Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis has claimed that national education policy groups disruptively shape the Chicago Public Schools' agenda and are now interfering in contract negotiations between CPS and the teachers union. The one outside group that has indisputably stepped into the collective bargaining fray is Education Reform Now, which is headquartered in New York.
Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis has claimed that national education policy groups disruptively shape the Chicago Public Schools' agenda and are now interfering in contract negotiations between CPS and the teachers union. On Monday, Lewis called a vote by teachers to authorize a strike “an indictment of the outside groups that seek to destroy the real work being done by Chicago’s teachers, paraprofessionals and clinicians.”
The one outside group that has indisputably stepped into the collective bargaining fray is Education Reform Now, which is headquartered in New York and has seven state branch offices including Wisconsin, but none in Illinois.
Last week, the group placed automated calls to CPS parents that scolded CTU for holding a strike authorization vote. The vote, which started June 6 and ended June 8, resulted in almost 90 percent of CTU members putting their support behind a strike authorization – clearing a 75 percent threshold imposed by state law, and giving CTU the option to strike if negotiations break down.
In the “robo-call,” a woman identifying herself as a Local School Council member says that, “Teachers deserve a raise. But it bothers me that the union is taking a strike vote before an independent arbitrator offers a compromise.”
The woman then gives parents a number to text message to let CPS and CTU know their disapproval of a strike authorization vote, and notes that Education Reform Now paid for the message.
Wendy Katten, of the parent group Raise Your Hands, claims that parents throughout the city received these robo-calls amid the three-day strike authorization vote.
In response to questions about the robo-call and their involvement in contract talks, Jake Breymaier, advocacy director for the group, released a statement saying, “Education Reform Now is advocating for a solution that avoids a strike and does what is best for Chicago’s children.”
“We will continue our outreach to parents, voters, and citizens as long as necessary and we will use all available avenues to reach them,” Breymaier continued.
Education Reform Now was set up in 2005 in conjunction with Democrats for Education Reform, a Political Action Committee.
In a May interview with Education Week, Joe Williams, executive director for Democrats for Education Reform, said the group was created to elect politicians “less beholden to teachers unions.”
Much like the Natural Resources Defense Council does for the environment or the Chamber of Commerce does for business, Education Reform Now is part of a coterie of new, but growing education groups that lobby on the national, state, and local level. Typically, these groups push policies that unions oppose such as more charter schools, which are usually staffed by non-union teachers.
For example, the group routed over $50,000 into a 2010 Buffalo, New York school board race to support a candidate who favored more charter schools and wanted to base teacher pay partly on student performance.
CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll says that the district has not coordinated with any outside group in getting their message out to parents.
While that might be the case, the message from CPS and Education Reform Now is identical on the strike authorization vote, they argue that CTU violated the spirit of last year’s landmark state education law by holding the strike authorization while an independent fact finder reviews both sides' proposals.
In a letter to CPS parents (PDF) dated June 6, CPS Chief Executive Officer Jean-Claude Brizard writes that the two sides “are in the middle of a contract negotiation process that was established in the recent Illinois Education Reform Legislation and designed specifically to foster negotiation and avoid a strike.”
“Teachers must be allowed to see the final independent compromise proposal before making the decision to authorize a strike,” Brizard added.
National education groups were central in drafting and lobbying for the state education law.
Eric Zorn argued in his Chicago Tribune column Wednesday that groups such as Education Reform Now and the Oregon group Stand For Children celebrated the passage of the law last year for effectively preventing any future CTU strikes. But the law never specified when during the collective bargaining process teachers could take a strike vote.
It is not clear if outside groups with views that align closer to CTU might step into the collective bargaining process. For example, the American Federation of Teachers, which CTU is a part of, could financially support their own public relations campaign in support of Chicago teachers.