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The Chicago Strike: Who Won?

Diane Ravitch argues that, regardless of the exact details of the contract, the teachers came out victorious in the Chicago strike simply by displaying their strength. She writes:

And by taking a stand, by uniting to resist the power elite, these teachers discovered they were strong. They had been downtrodden and disrespected, but no longer. They put on their red T-shirts and commanded the attention of the nation and the admiration of millions of teachers. Powerless no more, they showed that unity made them strong. Ninety-eight percent voted to authorize the strike, and 98% voted to end it.

The U.S. Conference of Mayors, on the other hand, believes Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel rang up significant gains for the education reform movement:

This package will ensure that school principals are accountable for performance and retain the freedom to hire the best teachers; that teacher performance is evaluated through a strong and fair system that includes student growth measures; and that kids have a full school day and full school year so that they have the instructional time to keep them competitive.

Writing in the Daily Beast, reform advocate James Warren offers a more measured response. Warren believes that Emanuel set an important historical precedent by confronting "a nearly immovable object in a change-resistant union." But he argues that the mayor achieved only "modest advances" in his agenda, while leaving the district with a gaping budget hole.

But when the dust settles after Emanuel's first major crisis, taxpayers and education reformers might shed a tear over a system the city still can't afford and a new contract's modest advances in addressing the very problems that a wickedly bright mayor knows plague the system. It might explain his declining to take questions about specifics, such as how a financially desperate system can even afford roughly $300 million in pay increases over the deal's likely four-year duration.

Warren says that the district is already projecting a $1 billion deficit for 2014. In combination with the salary increases in the expected new contract, he suggests, that could mean school closures and layoffs in the future.

So victories on either side may be short-lived.

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