The Art of the Deal... CTU organizing against 'Performance Counts' while corporate millions and corporate media tout corporate 'school reform'

The Chicago Teachers Union is scrambling to alert its members to contact their legislators about proposed legislation called "Performance Counts" that it claims will "turn teaching into a low-wage, high-turnover job." The 40-page draft bill will prevent teachers from ever teaching in Illinois again if they receive three unsatisfactory ratings over a 10 year period and prohibit teachers from bargaining over class size and student schedules.

Flanked by the American and Illinois flags, members of the Illinois House of Representatives "School Reform Committee" face corporate witnesses from Advance Illinois and the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago on the second day of hearings on the "Performance Counts" legislation in Aurora Illinois, December 17, 2010. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.The bill is predicted to sail through the state house of representatives because it has the backing of the speaker Mike Madigan, who similarly spearheaded a devasting pension bill that increased the retirement age to 67, the highest retirement age for teachers in the country. It's called fast-track legislation, and it comes during turbulent times.

The CTU is hoping to stop this bill in the senate, but the odds makers aren't so sure. Most likely, if the pension bill scenario repeats, the Performance Counts bill will end up on the governor's desk waiting to be signed into law.

This is where the political game takes front and center. The CTU and the Illinois Federation of Teachers (IFT) endorsed Gov. Pat Quinn in the November election. The IFT, which reversed its earlier decision to not endorse Quinn and the other democrats who voted for the pension bill, pumped in about $500,000 to help get Quinn elected.

So what do the teachers unions get in return?

Quinn made three promises: 1) to veto the diabetes bill (he in fact did veto it, but the legislature overrode it), 2) to veto the voucher bill (which may appear soon) and 3) to fight for an income tax increase to fund education.

R. Eden Martin, representing Chicago's corporate CEOs as head of the "Civic Committee of the Commercial Club" of Chicago, testified during the second day of the hearings on "Performance Counts." No members of the committee noted that Martin's record in Chicago is one of failure; Martin was the author of the 2003 report ("Left Behind") that provided Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley with the blueprint for his devastating (begun in 2004) "Renaissance 2010" program of privatization, charterization and union busting in Chicago's public schools. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.The income tax increase is the key negotiating tool all interested parties are haggling over. An income tax increase comes at a sensitive time when President Obama broke his promise to rescind the Bush-era tax cut for the wealthy and agreed instead to extend it, along with middle class tax cuts.

o how is the governor going to fight the state legislature and get republicans who would never support an income tax increase, to agree to increase everybody's tax bills?

Enter Performance Counts and its amendment to the Illinois school code, an accountability measure similar to the 1995 Amendatory Act, when Mayor Daley took control of the schools. This bill scapegoats teachers and their guaranteed pensions and lifetime jobs (no more tenure!).

This bill can be used at the bargaining table to give, in order to get, the tax increase, insiders say.

This proposed legislation which aims straight at the teachers unions' heart - by seriously undermining collective bargaining and eliminating the strike clause - was written by the Oregon-based Stand for Children and adopted by Advance Illinois.

Jitu Brown of the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization in Chicago provided the committee with detailed examples of the failure of the kind of corporate "school reform" promoted by Eden Martin, Advance Illinois, and Stand for Children. Instead of taking Brown's critique into account, the members of the committee, Republicans and Democrats alike, tried to ignore Brown and other long-time Chicago community groups in favor of Advance Illinois and Stand for Children, both of which are creations of the corporate plutocracy, especially millions of dollars from the Gates Foundation.Stand for Children gets much of its funding from the Gates Foundation. Bill Gates, who is against tenure and defined pensions and is funding charter schools, was invited by AFT President Randi Weingarten to speak at the AFT Convention last July in Seattle.

Many teachers in the hall booed when a small contingent of convention delegates left the room as Weingarten introduced the very man who is funding the current Illinois legislation that aims to further destroy teachers unions in the Land of Lincoln. The teachers in Seattle even gave Gates a standing ovation at the end of his speech.

"I believe one has to have an engagement strategy and that engagement strategy creates dialogue," Weingarten explained to the IFT delegates about why she invited Gates. "We will not be successful unless we are respected as equal partners with bosses. Now there's different ways of trying to demand that respect. One of the ways is street action. One of the ways is through politics. So mobilizing, politics, agitating, educating. And ultimately, if we don't have a way of talking to the person who is probably more influential on President Barack Obama then anyone else in the world, we're not going to have a way of piercing that. Now some people will disagree. But ultimately, Bill Gates and that foundation has more influence on Barack Obama and more influence in the world than anybody else I know. And we were in his town. Microsoft runs this town. And I want him to be viewed by us as an important enough entity within public education that he has to speak with us, not to us."

Now the AFT is sending an email, signed by the IFT President Dan Montgomery, to its members in Illinois stating that "some out-of-state special interest groups are trying to silence us and to encourage the general assembly to rush through a radical new law."

That "out-of-state special interest group" happens to be Gates, the one the AFT is supposedly engaged with.

Union activists across the country see hope in Chicago where a spirited group called CORE won an upset victory over the long-time ruling UPC party, which many teachers felt were making deals not in the interest of teachers.

Former CTU president Marilyn Stewart, a close ally of Weingarten, also denounced protests and implemented AFT-inspired education reforms such as merit pay and organizing charter schools rather than fighting them.

The one weapon the unions have, but seem to ignore these days, are its many members. CORE made its name by organizing communities against the school closings and it is working hard today. But will the CORE-led CTU be able to ignite its members to fight this odious legislation, or will more deals be made like before?

In addition to asking teachers to call and visit their state reps and senators, the CTU is also asking members to go to Springfield the first week of January to lobby against the Gates-backed bill. The CTU will also have four regional teacher meetings on Janurary 6th at 4pm at Eberhart Elmentary (3400 W. 65th Pl.), Robeson High School (6835 S. Normal Blvd.) and Lane Tech High School (501 W. Addison St.) about fighting Performance Counts.


December 31, 2010 at 6:03 PM

By: Theresa D. Daniels

The conscientious analysis of Jim Vail

Your consistently astute analysis of so many aspects of our battle in the CTU is admirable. You're one of the few who hold all parties accountable. Thanks.

January 1, 2011 at 1:27 PM

By: Danny

Date for Springfield lobbying?

Perhaps someone can clear this up:

The CTU e-mail dated 12/30 reads "CTU is sending a bus of member and community lobbyists on Wednesday, January 30."

Of course, there is no such date (January 30 is on a Sunday).

The intrepid reporter writes that it will happen during "the first week of January."

Can someone supply the correct date?

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