Just how will things end? I wonder this unanswerable thing because I felt the first cold breeze of late autumn too early upon reading about the teacher strike in Chicago. People vital to our society (public school teachers) had a choice to make. They could seek their own advancement (go on strike) or accept something less than they wanted in the sake of people who depend upon their loyalty and reliability (350,000 children in Chicago, IL). We know how that decision went. The teachers are on strike and are prepared to stay out a long time.
I wrote this morning about how the Left is never satisfied with what they have. Regardless of how greedy or evil they believe business to be, they will never accept less than the world. The demands for more and more and more work like a unidirectional ratchet. There is no permanently satisfying these people. There is only paying a Dane-geld.
Now Mayor Rahm Emanuel has the misfortune of playing the role of Ethelred The Unready. I feel no great sympathy for Rahm (he lived large for decades on the public patronage), but he, like King Ethelred, now can no longer pay up. So what happens?
Chicago’s Public School Teachers earn the highest median salary for their efforts in America. So what, pray tell, does the City of Big Shoulders get in return for this investment? According to the Department of Education they get very little.
Seventy-nine percent of the 8th graders in the Chicago Public Schools are not grade-level proficient in reading, according to the U.S. Department of Education, and 80 percent are not grade-level proficient in math.
Mayor Emanuel realizes that the municipal fisc has grown as diminutive as his physical stature. The teachers want 4% raises and currently have no real accountability to improve on the 80% rates of failure that the Dept of Education has discovered by testing Chicago’s 8th Grade cohort. According to The Chicago Sun Times, Mayor Emanuel is trying to fix the mess instead of paying up to buy temporary respite.
The mayor’s schools team was right to push for reform; a longer day, more meaningful teacher evaluations, a compensation system that does more than simply pay teachers for another year of service.
The Mayor is also attempting to curb teacher compensation. He is also attempting to block a CTU demand for recall of “displaced teachers” anytime new jobs open in the system. This would operate in a manner analogous to the Federal Civil Service “Stopper List” and force supervisors to hire people they don’t select as teachers. It makes me wonder how Johnny never quite figures out how to read in Chicago.
Finally, the CTU does not want Chicago Public Schools to tie teacher compensation to student performance. When their teachers are paid the highest median salary, and 80% of their 8th graders don’t seem to make the grade, their objections on this issue are not surprising. However, in nearly every other occupation I’ve ever seen or heard of, job performance has to correlate with ultimate compensation.
A failure to relate employee rewards to employee productivity will tend to cause low performance by all employees who are not passionately in love with their job. The point has been reached where the Visigoth Holiday Chicago’s municipal workers have enjoyed at taxpayer expense has run out of beer. The CTU now treats the efforts of Mayor Emanuel to restore some basic sanity with the outrage that Sweyn Forkbeard felt over the St Brice’s Day Massacre of 1002.
Rudyard Kipling wrote a famous poem about Ethelred’s problems with the Danes. In one verse he states the central problem posed by paying these municipal unions to maintain the peace and not go on strike.
And that is called paying the Dane-geld;
But we’ve proved it again and again,
That if once you have paid him the Dane-geld
You never get rid of the Dane.
Mayor Emanuel has hit that point. He can now get rid of the Danes or end up dying (at least politically) the way Ethelred died in London when Sweyn’s famous son Canute effected his conquest of England. Perhaps the lesson to be learned from this Chicago teacher strike can be summarized by Kipling’s closing stanza.
"We never pay any one Dane-geld,
No matter how trifling the cost,
For the end of that game is oppression and shame,
And the nation that plays it is lost!"