Ain’t No Free Lunch

FreeLunchEducators for Excellence (E4E) has been making the rounds to CPS schools offering free lunch to teachers in exchange for informally getting to know their organization. Here’s what they don’t emphasize: to join E4E, you have to sign a 12-point declaration, supportive of merit pay, value-added evaluation, tenure tied to evaluation, an end to seniority, and school “choice.” The whole basis of their organization (“there is no factor more important to student success than the quality of our instruction”) has been refuted vigorously in A Just Chicago and other academic sources. E4E ignores the primary role played by poverty and racism in educational outcomes.

Joanne Barkin, in a 2013 article, How Big Philanthropy Undermines Democracy, describes a strategy used by organizations funded heavily by the Gates Foundation, like E4E: “support and participate in campaigns that only are tangentially related to the teacher effectiveness agenda in order to build trust among allies.” In New York, E4E promotes Restorative Justice. In Chicago, they criticize inadequate professional development. They draw in teachers who want to have a say in policy decisions with false promises that E4E will be able to get their suggestions implemented. E4E claims to be pro-union and many of the teachers it recruits are strong union members. However, the policies E4E advocates in its declaration are aimed at diminishing the unity that is the foundation of unionism.

Take so-called “pay for performance” for example. Currently, all teachers who continue in the system get experience raises (“steps”) and all teachers who advance their education get raises as well (“lanes”). Pay for performance, on the other hand, is available only to those deemed by CPS to be “better” teachers. This salary scheme pits teacher against teacher, thereby weakening the union. Similarly, Value Added Measures (VAM) support a competitive, rather than cooperative environment—VAM’s bell-curve scoring ensures that some teachers will always be in the lower half, no matter how well they perform. Unions have fought for seniority rights and tenure rights not to “protect bad teachers” but to protect good teachers from being dismissed for arbitrary reasons. Finally, as many studies have shown conclusively (including CTU’s The Black and White of Education) “school choice” does not lead to better outcomes for students.

Corporate-backed “AstroTurf” organizations tend to come and go and it remains to be seen how long E4E will be around. In the meantime, CTU has been the voice of teachers, PSRPs, and clinicians for the past 78 years, and continues to fight for a just Chicago and the schools that students deserve.

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About Carol Caref

Carol Caref taught high school mathematics in CPS for 26 years before coming to work at the Chicago Teachers Union as a researcher. She has been involved in anti-racist, anti-capitalist struggles since her teens.

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