Chicago Educational Legislation an Escape Route New Educational Plan a Sly Dodge Around Budget Cuts

Bertrand Johnson, Contributing Writer

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The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) strike was marked by rampant accusations of dishonesty and selfishness from both the mayor’s office and union leadership.

This walkout, the first of its kind in Chicago in 25 years, was the latest battle in the ongoing engagement between politicians and public employees over the use of dwindling public budgets.

Among Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s proposed education “reforms” was a proposal to evaluate teachers based on students’ performance on standardized tests, along with a proposal to pay teachers based on merit.

Taken to their logical extremes, these regulations could be seen as an effort to decrease pay for educators working in places with traditionally low standardized testing scores, such as inner-city areas. However, studies show that Socio-Economic Status (SES) is the leading predictor of standardized test scores. Add the threat of school closures and it seems hardly surprising that teachers would demand some changes to Emanuel’s plans.

The worst part of this circus is that teachers would not be the only ones to fall victim to municipal penny-pinching; students would be forced to commute longer and study in more crowded classrooms if these plans go through.

Meanwhile their teachers, now paid on commission, would be forced to emphasize mind-numbing test materials guaranteed to make any student lose interest in learning for its own sake. Not only would quality suffer, but so would motivation.

At a time when budgets are shrinking for education, politicians are turning to the flawed quantification of success measured by a numerical score. When they’re not too busy calling teachers lazy and entitled, that is. Using the grades the students earned on the SAT, STAR or some other clever acronym, politicians like Emanuel can handily categorize the performance of educators. These teachers become the scapegoats for lackluster results. This is the same as refusing to give firefighters water, then blaming them when a building burns down and calling them lazy.

Although the war of attrition between the CTU and Mayor Emanuel took on an air of personal insult, especially following the mayor’s request for an injunction against the strikers on the grounds that their walkout was illegal, it was only one of many struggles over public education budgets.

With cuts in state funding causing tuitions at public universities to creep ever higher, choking off more and more students’ access to degrees like kudzu vines, it appears that those in charge of public spending have abandoned education at all levels.

While Mayor Emanuel has couched his recent proposals as a personal crusade for reform, I have to disagree with his word choice. His plans, which allow for adjustments in teachers’ wages and fewer jobs to pay for, would give him room to weasel out of denying funding to other areas of the budget while at the same time avoiding official cuts to education spending.

This is an escape plan, not a crusade and it uses thousands of faculty and students as human shields for light-hearted legislators, their shoulders unburdened with moral principles or accountability to their constituents.

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