Chicago public school students will not return to the classroom on Monday, as the Chicago Teachers Union decided to take more time to mull over a contract proposal. Students will not return to class until Wednesday at the earliest, according to the union.
The delegates could vote to end the strike as early as Tuesday, as members want the additional time to digest the details of the contract offer, union president Karen Lewis said.
“They’re not happy with the agreement. They’d like it to be a lot better for us than it is,” Lewis said.
The potential for 120 school closings in the coming years, first reported by the Tribune, also has caused concern.
“It under-girds everything they talk about,” Lewis said.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said he plans to file an injunction to force the teachers back to work. He claims that the strike is being waged over non-strikable issues. Legislation in Illinois passed in the last year mandates that teacher strikes can only be conducted over compensation-related issues. Emanuel also said that the strike “endangers the health and safety of our children.” The injunction would go through a circuit court in Chicago, and would have to turn on the court being in the heads of the individual strikers in the CTU as to their rationale for the strike.
The House of Delegates, comprised of roughly 700 CTU members, clearly did not feel confident in making this decision for the over 26,000 teachers in Chicago. They will now discuss the issue with their members and return for a vote on Tuesday. Monday is the Jewish New Year, so that day will be skipped.
Incidentally, the claims we heard all along about a 16% raise over four years were found to be bogus when the union released some details of the contract. The same for the idea that teacher evaluations from high-stakes testing was the main stumbling block.
The proposed deal calls for a three-year contract, with an option for a fourth year that both the district and union would have to agree to. There would be 3 percent raises in years one and four, and 2 percent raises in years two and three, according to the union.
So-called “step and lane” increases, raises given out for years of service and continuing education, would be preserved under the contract, according to the union. And the three highest steps would be increased.
The union also said it had come to an agreement with CPS officials on the sticky issues of performance reviews and teacher recall when schools close. Standards for teacher evaluations that could lead to firings would be eased, and some higher-rated teachers could get a better shot at being recalled after layoffs, sources said.
That’s a 10% raise over four years, tops. And the fourth year, with a slightly higher raise than years 2 and 3, comes with an option. This is a big comedown from the initial 30% raise sought by the union, which they came off from quickly. But it does show that pay didn’t matter as much to the teachers as the changes in work conditions, around not just evaluations (student tests will be capped at 30% of the overall assessment) and the recall procedure for the anticipated 120 school closings over the coming years, but the physical conditions inside the schools. Under the deal, 600 non-core subject teachers in art, music, language and physical education will be hired. Students will actually receive the textbooks for classes on the first day. Non-teaching personnel like school nurses, social workers and support staff will be hired contingent on additional revenue. The teachers wanted better schools, and under this contract they might get them. But they want some details filled in before signing off. Here’s the outline of the tentative agreement, provided by CTU.
Emanuel has been damaged by the strike, and the teachers have forged a strong bond with their communities, articulating the issues with the schools they would like to see ameliorated. The delay in calling off the strike could cause that bond to waver, but that remains to be seen. The delegates don’t trust the school board, and they have ample reason to withhold that trust.
More broadly, the teacher’s strike remains a moment where the labor movement finally fought back against the corporate-led drift in education policy, based around a set of agreed-to standards that simply aren’t as concrete as the Students First/Waiting for Superman crowd makes them out to be. In a superlative piece, Rick Kahlenberg explains why the strike may yet save Democratic policymakers from themselves on education. “It can’t hurt to force a leading Democrat like Emanuel to spend a little more time negotiating with actual teachers and a little less time wooing hedge fund managers, many of whom passionately back the education policies that rank-and-file teachers despise,” Kahlenberg explains.
Applying business school principles to the education of young children, Emanuel and his wealthy supporters favor firing teachers based heavily on student test score results and deregulating education by expanding the number of charter schools. But while much of the press equates standing up to unions with education reform, key reforms that unions opposed have not worked out as planned. Although 88 percent of charters are nonunion, giving principals in those schools the flexibility that reformers prize, the most comprehensive study of charter schools (backed by pro-charter foundations), concluded that charters are about twice as likely to underperform regular public schools as to outperform them. During the strike, nonunion charter schools have bragged that they remained open, but the lack of teacher voice in these schools helps explain why charters nationally have extremely high rates of teacher turnover.
The theory that a nonunion environment, which allows for policies like merit pay, would make all the difference in promoting educational achievement never held much water. After all, teachers unions are weak-to-nonexistent throughout much of the American South, yet the region hardly distinguishes itself educationally. Indeed, the highest performing states, such as Massachusetts and New Jersey—and the highest performing nations, such as Finland—have heavily unionized teaching forces.
The students in Chicago, many of whom have walked picket lines with their teachers in the past week, have a unique opportunity through the strike to see democracy in action and the importance of solidarity and the power of collective action, Kahlenberg explains. They’ll get to see it for a couple more days.