Neoliberal education reformers took a deep breath after the Chicago mayoral election on Tuesday as establishment incumbent Rahm Emanuel failed to clear the 50 percent threshold and thus faces a runnoff from a more liberal candidate in April.
The election was closely watched by education policy advocates on all sides of the contentious school reform battles, as Emanual had staked a high profile fighting teacher unions in the windy city.
Education is at the heart of the battle for Chicago, with implications for other Democratic mayors in large cities: "Democratic mayors and governors across the nation are increasingly standing up to their traditional allies in the teachers unions to demand huge changes in urban school districts — and labor is frantically, furiously fighting back," Politico notes. "Local and national unions have made Emanuel a top target, pouring resources into the effort to oust him. If they succeed, they’ll gain momentum, not to mention a huge PR victory."
"Emanuel has spent much of his mayorship so far engaged in a bitter struggle with the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) over a number of policies supported by the 'education reform' movement," writes Elias Isquith in Salon.
The nadir of the relationship, Isquith writes, was a Chicago Teacher Union's strike in 2012, which ended after nine days with Emanual in retreat and the unions getting their way. "But the CTU strike was so unusually successful in part," Isquith writes, "because Emanuel was pushing for changes that went beyond teacher accountability and toward a more thorough dismantling of public education. The CTU was able to present itself as opposing neoliberalism, not just Rahm Emanuel; and it won.
Emanual's former boss, President Obama, stepped into the fray to defend the mayor, noting in a campaign ad that "Chicago had the shortest school day of any American city until Rahm insisted that our kids get the same educational opportunity as other kids."
But teacher union advocates see Obama is viewed as part of the problem, not the solution. The Obama administration education policy has been decidedly on the neoliberal/corporatist reform side of the education split now roiling the Democratic Party, and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has been a polarizing figure in his strong support for standardized testing and expanded charter schools.