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Chicago teachers strike ends, but political fallout is just beginning

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It was notable that Obama – who risked alienating either union voters or turning his back on his own reforms – never picked sides in the strike. By contrast, GOP rival Mitt Romney and his ticket mate, Rep. Paul Ryan (R) of Wisconsin, publicly backed Mayor Emanuel and tried to paint Obama as the union supporter.

But beyond Chicago, the strike energized both union activists and those who see unions as the enemy of reform. For many teachers, the images out of Chicago highlighted their own deep concerns over reforms seen as vilifying teachers or privatizing education.

“The big lesson of the strike is that teachers don’t like No Child Left Behind or Race to the Top,” says Diane Ravitch, an education historian at New York University, referring to two major federal reforms coming out of the Bush and Obama administrations.

“Teachers see [Race to the Top] as micromanagement that reduces their status as professionals,” Ms. Ravitch wrote in an e-mail. “They were striking against high-stakes testing, against school closings, against privatization, against 17 years of failed top-down reforms.” (A pioneer of performance-based education reform, Ravich is now among the strongest critics of how these reforms were implemented nationally.)

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