By Dr. J. Robert McClure, President & CEO of The James Madison Institute
Posted September 12, 2012
The public’s reaction to the Chicago teacher’s strike, which has shut down the nation’s third-largest school district, has included the calumny that these unionized teachers don’t care about kids. Nothing could be further from the truth. Just consider the lengths to which they go on behalf of their own children. Indeed, a 2004 Fordham Foundation survey demonstrated how much they care: Back then, 38.7 percent of Chicago’s public school teachers – and probably more now — sent their own children to private schools.Moreover, still other Chicago public school teachers now manage to avoid having to send their own children to the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) by virtue of living in affluent Chicago suburbs such as Oak Park, Evanston, and Waukegan. Unfortunately, there’s no data to indicate how many of Chicago’s teachers, if any, home-school their own kids or sign them up for an on-line school to avoid placing them in the school district where they teach.Of course, how they can afford to make these choices – private schooling or suburban living – is no mystery: The CPS teachers’ average pay, $76,000, is about three times the income of most of the families whose children attend Chicago’s public schools. No wonder the union says they need a 20 percent raise!Likewise, why they’d make such choices – private schooling or suburban living – is no mystery either. As Charles Lane reported in the Washington Post, in a school district whose operating costs – mostly salaries — are approximately $14,000 per pupil, only 60 percent of the students manage to graduate from high school and “fewer than 8 percent of the 11th-graders met all four college readiness benchmarks in 2011.”So let’s be clear: There are some kids whom Chicago’s unionized teachers deeply care about: their own–and that is normal. As for the children they teach, why not extend to their families the same choices these teachers have?Indeed, this strike, which is causing serious problems for kids and their parents – is not about the students’ interests. Rather, its goal is for union bosses to extort more money from taxpayers for a school district where teachers’ salaries and benefits – including generous pensions – are far above the national norms and already have the school district operating in the red. But that’s not the only purpose of the strike. It also has to do with teachers resisting efforts by Chicago Democratic Mayor Rahm Emanuel and others to bring about some modicum of accountability under which they’d be evaluated based on what their students learn or, perhaps, do not learn.Alas, the conflict in Chicago differs only in degree from the scenario re-enacted in virtually every U.S. school district, including many in Florida. It’s no wonder that America’s public school students are faring so poorly on tests comparing their performance with that of their counterparts in other developed countries. Teachers unions in America, for the most part, oppose extending choice and accountability to all families.Indeed, this was the topic of one of the best-received speeches during the recent political conventions. Former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice enthralled the crowd in Tampa two weeks ago – and a nationwide TV audience – with her warning about our nation’s lagging educational system and the threat this poses to our national security.Juxtaposed against the selfish clamor of Chicago’s teachers union, Ms. Rice’s speech is a chilling reminder of what is at stake in the ongoing national debate about school reform and whether America’s public schools will put the interests of the children and the nation first or continue to kowtow to the teachers unions.