The Chicago strike: It’s hard to imagine the teachers winning in the court of public opinion

It’s difficult to know, from the outside, what’s really going on with the negotiations over the Chicago teachers contract. But it’s not difficult to predict how this will play with the public. Here are the facts: The nation’s unemployment rate is still over 8 percent and the average Chicago teacher makes $76,000 per year. Those two numbers, I suspect, are not going to add up to a whole lot of sympathy for Chicago teachers.

This drama is playing out in Chicago but how it’s reported in nearby states could very well impact the election.

Consider this data point, from a year ago. Education Next researchers put this question to a representative sample of the public: “According to the most recent information available, teachers in the United States are paid an average annual salary of $54,819. Do you think that these teacher salaries should increase, decrease, or stay about the same?”

Only 41 percent said that salaries should increase or greatly increase; 48 percent wanted salaries to stay the same; and another 9 percent actually wanted lower salaries. One would assume that, after being told that Chicago teachers make $76,000 a year, even fewer people would be in favor of higher pay.

So will this matter? Chicago teachers might want to show Rahm Emmanuel they can’t be “bullied.” But President Obama no doubt wants this strike over quickly. Already, the press accounts in nearby Midwestern swing states (think: Wisconsin and Ohio) are hostile to the actions of the teachers, which can’t be good for Democrats in an election year. This drama is playing out in Chicago but how it’s reported in Milwaukee, Cleveland, and Columbus could very well impact the election.

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