The Left’s ‘Education Justice’ — Chicago Teachers on Strike

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After a final weekend of fruitless, 11th-hour contract negotiations, the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) made good on their long-threatened promise and went on strike for the first time in 25 years. “We have failed to reach an agreement that will prevent a labor strike,” Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) President Karen Lewis said. “No CTU members will be inside of our schools Monday. We will walk the picket lines, we will talk to parents, we…will demand a fair contract today, we demand a fair contract now,” she said, calling the ordeal an “education justice fight.” The strike affects 675 schools and more than 400,000 students in the nation’s third-largest public school system.

After the final Sunday session, Chicago school board President David Vitale spoke with reporters, noting that the district had changed its proposal more than 20 times over the course of negotiations and had little left to offer. The district announced that teachers had been offered a 16 percent pay raise over the course of four years, along with other benefit proposals, including paid maternity leave for the first time. “This is about as much as we can do. There is only so much money in the system,” said Vitale. “This is not a small commitment we’re handing out at a time when our fiscal situation is really challenged,” he added. Vitale also noted that the latest proposal made by the district would cover four years, at a cost of $400 million.

Lewis countered that the two sides were not far apart on compensation, a major sticking point exacerbated by the school board’s unanimous vote last year to rescind the teachers’ 4 percent pay hike in the final year of their contract. Yet she also said she would not “prioritize” the remaining issues. Despite that assertion, the three key issues remaining unresolved appear to be health benefits, the teacher evaluation system, and job security. “This is a difficult decision and one we hoped we could’ve avoided,” Lewis said Sunday. “Throughout these negotiations, we’ve remained hopeful but determined. We must do things differently in this city if we are to provide students the education they so rightfully deserve.”

Lewis and Vitale agreed to meet again Monday and resume talks.

With respect to health benefits the issue is simple: teachers want to maintain the status quo, part of which includes “banking” sicks days that cost the system millions of dollars. The teacher evaluation system is a no-go because Lewis claims it would be based too heavily on students’ standardized test scores. This ostensibly makes it unfair to teachers, because it fails to properly consider outside factors that affect student performance, such as poverty, violence and homelessness. “Evaluate us on what we do, not on the lives of our children we do not control,” Lewis said Sunday, denouncing the online process responsible for training the evaluators. The union also claims such evaluations could cost 6,000 teachers their jobs. The job security issue stems from the fact that the union wants laid off teachers to be first in line for new jobs. The Chicago Public School system (CPS) wants principals to be able to choose the best teachers.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel was furious. After Lewis addressed the press on Sunday night, it was Emanuel’s turn. “This [strike] is totally unnecessary, this is avoidable, and our kids do not deserve this,” he fumed. “This is a strike of choice.” Emanuel contends that only two issues remain unresolved. First, he addressed job security. “It’s essential that the local principal who we hold accountable for producing the educational results not be told by the CPS bureaucracy…and not be told by the union leadership who to hire,” he said. The second is the aforementioned evaluation system. Emanuel noted that the evaluations would not count in the first year, and the CPS reportedly offered joint implementation of teacher evaluations between itself and the union. “I’m telling you, these were the final two issues,” he said, appearing exasperated.

When he took office last year, Emanuel inherited a school district facing a $700 million budget deficit, which led to the cancellation of the aforementioned 4 percent raises. He then asked the union to reopen its contract and accept 2 percent pay raises in exchange for lengthening the school day, something he had made part of his election campaign. After the union refused, Emanuel attempted to bypass it, taking his case to individual teachers until the union challenged his effort before Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board. The bad blood that arose as a result reportedly prevented the Mayor from being part of the final negotiations that took place on Sunday.

As a result of the impasse, the system’s 26,000 teachers and support staff began manning picket lines early Monday morning. “Rahm says cut back, we say fight back,” said picketers outside CPS headquarters. CPS officials implemented their “Children First” contingency plan, keeping 144 schools open between 8:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. in order to provide children with lunch and breakfast in a district where many students receive free meals. They also asked community organizations for help, and a number of churches, libraries and other organizations pitched in to provide activities for some of the children. “The response has been extraordinary, truly extraordinary,” Vitale said Sunday night. “Chicagoans should be proud of how their city has responded to the needs of kids.”

