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The president’s signature Race to the Top initiative promoted teacher evaluation methods tied to student test scores. Unions have vehemently opposed such efforts.

Groups such as Democrats for Education Reform continue to grow in stature and influence, and are among the loudest critics of the power that teachers unions have over education policy in the U.S.

Public-sector labor groups also have come under attack by governors, most notably Wisconsin’s Scott Walker, a Republican. He successfully eliminated most of the collective-bargaining rights for teachers, though a judge has thrown out most of those changes. Mr. Walker has vowed to appeal.

As a place to make a stand against that tide, labor saw Chicago as a natural choice, said Justin Wilson, managing director of the Center for Union Facts.

“You’ve got a different set of facts on the ground there. Chicago was the best place for this to happen because there’s an expectation that unions are treated well in that town,” he said. “There are a lot of other cities where it’s unclear if unions could gain the upper hand.”

But whether it be in Chicago or elsewhere, reform efforts will continue — and will continue to meet stiff resistance from labor, Mr. Moe said.

“Moving forward, they will continue to resist reform and undermine it to the extent that they can,” he said. “Then the question becomes, how powerful can the reformers be?”