Your editor hasn’t spent much time on the efforts of suburban white families along with opponents of Common Core reading and math standards as well as affiliates of National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, to push families into opting out of state standardized tests. As Alexander Russo and others have pointed out, there is slim evidence that families are actually heeding any of the messages. The fact that outcry in many states — notably New York — is driven by AFT and NEA (to neuter the use of test score growth data in teacher evaluations) and Common Core foes (in order to stifle implementation of the standards) also makes the entire effort more of a traditionalist tantrum than real concern from families over supposed overemphasis on testing. And besides, reformers such as Andy Rotherham and Chris Stewart have devoted plenty of words to the issue, likely more than it deserves.
Yet reformers cannot simply dismiss the arguments for opting out by suburban families and cannot just dismiss the opt-out efforts. If anything, the opt-out efforts are another reminder to the school reform movement that they must continually make the strong case for advancing systemic reform. This means both reminding those opposed to reform why they must live up to their moral obligations to all of our children regardless of whether they gave birth to them or not — and explaining to them why transforming American public education will be beneficial to their own children, who deserve better than what they are provided now.
Prompting your editor’s consideration of the issue is a piece from Andy Smarick of Bellwether Education Partners, who proclaims this week that opt-out efforts are “testing education reform’s humility.” From where Smarick sits, reformers who argue against the opt-out efforts, including those pointing to how their efforts damage the futures of poor and minority children, are engaging in “condescension”. As far as he is concerned, reformers shouldn’t view the opposition to standardized testing from white suburban families and others “with skepticism or antipathy”, and that it is “untoward to suggest they don’t care about other kids or are insensitive to issues of race and income.”
Declares Smarick: “We could disparage them. But that would only serve to insult and incite. Or we could humbly listen, respectfully argue our case, and make the necessary course corrections.”
Certainly your editor can appreciate Smarick’s desire to ignore the racialist aspects of the opt-out efforts. Either out of naivete or discomfort, he and other conservative reformers want to believe that everyone is a person of good will. But for Smarick to not consider that racialism is as much an underlying force behind the opt-out efforts as organized efforts by teachers’ unions and (occasionally legitimate) concerns of suburban white families is to be intellectually unserious.
Racism is America’s Original Sin, one that pervades the political, economic, and social fabric of the nation. While state-sanctioned discrimination (and enslavement) is no longer tolerated, issues within and outside of education (along with actions such as last November’s New York City grand jury decision to not indict a police officer for the murder of Eric Garner) are constant reminders that racial bigotry have only become more-subtle and, because of social stigma, less explicit.
Just as importantly, Smarick and other conservative reformers keep making the error of thinking of racism in binary terms, that is, you can only argue that a policy or practice is racist if it explicitly targets a race or ethnicity, or if the person authoring or administrating it is explicitly and consciously racialist. As demonstrated in studies of the overuse of out-of-school suspensions and other forms of harsh school discipline — including one by Stanford University professor Jennifer Eberhard and graduate student Jason Okonofua published this month in Psychological Science – the consequences of policies and practices can be as racialist as overt acts by those engaged in explicit racial discrimination.
This is a stubborn fact neither conservative reformers nor the rest of the movement can ignore. This is because school reformers, like all social reformers of past and present, have to constantly remember that their efforts often run counter to human nature. Sometimes people are capable of great good. Other times, even greater evil. Most of the time, though, humans, being imperfect creatures of the Creator, are naturally tribal, concerned first with the protection of our kin, then with the preservation of those who look like us and share our background. Those who do not look like us, don’t live in our neighborhoods, or aren’t even part of our social class are looked upon with either contempt or indifference. They are merely the other.
On a practical basis, this means that as many people are unconcerned about the futures of other people’s children as those who are, even when it is clear that the collective success and survival our children (and that of society and civilization in which they will be adults) is clearly at stake. Anything that challenges the primary concerns for one’s own — be it the recognition of the life and liberty of others, or social reforms that improve other communities alongside our own — will always be greeted with look askance and worse.
