Archives for category: Unions


WASHINGTON—
American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten issued the following statement after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidelines for reopening schools:

“Today, the CDC met fear of the pandemic with facts and evidence. For the first time since the start of this pandemic, we have a rigorous road map, based on science, that our members can use to fight for a safe reopening.

“The CDC has produced an informed, tactile plan that has the potential to help school communities around the country stay safe by defining the mitigation and accommodation measures, and other tools educators and kids need, so classrooms can once again be vibrant places of learning and engagement.

“Of course, this set of safeguards should have been done 10 months ago—and the AFT released its plan recommending a suite of similar reopening measures in April. Instead, the previous administration meddled with the facts and stoked mass chaos and confusion. Now we have the chance for a rapid reset.

“We note the CDC has identified the importance of layered mitigation, including compulsory masking, 6 feet of physical distancing, handwashing, cleaning and ventilation, diagnostic testing and contact tracing. It reinforces vaccine priority for teachers and school staff. Crucially, it emphasizes accommodations for educators with pre-existing conditions and those taking care of others at risk.

“We remain supportive of widespread testing—especially as mutant strains multiply in areas of uncontrolled community spread—and we urge the CDC to remain flexible as more data comes to light. The guidance is instructive for this moment in time, but this disease is not static.

“The stage is now set for Congress and the Education Department to make this guidance real—and that means securing the funding to get this done in the nation’s school districts and meet the social, emotional and academic needs of kids. To that end, we are encouraged that the department is citing examples of successful reopening strategies in New York City, Boston and Washington, D.C.

“There’s a lot of work ahead to get this done. But the good news is the Biden administration is committed to realizing these recommendations through its $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, and to creating a culture of trust and collaboration with educators and parents to get us there.”

#

I think you will enjoy watching this spirited discussion between me and Karen Lewis at the annual NPE conference in Chicago in 2015. I spoke more than she did because I wanted to make it as easy as possible for her. She had already suffered her devastating brain tumor and was undergoing treatment, but as you will see, she has lost none of her sharp wit and edginess.

John Merrow is exasperated by the media narrative that it’s only the teachers’ unions that are blocking the reopening of schools.

Of course, students should be in real school, but schools must be safe for adults and students alike.

He writes that teachers should be vaccinated. And communities must prioritize what matters most in school, which is NOT testing.

He writes:

The giant lumbering beast known as the US Economy–akin to a conveyor belt with countless moving parts–wants public schools to reopen.  The beast needs workers, but right now too many adults are at home, supervising their children’s ‘remote learning.’  Open the schools, and the adults can go to work: it’s that simple….

But of course it isn’t simple.  Putting kids back in schools will allow adults to work, and that’s important, but it is what happens inside schools that matters more.  

A quick history lesson: We’ve always sent our children to school for three reasons: 1) Acquisition of knowledge, 2) Socialization, and 3) Custodial care.  The internet has turned that upside down because it puts infinite information at everyone’s fingertips wherever they happen to be and because thousands of apps allow for ‘socialization’ with anyone and everyone.  That left only custodial care as a vital school function, until the pandemic made even that impossible. 

However, students swimming in a sea of infinite information need guidance, because ‘information’ is not knowledge.  It takes a certain skill set to distinguish between wheat and chaff, and a certain value system to choose the wheat over the chaff.  Skilled teachers make that happen.

Socializing via apps, though convenient, is fraught with peril, because that person you believe to be your age and your gender might be an adult with evil intentions. Skilled teachers help students learn to discern. And skilled teachers see that students use this all-powerful technology for useful purposes.

But perhaps the major lesson of remote learning is that young people want and need to be with their peers.  Apps don’t cut it…and the kids are not alright.

The mental health consequences of prolonged isolation are becoming clearer by the day.  “Students are struggling across the board,” said Jennifer Rothman, senior manager for youth and young adult services at the nonprofit National Alliance on Mental Illness, to The Washington Post in January.  “It’s the social isolation, the loneliness, the changes in their routines.  Students who might never have had a symptom of a mental health condition before the pandemic now have symptoms.” 

If you read my blog last week, you were shocked by one reader’s response:  “John, I’m wondering if we could have a conversation sometime. I am passionate about this subject. Our 13-year old grandchild just committed suicide after return one single morning to virtual schooling. It was Monday, Jan. 4, first day back, after the holidays. They broke for lunch, Donovan wrote a note…. went outside, and shot himself.”

So when schools reopen, attention must be paid, not to catching up with the curriculum but to the needs of young people.

Now to the present: President Joe Biden has pledged to reopen schools by the end of his first 100 days, a monumental challenge.  Reopening schools is a complex issue, but–sadly and predictably–opportunistic politicians and some in the media are framing the issue as a conflict between the needs of students and the selfish wishes of teachers and, naturally, their unions.  

