Why 26,000 Teachers Are on Strike in Chicago

“Like unions everywhere, the Chicago Teachers Union is trying to hold on to what it has, while management is trying to impose new work rules” —New York Times

“The city’s first teachers strike in 25 years was prompted largely by two issues: a precipitous decline in public school funding and rising public demand to use standardized test scores in teacher evaluations.” — Los Angeles Times

“’Anger. This is about anger,’ said Barbara Radner, director of the Center for Urban Education at DePaul University in Chicago. ‘There is great, great hostility about the mayor right now among the teaching population. They call him ‘Empermanuel.’ He triggered that by saying, “I don’t need you. We’re going to have a longer school day.”‘ ” — Washington Post


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Megano! (#124)


I’m not sure that your links really get it right. Former NYC teacher here, fresh from the protest in Chicago. Here are some pretty decent summaries:




About the ‘public demand’ for test-based salaries: teaching is one of the only professions in which the public, having been students, thinks they know the demands of the job and the best way to do it. It’s as if I went to my dentist and said, “listen, I’ve been going to dentists since I was 3, so I know all about every facet of this job and how do do it the RIGHT WAY”

I was a HS science teacher. So ostensibly, they would want to merit-pay me based upon my students’ performance on their standardized science test. OK, cool…except that I taught CTT classes (combined special ed with ‘regular’ students), and out of the 120 15-18 year olds I taught, around 20 of them could read at a 9th grade level. At least 50% of my students would not be able to READ the test when they arrived in my classroom. Rather than spending my time teaching to the test, I would have loved to try to inspire a curiosity and love of learning about science. These ‘school reformers’ who want teacher-based merit pay see my students as commodities, and their test scores as profit; it’s a main reason I am not in teaching today.

deepomega (#22)

@Jake Reinhardt So you’re saying there is no way to measure educational success on low-performing kids? When they left your class at the end of the year, there was nothing you could do to figure out if you had served them well?

I’d counter your claim by saying teaching is one of the only professions where the worker tells their employer there is no possible way to tell how good they are at their job, and the employer believes it.

highjump (#39)

@deepomega So you’re saying there is no way to measure educational success on low-performing kids? Almost certainly Jake would still have to give grades to these students, still give them some sort of test. Of course he would have to evaluate them, and since he spent so much time with them of course he has a sense of their progression throughout the term. Many if not most of the special needs children probably had IEPs, which would require meetings with administrators and therapists. High-stakes testing is layered on top of that evaluation, and for many students (especially special needs students) a test is just a snapshot, not a true test of the ability of the student OR the teacher.

sony_b (#225)

@deepomega Another former teacher here – the issue is that if high school student shows up in a class and can’t do the work, the teacher can only do so much to bring them up to par. If they just can’t read, they just can’t do the work. That’s not the current teacher’s fault, and expecting a 10th grade science teacher teach science while also teaching 3rd grade reading to half the class is asinine. There are many reasons I don’t teach anymore, this is a big one.

deepomega (#22)

@sony_b Do you think high school students are the only projects that arrive completely fucked up and desperate need of rescuing? Or that sometimes can’t be salvaged? This isn’t unique to teaching, and yet somehow the “there’s no way to judge a teacher’s abilities” thing lives on.

sony_b (#225)

@deepomega Of course not. What I’m saying that there are a lot of factors, many of them totally out of the control of a single teacher that will impact their ability to teach. When you force social promotion, you are putting children in a position where they cannot learn what is supposed to be taught, and then blaming the current teach for their failure. It’s stupid. Reform from the ground up, so kids don’t move past 3rd grade until they can prove they can read would be a great start.

highjump (#39)

@deepomega Who is saying that there is NO way to judge a teacher’s abilities? What CTU is saying, and what the people in this thread seem to be saying, is that evaluation via high-stakes testing is unfair to teachers and students.

While there are certainly parallels you can draw between the private sector/project management and teaching in a public school I find the way you’re doing so insulting. Students are not projects, they are people. Developing humans who make lots of mistakes, but are the future of our society. And don’t forget – public schools have an obligation to take all comers. You are absolutely not comparing apples to apples.

deepomega (#22)

@sony_b I completely agree that there has to be reform in earlier grades, but I also am extremely frustrated by first-in first-promoted pay scales, and by the willingness to say “nobody teaches for the money,” since we would definitely get better teachers if we paid for it. It’s a no-brainer. And standardized tests (as currently implemented) are bullshit, both as measures of student success and as a way to measure teacher success. No-brainer.

