Those politicians and observers asking for the striking Chicago Teachers Union and the city to get back to the bargaining table neglect the fact that they never left. Talks continue between the two sides. And according to this report, CTU has several points of contention.
…while Chicago Board of Education officials have said the two sides are not far apart in their talks, the union said in a news release Tuesday that it had so far agreed to only six of 49 articles contained in the current contract.
“The Chicago Public Schools has made proposals to change nearly every article,” Stephanie Gadlin, a union spokeswoman said in a statement. “It is not accurate to say both sides are extremely close — this is misinformation on behalf of the board and Mayor Emanuel. We have a considerable way to go.” [...]
“We are fighting for our students,” she said in the statement. “We are fighting for education justice. We remain optimistic. Our fight is over fair compensation, working conditions and resources for our students.”
The compensation issue has been largely adjudicated, although it’s fair to say that the issues concern not overall raises, but the raises based on experience level and the retention of health care benefits. Teachers want proper training days as well, and then there’s a plank about “a timetable for air conditioning,” which stands in for a lot of the complaints I’ve seen about the conditions of the low-income public schools in Chicago. I covered those extensively here, but Think Progress actually goes further in laying out what these schools look like:
33 percent of Chicago’s children were in poverty in 2010, versus a rate of 20 percent for Illinois children as a whole; 80 percent of Chicago students qualify for free or reduced lunches. Research suggests the academic achievement gap between children of differing income levels has now far outpaced the gap between back and white children, and income disparities can account for 40 percent or more of the variation in test scores [...]
According to CTU, 42 percent of Chicago’s elementary schools lack full funding for arts and music teachers, even though the Dept. of Education called arts and music education “particularly beneficial for students from economically disadvantaged circumstances and those who are at risk of not succeeding in school.” Chicago schools also lack adequate funding and equipment for physical education — only 13 percent of middle school principals reported having enough physical education resources for their students in 2011.
Many of Chicago’s lowest-performing schools are crumbling, but Chicago Public Schools acknowledged last year that it won’t invest in improvement projects for schools it expects to be closed in the next five to 10 years, instead focusing on other schools, including those that share facilities with charter schools. CPS allotted $25 million to six schools that it will no longer control next year, according to the Chicago Tribune, and many of the funds in the city’s capital improvement plan are disproportionately aimed at more affluent schools.
I mentioned before how the TIF, or Tax Increment Financing, meant to close the gap on poor schools ended up going into unrelated projects, including a Hyatt Hotel and the Chicago Board of Trade.
So when you look at the achievement gap in Chicago relative to other big-city schools, which is legitimate but shrinking since 2003, you can chalk it up to higher poverty, schools literally falling down at the feet of the students, and a lack of resources. The city has also had a smaller school day and school year, but CTU and the city have agreed on a longer one.
And this is why the teacher evaluation issue is so contentious. Of course the union is focused on protecting its members; that’s what a union does. But they also believe that standardized tests, rather than other examples of student performance, don’t work as a viable measure for this population. And they know that these tests, if made to be 40% or more of the total teacher evaluation (CTU has agreed to 25%, incidentally), will get used as a pretext to hand over so-called “failing schools” to private hands. Let a teacher into a room with less than 50 kids, with actual textbooks and libraries, where the school isn’t falling apart onto the children’s desks, and you’ll see the same advancement that you’re already seeing under the more harrowing environment, in greater quantities. The standardized test evaluation is the impetus to overhaul the schools entirely. It’s not clear they need that.
At least, the public doesn’t think so. They favor the teachers over the city by an eight-point margin in the first snap poll. This was consistent across racial and ethnic lines. I trust the people in the city to have a decent perspective on things.