Yet as earlier generations of reformers outside of education have shown (and as the school reform movement has demonstrated), reforms and social improvements are possible. The very existence of modern civilization demonstrates this, as does the end of Jim Crow segregation and the peculiar institution that was American slavery. This results from strong, persistent efforts in activism, policymaking, and practice-developing. It doesn’t end when victory is won because all victories against human nature are temporary without it. And it involves calling people on the carpet for their immoral thinking as well as appealing to their nobler instincts (including their obligations as children of God and members of the family of mankind).
For reformers, this means that they must continually make the case for advancing systemic reform. Because of the baseness of human nature, no social improvement remains eternal. Because tribalism in all its forms is foremost in the human psyche, unifying people to do better for each other is always a challenge. Because it is easy for people to deny the humanity of others — including and especially children — there will always be a fight for equality and justice, especially when it comes to education.
So reformers must both be the conscience of men and women who should know better — and remind people that it is in their enlightened self-interests to both be concerned about providing high-quality education to their own children alongside those of other people.
As legendary social activists such as Salvation Army founder William Booth would say, reformers are moral scolds. There is nothing wrong with that. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan was no more wrong for calling out white suburban parents over their opposition to Common Core than Martin Luther King was for calling White America on the carpet for perpetuating Jim Crow segregation five decades ago or Abraham Lincoln was for opposing slavery 100 years earlier.
Certainly you should make a case based on data and evidence. But evidence has never been enough to convince people to do the right thing. As civil rights activists and abolitionists of the past have shown, calling out immoral and intellectually dishonest thinking is a foremost obligation of every school reformer. Simply sidestepping that role, something for which Smarick implicitly argues under the guise of “humility” cannot ever be done. More importantly, the actions we take emanate from our moral concerns; so morality cannot be excluded from policy and practice. Calling things as they are (or as some with less backbone call it, demonizing) is a necessary part of highlighting that which is wrong, immoral, and should no longer be acceptable.
At the same time, reformers cannot simply shame people into embracing its tenets. This is what Smarick does get right, though not necessarily for the correct reasons. Moral scolding alone doesn’t work because of realities of human nature. The other? The fact that people will always be convinced of the rightfulness of their views even when they are demonstrably wrong. So is important for the movement to offer a positive vision that both builds brighter futures for other people’s children and appeals to the desire of families to do the best for their own kin. Or as some would say, enlighten people’s natural self-interest on behalf of the children whose futures we are aiding.
This means explaining how standardized tests provide critical data on how schools and the adults who work in them are serving their children as well as those from different backgrounds. It involves demonstrating over and over again how suburban districts are subjecting children from white middle class households to mediocre teaching and curricula while condemning kids black and brown to educational abuse and neglect. Finally, it includes honestly and sensitively addressing legitimate concerns about testing and the other solutions for which we advocate.
The school reform movement shouldn’t overstate the possible impact of opt-out efforts. At the same time, it shouldn’t consider any victory for systemic reform eternal. Constant activism — from moral scolding to appeals to goodwill — are key to sustaining the reforms we implement to help all children succeed.
Choice has been getting a lot of good press lately. Ever since Mr. Kellogg began making corn flakes, Americans have been told that many brightly colored packages of slightly differing products are better than one. (“Would you like corn syrup and dehydrated strawberries with your cattle feed?”) Mr. Ford’s offer of the Model T in every color as long as it was black quickly gave way to automobiles in every possible, and some impossible, colors. Victorian black in winter and white in summer are only seen in certain districts of Manhattan and otherwise identical tract-houses and apartments are distinguished from one another with names intended to convey status and romance.
There are some 14,000 school districts in the United States and most have only a few high schools, often enough North, South, East and West, with their bitter football rivalries. Larger districts, almost from their beginnings, have differentiated some of their schools by curriculum and the class status of students. Boston Latin with its classical curriculum, serving the children of the wealthy and well-born, was complimented by vocational schools, on the one hand, and common schools, on the other. Eventually there were systems with different varieties at each level: classical and science elite schools, five or six types of vocational schools, perhaps a music and arts school. Students (actually, their families) didn’t exactly choose these schools—“Well, Jackie, do you want to go to Bronx Science or Aviation High?”—but the variety of schools in many large districts presented the thought of an alternative to the common school.
This thought was available for use when direct desegregation efforts failed and authorities attempted to lessen segregation by means of magnet schools, each excellent in its own way. These were much more a matter of choice, for White families, who could choose to send their children to one or another or to none at all. For Black children, magnets weren’t much of a choice at all. Meanwhile the schools that predominantly served them were almost never improved.