But the implication that any attempt to quantify a teacher’s ability to teach is some kind of Randian capitalist serf-enforcement is ridiculous. (Specifically that quote above about “These ‘school reformers’ who want teacher-based merit pay see my students as commodities, and their test scores as profit; it’s a main reason I am not in teaching today.”)

sony_b (#225)

@deepomega The point of “nobody teaches for the money” is that you would get better teachers if you paid. DUH. You’ve missed the point of that phrase, I think. My last teaching gig was a comparative cakewalk – part time, junior high school computer classes. But I worked over 40 hours when you include grading and prep time. 26k. Same degrees in tech – better benefits, 96k plus bonuses. If I could make six figures teaching, I would. I miss it, a lot, but I’m not willing to sacrifice my financial future for somebody else’s kids.

The only person here I see railing about not being able to quantify teaching ability here is you. Reform is needed, the current tools are pointless, but you can quantify teaching ability easily by interacting with the kids. It just takes a fuck ton more money than anybody is willing to spend.

Morbo (#1,236)

Yeah, it has nothing to do with not getting that 19% raise in year 1 that they asked for. It has nothing to do with balking at getting the school day above the shameful 5.75 hours it had been whittled down to over the years.

Its all about respect….er, air conditioning…no, its about the student’s rights to recess and arts education.

That’s it – its about the students!

Standardized tests should not be used to evaluate teachers. A third party best-practices review standards should be used. But, I really don’t think its about that.

@Morbo Then you have obviously never been a teacher. As a non-profit employee, I receive a 3% cost of living increase every year. This is not unheard of. I can also ask for a raise based on merit or workload-a teacher cannot. So they’re basically asking for a cost of living increase over the next four years. OH THOSE GREEDY TEACHERS!!

Let me be more clear:

TEACHER EVALUATIONS: The union is particularly concerned about a new teacher evaluation system, arguing it would be unfair because it relies too heavily on students’ standardized test scores and does not take into account external factors that affect performance, including poverty, violence and homelessness. They argue it could result in 6,000 teachers losing their jobs within two years. The district says the union already agreed to the new evaluation system, but it has offered to make adjustments.

JOB SECURITY: Worried about dozens of schools that could be closed in the next few years, the union has pushed for a policy to recall laid-off teachers when jobs open up anywhere in the district. The district says that could force principals to hire teachers they don’t believe are qualified. Instead, it has said that if a school closes, teachers would have the first right to jobs that match their qualifications at the schools that absorb the children from the closed school. It also offered to put them in a reassigned teacher pool for five months or give them a three-month severance package.

SALARY and BENEFITS: The school district has offered a 16 percent raise over four years – double an 8 percent offer made earlier – as well as “modified step increases” that it says reward experience and provide “better incentives for mid-career teachers” to keep them from leaving. The district also wants to do away with the ability of teachers to bank sick days but is offering short-term disability, including paid maternity leave. With an average salary of $76,000, Chicago teachers are among the highest-paid in the nation, according to the National Council on Teacher Quality.

LONGER SCHOOL DAY: This central issue appeared to be solved after the two sides agreed weeks ago to a plan allowing the hiring of nearly 500 teachers to cover a longer school day without forcing teachers to work longer. But union officials remain angry about how Emanuel tried to go around them to get the longer day in place early, including offering incentives to individual schools. Union President Karen Lewis has complained about how the longer day is being implemented.

@Jake Reinhardt Keep in mind: this is from a CONSERVATIVE paper. That’s the best they could do.

highjump (#39)

@Morbo A third party best-practices review standards should be used. Hahahahahahaha, you don’t work in education do you? What does that even mean? Do you know how much testing costs the districts? And the more complex the testing (portfolios, essays) the more expensive it is. What makes the almost entirely for-profit testing industry and the low-wage ill-trained adjudicators they employ better at evaluating their students than the trained professionals who spend 6hrs a day with them?

Sorry the messaging is a little tough to follow. In the second largest school system in the country there is a diversity of ideas among those that voted (with a huge margin) to strike. How shocking, what is most important to one teacher is not the most important to another. CTU really believe that one size does not fit all.

