The editors of Bloomberg react to the situation with the Chicago Public Schools:
Although a strike by the Chicago Teachers Union thankfully ended this week, the damage has been done. The unlawful walkout exposed an indifference not just to science but to the emotional and academic well-being of more than 340,000 schoolchildren. It also showed why President Joe Biden and other Democratic leaders need to break the grip of teachers unions over the country’s public schools — or risk irreversible damage to the students who can afford it least.
Not to mention the political harm done to the coalition that has buoyed Chicago’s Democratic Party for years. They continue:
The refusal of Chicago’s teachers to show up to classrooms had forced the city to close all public schools for four days, until a deal was reached on Monday. Union leaders had demanded that the district revert to virtual learning until Jan. 18, and to close all schools again if Covid cases didn’t subside. Mayor Lori Lightfoot had offered to meet some union demands, but rightly refused to bend on calls for schools to shut down altogether if Covid cases exceeded a certain benchmark, pointing out that kids were safer in schools than out of them. Although full details won’t be known until the union’s full membership votes on the deal later this week, early reports suggest the mayor has agreed to set metrics that would trigger a return to remote learning for individual schools.
The agreement reached seemed prudent to me. Setting metrics and limiting shutdowns to individual schools rather than districtwide is something that should have been done long ago. And, as I have pointed out since the start of the pandemic, the CPS serves multiple constituencies of which the teachers are one. The editors are worried that any metrics will prove problematic:
If true, this could prove unwise. Given the transmissibility of the omicron variant, it’s inevitable that Covid cases will rise as schools reopen. But the health risk the variant poses to children is far outweighed by the proven cognitive and emotional harm caused by remote learning. Nor would a lack of tests justify systemwide closures. Even if tests are unavailable for all students, the risks of in-person learning can be diminished through vaccination, grouping students in social pods, and requiring masks indoors. Under the guise of promoting the safety of students, union leaders had demanded working conditions that far exceed what’s necessary for them to do their jobs safely.
Lightfoot had warned that teachers who didn’t return to the classroom would be docked pay and face possible termination. The city also filed a legal complaint against the union for illegal labor practices. Biden should’ve stood unequivocally with the mayor in this dispute — and with Chicago’s students, who’ve already suffered far too many interruptions in recent years due to labor disputes.
Many including me wondered if Mayor Lightfoot would actually make good on her threats. Luckily for her she has been spared from being forced to do so. The editors turn to the national implications:
In the short term, Biden’s influence is largely limited to the bully pulpit. He can, however, do more to prevent unions in other districts from attempting to follow the CTU’s lead. At a minimum, federal education funds should be conditioned on how well school districts maintain in-person instruction — something Congress failed to do in last year’s $1.9 trillion Covid relief bill.
Over the longer term, curbing the power of teachers unions will require deeper reforms. The administration should push states to offer alternative forms of teacher certification, which would broaden the teaching labor pool and bring new talent into the profession. Districts should be encouraged to tie teachers’ pay to their performance — including how much time they spend in the classroom — rather than seniority.
Weak tea in my view. At the very least public employees’ unions should be banned from making political contributions, whether to candidates, parties, or causes. The status quo is an inherently corrupt arrangement in which tax dollars are being recycled into political contributions.
I completely support the right of teachers to organize and have labor representation. But that representation should not extend to being political actors.