Lydia Kay ’13
The teachers’ strike that began in Chicago last week meant that 617 schools were unable to open for their second or third week of class. Because Chicago has the third largest school district in the country, 350,000 students couldn’t attend class because their teachers were outside on the picket line. The issues of educational reform and teachers’ rights have plagued our country for years because there is no easy answer. However, as much criticism as teachers’ unions have received for being accused of abandoning their students, I believe that they have the right to stand up for themselves and fight for equal treatment and increased benefits. They have long been combating an unjust system where their performance is primarily judged on students’ test scores without considering factors outside of their control. Test scores are necessary for fair evaluation of school districts, yet public schools located in the low-income parts of Chicago lack the proper funding to give students an education that is conducive to national standards. The question of who deserves a quality education should never be determined by differences in race or class.
However, because of limited funding, schools in impoverished areas naturally suffer the most from a lack of resources. The severity of the situation is heightened because of the group that is directly affected—Chicago’s youth. As with any highly debated issue, there are alternative views to take into consideration. All students should be guaranteed a quality education, yet because of union disputes they are forced to stay out of school and lose valuable classroom time. How is this fair? Critics of this most recent strike say that the teachers are using outside factors such as students’ poverty and social strife as excuses for poor test results.
The question of this ongoing conflict is this: how should the fundamental worth of teachers be evaluated, and to what extent should they be held responsible for unsatisfactory test results? Are teachers entirely at fault if a student is unable to pass standardized tests? What about factors outside of the teachers’ control, such as an unstable home or poverty? Unfortunately, and despite the efforts of dedicated individuals, the inevitable fact still remains that children in low-income communities receive a sub par education to children that come from middle or high-class backgrounds.
In my opinion, the strike is not a reflection of unmotivated or greedy teachers who only want a salary raise. Anyone who is passionate about education and improving the lives of our country’s youth cannot be blamed for something like that. This strike is a movement towards long-term change within the national public school system. Despite how motivated the teachers in Chicago are, if they lack the necessary resources and support, how can they be held entirely accountable for students’ lack of success? These teachers are working to transform a system that allows all children, regardless of racial or social background, to step into school and be afforded the opportunity to achieve a quality education. There may be no immediate right or wrong answer to this complicated issue, but as long as it stays within the hands of individuals who have the best interests of the students at heart, changes to the public school system can only be seen as steps in the right direction. By initiating this strike, the teachers have begun to question the future of public school systems. These issues did not form overnight; they have been there for years and it’s time they surfaced and were addressed. Though it is unfortunate that the strike comes at the cost of students missing valuable school days, as long as the end goal is kept within sight, how can we say that the teachers are entirely to blame?