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TheRootDC
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Posted at 03:53 PM ET, 09/11/2012

Chicago teachers’ strike: Demanding dignity and respect

Alfonzo Porter is a contributor to The RootDC and the author of “More Like Barack, Less Like Tupac: Eradicating the Academic Achievement Gap by Countering Decades of the Hip Hop Hoax.” He is a speaker, consultant, former teacher and school administrator.

I could almost hear educators around the nation cheering the decision of the Chicago Teachers Union to wage a strike this week in rebellion over issues surrounding impending education reforms in the the nation’s third-largest school system. For many, the action could not come
Students picket with teachers outside Lane Tech College Prep High School on Sept. 11, 2012, in Chicago. (Scott Olson - GETTY IMAGES)
at a better time, perfectly placing education squarely at the center of hotly debated political discourse during a polarizing election season.

Drawing first blood in the contentious, prolonged battle, 26,000 teachers in Chicago refused to report to duty, leaving nearly 400,000 students with nowhere to go and parents desperate to find alternatives.

And just like that, the nation has been bluntly reminded of the valuable role that teachers and schools play in the lives of more than 55 million public school students, their families and local economies every single day. The resultant loss in productivity due to thousands of parents across the Chicago region unable to report to work has grabbed everyone’s attention — and it’s about time.

After more than a decade of assaults on teachers through the national media, the time to fight back is at hand. Here in D.C., former schools chancellor Michelle Rhee was a national symbol for tougher teacher evaluations as she directly challenged the local union over issues such as tenure and firing veteran educators throughout the District. Now, her machinations and methodologies have now spread nationwide.

At center of the Chicago matter is the new measure that calls for as much as a quarter of a teacher’s assessment to be based upon how students perform on a standardized exam. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel wants that to be increased to as much as 40 percent.

This bitter dispute has been a long time in coming as teachers have expressed concerns, mostly to themselves, about the treatment of the profession as a whole as one measure after another has attacked our competence, professionalism and effectiveness.

But this strike, unlike in past years, is not largely about money. Teachers are standing up and demanding simple dignity and respect for the profession. In the end, they are mostly concerned about what is right for children. Tying teacher effectiveness to standardized test scores does not address the root causes of student failure.

Many teachers, myself included, feel as though we are being left to hold the bag for things that are completely beyond our control. Instances of poverty, broken families, violence, hunger and homelessness cannot be reflected in a teacher’s evaluation and should not play such a central role.

But there is a complete lack of data to suggest that by attaching testing data to a teacher’s evaluation, student achievement will improve significantly. The frustration comes from teachers’ reputations being held up as experiments inasmuch as the reforms have not been proved or appropriately vetted.

Even President Obama’s key education initiative “Race to the Top” has caused concern as it also pushes for assessments based on how students perform on tests.

Teachers did not cause the nation’s economic meltdown, the housing collapse or the banking crisis. However, every school system in the country has been affected by these events. The consequences have been disastrous for the quality of instruction in America’s schools, leaving the blame solely on schools and teachers.

Given that these issues will soon reverberate nationally, it may be time to take education reform to the next level.

It may be time for education leaders and reformers to begin to demand an “education bailout”similar to the one called for by Democrats two yeas ago. And while the $141 billion floated in the 2009 stimulus package is a good start, I suggest this country should invest $250 billion into the nation’s schools over the course of 10 years, which would allow school districts to retool technologically, upgrade dilapidated facilities, invest in better instructional methods and stabilize teacher compensation.

Under such a scheme, funds could be disseminated to states under a formula based upon population or student enrollment. Further, government should get out of the way and allow educators, superintendents and boards of education to decide how funds would be used locally. Frankly, the $4 billion investment under “Race to the Top” is an insult to any serious reform-minded leader.

Instead of continuing to fight over limited resources, leaders ought to engage in developing real solutions to address the shortages in educational funding. Yet, no one has had the courage or foresight to advocate for our students on a real level.

Teachers in Chicago are striking for the right reasons. They want to improve the conditions through which our children are educated. Politics continues to drive the discussion but has no place.

Instead of blasting teachers as immoral for standing up for what they believe is best for students in the long term, we should applaud their courage to finally speak truth to power.

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By  |  03:53 PM ET, 09/11/2012

 
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