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Community Advocates See CTU Strike As Opportunity To Highlight National Education Issues

Advocacy groups across Chicago mobilized today in support of the Chicago Teachers Union strike, setting up “freedom camps” and scheduling events for the next two weeks including a “freedom ride” to Washington, D.C.

The advocates' approach to the strike contrasts the argument being made by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. While Emanuel frames the strike as a matter of just two outstanding issues, advocates seek to elevate the dispute to a national referendum on urban education policy.

“This labor fight is much bigger than bread and butter issues for teachers,” says Amisha Patel, executive director of the Grassroots Collaborative. According to Patel, the strike is about whether CTU can halt “corporate control over schools”, saying that the business-focused approach to school reform has been going on at least since former Chicago mayor Richard Daley unveiled the pro-charter school “Renaissance 2010” program in 2004.

Patel says she has talked with advocates from Minnesota and New York who are planning trips to Chicago to support CTU.

Jitu Brown, education organizer for the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, plans “freedom rides” to Washington, D.C. next week, regardless of whether there is a strike resolution by then. Chicago advocates will join activists from Detroit, Philadelphia and other cities, according to Brown.

Brown wants a meeting with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, former Chief Executive Officer of the Chicago Public Schools, to push for a nationwide moratorium on school closings. “The nation is watching Chicago,” Brown says.

Neighborhood groups sympathetic with CTU started to set up “freedom camps” that may operate as an alternative to the CPS strike contingency plan.

Jenifer Velazquez - LSNA Youth Leader

Jennifer Velazquez, an organizer with the Logan Square Neighborhood Association, says freedom camps will explain to CPS students “why teachers are striking.” Velazquez plans to connect education on the strike with milestones in Chicago civil rights history from the Great Migration to the election of Harold Washington in 1983 as the city’s first black mayor. She says the Logan Square camp will be held between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. each weekday during the strike at St. Augustine College, located at 3255 W. Armitage Ave.

CTU President Karen Lewis echoed this discussion of broader issues in remarks last night announcing the strike, arguing that CPS and other urban school districts throughout the country are doling out cash to charters at the expense of neighborhood schools and explaining how problems faced by teachers on the job are endemic of larger social inequalities.

But Emanuel and CPS have narrowly tailored their remarks for the most part thus far. At a press conference today, Emanuel doubled down on comments made last night that the strike is about two issues, principal autonomy over teacher personnel decisions and agreeing on a teacher evaluation procedure.

The mayor fiercely defends his implementation of the seven-hour school day, saying that the model is being lauded and looked at by school districts across the nation. In today's press conference, Emanuel also voiced his support for the Obama administration's Race to the Top initiative (PDF) and discussed international education programs, citing first grade computer coding classes being considered and implemented in Astonia and England.     

Stay tuned to see if CTU and advocates are persuasive in reshaping the public discussion on U.S. public education and reform efforts.

Keywords: chicago, ctu, Education, freedom camp, jennifer, Jennifer Velazquez, Logan Square, Strike, velazquez

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