Chicago teachers strike may do wonders for school choice

There’s a ton of coverage of the teachers strike in Chicago today, but as we scan the headlines, it’s clear some education observers see plenty of upside for school choice.

More than 350,000 Chicago public school students were left without teachers, but not the 52,000 enrolled in the city’s charter schools.

Here’s the lead to a piece about that in yesterday’s Chicago Tribune:

Leslie Daniels enrolled her son in a Chicago charter school three years ago because she didn’t like the education he was getting in his local neighborhood school.

In the back of her mind, she also knew the school was less likely to be affected by labor problems because its teachers are not members of the Chicago Teachers Union. That’s an added benefit now that the union has called for its first walkout in 25 years. All of the city’s charter schools will remain open Monday.

“I’m glad I made the switch,” said Daniels, 55. “I feel for the other parents because a lot of them are working. What are their children going to be doing?”

Bloomberg editorial writer Tobin Harshaw picked up on that theme:

The charter schools are at the heart of the Chicago strike. For the union, a big sticking point has been the school board’s insistence that teacher assessments be used for merit pay and to make it easier to fire bad teachers. (This summer the city had to return a $35 million federal teacher-incentive grant because union officials wouldn’t agree on an evaluation system.)

Rewarding good teachers with financial bonuses and increased freedom in the classroom is a central tenet of the charter movement. It’s a concept that will likely have new appeal to Chicago parents missing work today and sitting at home with idle children.

The Chicago Tribune editorial board, meanwhile, juxtaposed striking teachers with the new Brookings Institution study that found higher graduation rates among black students who received vouchers. Here’s the full editorial. Here’s the kicker:

Here in Illinois, as we said, a voucher bill to free 30,000 Chicago public school students has been bottled up in the Legislature for more than two years.

Those are two years during which 30,000 students have been relegated to often low-performing schools.

Two years those kids can’t get back.

Two years during which many of their parents desperately sought an alternative only to find … that Illinois lawmakers beholden to their political allies and campaign donors in organized labor refuse to provide one.

For how many more years will Illinois legislators cheat these students — and tens of thousands like them who now are warehoused in other dead-end schools?

For how many more years will Illinois voters keep re-electing lawmakers who willfully deny these children a fair opportunity to reach for more successful lives?

How many more studies, how many more triumphs for voucher students elsewhere, until Illinois lawmakers are convinced — or shamed — into giving these kids a chance at a decent education?

Something to think about as teachers prepare to walk off the job.

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BY Ron Matus

Ron Matus is director for policy and public affairs at Step Up for Students and a former editor of redefinED. He joined Step Up in February 2012 after 20 years in journalism, including eight years as an education reporter with the Tampa Bay Times (formerly the St. Petersburg Times). Ron can be reached at or (727) 451-9830. Follow him on Twitter @RonMatus1 and on facebook at