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Former D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty On Chicago Teachers' Strike: 'Kudos to Rahm'

Reid Rosenberg: http://www.flickr.com/photos/reid_rosenberg/4584824405/

Former D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty is siding with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel in his dispute with the city's teachers' union, and he's urging politicians to follow suit.

Chicago public school teachers went on strike Monday in the third-largest school system amid contract negotiations over performance evaluations, wages and job security for laid-off teachers.

"Here you have a newly-elected, very popular mayor being one to throw huge political chips into this fight to say, 'We're not going to stand for this. You know, this school system needs to be fixed, and I'm willing to put my political career on the line,'" Fenty said about Emanuel Wednesday during an appearance on The Diane Rehm Show. "To me, I don't understand why people aren't rallying around him."

Fenty said he hopes President Barack Obama, Education Secretary Arne Duncan and other Democrats stand behind the mayor.

"Certainly for my party as Democrats, we know that school systems aren't going to be fixed by tinkering around the edges," Fenty said. "Kudos to Rahm Emanuel, keep it up, even do more. That's how I see this going."

Fenty sees clear parallels exist between the Chicago standoff and the battles he waged as D.C. mayor, he said in an interview after the show. 

"The degree of political unpopularity for school reform fights is really similar," Fenty said. "Many politicians know it's the right thing to do, but they're thinking too much about reelection."

The Fenty administration implemented school reforms that based pay raises on standardized test scores, graduation rates and teacher evaluations. During his administration, D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee implemented a new evaluation system and fired more than 200 teachers.

Fenty criticized the Chicago Teachers' Union's demands on the evaluations.

"What they want is something that doesn't happen in the real world," Fenty said. "They want it not tied to any type of objective performance criteria. We see where that's gotten Chicago public schools and everywhere else." 

In D.C., Fenty added, "it got us to the bottom."

Fenty wants to see an end to automatic tenure, promotions based solely on seniority and collective bargaining that doesn't allow administrators to hold people accountable.

"The teachers unions have been basically running the system for decades now, and our kids are failing. Let's do what's right for the kids for a change instead of doing what's right for adults," Fenty said. 

One of the union's criticisms of Emanuel's proposal is that 6,000 teachers would be laid off. But Fenty sees this as a reason to move forward with the plan. 

"If you start to put objective criteria in teacher evaluations and then it results in a mass layoff of teachers, to me, that's accountability," he said. "That's holding people responsible for what they are supposed to do."

Listen to Fenty's full interview on The Diane Rehm Show.

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