THE CORPORATE “education reform” juggernaut, kept rolling by President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and fully endorsed by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, looked unstoppable — until it ran into 26,000 striking Chicago educators. “The strike challenged both the education-for-profit agenda and today’s carefully cultivated climate of public-worker-bashing,” says Freedom Socialist Party presidential candidate Stephen Durham, who joined the picket line for several days. In the process, the powerful strike electrified unionists and champions of public education across the U.S.
It also won strong support from parents and students inspired by two years of community organizing in which the Chicago Teachers Union addressed issues like overcrowded classes, dehumanizing high stakes testing, school closures, and the racism of a system that has long denied resources to the schools that students of color attend. Eighty-five percent of Chicago public school students are Black or Latino.
DETAILS OF A TENTATIVE agreement remain somewhat fuzzy as we go to press. But it seems that the strikers managed to blunt attacks on job security and reduce the degree to which teacher evaluations will be based on student test scores, a process that scapegoats teachers for problems beyond their control, like poverty. The agreement also includes hiring more art and music teachers.
However, the union hasn’t been able to reduce class sizes or stop the proliferation of anti-union charter schools.
The Windy City teachers took brave action to confront the union-busters and would-be education profiteers. Now the future of public education hangs on the question of who will follow their bold example.
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