Morbo (#1,236)

@Jake Reinhardt

Nope, I am just a citizen of Chicago that can’t send my kids the the public schools. It is a broken system, and I am against those that want to keep it that way.

Morbo (#1,236)

Actually, I grew up in a district that used third party best-practices reviews. This eliminated the need to use standardized tests, and principal/administration biases. sorry if you never heard of it.

highjump (#39)

@Morbo I simply meant to point out that those words are extremely vague. A third party could mean anyone from another teacher on your team to a scantron machine that scores bubble sheets. And best practices in teaching are definitely up for debate and open to bias. What do the third parties review exactly? The students or the teachers? Classroom work or do they administer a test?

Mari D (#1,946)

Ahem. There are a few points missing here:

According to Reuters, the average salary of a public school teacher in Chicago is $71,000. The average private sector worker in Chicago makes $34,000.

In the private sector, you don’t ask for a raise unless you’ve done something particularly amazing. Please let me know what has been accomplished to warrant a 16 percent increase?

It seems rather bad timing, to put it mildly, to ask taxpayers, who are making far less than you, and who do not have your amazing benefits and job security, to fund an increase without some major justification. The money just isn’t there.

@Mari D The average salary is 71,000 with a master’s degree and years of service at the same job. Find me the average private sector data on that one.

This also speaks to the weirdo logic that says “well, *I* don’t get that, so why should YOU” Perhaps instead of scoffing at the teachers, we should all take to the streets to demand fair pay and amazing benefits and job security.

aetataureate (#1,310)

I realize we have a crusader in here taking down every commenter, and that’s fair, there are two sides here. But as someone whose teachers actually went on strike during my time in high school, I have a hard, hard time forgiving the act of going on strike. We were all old enough to entertain ourselves on those days off, but Chicago’s underprivileged elementary-school students are not. Their parents and guardians can’t take full days off of work, they can’t afford childcare, and they’re left with No Options. I’m not sure I’d feel comfortable going on strike from my office job full of grownups where no children are affected by our work.

highjump (#39)

@aetataureate So it’s not okay for Jake to “crusade” about his lived experience in the school system but you can base your comments on your experience of having your teachers strike?

aetataureate (#1,310)

@highjump I’m just using the word literally so no need for scare quotes. Funny enough, when I looked it up just now, the example phrase at Merriam Webster is “a grassroots crusade for spending more money on our public schools.”

Anyway, I never said what Jake was doing wasn’t okay, but I am offering anecdotal and factual counterpoint to his anecdotal and factual arguments in favor of the strike. Seems like . . . logic? There is room here for people who want teachers to be treated well but don’t want children to be adversely affected by it.

Morbo (#1,236)

Jake is not a Chicago teacher. He is a former NY teacher.

highjump (#39)

@aetataureate No strike is taken lightly. In this case negotiations went on for months. The strike vote also passed with a wide margin. I don’t want to downplay the legitimate frustration many Chicago parents likely feel in finding alternate childcare, but there is actually a wide base of community support for the strike. It’s not just a t-shirt slogan – teacher’s working conditions are student’s learning conditions, and I believe (and CTU believes) the greater adverse affects on students will be from overcrowded classrooms, poorly maintained facilities, diminished cirricula, and the persistent corporatization of public schools.

@Morbo ‘Jake’ is also very friendly with many Chicago teachers on the picket line. Believe, *her* friends want to be back in the classroom as much as many parents would like that. Teaching is not a profession you do for the money.

ImASadGiraffe (#982)

Chicago resident here – some of my teacher friends have lamented that if there was a way to measure a student’s success based on their own merits – i.e. a kid comes in with a base knowledge of a subject at level 1 and improves it to Level 3 by end of the year – then that would be a better way to show progress in each student vs. a standardized test that measures all students regardless of their socioeconomic circumstances.

I’m not a teacher, but that makes sense to me. A kid from the north side of Chicago living in a affluent neighborhood has a higher likelihood to do better on a standardized test than a kid from the southwest side who has to dodge bullets on their way home from school and go home to an empty house. It’s not the kid’s fault, but it’s just how things are.

selenana (#673)

@ImASadGiraffe Right, and doesn’t judging merit highly based on test scores disincentivize teachers to work with challenged populations like the urban poor or learning disabled? I agree that a rubric like you suggest would be a much better measuring stick. Also class size, classroom time, number of disruptive incidents…

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