(Part 2 of a series. Check out part 1: Why the Chicago Teacher’s Strike is so Important )
The strongest rebuttal, I think, to the interests of teachers in the Chicago Strike goes something like this: “Hey teachers, it would be great if you made the money you deserve. And it’d be great to give all students the same high-quality education, no matter what their class background. However, we simply don’t have the money to pay for it. Sorry, you’re going to have to suck it up in the name of balancing our budget”.
This has a lot of credibility because it’s true, to some extent. Teachers have an almost sacred responsibility in any society – they deserve to have the same status and pay of college professors, and it would be a big disruption to our municipal budgets if that was the case.
We don’t live in the world, however, where anyone is seriously striking for that. The Chicago Teacher’s Union has put out a very well-thought out plan called “The School Chicago Students Deserve”. Read it, please. It’s right here: http://www.ctunet.com/blog/text/SCSD_Report-02-16-2012-1.pdf
This is their overarching vision for what real school reform would look like. It both lays out what to do, but also, crucially, how to fund it.
I’d love to see what, exactly, you might find fault with in their plan – I think it lays out a lovely vision of what a really good school would look like.
So this specific charge of “we can’t afford better schools” has been rebutted. Let’s talk about the larger argument about the soul of the democratic party and the clash of money.
THE SOUL OF DEMOCRATS AND THE CLASH OF MONEY VS PEOPLE:
What we’re seeing in Chicago is indeed a case study for a larger argument going on across America. Having wholly conquered the Republican party, the interests of big money are doing a good job of infiltrating the Democrats as well.
Many Democrats have been / are revealing themselves to be in the pocket of big money, and Chicago is no exception. The Rhee-style school reform movement is heavily funded by explicitly union-busting hedge fund types. They benefit when unions are broken because unions are a countervailing force to their ability to screw workers, and unions are major financial backers of things like Wall Street Reform that also constrain their power.
The City of Chicago spends a lot of money on something called TIF – Tax-Increment Financing, which in some form or another can be found in cities all over America – the city sets aside a bunch of money in tax breaks to be used to lure businesses to “create jobs”. Often, this a great vehicle for straight up corruption, but let’s put that aside for now. TIF and other plans like it (In New York State they’re called Industrial Development Areas and are particularly awful in my home county) don’t work. Companies will often get ludicrous tax breaks in exchange for “creating” a few minimum wage jobs – often much fewer than they promised in the first place.
It’s an example of the power of big business to subvert local government (the branch of government most easily susceptible to it) to enrich itself.
Look at Charter schools. To some extent, the jury is still out on them. To another extent, the social science we do have shows that they have no benefit over normal public schools in terms of educating students (even on those standardized tests that they put so much faith in). They do have one thing in their favor, though – their teachers are often un-unionized, which means it’s easier to squeeze more work out of them in times when budgets are tight.
Every serious education scholar agrees – the highest risk factor/reason for bad educational achievement is poverty. Let me say that again.
The biggest reason for bad education is poverty.
Alleviating poverty is the best, most proven way to help students qua students – we’re not even talking about all the other better effects it has on their lives.
The line is therefore drawn: On one hand unions fighting for more funding for all schools, more money for people in poverty, and more partnership with parents and community.
On the other hand, mayors and hedge fund types fighting to close public schools, slash public services, give education money to for-profit charter schools, and give tax breaks to big corporations.
I agree with Michelle Rhee that the power of big money is indeed overpowering the power of labor unions in the Democratic party. (Unions are having an alarming decline, and have been since at least the 80’s. ).
Unlike her, however, I think that that’s a bad thing.