But the likelihood is that many of Chicago’s students will take to the streets, a reality for which Police Chief Garry McCarthy was reportedly prepared. “We’re emptying out our offices,” he said at a Sunday night press conference at the Harold Washington Library. “We’re taking officers who are on administrative duties–we’re shutting down administrative duties–we’re putting those officers on the streets to deal with potential protests at various locations throughout the city.” McCarthy’s main goals are maintaining security at the Safe Haven Sites throughout the city, dealing with the inevitable picket line protests, and keeping a watchful eye on the thousands of kids likely to hit the streets in a city already wracked by street violence all summer.

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  • clarespark

    When I was in science teacher training at Cornell, we argued that teaching was a profession, not the sort of thing that linked one with the working class and its strikes. Education reform is the vanguard position now, and here is my index of blogs questioning or describing all the major figures: http://clarespark.com/2012/05/03/index-to-blogs-o…. I would start with anything related to Diane Ravitch, that turncoat.

    • Rifleman

      Good point, I've always been struck by that myself. One can't be a professional and a union worker at the same time. The taxpayers and children get the worst of both worlds. Pop culture and the socialist ran education system are the biggest reasons socialism hasn't been completely discredited to it's roots for decdes now.

    • tagalog

      Why would you have to argue that teaching is a profession? It's been recognized as a profession for a very, very long time, probably since the time of the Classical Greeks.

      That should be a given.

      Oh, you were a science teacher, that must be why.

      That's why public employees should not only not be allowed to strike as a matter of law because of the public nature of their employment, it's also why teachers going on strike is totally unprofessional.

  • Rifleman

    Degreed white collar 'professionals' going on strike, how oxymoronic. I hope they negotiate themselves right out of a job. An internet high school and a child sitter could do a better job these days than they are, with less cost and hassle. That's why over 40% of these Chicago (oh no, I said the city that cannot be named, I'm a racism, I'm a racism) teachers send their children to private schools. If nobody has to enroll in their school, they have to perform.

    Rahm had a press conference in a church that was caring for its' congregation's children during the strike. The dp and the teachers' unions had better hope the parents and staff at the Churches like the one he's standing in don't ever decide they can provide a safer and better learning environment for their children and educate them better than government schools. If they do, I suspect they'll test much higher, whatever their denomination. When that day comes, the unprofessional 'professionals' will have nobody but themselves to blame.

    • mlcblog

      I can only imagine their real intent is to foment the left's much cherished idea of "the revolution," with people taking to the streets and civil law being broken down. Otherwise, it makes no sense. Maybe that is the explanation. It is insane thinking.

      • Rifleman

        That is their intent, straight from their favorite philosophers, but they just may end up obsoleting themselves, and significantly, perhaps even drastically reducuing the number of students in government schools. I think that would mean far fewer children indoctrinated into socialism at government schools, and higher test scores.

  • Jim Kilpatrick

    The kids will probably get just as much real education with the "teachers" out on strike. At least they won't get nearly as much liberal indoctrination.

  • Jim_C

    The real difference between public and parochial schools is stark: at a public school open house, you'll find a disheartening amount of parents there.

    At a parochial school open house, you'll find EVERY parent there.

    In that sense, Karen Lewis is 100% correct. It's not a matter of "Who taught the parents?" and I feel sorry for every person who embarrasses themselves by asking that question.

    At a parochial school, parents are invested, literally–at some sacrifice in most cases. They have skin in the game. Such schools are self-selective–you have to be able to pay to attend. Doesn't mean you're "smart"–but it does mean your family values education enough to put their dollars behind it.

    Public schools take EVERYONE'S kids. Think on that: every child, with all their different backgrounds and needs, gets processed through these schools. Public school teachers, therefore, have something in common with police and emergency room personnel–they see it all from the public, they take it all. So crap parents have the luxury of taking public school for granted. And teachers have to deal with kids who have no examples for manners, values, behavior, respect. That takes time away from the kids who do things right. It's simple as that.

    Do Chicago teachers need a pay raise? I don't know. But judging them as if they all have the same raw material to work with is institutional, bureaucratic absurdity which ultimately undermines teacher's dignity, which undermines the job they're trying to do while they're getting hit, called names, and spit on by students whose family can't be bothered to correct their behavior.

