Monday, September 17, 2012

Juan Gonzalez: Chicago Teachers Union leader Karen Lewis pushed back — and won

Until this week, no one — not even American Federation of Teachers chief Randi Weingarten — had found a way to turn back the tide of teacher bashing. Then the feisty firebrand Lewis burst on the scene.
Chicago Teachers Union head Karen Lewis has emerged as the new champion for millions of frustrated public school teachers.

Feisty firebrand has emerged as new champion for millions of public school teachers.  

Great piece by Juan Gonzalez.... except for tossing all the credit at Karen Lewis. She will be the first to tell you she is the out front person for a group, CORE, with a deep bench. Just like in the Occupy movement, the press tries to focus on a key person, as if they are the ones to make it happen all by themselves and they get frustrated when they can't pin down the leadership. 

Every Chicago teacher activist I've met is well-informed on a wide range of issues. It takes an educated membership before they can be organized and then mobilized. CORE did not neglect that crucial aspect and I would issue a warning to other groups around the nation looking to follow in CORE's footsteps to take heed of the education aspect.


Monday, September 17, 2012, 6:00 AM

 Karen Lewis
Karen Lewis, who last week led 29,000 Chicago teachers on a school strike heard across the nation, has suddenly emerged as the new champion for millions of frustrated public school teachers.

Many of those teachers are sick and tired of being made into scapegoats by politicians and corporate honchos who never spent a single day in front of a classroom.

They are fed up with overcrowded classrooms in rundown buildings, with bureaucrats who keep hiring high-paid consultants despite huge budget deficits, with new state laws that tie teacher evaluation to their students’ test scores, with the constant closing of neighborhood schools and the stampede to charter schools.

But most of all, they are furious at the lack of respect for them and their profession.

Until this week, no one — not even American Federation of Teachers chief Randi Weingarten — had found a way to turn back the tide of teacher bashing.

Then the feisty firebrand Lewis burst on the scene.

For a week, she went toe-to-toe against Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the former Obama White House chief-of-staff known for his short fuse, foul mouth and take-no-prisoners style.

And by any measure, Lewis came come out a winner.

The preliminary deal that emerged over the weekend — once it’s approved by the rank and file this week — will restore respect for teachers nationwide.

Lewis came out of nowhere in 2010, after two decades as a top high school teacher, to lead an insurgent group that swept out the old Chicago Teachers Union leaders.

That old leadership had meekly gone along for nearly a decade with the agenda of Chicago’s former public schools chief, Arne Duncan.

And once Duncan went to Washington as President Obama’s Secretary of Education, his Chicago agenda became Obama’s Race to the Top. Duncan used federal aid to states for more closures of low-performing schools, teacher layoffs, merit pay raises, charter schools, and more standardized tests.

It’s the same agenda our own Mayor Bloomberg, a handful of billionaire philanthropists and many Republican leaders across America have been pursuing.

Lewis and her insurgent group vowed to challenge these so-called reforms head on. Once in command, she forged a close alliance with several Chicago parent groups whose members were equally furious at being excluded from educational decision-making.

Meanwhile, Mayor Emanuel showed Lewis’ members complete disdain. He rescinded a 4% pay raise in the existing union contract. He sought to have 40% of teacher evaluations based on their students’ test scores. And he vowed to close more schools without offering laid-off teachers a chance to be rehired.

Little wonder that Lewis won a huge mandate from her members for their first strike in 25 years.

Once the walkout began, Emanuel was forced to back down on some major items. He gave up his demand for merit pay. He agreed that least 50% of laid off teachers would be rehired when new positions became available, and to allow teachers to “follow their students” when schools closed.
Pupil test scores will still count for 30% of a teacher’s evaluations, but teachers will have the right to appeal those evaluations.

Lewis even won new “anti-bullying” provisions against principals and supervisors, and new faculty diversity commitments to stem Chicago’s disproportionate firings of black teachers in recent years.

The contract, moreover, calls for the school district to immediately hire more than 500 art, music, foreign language and gym teachers — welcome news to parents.

Which is why wherever public school teachers gathered last week, the strike in Chicago was the subject of conversation.

Finally, a group of teachers had stood up back against all that bashing.

Monty Neill 

The Chicago Teachers strike catalyzed criticism of high-stakes testing, generating hundreds of good news stories and opinion columns.  Here's a selection of the best, including several written by FairTest or quoting us.

Chicago Teachers Say "No" to High-Stakes Testing

Chicago Strike Exposes Key Issues

Experience Shows High Stakes Testing Has Been a Failure

Can Great Teaching Overcome Poverty?

Test Scores Are Worst Way to Evaluate Teachers

Testing Our Way to Better Education Doesn't Work

"Value-Added" Teacher Assessment in Practice

Houston Schools Super Speaks Out Against Test-Driven Education

Opt-Out Movement Gains Steam

"Testing as Child Abuse" Suits Should Fill U.S. Courts

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Will Karen Lewis become a viable candidate to challenge Weingarten for AFT Pres?