the students are hurt by these action.

Sep. 11 2012 10:05 AM
Shoniqua from Brooklyn

If teachers want to be treated as professionals, (Police too for that matter) than they must act as such. If teachers want to get market or above pay (100K+ is so common in NY suburbs, I heard the number 76K as average in Chicago plus gold plated benefits), than if for the children's benefit they are asked to work even an hour extra, than they should accept it. Particularly since most work not much more than 180 days per year. To try to suck more money out of the tax payer, who on average do no even come close to the income they are pulling in is outrageous.

Over the past couple of decades we've been throwing good money after bad at education and not showing much for it. I think we are over 26k or something like that per student in NY state. Let's start tackling the actual underlying costs and problems in a smart way.

Sep. 11 2012 10:05 AM
Edward from Washington Heights AKA pretentious Hudson Heights

Eliminate Tenure for teachers.

Why should a teacher be a special class, protected from firing for cause?

Sep. 11 2012 09:33 AM

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