As the strike in Chicago enters its second day there is a lot of uncertainty but here are some early takeaways events in Chicago should probably remind us of:
Seriously, it’s not all about the kids. Saying it’s ‘all about the kids’ is education’s version of a routinized benediction. You hear it all the time – and often just preceding or just after some decision that’s actually not that good for kids. The system is more or less still set up for the benefit of adults – and that’s not just teachers unions, it’s management, vendors, and so forth, too. In this case, if the kids really mattered most then almost 400K of them wouldn’t be without places to go today because the adults charged with teaching them decided to strike.
This is a clash of values. This Ed Trust statement calls out the teachers union for low-balling expectations for kids. It’s a good illustration of how underneath the posturing and rhetoric and the substantive disagreements Chicago is really about what kind of school system they city is going to have – the old kind, which was a quasi-jobs program or the new type where performance and execution matter most. In that way the strike is an important national moment.
And it has to be more public. If you’re going to put almost 400K kids on the street, probably good to clearly articulate the exact reasons why in public beforehand. As I wrote yesterday in TIME, bargaining in public is not a panacea to all this but there really isn’t a downside except that it makes things a little harder for the adults.
It’s all about more collaboration! It’s all about teacher voice! Enough said.
Like in surfing, locals rule. We have all these national debate, No Child Left Behind, Common Core, vouchers, and so on, and they matter. But Chicago should remind us that this is still a pretty decentralized system and a lot of what matters most to what happens in schools is a state or local matter.
New Haven or New Orleans [insert favorite initiative here] is a national model. The next time you hear someone saying that X is a national model bear in mind that Chicago is the country’s third largest school system. Anything can work somewhere (I happen to like what’s happening in New Haven and the New Orleans story is pretty remarkable,) but until ideas get widespread traction let’s go easy on declaring things models.
This is [not] easy! From all sides of the debate there is often a thinly veiled assumption that if you just did X (listen to teachers more, do what reformers want, stop all this focus on evaluation, get rid of charters, etc…) this is all pretty easy. It’s not. These are complicated issues in a $650 billion (nationally) system in transition and facing substantial generational tensions. If the past 36 hours teach us anything it should be that.