Today, many large districts offer secondary schools (and even primary schools) with bright and shiny grocery store packaging: The School for Advanced Study in Sub-Prime Mortgages, The School for Olympic Sports Commentary, and the like. There are also public charter schools and other forms of choice operating outside of districts; in New Orleans, those are the dominant forms of schools, while in most other places (namely New York and Chicago), they serve less than a fifth of the student population. But the vast majority of what some can (vaguely) call choice still exists within the confines of traditional school districts.
None of these schools, especially those operated by districts, are intended to serve the children in their neighborhoods. So as a result, choice operates district-wide. Sometimes it serves as a desegregation strategy. Other times, as resegregation by various other names. Occasionally, especially outside of the traditional school district, even as a way to provide Black and Latino children with high-quality education.
There is evidence that when structured properly, school choice can improve learning outcomes for our children. But as my Dropout Nation colleague, RiShawn Biddle, has pointed out, the infrastructure for choice – including school data – isn’t robust enough in some places for it to help children. In some places, intra-district and out-of-district choice doesn’t even work as a lever for high quality education. In the last case, it’s meant to be that way.
Take New York City. Yes, I’m calling it out again. The traditional district’s medical-school-admissions-style process for high school admission is extraordinarily complicated and driven by the actions of families, who, in an adaption of University of Chicago School of Economics rational-choice theory, are assumed to be uniformly well-informed and highly (and similarly) motivated. What is the result? Schools that somewhat well-informed (and often, usually wealthy) parents ascertain offer the best educations are filled with the children of the well-informed and highly motivated. Other children are consigned to other schools.
Wealthy, well-informed parents do not complain about the (woefully inadequate) quality of those other schools and the voices of the children in those other schools are inaudible in the corridors of power. Which allows the continuing diversion of public resources from schools serving the children with the lowest level of family resources to those serving children with greater family resources.
When school choice is structured like it is in New York City, school choice can end up validating the unequal distribution of economic opportunity that has been a problem since the days of Horace Mann. But those kids had their chance, didn’t they? Those children without parents, with parents working two jobs, with parents afraid to have their children travel out of the neighborhood. They must like things this way.
Would you like whipped cream on those corn flakes?
One lesson of politics: Congratulations become condolences. This is something Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel already knows. Beating Jesus (Chuy) Garcia earlier this month to win a second term as chief executive of the Second City’s government now means having to deal with new woes. This includes the fallout from last week’s revelation that Chicago Public Schools Chief Executive Officer Barbara Byrd-Bennett (now on leave) is under investigation allegedly awarded a $20 million no-bid contract to her former employer, SUPES Academy.
But the biggest challenge facing Emanuel is figuring out how to deal with decades of mismanagement of its collection of pensions by predecessor Richard M. Daley and by public-sector unions who control the boards that oversee them. This includes addressing the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund, a virtual subsidiary of the American Federation of Teachers’ Chicago Teachers Union, which continues to offer less-than-honest data on its woeful fiscal condition.
The pension officially reports a shortfall of $9.5 billion for 2013-2014, a slight decline from the $9.6 billion reported in the previous year. This can be attributed to stronger-than-expected gains in the financial markets, along with a 52.7 percent year-to-year decline in the number of retirees added to the rolls.
But as Dropout Nation readers already know, those numbers do not reflect reality. For one, thanks to an actuarial trick called smoothing, which requires losses and gains to be phased in over five years instead of immediately as they should be, CTPF isn’t reporting its true financial position. In this case, the pension is failing to report $770 million in investment gains over the past few years; when added to the officially-reported numbers, the underfunding would decline to $8.7 billion.
The other reason why the officially-reported numbers don’t reflect reality? The overly-inflated assumed investment rate of return of 7.75 percent. The value of the Chicago teachers’ pension’s assets declined by eight percent on an actuarial basis between 2009-2010 and 2013-2014, and increased by only 20.9 percent (or 4.17 percent a year) on a market value basis within that period. Overly-inflated assumed rates of return are problematic because pensions can report insolvencies as being lower than they actually are during both good times and bad, which means that politicians can’t engage in honest, fiscally-sensible problem-solving of their virtual insolvencies.
