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Home » CER in the News » State Rep. Lisa Posthumus Lyons on Chicago strike: ‘Michigan teachers are better than that’

State Rep. Lisa Posthumus Lyons on Chicago strike: ‘Michigan teachers are better than that’

by Dave Murray
The Grand Rapids Press
September 10, 2012

Adding teeth to Michigan’s law preventing teachers from striking won’t be a topic in state House Education Committee meetings despite the walkout by 30,000 Chicago educators, the committee’s chairwoman said.

State Rep. Lisa Posthumus Lyons, R-Ada, said there is a bill before her committee that would allow the state to suspend certification for teachers who strike.

But Lyons said there are more issues before the committee that she wants to address first, including making sure veterans have more educational opportunities.

“It’s so heartbreaking to see children being hurt because adults cannot find solutions,” she said of the Chicago strike.

She said the Education Committee last year conducted hearings on the bill, sponsored by state Rep. Bill Rogers, R-Brighton. She has now immediate plans to call for a vote.

Lyons said she doesn’t think Michigan teachers will follow the lead of the Chicago teachers, who walked off the job on Monday in part because of objections to a plan to use student test scores in evaluations.

“Michigan teachers are better than that,” she said.

A group of 14 Michigan school districts are piloting four programs that would look at ways to link student achievement to teacher evaluations.

Michigan teachers strikes have been illegal since 1994, though there have been three strikes — two in Detroit and one in Wayne-Westland.

Michigan’s Public Act 112 stipulates striking teachers be fined one day’s pay for each day they refuse to work. But a district must report a strike to the Michigan Employee Relations Commission, which has up to 60 days to verify such an action was taken. The commission must then conduct individual hearings for each employee before approving fines or employee dismissals.

HB 4466, which has been on the House floor for more than a year, would allow districts to consolidate the hearings and establishes $250-a-day fine.

Chicago union leaders said the use of tests “is no way to measure the effectiveness of an educator.”

“Further there are too many factors beyond our control which impact how well some students perform on standardized tests such as poverty, exposure to violence, homelessness, hunger and other social issues beyond our control,” the union said in a release.

The strike brought swift reaction from advocacy groups, union leaders and politicians. Here is a sampling of the comments.

Amy Wilkins, vice president of The Education Trust:

“Overall, the Chicago teachers’ strike is deeply upsetting. But it is especially tragic for the low-income students who don’t have a moment of academic time to waste. In announcing the strike, Karen Lewis, the head of the Chicago Teachers’ Union, argued that children living in poverty or other difficult circumstances cannot be expected to perform well. But reams of evidence and a growing number of high-performing, high-poverty public schools tell us that is just not true. When children—including poor children—are taught to high levels by strong, well-supported teachers, children achieve at high levels. There’s no denying that poverty does matter. But what educators do in the face of poverty matters a lot. And when educators give in to myths of low academic potential for poor students, they not only condemn those students to limited futures but abdicate the enormous power that they have to change their life trajectories. For too long, too many Americans have accepted the myth that poor performance in schools is just a natural byproduct of impoverished neighborhoods. That Lewis would perpetuate that myth strongly suggests that she fails to take seriously the high price the city’s most vulnerable students are paying during this strike—or the costs they will pay for an agreement that fails to create better learning opportunities for them.”

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten:

“For the first time in 25 years, the members of the Chicago Teachers Union are on strike. No one wants to strike, and no one strikes without cause. In this instance, it comes on the heels of numerous steps that left CTU members feeling disrespected, not the least of which was the district’s unilateral decision to strip teachers and paraprofessionals of an agreed-upon 4 percent raise. The strike comes only after long and intense negotiations failed to lead to an agreement that would give CTU members the tools they need to help all their students succeed.

“The American Federation of Teachers and our members across the country stand firmly with the CTU, and we will support its members in their efforts to secure a fair contract that will enable them to give their students the best opportunities.”

The Center for Education Reform:

“The teacher’s union leaders have, for the last few years, worked hard to correct the impression that their focus is on job protection, and that they, too, like the rest of the nation, are frustrated with the slow pace of school improvement. The alleged willingness of the unions to engage in conversations about teacher quality and to call for an end to failing schools has all been interpreted as a sign that they have turned the corner. Some of us have remained unconvinced, recognizing that many often confuse action with rhetoric. The Chicago teacher’s strike of 2012 settles the issue once and for all. Parents and students are left without the education their taxes support. Taxpayers in general are beholden to union demands that are focused on rights and protections, not on kids. Chicago remains among the worst performing school districts in the nation, yet instead of embracing the mayor’s rational, modest proposals to begin instituting limited performance evaluations, union leaders begin acting more like the Chicago thugs of old than the leaders they want to be considered today.”

White House spokesman Jake Carney said President Obama is aware of the strike, but has not offered a reaction. During his Monday press briefing, Carney said:

“I can tell you that as a — more broadly, that our principal concern is for the students, and his principal concern is for the students and families who are affected by the situation. And we hope that both sides are able to come together to settle this quickly and in the best interest of Chicago’s students. But beyond that, I haven’t got a specific reaction from the President.”

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney:

“I am disappointed by the decision of the Chicago Teachers Union to turn its back on not only a city negotiating in good faith but also the hundreds of thousands of children relying on the city’s public schools to provide them a safe place to receive a strong education. Teachers unions have too often made plain that their interests conflict with those of our children, and today we are seeing one of the clearest examples yet. President Obama has chosen his side in this fight, sending his vice president last year to assure the nation’s largest teachers union that ‘you should have no doubt about my affection for you and the president’s commitment to you.’ I choose to side with the parents and students depending on public schools to give them the skills to succeed, and my plan for education reform will do exactly that.”


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