On the morning of Monday, Sept. 10, members of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) took to the streets in protest after failed contract negotiations with Chicago Public School (CPS) officials. School will not be in session until an agreement is reached.
President of the CTU, Karen Lewis, said the notion “the contract will be settled today [Tuesday, Sept. 11] is lunacy.” Statements from the CPS saying that both groups are not far apart in the negotiation process, while the CTU put out a statement claiming the two are very far apart on the major issues.
In any negotiations process both sides bargain to achieve a mutual benefit, but the tense climate surrounding unionized workers has brought this strike to the national news cycle.
Chicago is the third largest public school system in the county and the nation is watching.
The situation brings to mind the Wisconsin protests that resulted from Gov. Scott Walker’s desire to strip the Wisconsin teachers union of their collective bargaining rights; he won that battle, but it is questionable whether or not the CTU will win theirs.
The CTU represents nearly 30,000 teachers and educational support personnel, and they are in heated contract negotiations that have, thus far, resulted in disagreement and discontent.
The two organizations are far apart on quite a few aspects of their contract; one of the largest issues is the implementation of a new teacher evaluation system, Recognizing Educators Advancing Chicago students (REACH).
The REACH system is the result of a mandate requiring CPS to establish a new teacher evaluation system in the 2012-13 school year per the Evaluation Reform Act of 2010.
Lewis has been quoted saying that the REACH system could result in the termination of up to 6,000 Chicago teachers, though CPS officials have expressed doubt about the validity of that figure.
Educational reform has been a concern brought to the federal level over the years. The United States is ranked seventh in high school graduation rates on a global scale. Chicago boasts their highest high school graduation rate for the 2012 year: 60.6 percent, a rate that CPS CEO Jean-Claude Brizzard is proud of.
The debate regarding the reformation of the teacher evaluation system stems from the ineffective results that it produces, which many teachers and principals in the CPS system find to be “arbitrary and unfair” according to a study published in the “Consortium on Chicago School Research.”
The current evaluation system was implemented in the 1970s and CPS finds it to be outdated. Data from the old evaluation system shows that 93 percent of teachers are marked as “superior” or “excellent” while 66 percent of public schools fail to meet state standards.
In lieu of the old system, the CPS wants to introduce a new teacher evaluation system. Unlike the old system, it does not conduct a single yearly class observation that uses a simplified checklist of strengths and weaknesses to rate a teacher.
The REACH evalutation system has produced data indicating almost all teachers have high performance ratings when data elsewhere proves otherwise.
The REACH system is based around the Charlotte Danielson Framework which divides teaching into four separate areas: planning and preparation, classroom environment, instruction and professional responsibilities.
Danielson Framework ratings have shown that classrooms where teachers have high ratings show students with high growth ratings as well; classrooms where teachers have low ratings show students with low growth ratings.
It is no secret that the educational evaluation system is broken and in need of fixing. The standoff between CPS officials and CTU members is a display of the attitudes surrounding the discussion about politics in this country.
Both sides want their way, and neither group is willing to budge an inch, afraid that they will lose valuable ground in the fight for fair pay and quality education.
Chicago officials have painted teachers as selfish individuals whom are hurting children by continuing to strike, a view expressed by the mayor.
It is deplorable that Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel would vilify teachers for demanding quality compensation for a high-stress job, larger class sizes and heavy workloads.
Teachers deserve their fair share, but they need to be reasonable as well. Asking the CPS to hire from a wealth of teachers whom are currently displaced or laid off is too idealistic a demand. There is no differentiation between unemployed and recently-terminated teachers in the wording of the current statement released by the CTU. CPS should have the freedom to hire qualified candidates from any section of the population.
Unions exist for a reason and that is to get the best possible work conditions for workers, as well as to mediate contracts which contain agreeable terms of employment.
These collective bargaining sessions are fair and just; the notion that these people are sucking the government dry is ludicrous.
The most important issue that both sides use as cannon fodder is the education of the third largest population of American children, many of whom live in less-than-ideal conditions.
While the children of Chicago enjoy their precious days off in the waning days of summer, I hope Chicago can set an example for the rest of the country—that two organizations can come together and find a middle ground that benefits both.
Chicago needs to do this for the sake of public education, the keystone of the American dream, otherwise we will continue to see the archway of the future slowly crumble into disenfranchisement and poverty.