    • al222

      Public schools have historically taken "everyone's kids." the difference between the past and today is that the real trouble-makers were weeded out and sent to something called "reform school." it was the same progressives who, when they decided every child "deserves" an education, curtailed the use of reform schools and eliminated expulsion as well.

      and most of that happened in concurrence with the progressive movement's greatest triumph of all: the destruction of the nuclear family via the Great Society–leading directly to kids "who have no examples for manners, values, behavior, respect."

      • Jim_C

        I'm not sure those reform schools were very successful in their mission, though. Weren't they essentially jails in training?

        If someone came up with a new model for reform school–one where younger kids are kept from being exploited and mentored in crime by older ones–I'd be willing to try it.

        • tagalog

          Boys' Town stands out as an exceptional example of a reform school. God bless the Catholics and Father Flanagan!

          Oops, I said something nice about reform schools that were run by private concerns, not the state. My bad.

        • mlcblog

          They did serve the valuable function of separating the menacing children from the others.

  • tagalog

    In addition, don't think for a second that public school students aren't fully aware that the bottom line is that they're there because the law requires them to be there and that's it. Forget their parents, they know that they HAVE to be there, and, like anyone doing involuntary servitude they are prone to rebellion. For those kids, a teachers' strike is a holiday; for the motivated student, a teachers' strike is another hurdle on the path of their ambitions.

    For the valuable students, public school is treated just the same as any school by any good student. For the thugs, it's just state-mandated baby-sitting -with homework- and they act out the way kids being babysat do.

    • Jim_C

      There's many who go to private school who treat it like involuntary servitude. Kids are kids. The difference is that when the teacher or principal calls home to complain of bad behavior, there's a parent there who understands discipline.

      • tagalog

        Yeah, but whatever else may be true, private school kids know they have one more level to fall before they hit bottom.

  • Ted G

    Lets see now in the private sector…
    *most do not get pensions at all but 401K's and maybe might get a matching contribution from the employer with no guarantee that it will last for the lives.
    *Most because of the current state of the economy have had their wages frozen now for over the last 4 years or so.
    *most have to pay up to 30% of the cost of their medical insurance.
    *Most if not all have NO guaranteed job security.

    While these teachers demand
    **Cushy pensions that can be padded to equal their last few years of salary, for the rest of their lives. without contributing anything towards it.
    **annual raises regardless of the state of the economy.
    **Demand that they not have to contribute more than the current (fantastic) rate of 3% to their medical ins coverage.
    **And Guaranteed job security regardless of how they perform.

    And all this at the taxpayers exspense.

    WOW! So someone tell me how as taxpayer I am supposed to feel sympathy for these people.

    • tagalog

      You're supposed to feel sympathy for these people because they teach your kids. Except that more than half the kids don't graduate from high school. About 80% of them can't read up to grade level. They're illiterate. It's pretty basic when you can't read well.

      But their teachers not only deserve to keep their jobs for some unknown reason, they deserve $80,000 or more a year for nine months' worth of work. In those other months, they get other jobs, assuming they want to break into their leisure to exert themselves in that direction. No wait, such jobs would probably be in the private sector, where they expect results.

      Let's see, $80,000 for nine months; I didn't do the math, but it's obvious that's just under $9,000 a month. Nice work if you can get it. And you don't apparently have to do anything, just show up. Nine months, about 194 working days, or (at an 8-hour day, questionable when it's school) 1,548 hours, not counting holidays, divided by $80,000 comes to $51.68 an hour not counting benefits like defined benefit retirement and Cadillac health insurance. REALLY nice work.

      I know MY heart is bleeding for their desperate plight.

  • Diane Rossi

    It looks like the CPS reneged on their contract of a 4% raise in the last year of the Teachers' contract. As compensation they offered the teachers a longer school day with a 2% raise, Doesn't sound fair to me.

  • Ted G

    I've got to also add another point about this strike. These failed negotiations have been going on for what now a couple of years…
    and all of a sudden when the school year actually opens they decide its time for a strike!?!

    Not to mention another timing concern about the elections coming up and Obama's cronyism and corrupt support of the unions. Curious eh? Its almost like it was being orchestrated or something.

  • Atlas_Collins

    I am from Chicagoland and I had an interesting conversation with one of the CPS strikees that sheds some insight into the mindset of these bloated leech taxpayer-supported parasites who produce nothing of value to anyone.

