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How Chicago Isn’t Like Wisconsin

Alexander Russo | September 11, 2012

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There’s a teachers’ strike in Chicago, in case you hadn’t heard.

And, not surprisingly, lots of media and campaign folks are trying to make national and political connections — linking the Chicago strike to last year’s showdown in Wisconsin, or the so-called “war on teachers” being conducted by so-called “school reformers,” or the November elections).

Below are some things to keep in mind before you buy into the national comparisons being made — and some admittedly loose LAUSD comparisons that might be worth considering.  There’s also a roundup of national coverage of the strike, if you feel like wading in on your own.

Ways Chicago Isn’t like Wisconsin:

Rahm Emanuel, a  lifelong Democrat, wasn’t trying to limit teachers’ collective bargaining rights during the contract negotiation process, and in fact gave the teachers back much of what they asked for in terms of wages and working conditions during the endless negotiations leading up to the Monday strike.

Chicago has an unusually small number of charter schools, thanks to an extremely restrictive law that included a cap and until very recently had no state appeals process — and there’s no voucher or tax credit proposal being proposed or in law (as in Indiana).

It seems unlikely that the Chicago teachers strike will last long enough or get bad enough to have a big effect on the campaigns or election results.  Wisconsin happened just after the 2010 midterm elections, as you may recall, and bubbled along for quite a while during the same time that Occupy Wall Street was flourishing.  We’ve got less than two months until Election Day.

Ways Chicago Is Like LAUSD:

What little substance there is to the strike negotiations in Chicago surrounds the issue of teacher evaluation and building- vs. district-based evaluations. The district wants principals to make evaluation decisions, using student achievement as 40 percent of the grade, while the union wants a more systemic approach with less emphasis on student achievement. Sound familiar?

Mayor Emanuel, like Mayor Villaraigosa, has endorsed controversial ideas like the parent trigger, and is a pro-charter Democrat.

The contentious relationship between the union president Karen Lewis and the Mayor (Chicago has mayoral control over the schools) is a reminder of just how bad things can get (have been) between UTLA and LAUSD leaders — an extremely slippery slope. Emanuel and teachers union president Karen Lewis have had an almost theatrically relationship, each playing it up for his or her own side’s benefits. It’s fun to watch, but it’s not helpful.

News Stories

Teachers’ Strike in Chicago Tests Mayor and Union NYT

Will Strike Halt Public Education Efforts Overall?  WSJ

How Will Chicago Teachers’ Strike Impact the 2012 Race? PoliticsK12

Thousands Of Chicago Teachers Take To The Streets Huffington Post

In Chicago, ‘Perfect Storm’ Led To Teachers’ Strike NPR

You can keep abreast of the Chicago strike by following my blog, or the hashtag #ctustrike on Twitter.

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