Mitt Romney is clearly trying to pick a fight over the Chicago Teachers Union strike, and force Barack Obama into making a statement on the issue that will wedge him between his base’s beliefs and his policy preferences, which in this case stand at odds with one another.
Here’s Romney’s short statement:
I am disappointed by the decision of the Chicago Teachers Union to turn its back on not only a city negotiating in good faith but also the hundreds of thousands of children relying on the city’s public schools to provide them a safe place to receive a strong education. Teachers unions have too often made plain that their interests conflict with those of our children, and today we are seeing one of the clearest examples yet. President Obama has chosen his side in this fight, sending his Vice President last year to assure the nation’s largest teachers union that ‘you should have no doubt about my affection for you and the President’s commitment to you.’ I choose to side with the parents and students depending on public schools to give them the skills to succeed, and my plan for education reform will do exactly that.
The problem with this statement is that the preferences of the teachers and the children are in concert. Larger class sizes in schools without air conditioning have led to classes being taught in 96-degree heat. The 20% longer school day and increased class size and workload on teachers, without renumeration (the 16% proposed increase over four years is less than the 20% increase in class time, especially when you account for inflation), does not serve teachers or students who get less one-on-one face time and dedicated learning opportunities. And because of the revamped teacher evaluation system, based largely on standardized testing, the mostly minority students in Chicago will get taught toward a test biased against them and unable to provide them with the skills needed to survive in a 21st-century job market. Teacher X explains this pretty well with numerous examples, and adds:
And at that moment, I am willing to sacrifice an awful lot to protect the students I serve every day. I am not hurting our kids by striking, I’m striking to restore some semblance of reasonable care for students to this system. I’m doing to tell you, “No, YOU are the one hurting our children, and you need to STOP because what you are doing is wrong, and you are robbing students of their educational opportunities.
I ask anyone who does remotely care about the kids we teach and learn from and triumph and cheer and cry and grow with., to stand with us and fight for a better future for our kids.
The more important part of this is Romney trying to pick a fight with the President, by putting him squarely on the side of teachers unions, and drawing a false contrast where Romney sides with “parents and students.” He cites a speech given by Vice President Biden at the American Federation of Teachers conference. However, it’s completely unclear where President Obama, were he to weigh in on the CTU strike, would come down. His former chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, is on the side opposite the union. His DNC convention featured a screening of the right-wing, anti-union film “Won’t Back Down.” His Education Secretary, Arne Duncan, used to be the head of the Chicago Public Schools, and is seen as a leading reformer. His education policy has consistently favored the kind of reform policies that the unions in this case are trying to stop, including charter schools, teacher evaluations based on student testing (though in recent years he has rejected “teaching to the test), longer school days and turnarounds for “failing” schools.
Romney wants to bait Obama into a response to change the subject on an election slipping away from him. He figures that someone will get angered no matter how Obama chooses to respond, seeing as the union/reform split is a contentious one inside the Democratic coalition.
And here I have to agree on the narrow point that I would like a response from the President. I would like to know exactly where he stands on the right to strike, on the idea of teachers being paid commensurate with their time in the classroom, on class sizes and teaching to the test and funneling money meant for public schools into charters. I think it would be quite illuminating.
UPDATE: The alleged 16% increase in pay over four years offered by the Chicago Public Schools (or 19% if you believe ABC’s Terry Moran) is actually nowhere near a 16% increase.