Striking Teachers in Chicago Illustrate High Stakes Negotiation

With 25,000 teachers in Chicago chosing to walk away the negotiating table–and their  400,000 students–the larger political picture may include the Presidential election.  Even so, at the core this disagreement illustrates the importance of negotiation–and what happens when talking doesn’t work, what Joe Nocera, quoting Karen Lewis, refers to as a “hot, buttery mess” and an unfortunate reality that illustrates how far divides can grow from differing sides that should have the same goal in mind–providing the best possible education for children.

  1. Key Players:  City Hall and education leaders with Mayor Rahm Emanuel, former White House chief of staff v public school teachers, represented by Karen Lewis, a powerful political and union leader.
  2. Issues:   “benefits, raises based on experience level, the lack of air-conditioning in classrooms and training days for teachers.”
  3. Framing:  City – “a Strike of Choice”, Teachers: “Wrong for our Children”
  4. Tactics: Intense negotiation with more than 100 meetings over 400 hours.  Is the problem that the key players are too intense?  Does the fact that these talks happen behind closed doors remove the chance for a responsible compromise?  Will the fact that Rahm, also a national Democratic political figure and a key Obama ally–give the unions an edge since they know that he has large incentives to avoid a strike?  Will personal attacks and rancor grow–even as it becomes counterproductive toward a negotiated solution?

The teachers have a point.  This is an aggressive plan:

“You have a situation where the teachers feel totally and completely disrespected,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, the parent union of the striking teachers. In this case, Ms. Weingarten said she blamed Mr. Emanuel for an aggressive push to extend the length of the school day and for a promised raise that was later rescinded. “He created the seeds of a lot of frustration and mistrust,” she said.

via Talks Continue in Chicago Teachers’ Strike –

But here is what the City is trying to do:

The new vision, championed by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who used to run Chicago’s schools, calls for a laser focus on standardized tests meant to gauge student skills in reading, writing and math. Teachers who fail to raise student scores may be fired. Schools that fail to boost scores may be shut down.

And the monopoly that the public sector once held on public schools will be broken with a proliferation of charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately run – and typically non-union.

via Striking Chicago teachers take on national education reform –

UPDATE:  David Brooks gives a cheer for Rahm in his Friday column (9/14/12):

Emanuel’s willingness to hang tough and accept a strike was itself a hopeful sign that some Democrats are hardy enough to take on interests aligned with their own party. Emanuel certainly didn’t get everything he wanted. The unions won concessions, too. But if the final results resemble what I’ve been hearing in any way, then Chicago will move toward the forefront of the reform movement. That result would also be a national credibility booster for Emanuel’s party. It would be a sign that Democrats may be able to successfully reform ailing public institutions, so that the nation as a whole can prosper.

via Après Rahm, Le Déluge –


6 thoughts on “Striking Teachers in Chicago Illustrate High Stakes Negotiation”

  1. A beloved teacher from my high school in Nevada retired this year after discovering the limits of his passion. In an article he wrote for a local magazine, he admitted that he, someone whose passion was evident the moment I stepped into his classroom the first week of school, had no idea how to restore public education (Rice, It was difficult not to contact him and convince not to leave, to turn his back on so many prospective students, but he made his case clear. The striking teachers in Chicago reminded me of Mr. Rice, my own World Literature teacher, a teacher in an ultimate strike.

    In Nevada, like most other states, budget cuts due to a struggling economy became evident immediately in the realm of education as the rate of dropouts and class sizes grew and available resources and extra-curriculars shrunk. An emphasis both in my alma mater and the striking teachers, was a push for standardized testing. In the article, it is brought up that teachers are now merely test prep assistants, helping students do well on a few select tests to keep rankings up. And the less teachers are actually “teaching”, the more invaluable they are, and prone to cuts in both their wages, and their actual jobs.

    It is one thing to say that teachers should be paid more, and more funding should be given to these schools, but it is completely different to go and actually find the money to do so. But, more than ever, there seems to be a reason for it. Kindergarden class sizes seem to grow wildly out of control. Parents views of education have changed from being their’s and the student’s responsibility to that of solely the teacher. Numbers and filling in bubbles seem to be an accurate way to test one’s academic ability. To solve this, we can’t just boost standards, or even boost the amount of money to give to schools. We need some deeper reform. Something needs to change, our way of thinking and our procedural habits in education.

