Angry Chicago teachers take on Obama

Chicago public school teachers and their supporters picket in front of the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) headquarters on September 11, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois (AFP Photo / Scott Olson)
As the Chicago teachers’ strike continues for the third day in a row, protesters are demanding Obama get involved in their fight with the district.

­“Obama don’t ignore us,” read one of the signs carried by teachers.

“President Obama We Are Under Attack, Was This Your Plan When You Sent Rahm Back?” another set of posters said. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel worked under Obama as the White House Chief of Staff before quitting to run, successfully, for Mayor of Chicago.

The Obama administration has not taken a stance on the strike. Education Secretary Arne Duncan simply expressed her hope that the schoolchildren’s interests would be prioritized and “that the parties will come together to settle this quickly and get our kids back into the classroom.”

Washington Post blogger Valerie Strauss explains the difficulty Obama faces in this situation. Democrats have typically sided with labor unions, but Obama, his education secretary, and Emanuel have supported school "reform" efforts that are usually pushed by Republicans. Emanuel is promoting the changes, which include teacher evaluations based on students' standardized test scores.

Teachers, meanwhile, say such a method forces them to choose between teaching their students a broad range of material, and teaching them within the confines of the standardized tests whose scores their jobs would depend on.

Emanuel called the picketing an unnecessary “strike of choice.”

In choosing to side with either the teacher's unions or Emanuel, the president would have to decide whether to lose the support of the labor movement or go against those whose policies he has agreed with. Still, political analysts expect many teachers to vote for Obama in the November election regardless of his stance on the strike.

“I think all sides in the Democratic fold understand the stakes in the November election,” University of California scholar Harley Shaiken told NPR. “So I think the teachers, whatever the outcome in Chicago, will work very hard for the president’s re-election.”

And as negotiations between teachers – who have been working without a contract since June – and the district failed to fashion an agreement Tuesday during meetings that ended at 8pm, tensions remained high between the two parties.

Chicago Board of Education President David Vitale claims an agreement is just around the corner, and that Tuesday’s meetings were productive and involved a lot of agreement. But the union says otherwise.

Chicago Teachers Union President Jesse Sharkey said the district is obstructing progress in the dispute.

“We tried to move in the board’s direction today,” he said. “At the end of the day, though, they basically dug in their heels, and told us if we didn’t give them a comprehensive proposal, that we didn’t have anything further to talk about. So we kind of feel like they’ve given us an ultimatum.”

Meanwhile, working Chicago parents continue to struggle to find supervision for their children, many of whom are being sent to one of the 144 "drop-off centers" that students can go to for meals and activities.