The Noble Professions

From Human Events:

Reuters offers a snapshot of frayed nerves on the second day of the Chicago teachers’ union strike:

Many parents stayed home from work with their children on the first day of a strike by 29,000 Chicago teachers and support staff Monday. But patience was being tested on Tuesday as the largest U.S. teachers strike since 2006 dragged on.

“We’re kind of winging it, to be honest,” said Eve Ludwig, a parent outside one Chicago elementary school. “The kids stayed with their dad yesterday. Today they’re with me. We’re hopeful this will be resolved this week.”

Chicago school officials said about 18,000 students took part in a half-day of “safe and engaging programming” on Monday at 144 public schools, supervised by principals, volunteers and non-union employees.

Three more schools will be open for half-day care on Tuesday, but will serve only a fraction of 350,000 students affected by the strike. Another 52,000 students at public-funded but non-union charter schools are attending classes as usual.

The unions are fortunate that Chicago parents have displayed this much patience.  We’re talking about a “trade union” whose “product” includes 79 percent of 8th-grade students who lack grade-school proficiency in reading, and 80 percent who don’t have grade-school proficiency in math.  The unions think a 16 percent raise is too small for these efforts, and they’re particularly angry about attempts to assess the performance of teachers with standardized tests.

We are constantly fed two conflicting assertions about teacher performance:

1. Good teachers are a priceless treasure, indispensible to providing America’s youth with a decent chance at success in life.

2. There is no way to efficiently measure the performance of teachers.

So, which is it?  Are the poorest children of Chicago doomed to illiteracy and poverty because of their upbringing, making it unfair to hold their performance against teachers?  Or are teachers such a priceless resource that an average salary of $71,000 per year, plus gold-plated benefits the city can’t afford to sustain, are insufficient reward for their amazing skills?  If good teachers are a treasure beyond price, aren’t bad teachers an equally formidable curse, which we should spare no effort to trim from the system?  Shouldn’t we solicit bids from private contractors to see if they can do better than substandard literacy among a large majority of eight-grade students, for a lower cost?

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