The grand themes of the current Chicago teacher’s strike opera are broadly similar to other union-agitated public work stoppages. The union makes demands (more money, etc.) the city/company balks (“We can’t afford that!”) and then makes overly generous counteroffers that the union still manages to find repugnant.
Ad infinitum, ad nauseum.
However, this particular teachers’ strike has a particularly vile motif lurking beneath its the already dis-harmonic melodies. The unionized teachers of Chicago don’t want to be held accountable for their student’s academic performance (as measured by standardized tests), because, they claim, teachers of inner-city youth are often tasked with educating the products of dysfunctional or non-existent family lives, crushing poverty, and violence-steeped neighborhood cultures.
Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis put it best when she pleaded on behalf of her members, “Evaluate us on what we do, not the lives of our children we do not control.” Or as she put it on September 9:
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.
How execrable is this excuse? Let us count the ways:
1) It forgives poor student performance by assuming that they can’t do any better due to forces beyond their control. Bull. There was once a dirt-poor young man who came from an abusive home in a violent culture who nonetheless managed to become an educated lawyer and, eventually, President of the United States. Or, if you prefer a more contemporary counter-example, from the Chicago Tribune:
A 2011 federal study showed impoverished inner-city kids in Boston, New York, Houston and other metro areas outperforming Chicago elementary students in math and science. The kids all shared similar backgrounds. Teachers in those other cities’ classrooms obviously didn’t think their students couldn’t learn.
2) It forgives poor teacher performance by excusing poor student performance due to circumstances beyond their control. See how convenient this is for teachers? If students can’t be expected to learn because of where they come from, then the teachers can’t be expected to teach! And teach they don’t, if the statistics on student achievement in Chicago Public Schools are even partly true.
The truly astounding thing about this argument is that it constitutes a veritable reducto-ad-unnecessarium for the very existence of the Chicago public teaching establishment. They are in essence openly professing their impotence as instructors, openly admitting the utter hopelessness of their cause. They are saying, basically, “We are nothing but babysitters. But we deserve more money.” Yes, they think they deserve more money, even though they already make an average annual salary of over $70K. That’s a lot of money for babysitting. But I guess it’s worth it if they keep the kids out of trouble.