After teachers strike, doubts about implications

The Associated Press

CHICAGO — Mayor Rahm Emanuel secured an extension of Chicago’s school day and empowered principals to hire the teachers they want. Teachers were able to soften a new evaluation process and win some job protections.

As students returned to the classroom Wednesday following a seven-day teachers strike, both sides found reasons to celebrate victory. But for all the rhetoric, the wider effects of the walkout were difficult to gauge, and experts said the walkout might not resonate far beyond Chicago, a union-built city where organized labor still wields considerable power.

“I think a lot of what went on to a certain extent is peculiar to Chicago,” said Martin Malin, director of the Institute for Law and the Workplace at the Kent College of Law in Chicago.

A report that characterized the relationship between the teachers union and Emanuel as “toxic” was on point, Malin said. Now that a deal has been reached, the challenge for both parties “is to seize that and work on really transforming the relationship.”

Everyone involved in the dispute emerged with an achievement to trumpet: Teachers said the strike sparked an important national conversation about school reform. Union activists said it provided inspiration for public employee unions that have lost ground nationally. And Emanuel declared it a boon for students trapped in failing schools.

American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten said the strike showed that teachers want a voice in improving schools rather than shouldering the blame for those that are failing.

“The bottom line isww… you had teachers standing up for what they need to teach and what students need to learn,” Weingarten said.

But in lots of other places, the circumstances that led to Chicago’s walkout don’t apply. For one thing, many states forbid strikes by teachers and other public-employee unions, Malin said.

Thomas Hatch, a professor at Columbia University’s Teachers College, said the strike focused attention on new teacher evaluations and fears of closing neighborhood schools. But he agreed that some factors, such as the personalities involved, are unlikely to affect other districts.

 Printed on Thursday, September 20, 2012 as: Settlement reached for Chicago Teachers