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Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is peeved at his city’s teachers’ union for calling a strike. “I am disappointed that we have come to this point given that even all the other parties acknowledged how close we are, because this is a strike of choice," Emanuel said. "Because of how close we are, it is a strike that is unnecessary."
The teachers’ strike comes as Emanuel was trying to spend some time raising money for his former boss, President Obama. The strike in the president’s home base has also given Republicans some political ammunition in light of the close ties of teachers’ unions to the Democratic Party.
In a statement Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney slammed the strike, President Obama and the actions of teachers’ unions:
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 White House is trying to avoid taking sides in labor dispute, expressing concern for those affected by the strike and the hope that it will be resolved quickly.
UPDATE: Yahoo! News notes that on the issue at the crux of the strike — teacher evaluations — the Obama administration is actually supportive of the type of approach to which the teachers’ union is objecting:
While Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the local teachers’ union disagree on a long list of issues, including planned pay raises and sick day accrual, Emanuel said in a press conference Monday afternoon that the evaluation is the main obstacle to agreement. The new system would eventually use students’ standardized test scores as 40 percent of a teacher’s yearly evaluation. Teachers who don’t improve their students’ test scores would be fired.
Many Democrats, including Emanuel’s former boss President Barack Obama, embrace this test-based way of judging educators. The president’s "Race to the Top" federal program awarded money to states that agreed to rate teachers this way and institute other reforms, like encouraging the creation of more independent charter schools. As of last October, teachers can be dismissed in 14 states based on their students’ test scores.
Union supporters argue that evaluating teachers using tests can be tricky, and that this "value-added" measurement can be volatile and inaccurate. Additionally, teachers who have a high proportion of poor students may have a harder time lifting their kids’ scores than teachers who work in affluent districts. (About 80 percent of Chicago students qualify for free or reduced federal lunches.) As many as 6,000 teachers would wrongly lose their jobs under the system, says Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) President Karen Lewis. "Evaluate us on what we do, not the lives of our children we do not control," she said while announcing the strike, according to Reuters. But reformers counter that teachers should be responsible for helping their students score better on tests, and that current evaluation systems provide no way for ineffective teachers to be identified or removed from classrooms.