By Cheryl S. Williams, Learning First Alliance

It seems everyone has an opinion about the teacher strike currently taking place in Chicago.  I do too, but it’s not about who’s to blame.  There’s plenty of that to go around.  What I do know is that regardless of how this strike ends, nobody will have won:

  • Students will have missed valuable learning time
  • Teachers and their union will be vilified for selfishness
  • The mayor and school board’s judgment will be suspect
  • Parents will be disappointed and frazzled with child care challenges
  • The President’s “reform” agenda will be questioned; and
  • The citizens of Chicago will be embarrassed and dismayed for their city.

While I have followed the events as they’ve unfolded in Chicago between the mayor, the school board he appointed, and the teachers’ union, the facts I’m able to glean from public sources only raise questions in my mind as to what’s really going on.  I do know that Chicago Public Schools (CPS) are under-resourced and that teachers feel they are not respected as professionals.  I do assume that the school board, most of whom were appointed last year by the newly elected mayor, Rahm Emanuel, is interested in providing leadership that results in a strong public education for all of Chicago’s students.  And I do know that the Chicago Public Schools, like many public school districts, are strapped for funds and running a deficit budget.

All of these facts are pretty common in public school districts across the nation, especially those in urban communities.  How is it, then that under those same circumstances in districts across the country, the teachers have not walked out?  What pushes professionals who devote their time and energy to working with some of the most disadvantaged students every single day (80% of CPS students are eligible for free or reduced lunch) to walk out of those classrooms?  What, finally, pushed this to crisis phase where nobody, and I mean nobody, will “win”?

The Teachers’ Union Strike in Chicago should bring pause to all of us who work in and care about the health and success of public schooling.  Thoughtful, calm, dedicated people should delve deeply in the causes of this crisis to look for lessons we can all learn from.  My fear is that the crisis in Chicago is the proverbial “canary in the coal mine” in education, and that what has so angered the professional educators in Chicago is simmering below the service in many other areas.  If we don’t learn from the events unfolding in CPS, we’re doomed to repeating them in other districts across the country.  If that happens, we’ll all suffer and no new charter school or private industry initiative will suffice.  Our public education system and our young people deserve better.

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