The president of the American Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten, said she is “cautiously optimistic” that a deal will be reached to end Chicago’s teachers’ strike within a couple of days.
“There’s a real seriousness at the bargaining table,” Weingarten said in an interview on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital With Al Hunt” airing this weekend.
The strike by the nation’s third-largest school district has kept more than 350,000 students out of classrooms since Sept. 10. At issue is union opposition to policies that teachers say unfairly punish them by putting too much emphasis on standardized tests and include cuts to pay and benefits.
The strike poses a political challenge for President Barack Obama, who is counting on support from organized labor as he courts independent voters who tend to support school reforms.
The strike also puts Obama between the American Federation of Teachers, which endorsed his re-election in February and which represents Chicago teachers, and his former chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, who as mayor of Chicago oversees the school district.
Emanuel, Weingarten said, “did a lot of poking in the eye that he ought not to have done.” Weingarten wouldn’t say whether things would have been different under former Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley.
Weingarten defended the union’s rejection of a school board proposal that would base at least 25 percent of a teacher’s rating during the contract’s first two years on their pupils’ academic performance. That would rise to 30 percent in the third year.
“Teacher evaluation, instead of being really about, ‘Have I taught it and have kids learned it?’ it’s now being, becoming formulaic,” she said.
Obama has used federal funds to advocate tying teachers’ evaluations to student performance, measures opposed by the union.
Weingarten said that Emanuel’s decision to cancel a teacher raise “didn’t help” and that the Obama administration’s emphasis on tests and charter schools as a “panacea” is the wrong answer.
She said the Obama administration, including Education Secretary Arne Duncan, a former Chicago schools chief executive, is “too fixated on measurements and competition.”
Asked whether a lingering strike would hurt Obama’s presidential bid, Weingarten said it’s one of “so many issues in the national election about whose side are you on, whether you’re for an economy that works for the middle class or whether people are on their own, that this issue is very localized.”
Negotiations between the 30,000-member union and Chicago Board of Education resumed yesterday. The strike is the third-largest by public-sector workers since 1993, when the Bureau of Labor Statistics began keeping records.