This false narrative hurts both groups...

What have school boards been doing?  Not much. The San Francisco School Board has spent months arguing whether to rename schools for people more admirable than Abraham Lincoln and George Washington, instead of preparing for reopening or pushing to make sure teachers would be vaccinated.  While that’s pathetically politically correct, the behavior of some school boards was borderline criminal, in at least one case allowing their family members to jump the vaccination line ahead of teachers!

And so, today, not even half of states have prioritized the vaccination of teachers and others who work with children in schools.  That’s an absolute disgrace.  As one teacher noted on Twitter, “…for us it’s been about the lack of care and preparedness of the school district, how they’ve treated the teachers and staff, the lack of communication, and the moving goalposts for how and when to reopen…”

So, yes, schools should reopen as fast as possible–but only after teachers have been vaccinated, classrooms have been provided with adequate ventilation and PPE, and schools have developed safety protocols. In some instances, this will require immediate attention to the physical condition of buildings, because there are public schools in America without hot running water!  

Experts have voiced concerns about what they call ‘Learning Loss,” which they tend to measure in months and sometimes years.  I hope that others find it offensive to define learning in terms of quantity rather than quality, but let’s save that for another day.  That said, it’s absolutely essential that adults stop obsessing about ‘learning loss.’  Cancel the damn standardized tests.  Meet the children where they are.  

Our giant lumbering economy wants schools reopened for another reason: It needs what our schools produce: high school graduates.  After all, America’s education system has been a reliable conveyor belt, moving students along for 12 years before dumping them out into society.  Higher education has come to depend on a fresh supply of close to 2 million freshmen each fall.  Branches of the military need recruits, and so on.

COVID has stopped the conveyor belt entirely in some places, and slowed it down considerably elsewhere, but I believe that many who are demanding that the conveyor belt be restarted are not thinking about either students or teachers. They want to get back to ‘normal.’

That ain’t happening, and we must embrace that reality.  This school year is unlike any other. For those students who have been able to stay on track, congratulations and Godspeed.  But for those whose lives have been turned upside down, you have not failed!  You shouldn’t have to go to summer school, have your ‘learning loss’ measured and published, or be held back.  

You should get a mulligan, a blame-free, no fault do-over.   

And finally, the interests of teachers and students are aligned. They may not sync up with the interests of higher education, restaurants, bars et cetera, but students and teachers are in this together.

John Merrowformer Education Correspondent, PBS NewsHour, and founding  President, Learning Matters, Inc.

By now, you have read many tributes to Karen Lewis. She was an icon who fought the powerful. Teachers and parents trusted her because they knew she would never sell them out.

This is a beautiful tribute to Karen by Sarah Karp, one of Chicago’s most experienced education journalists. It captures Karen’s brashness, her fearlessness, her passion.

Some of her colorful quotes:

Lewis’ message resonated because she was willing to stand up for teachers at a time when teachers were under attack and somewhat downtrodden. She unapologetically labeled people as villains and enemies if she thought they disrespected public school teachers and public education.

Chief among them was former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Early on in her tenure as union president, she emerged from a meeting with Emanuel and revealed he had sworn at her. This came after she called the longer school day he was pushing a “babysitting” initiative.

“He jumped out of his chair and said, F-you Lewis,” she recalled. “And I jumped out of my chair and said, who the F do you think you are talking to? I don’t work for you.”

She called Rahm “the murder mayor.”

“Look at the murder rate in this city. He’s murdering schools. He’s murdering jobs. He’s murdering housing. I don’t know what else to call him. He’s the murder mayor,” she said during the school closing fight.

And she once told a group of community and business leaders that then-Gov. Bruce Rauner, who for years held up the passage of a state budget until his agenda was approved, was a new “ISIS recruit … because the things he’s doing look like acts of terror on poor and working-class people,” she said.

Matt Farmer is a lawyer, public school parent, and occasional songwriter who lives in Chicago. Matt had been writing articles about the needs of the public schools in Chicago when he got a message on December 22, 2011, from CTU President Karen Lewis. He had never met her. She wrote:

 “I am truly, madly deeply in love with your soul. May I buy you lunch early next year?” 

He couldn’t resist, of course. They met and became fast friends.

He wrote about his remarkable friend:

Karen was funny as hell (she’d done some stand-up comedy in the past). Like me, she was an absolute music geek. And when it came to caring about students and teachers, she took a back seat to no one.

I was honored to attend her bat mitzvah in June 2013, and I was proud to go door-to-door fifteen months later to circulate petitions for her brief mayoral run, which was quickly derailed by an October 2014 brain cancer diagnosis.