To get to the heart of the matter, Dropout Nation utilizes a version of a technique developed by Moody’s Investors Service, which assumes a more-realistic 5.5 percent rate of a return. [Moody’s bases its rate of return on the Citibank Pension Liability Index, which is based on the yield for AA-rated corporate bonds.]
Let’s start with the officially-reported liability: Based on the calculation, CTPF is underfunded to the tune of $12.3 billion, or 30 percent more than officially reported. The good news is that the underfunding is 1.6 percent lower than the $12.5 billion shortfall DN determined last year. But even with this slight decline, taxpayers would have to contribute an additional $722.9 million a year over the next 17 years in order to address the shortfall; this is 123 percent more than the $585 million the city contributed in 2013-2014.
[Pension costs accounted for 10.5 percent of the $5.6 billion spent in 2013-2014 by Chicago Public Schools, whose budget is technically separate from the $8.7 billion spent by the rest of the Second City’s government; an additional $722.9 million in contributions that year would have increased the percentage of district spending devoted to pensions to 23.4 percent. If the budgets for both the schools were together on one ledger — adding up to $14.3 billion for 2013-2014 — the teachers’ pension contributions would have accounted for 4.1 percent of the overall budget; the additional contributions would have increased the percentage of expenditures dedicated to the pension to 9.1 percent. In fact, the contributions made to CTPF in 2013-2014 are greater than the $478.3 million contributed by the city to its other pensions put together.]
But what if we use $8.7 billion, which is lower than the officially-reported shortfall thanks to the inclusion of unreported gains? Based on Dropout Nation‘s calculations, CTPF is underfunded to the tune of $11.3 billion, which is 30 percent higher than the $8.7 billion number and 19 percent more than the officially-reported liability. Based on a 17-year amortization schedule, taxpayers would have to contribute an additional $664 million to the pension, also more than double what they put into the pension last fiscal year.
None of this, by the way, includes the unfunded retired teacher healthcare obligations that CTPF bears on behalf of the city. The good news is that pension assumes a more-realistic 4.5 percent rage of return on the investments dedicated to covering those costs. Even better, the unfunded actuarial accrued obligation of $1.9 billion in 2013-2014 is 19 percent lower than the previous fiscal year. But when added on top of the pension insolvency, Emanuel must ultimately address insolvency of between $13.2 billion and $14.2 billion. This is a tall order, especially given the liabilities of the city’s other pensions.
Given that Chicago skipped out on contributions to CTPF over the previous 18 years thanks to an Illinois law allowing it to do so, no one can feel sorry for the city government on this front. It should have been doing the responsible thing and making those payments. But it isn’t just the fault of the city alone. The AFT’s Second City local, which controls the majority of seats on the pension, has also aided in the pension’s mismanagement. Between years of silence over the failure of Daley and other politicians to properly contribute to the pension, to allowing it to use overly inflated rates of return, CTU has done as much as city officials to poorly serve teachers, taxpayers, and children.
For the pension, it won’t get better anytime soon. Fewer Baby Boomers in the Chicago district’s classrooms retired in 2013-2014 than in previous years. Still, the pension can expect 1,550 teachers to retire every year (based on data for the previous 10 years). With each retiree collecting an average annual annuity of $45,792, CTPF can expect to add at least an additional $71 million a year in additional annuity payments, exacerbating its insolvency. In fact, new retirees in 2013-2014 received an initial average annual annuity of $70,539.89, 54 percent more than the average.
Another factor lies with the lawsuit filed by AFT’s Illinois affiliate and other public-sector unions to stop the modest pension reforms implemented by the Prairie State last year as part of Senate Bill 1; Emanuel’s own plan to address CTPF’s insolvency (and that of the city’s other pensions) is based on the state’s plan. A state court judge has already halted the implementation of S.B. 1, leading to speculation that the state supreme court will rule the reforto halt the implementation of S.B. 1 and the possibility that the state supreme court will rule the measures unconstitutional, Emanuel has little room to maneuver. Certainly the city could address the pension insolvencies by filing for bankruptcy, something that Detroit did with great success over the last two years. But no politician wants to make such a drastic move unless it is unavoidable.
