Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel made a revealing remark in the to and fro with Mitt Romney, who offered his support for the embattled mayor in the teachers’ strike:
"While I appreciate Mitt Romney's statement, on behalf of the kids and the parents of the city of Chicago, if he wants to help, he can then determine that when it comes to his tax cuts, he will never cut the Department of Education," Emanuel said.
In praising Obama, Emanuel argued that the president "has done one of the most important things with [the Education Department program] Race to the Top to make sure we have accountability in our system and the best qualified teachers in our schools, and that's exactly what we're trying to do here."
So Rahm Emanuel thinks that funding the Department of Education, which was established by President Jimmy Carter and has done nothing to halt the precipitous decline of American public schools, is essential to solving the nation’s educational woes.
It is true that one of the issues is teacher evaluations, which the DOE has proposed:
Unions objected to parts of [President Obama’s] Race to the Top initiative, which offered states more federal money for education if they agreed to link teacher evaluations to student test scores and enable wider use of charter schools. With the November presidential election approaching, Mr. Obama has talked about the need to hire more teachers, including many who lost jobs in budget cuts.
A better way to expose children to good teaching is to give vouchers that their parents can use to send them to a school of their choice—a school that isn’t dependent on dicta from the DOE. Vouchers set up competition for public schools, and competition is far more likely to improve teacher performance than tests from Washington.
The striking teachers really want to preserve a monopoly over education. This monopoly would be broken with vouchers.
The second issue is pay: with an average salary of $76,000 a year, Chicago's unevaluated teachers are doing pretty well. Here is the AP summary of the salary issue:
SALARY and BENEFITS: The school district has offered a 16 percent raise over four years — double an 8 percent offer made earlier — as well as "modified step increases" that it says reward experience and provide "better incentives for mid-career teachers" to keep them from leaving. The district also wants to do away with the ability of teachers to bank sick days but is offering short-term disability, including paid maternity leave. With an average salary of $76,000, Chicago teachers are among the highest-paid in the nation, according to the National Council on Teacher Quality.
Some estimates put the median Chicago salary at about $20,000 less, so the taxpayers have been quite generous (though perhaps not voluntarily!) to the teachers. I'd certainly want to evaluate an employee I was paying that kind of money! No matter what Mr. Emanuel thinks, the crisis in education is not about money.
There is also the issue of job security:
Worried about dozens of schools that could be closed in the next few years, the union has pushed for a policy to recall laid-off teachers when jobs open up anywhere in the district. The district says that could force principals to hire teachers they don't believe are qualified. Instead, it has said that if a school closes, teachers would have the first right to jobs that match their qualifications at the schools that absorb the children from the closed school. It also offered to put them in a reassigned teacher pool for five months or give them a three-month severance package.
Look, I hate to hear about anybody losing a job. Most Americans, however, at some point in their lives lose a job. It's no fun, but it happens, and people in the past have survived (things are harder now in the lousy economy). Teachers should not be any more immune to job loss than the taxpayers who employ them. It seems that Rahm Emmanuel is getting a taste of how public unions operate.
Maybe he should give Wisconsin's Republican Governor Scott Walker, who took on the unions and lived to tell the tale, a call for a bonding session?