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.
- 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.
- Issues: “benefits, raises based on experience level, the lack of air-conditioning in classrooms and training days for teachers.”
- Framing: City – “a Strike of Choice”, Teachers: “Wrong for our Children”
- 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 Emanuel for an aggressive push to extend the length of the school day and for a promised raise that was later rescinded.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.
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.
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.