On May 23, 2012, at a meeting of CTU delegates, Matt Farmer conducted a mock trial of billionaire heiress Penny Pritzker, who was a member of Rahm Emanuel’s school board and later served as President Obama’s Secretary of Commerce.

Matt compared Penny Pritzker’s concept of what Chicago school children were entitled to receive (workforce preparation) with the rich curriculum, library, arts programs, and other necessities at the school her own children (and Rahm’s children) attended, the University of Chicago Lab School. Matt Farmer brought the house down. Sitting behind him is Karen Lewis and Jesse Jackson. It is a tour de force and you must watch! If you do one thing this day, watch this five-minute “trial.”

Emma Tai is executive director of United Working Families of Chicago. She describes in Jacobin the powerful lesson that she learned from Karen Lewis.

She writes:

At a time of austerity and teacher demonization, Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis — whose death at age sixty-seven was announced today — dared to believe that educators and the working class as a whole could fight back and win...

The 2012 strike put tens of thousands of people in the streets of Chicago. At a time of austerity and widespread demonization of teachers, both in Chicago and around the country, the CTU walked off the job insisting that we deserved, and could actually win, schools and a city that served Chicago’s working class. The strike put black, Latinx, and working-class people, and a workforce that is overwhelmingly women, in the streets by the tens of thousands against a neoliberal mayor, Rahm Emanuel, to say that the schools and city belonged to us. Astonishingly, they won.

That strike changed the political landscape of Chicago and the whole country, touching off a wave of teachers’ strikes that continue to this day and that have even put ideas like a general strike back on the table for the first time in generations.

Up to that point, I had been trained as an organizer to pick winnable fights. I had been to dozens of Board of Education meetings where community members and students waited in line for hours in order to compete for a lottery spot to have two minutes to speak to the school board — a board that, in a travesty of basic democracy, was and still is handpicked by the mayor rather than elected by Chicagoans, and thus has no form of accountability to the average parents, students, and residents of the city they serve. I had watched parents and students, crying, dragged out of those meetings by security guards, their voices going unheard by the board.

But seeing the streets filled with tens of thousands of teachers and supporters in red changed my whole conception of what I thought we could win and transformed what I let myself imagine. We didn’t have to fight for crumbs from the people who ran the city. We, the working class, could run the city ourselves...

Karen Lewis taught all of us a lesson: Not to settle. If you fight, you can win. If you capitulate early, you never win. If your cause is just, don’t give in.

This is a beautiful tribute to a great teacher, a great labor leader, and a woman of valor by the people who knew her best: the union she led.

Chicago Teachers UnionSTATEMENT: 
For Immediate Releasectulocal1.orgCONTACT: Ronnie Reese 312-329-6235RonnieReese@ctulocal1.org

Karen did not just lead our movement. Karen was our movement.

CHICAGO, Feb. 8, 2021 — The Chicago Teachers Union released the following statement today regarding the passing of President Emerita Karen GJ Lewis:

Our union is in deep mourning today at the passing of our sister, our leader and our friend, President Emerita Karen GJ Lewis. We are sending heartfelt condolences to her husband, John Lewis, and her surviving family and friends. She will be dearly missed. 

Karen taught us how to fight, and she taught us how to love. She was a direct descendant of the legendary Jackie Vaughn, the first Black, female president of our local. Both were fierce advocates for educators and children, but where Jackie was stately elegance, Karen was a brawler with sharp wit and an Ivy League education. She spoke three languages, loved her opera and her show tunes, and dazzled you with her smile, yet could stare down the most powerful enemies of public education and defend our institution with a force rarely seen in organized labor. 

She bowed to no one, and gave strength to tens of thousands of Chicago Teachers Union educators who followed her lead, and who live by her principles to this day. 

Karen had three questions that guided her leadership: ‘Does it unite us, does it build our power and does it make us stronger?’ Before her, there was no sea of red — a sea that now stretches across our nation. She was the voice of the teacher, the paraprofessional, the clinician, the counselor, the librarian and every rank-and-file educator who worked tirelessly to provide care and nurture for students; the single parent who fought tremendous odds to raise a family; and the laborer whose rights commanded honor and respect. She was a rose that grew out of South Side Chicago concrete — filled with love for her Kenwood Broncos alumni — to not only reach great heights, but to elevate everyone she led to those same heights. 

But Karen did not just lead our movement. Karen was our movement. In 2013, she said that in order to change public education in Chicago, we had to change Chicago, and change the political landscape of our city. Chicago has changed because of her. We have more fighters for justice and equity because of Karen, and because she was a champion — the people’s champion.  

Our hearts are heavy today, but it brings us joy to know that Karen has joined Jackie Vaughn, Marion Stamps, Addie Wyatt and Willie Barrow as the vanguard of Black women who have forged a heroic path of labor, justice and civil rights in our city. Karen now sits among them, still guiding our every move, and still guiding our vision for the schools our students and their families deserve.

