The similarities between Chicago and
Newark are eerie. Both cities have outspoken Democratic, reform-minded mayors
at the helm (Rahm Emmanuel and Cory Booker respectively) who ardently advocate for educational
equity. Both Emmanuel and Booker support merit pay (see yesterday’s great piece
by Lisa Fleisher in the Wall St. Journal and today’s Star-Ledger), in addition to supporting the linkage of
teacher evaluations to student growth, charter school expansion, and eliminating
seniority-based lay-offs. Both mayors are “rising stars” within the party. Booker
got a slot at the DNC Convention earlier this month and is reportedly eying a
U.S. Senate seat. Emmanuel would have also spoken
at the DNC if he hadn’t been heading an Obama PAC (a position he no longer
holds). Both mayors consistently echo President Obama’s education agenda.
There are big differences too, of
course. Chicago’s school system enrolls over 350,000 kids, almost ten times as
many as Newark’s. Newark has an extra $100 million to work with from Mark
Zuckerberg’s Facebook donation, not to mention the momentum and media garnered
by that grant. And Newark is an affiliate of AFT while the Chicago Education
Association is part of NEA. Chicago's cost per pupil is $13,078; Newark's is (depending upon whom you ask) about $18,000.
Speaking of merit pay and mayoral
support, Joseph Del Grosso, president of the Newark Teachers Union, just
aligned himself with Cory Booker and appears to have the support of his
membership. Del Grosso told the Wall St. Journal,
"It's been used in the private sector effectively, and it's something
that we should try to use effectively here," Mr. Del Grosso said of merit
pay. "I see no reason for a union to not want pay for their members."
On the other hand, NJEA Spokesman Steve Wollner told the Star-Ledger that
merit pay "subjective" and "disruptive to an inherently
collaborative profession.” The Wall St. Journal quotes Wollner on merit pay
"they’re destructive of morale, they create a competitive and
confrontational and negative environment within schools. And there's never
enough money, and it's usually administered unfairly. Other than that, it's a
In Chicago, the School Board and Mayor Emmanuel had initially tried to
negotiate merit pay, but their most recent offer conceded the issue. Then the delegates rejected the offer anyway; CEA
President Karen Lewis is approaching Romney-esque levels of obfuscation; she
effectively received a vote of no-confidence after recommending a settlement
rejected by her membership.
(From Intercepts: “We believe this is a good contract, however, no contract
will solve all of the inequities in our District.” – Chicago Teachers Union
president Karen Lewis, in a September 15th news release.
“This is not a good deal by any stretch of the imagination.” – Chicago
Teachers Union president Karen Lewis, during a September 16th news conference.)
Meanwhile, Chicago’s kids are still out of school, the union president looks weak, and
the delegates look greedy. In Newark, the teachers' union looks proactive and open to reasonable reforms,, advocating for both increased compensation for its members and a better teachers for kids. On top of that, Del Grosso appears willing to buck the much larger and stronger NJEA.
How will Emmanuel's prospects be affected by the Chicago strike? Hard to say, although as the days go on the CTU, or at least its delegates, appear more craven and opportunistic. In contrast, the Newark Teachers Union president's support for merit pay makes the union and the city's mayor look good.