    I asked: "Why are you guys striking at all in these hard times? Don't you know the city and state are broke as it is?"

    "I don't care," answered this paragon of a public servant who is charged with instilling knowledge and a modicum of social values into our young.

    "But where do you expect the money to come from?" I asked.

    "They'll just have to raise taxes," answered the smug parasite, adjusting her marxian red union t-shirt and taking a sip of her Big Gulp™ to keep her 280lbs+ frame cool in the early September heat.

    "But we already have the highest property tax rates in the country as it is," I pleaded the case of the lowly taxpayer to this new mandarin of Public Sector privilege. "What about people who are out of work or on fixed incomes who can barely afford their mortgages and taxes now?"

    The answer surprised even me, and it was delivered with a sneer:

    "Well they'll just have to sell their houses and move, now won't they!"

    Such is the "compassion" of a Chicago Public School teacher who only cares "about the children."

    • mlcblog

      Are you any relation to the wonderful Marva?

    • Serafino

      Atlas, excellently written, thank you. I bet her name was Shaniqua or Tanisha :-) They are angry and they don't care about anybody other than themselves. These are the real thugs, these are the real problem in our country. Teaching is the last thing on their mind. Someone on this forum wrote that children can probably learn more with these gangsters out of the classrooms. This is so true. Sort of reminds me of one episode of the comedy TV series "The Office", where the office is managed by a useless man-child who spends his office time between avoiding making supervisory decisions and creating idiotic havoc among the staff. Surprisingly, this very branch reports amazing profit earnings, and when the headquarters people complete their fact finding mission, they are astonished to learn that the productivity is so high because the employees keep their heads down and work hard in order to avoid any contact with the manager. This is exactly how our schools are run. Every single accomplishment should be attribited to our children and not those under whose care they are.

    • Greg

      I had to deal with one of these 280lbs loud-mouth angry teachers when my kid was in the Chicago school system. She kept saying "aks" instead of "ask" throughout her angry rant. Unreal.

    • tagalog

      She better hope those people who will have to sell their houses and move aren't too large a number and don't have kids. She'll be getting downsized if her shortsightedness comes to pass.

      She shouldn't move to New York; no Big Gulps there.

  • Ghostwriter

    Thankfully,I went to elementary school in the Chicago suburbs during the 1980's. I feel sorry for the kids who have to deal with this now.

  • HighPressure

    Government Education is one of the few industries that we pay top dollar for attainng mediocrty and subverting a child's mind against the parent.

    Maybe it's time to end compulsory education.

  • WilliamJamesWard

    Fire all of them and start over, the vast majority of students coud learn a valuable lesson
    in societal action, more than they will being warehoused in Chicago Schools. Unions who
    represent teachers have oversold a product that has lost considerable value and no
    longer commands the cost of action. Underproduce, overprice and fail to deliver, not
    a reason to do business, parents should get real and help their children instead of
    passing the buck to the odious political affiliations, no pun intended……………William

  • Jim_C

    Get this straight–there is no caring parent whose kid fails because of the school. There is no child whose parents feel a stake in his education who will fail to advance. And before you think to give an anecdote, remember that many private schools are poorly equipped to handle both gifted and special needs kids. Their often tight budgets don't allow for that kind of thing. And remember that private school teachers come from the same institutions as public school teachers.

    I went to public high school in Chicago. I learned to draft designs of buildings, to frame houses, to machine tools, to solder wire in addition to trigonometry and English. It was a phenomenal public school. Didn't quite appreciate it at the time, due to being a teenager. But later when I put an addition on my house, darned if I wasn't grateful I had that know-how. (Certainly use it much more than the trig).

    That said, my school was one of several exceptions. Also, I have no idea what these folks are striking over. And this after talking to many teachers. I'd like to get rid of the Dept. of Ed. and restructure and localize the entire operation. What I'd really like to do is get rid of high school altogether and replace it with some kind of work/study program. We've been going to long on a system meant for agrarian kids at the turn of the 19th century.

  • Fritz

    Well Rahm, things seem a lot different now that the shoe is on the other foot? I'm sure you are viewing those teachers unions from a very different prospective now that they are holding a boot on your political neck rather then just donating to the campaign of your former boss. But we both know one thing now even though you won't admit it, Scott Walker was RIGHT!