Chicago and Newark; Emmanuel and Booker

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 systems:
"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 great idea."
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.