    For a great talk concerning education and its outdated methods, a link to Sir Ken Robinson’s talk “Changing the Education Paradigms” –

  2. I firmly believe that we need to do all that we can to educate the children of tomorrow. The fact of the matter is that this task cannot be efficiently accomplished without the aid of teachers. Teachers won’t teach unless they are fairly treated. If the teachers are fairly treated then so will the be the students.
    As far a the matter goes on how to evaluate teachers. I can see why Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel would want to implement the evaluation tests. To insure the process of the children’s education. However, if we have no teachers, there will be no one to evaluate. Furthermore there are more efficient ways to evaluate. For better ideas check out
    Thus, Mayor Rahm needs to find accommodating solution fast so that children can receive an education…now.

  3. I applaud the efforts of the teachers. I saw on CNN today that Paul Ryan called for an end to the strikes, imploring teachers to “think of the parents and children.” I disagree with his statement, because, that is exactly what the teachers are doing by striking. Standardized testing is an ineffective measure of student learning because it attempts to quantify student achievement, and this also necessitates ineffective teaching methods. It is a lose-lose situation for students who receive a lower quality education, and for teachers who are held accountable for the resulting drop in achievement.

    Underfunding in these schools has led to unsatisfactory conditions for the students and a lack of resources for students, which is a serious issue that should take priority over greater investment in standardized testing. Chicago teachers are sending a clear message that something needs to change in their education system in order for it to be effective. If they back down, that message becomes less clear, and their concerns could easily be ignored.

    1. I completely agree with the comment made by Andy Miller. I lived in NYC for 6 years, and after 7 months of a frustrated attempt with the public school system, we pulled our daughter out and homeschooled her until me moved to Utah last semester. The school system in NYC I believe is no different from Chicago’s. Public schools there lack basic teaching materials, better trained and paid professionals, healthier food and the buildings are in desperate need of maintanance.
      I attended public schools my whole life in Brazil and can testify that without the right elements, school is just a day camp where you hear a little meaninless lecture and play with your friends most of the time, even inside of the classroom. Teachers need to be respected. It is about time to recognize the value of this profession. In a speech given at the Marriot Center last semester by a famous brain surgeon called Dr. Carson, he points out how we tend to value and pay more for professionals that do not have near the same importance as an educated person. I fbelieve that with the right incentives, professors would be able to do a better job in educating our children and changing the cycle of poverty that is so clear and real in so many neighborhoods of New York and poor countries. Although his speech was not recorded at BYU, I found a similar speech given by him at another location. By the way, in the first 3 minutes of video he makes a great comment about Utah.

  4. This is a great example of negotiation and diplomacy at the community level, although the outcome may have a much broader effect. I am not sure if I understand what Mr. Romney had in mind when he said, “Teachers’ unions have too often made plain that their interests conflict with those of our children, and today we are seeing one of the clearest examples yet.” It would seem to me that the teachers’ motives for striking are, at least in part, for the benefit of the students. One article claims that the teachers are not just striking for higher pay, but also for education reform that makes sense; at the same time, another article quotes Emanuel as saying that topics like class size are simply not the issue.

    Two questions:
    1) What is the strike really about? As Professor Leonard pointed out, both sides are framing the argument in their favor. Who’s best interests are really at stake here?
    2) If it really is about true education reform, will this kind of strike really give the teachers (or the students and their parents, for that matter) what they are looking for? The third article mentions that only six of the 49 articles in the contract have been signed off. What are the stipulations of those articles? What have education strikes brought us in terms of progress so far?

    @kennerlyroper – I really like that TED talk. The education revolution is as important a revolution as any.,0,4057997.story

  5. While I think that it is important to respect and value teachers for their work in society, I also think that public system needs to go through a weeding out process. There are many teachers that are hard working, love teaching, and work hard for their students, on the other hand there are many teachers that care little about their students educations and see their job as merely a way to pay the bills. I think the teachers unions work both for and against good teachers. Unions protect good teachers from being unjustly fired, they also protect bad teachers from being justly fired. Tenure can be a scary word. An adequate example would be my A.P. chemistry teacher in high school, a nice enough man who: never lectured about the subject material, never graded homework because “it was too much work,” and surfed the internet and chatted on facebook during class. Despite several complaints made by parents and students, was any disciplinary action taken? No, because he had tenure. Cracking down on testing results may not be the best way to weed out good teachers from bad teachers, but it is a starting point. Standardized testing is generally a base level test that grades students on basic skills that they will need for everyday life. Standardized testing doesn’t ask a student to know about derivatives or write novels. They simply require that students know basics for their grade level. If a majority of a 2nd grade class does not know subtraction or addition, isn’t that in part the teachers fault?

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