"For me, the most important lesson
[of the Freedom Movement] is that by respecting the fact that fellow activists could passionately disagree over strategy and tactics—yet remain allies—they strengthened SNCC and the Movement as a whole."
From Bruce Hartford's article in the current issue of Urban Habitat.
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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Chicago Teachers' Strike Redux - lessons to be learned (hopefully)

The Chicago Teachers Delegate Assembly has called off the strike (the members still have to vote on it but that seems to be pro forma). The deal that was struck was, not surprisingly, a compromise. The deal, if accepted will
give annual raises to teachers, lengthen the school day and allow teachers to be evaluated, in part, with student test scores. The school system would also aim to guide laid-off teachers with strong ratings into at least half of any new job openings in the schools. NYTIMES
Teachers, by law, have been allowed to organize collectively only around economic issues.  That legal requirement has made it very difficult for teachers to oppose the implementation of high stakes testing (high stakes attached to a standardized test score) that began in the 1990's.  For the last twenty years, students have been suffering under the onslaught of state standards, state tests and sanctions (especially the high school exit exams which have dramatically increased drop outs.)  Teachers are now the DIRECT targets of the corporate business agenda (hence the bipartisan nature of the use of standardized tests to impose educational reform) in that CEO's want to attach test scores to teacher evaluation.  Most district unions have caved in to the pressure of money power (it's ability to use the media and foundation money to put teachers on the defensive).

The Chicago teachers tried to draw a line in the sand but are still divided amongst themselves and have yet to build a solid coalition with parents.
Pressure mounted in recent days as union leaders grappled with a complicated equation: how to find agreement among hundreds of delegates with vastly different views and concerns, while balancing the risk of losing public support as the strike stretched on.
By Tuesday, there were signs that union leaders realized they needed to move quickly. The union issued a leaflet aimed at maintaining patience from Chicagoans, which read, in part, “We would like to express our profound gratitude for your support in our fight for quality public education and a fair contract.” (same NYTimes article as above).
Until local teacher leaders can forge a consensus around issues that they have in common with the parents of their students, money power will prevail.  Mike Miller (a civil rights veteran among other credentials) has written a very good article explaining the importance of organizing around "lowest common denominator issues."

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