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Matt Farmer

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"We Are the Ninety-(Fill in the Blank) Percent"

Posted: 06/12/2012 9:46 pm

Is Chicago Public Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard a grade-grubber? After all, the guy's been ringing up some fairly impressive numbers since February 2011, when he was still running the schools in Rochester, New York. Back then, his Broadie charm and data-driven chit-chat earned him a 95 percent mark from Rochester's teachers.

This week, though, he did even better, earning a stellar 98 percent grade from Chicago's public school instructors. With high numbers like these, Brizard might even be able to get himself wait-listed at one of Chicago's selective-enrollment high schools.

Of course, I should probably mention that last year's 95 percent grade in Rochester was actually a 95 percent vote of "no-confidence" given to him by that city's teachers.

And the 98 percent score he received in Chicago? Well, that represented the percentage of voting Chicago Teachers Union members who cast a ballot last week to authorize the CTU to strike if they can't find contractual common ground this summer with Brizard and his boss, Mayor Rahm Emanuel. (Roughly 8.5 percent of the CTU's 26,502 members did not vote in last week's election, which means a still-overwhelming 90 percent of the CTU's total membership voted to authorize a strike.)

But none of this makes any sense -- at least, according to Brizard.

It's one of those rare times when our data-driven CEO wants us to ignore the numbers and focus instead on his anecdotal claims. He says his relationship with teachers in Rochester was "actually quite good," and just last week he told WTTW's Elizabeth Brackett that he has a "really good relationship" with teachers in Chicago.

Rest assured that if Brackett had shown him footage of Chicago teachers booing him when his face appeared on the JumboTron during the CTU's May 23 rally at the Auditorium Theater, Brizard would have set her straight: "Elizabeth, those teachers weren't booing me. They were calling me their 'boo.'"

And Rod Blagojevich is undoubtedly still telling guys in the prison weight room that he has a "really good relationship" with the voters of Illinois.

There's an obvious disconnect between teachers' perceptions of Brizard and Brizard's claimed relationship with teachers. It's been a problem for some time, and it's just getting worse.

Does Brizard actually believe the words that come out of his own mouth? Who knows? After all, the man sticks to City Hall talking points the way Nancy Grace sticks to "missing white girl" stories.

What is clear, though, is that the more Brizard continues to talk about his great relationship with teachers, the angrier Chicago teachers get.

You don't, for example, show your respect for the intelligence of rank-and-file CPS teachers by suggesting that they were duped by their own CTU leadership into last week's strike-authorization vote:

"What are they voting on?" Brizard said. "You're asking educated professionals to decide something that they don't know what they're deciding on. That is disingenuous and disrespectful of teachers."

If I had a dime for each of the nearly 24,000 teachers who'd beg to differ with Brizard on that point, I could probably cover a month's worth of disciplinary fines at one of the mayor's favorite charter school networks.

Brizard and Emanuel have tried to run a "good cop/bad cop" game on CPS teachers, but they've failed miserably. To be fair, Emanuel has had the "bad cop" thing down cold from Day One. Teachers have long known that he's out to get them and the neighborhood schools in which they teach.

But Brizard just doesn't cut it as the "good cop." In fact, neither he nor Arne Duncan is convincing in the role of the guy from the streets who "really cares" about teachers.

Equally troubling to teachers is the revolving-door administration that Brizard has overseen since moving to Chicago. In the last few months, he's lost his chief education officer, his chief-of-staff, and his chief family and community engagement officer.

He's infuriated teachers, he can't keep his staff together, and his reflexive reliance on stale talking points is at once defensive and indefensible.

Maybe that's why he hasn't attended a single bargaining session with the CTU over the last six months.

Something has to change.

 

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