Then there’s the traditional district’s fiscal woes aside from the pension. As the Chicago Sun-Times noted on Saturday, a downgrade in CPS’s credit rating may force it to pay off $228 million in interest rate swaps. Given that the district has already seen its cash on hand decline by 79 percent (from $1.1 billion to $227 million) within the last year, and that it is struggling mightily with pension payments, any pension reform plan will have to involve tapping the coffers of the main city government. With the other pensions also in trouble, Emanuel has a massive problem on his hands.
No matter what happens with S.B. 1 or with CPS’ financial position, Emanuel will have to take numerous steps to address the CTPF’s financial straits for the long haul. Making full contributions is a key part of the solution. So is addressing the governance of CTPF itself; this includes convincing legislators in Springfield to significantly reduce the eight seats controlled by CTU, and effectively giving the mayor full control of the teachers pension (along with the city’s other retirement funds). Restricting increases in cost-of-living adjustments (a key reason for increases in the pension’s virtual insolvency) is also critical.
As Dropout Nation advised last year, Emanuel’s pension reform plan must both restrict increases in cost-of-living adjustments (a reason for increasing insolvency) and also allow younger teachers to reap the full rewards of their work. so that they can reap the full rewards of their work. This would feature a defined-contribution account toward which teachers can contribute as much of their income to retirement as they see fit (with a five percent match from the city), as well as a cash-balanced plan that guarantees an annual savings rate. Such a move, by the way, would also help the pension (and ultimately, taxpayers) by reducing the number of new annuitants that will add to its insolvency.
But the first and most-important step lies with getting accurate numbers on the level of CTPF’s shortfall. Emanuel should lean hard on the pension to downwardly revise its assumed rate of return in order to get a more-realistic assessment of the pension’s woes. He must also lobby state legislators to end smoothing techniques that further obscure the pension’s true financial condition. These two key steps will ultimately help Emanuel level honestly with Second City taxpayers about what needs to be done to get the pension and the municipality on the path to solvency. And if he succeeds, will mark his second term as a well-earned success.
On this week’s Dropout Nation Podcast, RiShawn Biddle explains why we must continually affirm the genius of all of our children and provide them the nurturing, knowledge, and affirmations they need for lifelong success.
You can listen to the Podcast at RiShawn Biddle Radio or download directly to your mobile or desktop device. Also, subscribe to the podcast series, and embed this podcast on your site. It is also available on iTunes, Blubrry, Stitcher, and PodBean.
There are reformers who are going to argue that Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s victory in tonight’s runoff election for a second term is an absolute mandate for his entire agenda. Not so fast. Any situation in which an incumbent mayor wins less than 50 percent of the vote in an official election and worse, forced into a runoff, makes such a statement pure hogwash. This isn’t to say that there aren’t Second City voters supporters who back the systemic reform efforts Emanuel and predecessor Richard M. Daley have overseen for three decades. But given that the mayor is responsible for far more than public education — and in light of dissatisfaction over Emanuel’s and Daley’s efforts on that as well as other quality-of-life issues — Emanuel can’t claim a mandate. [Not that mandates exist the way ideologues, partisans, and pundits ever think.]
At the same time, traditionalists and teachers’ union bosses, along with their allies among progressives, are forced to admit this reality: That their campaign to halt the path of systemic reform — and force centrist Democrats to adopt their agenda — has all turned out for naught. Especially for the American Federation of Teachers and its Chicago Teachers Union, which (along with other AFT locals) have spent $1.2 million during this election to unseat Emanuel, this defeat should prompt plenty of soul searching about their embrace of failed policies and practices that voters have soundly rejected.
As your editor predicted on Friday, AFT declined to throw more money at Cook County Commissioner Jesus (Chuy) Garcia’s campaign to unseat Emanuel once the latest round of polls showed him trailing the mayor by as much as 28 percentage points. Even as its Second City local desperately issued press releases — including a particularly sleazy flack piece attempting to link Emanuel’s reform efforts to the guilty verdicts against 11 teachers and school leaders involved in the Atlanta test-cheating scandal — AFT refused to infuse Garcia’s campaign with more cash and didn’t do any public relations on his behalf. By Tuesday morning, it was clear that AFT was wiping its hands of the debacle, leaving CTU (along with the Service Employees International Union and its affiliates) with the job of cleaning up the mess.