###The Chicago Teachers Union represents more than 25,000 teachers and educational support personnel working in schools funded by City of Chicago School District 299, and by extension, over 350,000 students and families they serve. The CTU is an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers and the Illinois Federation of Teachers and is the third-largest teachers local in the United States. For more information, please visit the CTU website at www.ctulocal1.org.

It is with immense sadness that I share with you the news that the brilliant, charismatic Karen Lewis has died. As leader of the Chicago Teachers Union, she led the union to strike for “the schools our children deserve.” She understood that the union had to organize families and communities, not just their own members. She fearlessly confronted the powerful. She was considering a run against Rahm Emanuel for mayor when she learned she had an aggressive brain tumor.

Karen and her devoted husband John were dear personal friends. I saw them when I was in Chicago a year ago. She was in a nursing home. It was terribly sad.

All of us who care about children and their schools will miss her dynamic leadership.

Every time teachers strike for better education for children, they should remember this tireless, inspiring woman, our friend, Karen Lewis.

Matt Bai is an opinion writer for the Washington Post. He wrote recently that teachers should recognize that they are essential workers and get back into the classroom. He points out that remote learning is a disaster, that it is a horrible means of learning, and that students’ emotional health is damaged by not being in a physical classroom with a teacher. He blames “the teachers’ unions” for teachers’ obstinate refusal to return to full-time in-class instruction. That old familiar demon, “the teachers’ unions.”

He begins:

It won’t be easy for President Biden to get America’s teachers back into public schools. Teachers unions are a powerful force in Democratic politics, and they’re resisting calls to return to classrooms where about half the nation’s kids ought to be sitting.

When asked about the issue on Monday, Biden seemed to back up the unions, saying the onus was on districts and governments to make the classrooms safer.

Behind closed doors, however, Biden’s message to the teachers should be straightforward and emphatic: You are vital, irreplaceable public servants. And it’s time you started acting like it.

You don’t have to be a parent to understand the growing perils of what’s euphemistically known as “remote learning.” It is basically a hollow and socially isolating echo of real school that has dragged on for almost a year now in scores of large districts.

A friend sent me the article and asked me what I thought.

I responded:

I agree that remote learning is a disaster and has many very negative effects on students. 

Teachers feel, whether or not they are in a union, that it’s not safe to reopen schools because the government has done next to nothing to make schools safe. 

Teachers have died of COVID where schools stayed open. They are frightened. Other essential workers are not penned in a small, usually unventilated room for hours with the same people. The latest studies show that children are as likely to transit the virus as adults. 

Six months ago, the Times and other media wrote about European schools and how they stayed open despite the pandemic. With the latest resurgence, schools across Europe have now closed. 

The unions are the usual scapegoats. It’s teachers, not unions, that are afraid. 

We are at the height of the pandemic. It’s easy to say that others should take their chances. I’m sure Matt Bai is not taking any. 

Diane

Here are a few stories about teachers who died of COVID:

From Jonesboro, Arkansas.

From El Paso, Texas.

From Columbia, South Carolina; Potosi, Missouri; and Jackson County, Mississippi.

From Grand Prairie, Texas.

From Iowa.

From North Carolina.

From Wisconsin.

From Cobb County, Georgia.

From Alabama.

Barbara Biasi, assistant professor of economics at the Yale School of Management, recently published a study that concluded that eliminating unions increases the gender gap in wages.

She looked at data from Wisconsin, before and after Scott Walker eliminated collective bargaining rights in 2011, in his Koch-funded effort to destroy unions.

For every dollar earned by men in the U.S., women earn about 82 cents, according to 2018 census data; this pay gap is even larger for Black and Hispanic women.  Some public schools have avoided the gender wage gap because they follow a strict salary schedule, in which each teacher’s pay is determined based on objective factors such as seniority and academic degrees. But what happens when schools switch to a more flexible pay system?

Barbara Biasi, an assistant professor of economics at Yale SOM, had an opportunity to examine this question when Wisconsin passed Act 10, legislation that essentially weakened the power of teachers’ unions. Afterward, schools had much more latitude in deciding how much to pay teachers.

Five years after union agreements expired, male teachers earned about 1% more per year than female colleagues with similar experience and skills, reported Biasi and her co-author, Heather Sarsons at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. The gender gap was even higher among younger teachers.

While 1% might not seem like much, such a gap can substantially affect income in the long run, Biasi says. It “can add up pretty quickly over the course of a person’s career,” she says.

The results suggest that women may start earning less than men when they have to bargain on their own, rather than being supported by a union that negotiates for them. This effect could be seen in many industries as union membership shrinks. “The decline of union power might have an increase in the gender gap in pay as one of the unintended consequences,” Biasi says.