Brief note on CTU strike

Unfortunately, I’ve got a ton of stuff to do this week, or I’d write a longer note on the Chicago strike. But please read Dana Goldstein’s blog entry today, which has a useful thumbnail history of teachers unions. A few notes:

1. Politics of public-employee unions. While Matthew Yglesias is correct that the politics of public-employee unions is different in some ways from the politics of private-employee unions, many of the “you’re hurting the kids!” argument against striking teachers could be used to argue against strikes by private-hospital nurses, by coal miners, etc. — and in fact that argument is the basis of the Taft-Hartley Act’s provisions authorizing presidential intervention in private-employee strikes.

2. The emotional blackmail approach of CTU opponents. In my undergraduate class yesterday, we had a long discussion about a range of issues. In terms of the immediate, direct effects of closed schools, I explained how opponents of teachers’ strikes used that argument, and also that if Karen Lewis had been in the room, she’d explain that in her view is that a few days of a strike would be less harmful than agreeing to contract provisions (or agreeing not to insert other provisions) that would harm students far more in the long term. That’s a policy argument, and a “you’re hurting the kids!” emotional argument is not a legitimate trump card.

3. The messiness of the policy-bargaining nexus. Collective bargaining is like all negotiation–an agreement is a practical solution to the needs of both sides. I’ve seen plenty of collective bargaining agreements I would not impose if I had been dictating events, and that’s just life in this world; in each case, the two sides committed to the arrangement. The flip side is that impasse in bargaining is also messy and imperfect. I’m not a confidante of anybody in CTU, but there is a legitimate interest in making sure that teacher evaluation isn’t the type of ill-considered schemes we have here in Florida or exist elsewhere. Illinois state law has a range of weights for test-score measures, and the Chicago school board is trying to push for and beyond the nutty end of the range. I’m one of the folks who is not opposed to including student outcomes in teacher evaluations, but weights of 40%, 50%, or more are unworkable. Same with the issue of recall rights: there are a number of highly-imperfect-but-workable possibilities that give principals some control over accepting recalled teachers but is not absolute. But I’m not in the room, and any resolution of these and other issues are going to be messy.

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