The Chicago teacher strike, which entered its fifth day on Friday, could hurt Obama’s chances for re-election, analysts said this week.
Chicago teachers went on strike Monday, after protracted negotiations over wages, length of the school day, health benefits and new teacher evaluations failed to yield a new contract for members of the city’s teachers union. (A new round of negotiations could end the strike by 2 p.m. Friday, however.)
This year, the Chicago Public Schools planned to roll out a new teacher evaluation system tying at least 25 percent of a teacher’s rating to student test scores. The district is ahead of a state law that requires new evaluations to be adopted by the 2016-17 school year.
Stricter evaluation systems for teachers have been a signature of President Barack Obama’s education reform efforts, but they have been hotly contested by teachers around the country.
Republican challenger Mitt Romney has tried to elevate the strike into a national political issue. He released a statement on Monday condemning the teachers unions and his opponent. “President Obama has chosen his side in this fight, sending his vice president last year to assure the nation’s largest teachers union that ‘you should have no doubt about my affection for you and the president’s commitment to you,’ ” Romney said. “I choose to side with the parents and students depending on public schools.”
Yet, so far, President Obama has chosen to stay out of the strike in Chicago, citing it as a local dispute. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan issued a brief statement saying he hoped “the parties will come together to settle this quickly and get our kids back in the classroom.”
Political analysts and strategists at the national level have suggested that the longer the strike lasts, the worse it could be politically for Obama. “There’s no doubt that this hurts President Obama,” Michael Petrilli, executive vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and former official in President George W. Bush’s administration, told the New York Times. “He needs teachers to be energized and to go out and knock on doors and man phone banks for him. Right now they’re watching his former chief of staff go toe to toe with the teachers’ union in Chicago. This is not a position that the president wants to find himself in.”
But the Chicago strike is just the latest—if most dramatic—incident in a series of confrontations between teachers unions and the Obama administration. In particular, Obama has pushed for policies like merit pay and increasing the number of charter schools, which unions have vehemently opposed.
Several teachers who spoke with The Hechinger Report at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., last week said they had no problem overlooking disagreements with Obama in order to support him in his re-election bid. Romney’s plans, including his desire to expand school choice, were not an appealing alternative to them. And American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten praised Obama for not getting involved at a Chicago press conference, and assured The Report that she saw no conflict between supporting striking teachers and supporting the president.
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