by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
The latest Bloomberg Businessweek offers these observations about the Chicago teachers’ strike:
Two months before the presidential election, the strike presents the incongruous sight of Emanuel, Barack Obama’s former chief of staff and one of the leaders of his reelection effort, in the middle of a fight that the White House surely wants to go away immediately. The Obama administration and its education secretary, Arne Duncan, the former head of Chicago’s public school system, have refrained from taking sides in the battle, loath to alienate either education reformers—among whose ranks are many of the president’s most generous Wall Street donors—or the teachers’ unions, with their legions of politically engaged, traditionally Democratic supporters.
Yet Emanuel’s willingness to provoke a showdown with the unions reflects deeper frustration with an education establishment that even Democrats believe has become an impediment to reform. The union leaders’ intransigence comes off as tone-deaf at a time when public finances are strained to the breaking point, unemployment remains high, and the performance of U.S. students, as compared with students in the rest of the wealthy world, is still dismal. The public school system is one of the last strongholds for organized labor, which has seen its power dwindle across virtually every other sector of the American economy. For the unions, the battle in Chicago may be less about tenure or testing or salaries than about survival.
It’s shocking — shocking! — to consider that a public-sector teachers’ union might stand in the way of necessary reform.