Ultimately, Emanuel won by 11.4 percentage point margin. AFT President Randi Weingarten attempted a positive spin on the failed effort up by proclaiming that the runoff sent a message that Emanuel’s “education policies have to change.” But when you look closely at Emanuel’s victory, the message for reformers and traditionalists is far different than what Weingarten and her allies want to claim it to be.
As I have noted, Emanuel didn’t win an overall mandate. Certainly crime has declined under Emanuel’s watch. But Chicago’s homicide rate remains three times higher than that of New York City, while its police department’s tactics (including mislabeling of homicides as anything but and alleged torture of suspects done at a warehouse on the city’s West Side) have been generally ineffective in addressing violence in the city’s poorest neighborhoods. If Emanuel had done a better job on the crime front (and had less of an Adrian Fenty-ish demeanor to boot), he wouldn’t have ended up in a runoff in the first place.
But at the same time, the majority of Second City voters clearly showed that they were satisfied with Emanuel on other fronts. This includes his battle with public-sector unions over addressing Chicago’s massive defined-benefit pension insolvencies. Public-sector unions, especially CTU, along with the Service Employees International Union and the city’s police union, thought they could use class warfare rhetoric to win voters over to their side. But as it turned out, voters realize that the city faces a fiscal crisis — including a teachers’ pension busted to the tune of $12.3 billion (based on a preliminary Dropout Nation analysis that will be published on Friday) — that cannot be addressed by continuing the status quo. On this front, Emanuel’s pugnaciousness serves him well, especially compared to Garcia’s position as the standardbearer for public-sector unions.
As for Emanuel’s school reform efforts: Voters made clear that they should continue apace. This became clear late last month, when a Chicago Tribune poll revealed that likely voters sided with Emanuel’s efforts over those proposed by Garcia by as much as 14 percentage points.
Certainly there is plenty of divide over Emanuel’s approach and ire over his move two years ago to shut down 47 half-empty traditional district schools. As Dropout Nation noted last November, Emanuel should be even more aggressive on the reform front, especially in passing a Parent Trigger law allowing families to take over failing district schools. But voters have a hard time arguing with improved student achievement. Given that the city’s high school graduation rate increasing from 39 percent to 66 percent between 2005 and 2013, and the percentage of Second City fourth-graders reading Below Basic on the National Assessment of Educational Progress declined from 60 percent to 49 percent within the last decade, the reforms Emanuel (and before him, Daley) have undertaken are helping more kids. Add in the evidence that the school closings have actually helped more kids get into better-performing schools, and it is hard to argue that the reform efforts aren’t working.
This isn’t to say that Chicago doesn’t have more to do to improve its traditional district. Emanuel should immediately order his schools czar, Barbara Byrd Bennett, to put additional focus on improving achievement for the city’s young black men; the failure of the district on this front is simply unacceptable. Emanuel should also continue the city’s efforts to reduce overuse of harsh school discipline, which would keep more Second City kids off the path to poverty and prison. — will help even more kids succeed. As a study released last month by the University of Chicago’s Consortium on Chicago School Research has shown, reducing out-of-school suspensions along with over reforms can lead to schools actually being safer; if anything, overuse of suspensions is clearly tied to low student achievement resulting from laggard teaching and curricula.
The success of Emanuel’s and Daley’s reforms even extend to the expansion of public charter schools, which now serve 15.2 percent of Chicago’s school-aged children. As a study released last month by Stanford University’s Center for Research on Educational Outcomes has shown, poor kids attending Second City charters gained 35 additional days of learning in reading over peers in the traditional district’s schools.
This isn’t exactly unqualified success; as CREDO also shows, Chicago’s charters have to do better in improving achievement on other fronts. The fraud scandal that has engulfed the UNO chain of charter schools is a clear sign that Emanuel must overhaul how the district authorizes and oversees charters; in fact, given that Chicago city government has a conflict of interest on this front, Illinois state officials should end the city’s status as an authorizer and put that role into the hands of either the University of Chicago or another outfit. But the study bears out evidence in other studies — including Rand Corp.’s 2010 study of charters in Chicago and other locals — that expanding choice is helping more Second City kids succeed in school and in life.
