Across the country, as public school systems in major cities follow a trend towards privatization that has left the city of New Orleans without a single public school, community outcry over disappearing resources and unrelenting standardized testing mandates has increasingly hit the news.
But in the face of dire circumstances, recent years have also seen a resurgence of teacher union activism. At the start of 2016, in Detroit — where the $515 million in debt school system has been forced to borrow $50 million to simply finish the year following a $12.3 million corruption scandal — the Detroit Federation of Teachers shut down 88 of 97 schools with a “sick-out” to expose the dilapidating conditions of their schools.
Meanwhile, in Seattle, a growing grassroots movement led by teachers and students has driven a boycott movement against what local teacher Jesse Hagopian deems the “testocracy.”
But nowhere has the battle for the soul of education come to a head as it has in Chicago, where public sentiment favors the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) over Mayor Rahm Emanuel by a ratio of three to one — and where long before Emanuel was put on his heels by calls to resign in the wake of the Laquan McDonald police killing, he was dealt a blow by the teachers’ union with a successful strike in 2012.
Yet despite that high point for social justice unionism, Chicago public school students and educators faced the closure of 49 neighborhood public schools, each in predominantly Black neighborhoods, the following year.
Currently, the CTU is in negotiation with the city following its most recently proposed contract, which seeks to force the early retirement…