Obama education agenda provokes controversy

With the presidential elections just around the corner, a recent strike by some 26,000 teachers in America’s third-largest school district of Chicago could have proved awkward for President Obama. After all, his Democratic party depends on teachers to get the vote out when it really matters.

The American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association boast a combined membership of 4.5 million. And Democratic candidates apparently depend on teachers to help fly the party flag and secure votes for them at election time.

Which is why a seven-day strike in September in Obama’s political heartland of Chicago could have proved rather awkward; upwards of 26,000 teachers went on strike for the first time since 1987 over teacher evaluations and job security.

‘Honest compromise’

Fortunately an “honest compromise” was finally reached, which, according to the BBC, “includes pay rises and concessions on teacher evaluations and job security”. It will now go to a full union vote.

The Guardian reported that “the main sticking points in the agreement were using test scores as a major component of teacher evaluation and balancing the right of teachers who are fired after school closings to be rehired against the right of principals to pick their own staff. The two sides reached a compromise on evaluation and agreed that teachers with good evaluations would be rehired. The latter point was of particular concern because Chicago is about to embark on another round of school closures in the city’s mostly black and latino areas that will throw thousands of teachers out of work”.

‘Growing obsession with high-stakes testing’

Speaking after the “tentative agreement” and decision to return to school, American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten said:

“By standing up for what teachers need to teach and students need to learn, Chicago’s teachers and parents sparked a national conversation about how we make every public school a school where parents want to send their kids and teachers want to teach. The issues raised by Chicago’s educators and parents resonate across this nation because they are being felt by teachers, students and parents everywhere. These issues include endless budget cuts that have eliminated art, music, gym and other critical subjects from our public schools; a growing obsession with high-stakes testing, denying kids the rich learning experiences they need; closing down rather than fixing neighbourhood schools, which destabilises neighbourhoods; and concentrated poverty that forces schools to take on more in the face of dwindling resources. With all of this, teachers continue to be denied the tools and conditions they need to do their jobs and then are blamed for every problem facing our schools.

Some of these issues sound rather familiar – and resonate far beyond America.

Read more about Obama’s “overhaul of public education”, as the US presidential election in November draws ever closer, in The Washington Post.

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