For such a "progressive" editorial page, The Journal Gazette sure is heavily invested in defending the status quo. Regarding the Chicago teachers' strike, an editorial this morning expressed concern over how unfair it is to demand they be held accountable for student performance. And what's even worse is that Indiana teachers already have to put up with that nonsense!
Indiana teachers can empathize with their Chicago counterparts, at least. All public school teachers in Indiana will be evaluated on student performance, effective this year.
Legislation approved in 2011 limits collective bargaining rights. Approval of a sweeping voucher program and charter-school expansion has reduced enrollment and, in turn, union membership in traditional public schools.
Indiana teachers protested the legislative changes, but lacked the political clout of the Chicago Teachers Union. Teacher strikes are illegal in Indiana; not in Illinois.
Yeah, damn that lack of clout that comes from not being able to strike.
Members of every other profession on the face of the earth have to deal with the possibility of merit pay -- the idea that their compensation will be based in part on their actual performance as measured by objective criteria. How anyone can argue for them alone to be exempt from such evaluations in the face of the dismal decline in the performace of public education over recent decades is beyond me.
The Chicago Tribune editorial page, a little closer to the situation and a little wiser, knows posturing when it sees it:
There are too many factors beyond our control which impact how well some students perform on standardized tests, such as poverty, exposure to violence, homelessness, hunger and other social issues beyond our control."
—Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis, Sept. 9, 2012
When we heard CTU President Karen Lewis say that Sunday night, it sounded like an excuse. The context:
Lewis was complaining about teacher evaluations that for the first time will be tied to student academic growth. That issue — considering a teacher's effectiveness at helping students progress — is at the heart of this strike. Teachers are fighting to water down those evaluations. The union wants to lower how much student performance contributes to a teacher's rating. It wants to protect teachers' jobs — all teachers, whether they be effective or ineffective at helping children achieve better outcomes.
Paul Moreno had a piece in The Wall Street Journal yesterday on the subject "How Public Unions Became So Powerful":
Postwar prosperity and the great increase of public employment revived the public union idea. By 1970, nearly 20% of American workers worked for the government. (In 1900: 4%.) The American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees led the effort to persuade a state to allow public-employee unionization, and Afscme prevailed in Wisconsin in 1958. New York City and other cities also permitted their workers to unionize.
President John F. Kennedy issued an executive order 60 years ago that broke the dam. The order did not permit federal employees to bargain over wages (these are still set by Congress), or to force workers to join a union or to strike (no state or city allowed that), but Kennedy's directive did lead to unionization of the federal workforce. And it gave great impetus to more liberal state and local laws. Government-union membership rose tenfold in the 1960s.
Giving in to public-unions' demands seemed acceptable when the economy was healthy. When budgets are crashing and it's become clear the unions are a big part of the problem, giving in to their demands seems a little more unreasonable. Chicago teachers, for goodness sake, turned down an offer of a 16 percent raise over four years -- 16 percent in this economy! If the strike goes on for long, The Jouranl Gazette warns the union, "teachers will most likely lose the public relations battle." Not the ideas battle or the values battle, the image battle. Lord.