In the face of all this evidence, there was no way Garcia could convince voters that his sparsely-detailed proposals on education would work better. Garcia couldn’t even prove that he would act in the best interests of Chicago’s children and families. After all, he proved through word and deed that he would only do the bidding of CTU and the national AFT; given that his bid for the mayoralty wouldn’t have happened without CTU’s early and enthusiastic endorsement (over the opposition of hardcore traditionalists who preferred Ald. Bob Fioretti for the challenger’s spot), there was no way Garcia could distance himself from the union. By be so wedded to CTU’s agenda (as well as that of other public-sector unions), Garcia proved to voters (with the help of Emanuel’s ad blitz) that he was bought by the union for a few shekels.
But Garcia isn’t the only one who lost this election. As Dropout Nation noted last week, Emanuel ‘s victory is also an embarrassing defeat for CTU and its ailing president, Karen Lewis. After spending four years challenging Emanuel’s reforms, and arguing alongside hardcore traditionalists that it was better to go radical than to embrace the triangulation previously championed by Weingarten, CTU and Lewis could do little better than garner support for its agenda from two out of every five voters in both the general election and the runoff. That CTU couldn’t even muster much support from poor and minority communities — especially black voters — is especially telling.
Because Emanuel has won this tough fight, he will now be politically invincible. Not only will the mayor remain in office for another four years, he can choose to remain in office as long as he wants the same way Daley pere (and his legendary father) were able. Without an ally in the top job, Lewis finds herself in a tough spot. Continuing her hardcore traditionalist approach will not win her any more victories; in fact, it will merely give Emanuel an even freer hand to do as he please on the education front. But if Lewis embraces the go-along approach taken by Weingarten for most of her career in the AFT, she will end up getting the business end of the hardcore traditionalist ire she has fanned since becoming the union’s boss four years ago.
But none of this should be shocking. As I noted two years ago, CTU’s biggest victory — a two-week strike that led Emanuel to back off of some of his reforms — was merely defensive. The deal Emanuel struck with the union still allowed him to increase school days, angering Lewis’ allies; that the strike couldn’t stop the use of student test score growth data in teacher evaluations mandated under state law also made the strike little more than just one overgrown tantrum. For all of CTU’s bluster, it has little support from families who have suffered the most from the failed policies and practices it (along with the national AFT) have long defended.
As for AFT? Emanuel’s victory is also a sobering moment. For all of Weingarten’s bluster last night, even she realizes that the union (along with its traditionalist, progressive, and public-sector union allies) has lost big. AFT local bosses duplicating the approach taken by Lewis in Chicago — and championed by Weingarten to satisfy the hardcore activists within national’s ranks — now know they will not succeed. Centrist Democrats, especially those in big cities, now have evidence that standing strong for school reform (as well as addressing virtually-busted pensions) will not result in political defeat. In short, they no longer have to fear losing the backing of AFT and NEA affiliates who have been the most-prominent players within Democratic Party politics.
The fact that AFT and NEA have done little to cultivate ties to Republicans (who aren’t a presence in most urban communities anyway) means that they (along with their public-sector union brethren) are isolated and, thus, have less influence than they have had in the past. This reality has been clear for some time. But Emanuel’s hard-fought victory adds the proverbial exclamation point. The ramifications of the mayor’s victory will be reflected in next year’s race for the White House; likely Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton could easily toss a few bones to AFT and NEA and still embrace a strong systemic reform agenda. Given that likely Republican candidates such as former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin have strong reform bona fides, Hillary will have almost no choice but to do so.
Even worse for AFT is that Emanuel’s victory will continue to raise questions among the rank-and-file as to whether the grand bargain struck with the union long ago is worth the money they are (often) forced to pay. With nearly a million dollars wasted on a political campaign that only resulted in defeat, and with reformers encouraged to continue efforts to overhaul the traditional teacher compensation deals that have made teaching the most-comfortable profession in the public sector, Baby Boomers likely wish they can get those dues back. Younger teachers, who want to elevate the profession, have already raised that question. And if the U.S. Supreme Court decides to overturn its four decade-old Abood decision allowing public-sector unions to compel workers to pay dues regardless of membership status, expect more teachers to flee AFT and NEA ranks.
All in all, Emanuel’s victory is a resounding defeat for AFT and its fellow traditionalists.