The closely-watched battle between Chicago’s teachers and Mayor Rahm Emanuel helped to illuminate some of the problems confronting urban education. But even though the strike is over, the war between education reformers and urban teachers goes on, says NY Times columnist Joe Nocera.
Teacher evaluations linked to standardized tests and charter schools remain contentious issues, Nocera says in a recent article. But maybe more troubling is what he calls the poisonous atmosphere growing in many America’s urban schools.
Alienated labor is never a good thing, says Nocera. And how can such toxic environments not impact what happens in the nation’s classrooms?
If we want to improve student outcomes in urban schools, we’ve got to get past blaming teachers and bashing unions. And that means recognizing that teacher accountability is necessary, and that tenure shouldn’t be handed out like candy.
But it also means that we can’t continue to minimize the impact poverty has on so many urban students. In the private sector, we have a low tolerance for employees that come to work with emotional problems, little or no sleep, and unable to focus because this would jeopardize profitability.
But we’re telling teachers that their job depends on overcoming similar obstacles with their students.
Significant progress is being made in other countries, most notably Denmark, where teachers belong to unions. Their success suggests the US is not putting enough emphasis on the things that really improve student performance: stronger early childhood education programs, better teacher preparation and higher pay, and wrap-around services for students and their families.