Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Jeffrey Mirel discusses teachers' strikes, in light of the ongoing Chicago strike, on The Educated Reporter blog.

Tags: , digital signage, educational studies, mirel

A September 12, 2012, posting on The Educated Reporter blog, reports on the ongoing Chicago teachers' union strike. Jeffrey Mirel, education historian, is featured in the article:

University of Michigan Prof. Jeffrey Mirel, who focuses on the history of politics of urban schools and education reform, said the pushback from some critics who argue that teachers’ unions are standing in the way of improving the nation’s public schools doesn’t have a lot of factual support. Mirel said he wasn’t aware of any evidence that getting rid of unions or collective bargaining rights improved the quality of education.

He noted that Finland -- widely considered one of the world’s model school systems thanks in part to its superior performance on international exams – has a highly unionized teacher workforce. That’s also true in Singapore and Japan, which also scores well in international comparisons, Mirel said.

As for whether or not the strike represents as showdown between the “old” and the “new” when it comes to expectations for public school teachers, Mirel said he’s not convinced that’s really at the heart of the matter. But either way the strike is bad news for students who lose much-needed seat time. Amy Wilkins, vice president fo the Education Trust, a nonprofit advocacy organization dedicated to closing opportunity and achievement gaps, called the strike "deeply upsetting" and "especially tragic for the low-income students who don’t have a moment of academic time to waste."

Such labor actions can possibly end up hurting the teachers, as well -- even if the contract talks are resolved in their favor.

Generally, teachers and parents have been allies, working toward a common goal of making sure students learn. But strikes, particularly prolonged ones, can do long-term damage to those relationships, Mirel said.

“There can be a loss of that sense of shared allegiance and obligation,” Mirel told me. “Teachers can win the battle (of the strike), but they sacrifice the support of a lot of parents and students along the way.”

And that, Mirel says, can mean losing the war.

Jeffrey Mirel is the David L. Angus Collegiate Chair, School of Education; and professor, Department of History, College of Literature, Science, and the Arts.

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