Friday, September 28, 2012

Chicago teachers strike underscores shift among Democrats

Michelle Rhee was chancellor of the D.C. public schools from 2007 to 2010. She is founder and chief executive of StudentsFirst, a national nonprofit education advocacy group based in Sacramento.
I'm a Democrat because I believe in the party’s basic principles, particularly the idea that we have to look after one another and stand up for those who need help. I believe in fighting for the civil rights of all Americans, especially children and those facing injustices. That’s why I was heartened to see Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel advocating for the rights of kids in his standoff with the Chicago Teachers Union. Although his stance made perfect sense to me, it surprised many political observers. After all, Emanuel is a favorite within the Democratic Party, and teachers unions have long been allied with the party.
Emanuel went head to head with the union to get a better contract for the city’s schoolchildren. In the process, he underscored a transformation in the Democratic Party. Increasingly, those who staunchly side with unions at any cost appear to be in the minority, while more Democrats are saying we have to look at education differently.
It’s no longer acceptable to ignore the inequities and overall shortcomings of our public education system. Consider that only about half of black and Hispanic students earn high school diplomas with their peers, compared with three-fourths of whites, and that the academic achievement gap between poor students and their wealthier peers is widening. When kids do make it to college, roughly a third need remedial work because they weren’t adequately prepared by the K-12 system. The United States is also falling far behind our global competitors in math and science.
At the heart of the debate was a focus on teacher quality. We know that great teachers can have a tremendous impact. Yet we don’t have policies in place to ensure that all children are taught by great teachers. That’s why the mayor pushed for an evaluation system that would help determine who is excelling, who needs help and who may be better off in another profession. I’m so glad that, for the first time in Chicago, teacher evaluations will at least consider whether students are learning over the course of the year. But I do wish the union hadn’t won some key concessions.

Read more HERE.

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