In Chicago strike, teachers draw a line on education reform (+video)
A key question in Chicago's first teacher strike in a generation is whether teachers will accept new rules on education reform issues ranging from teacher evaluations to seniority.
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In the end, an agreement on the longer day was reached – more time was added, but the district is hiring nearly 500 teachers to make up the extra time, and no instructional time is being added to current teachers’ workload – but the process left a bitter taste in many teachers’ mouths.Skip to next paragraph
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Still, some of the teachers’ discontent may be less over the specific local Chicago issues and more to do with the broader reform efforts nationwide, which many teachers see as an attack on their profession.
“Teachers have come under assault from every direction over the last several years,” says Richard Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation. “You have a Democratic administration that doesn’t really do much to defend teachers or teachers’ unions," he adds.
Issues like layoffs, increased class size, limits on collective bargaining in some states, the increased accountability from No Child Left Behind, and even the film, “Won’t Back Down” – aired at the Democratic National Convention last week and viewed by many as anti-teachers union – all have some teachers pushed to the breaking point, Mr. Kahlenberg says.
“Given all the pressures that teachers have been facing from different quarters, it’s not surprising that you’d see teachers saying, ‘Enough,’ ” he adds.
Knowles agrees that Lewis, at the CTU, was likely able to “ tap into a whole vein of discontent among teachers” in getting her authorization vote.
The real implications of the Chicago strike on education reforms nationwide, of course, depend on who “wins.” Whenever an agreement is reached – probably relatively quickly – expect both sides to claim victory.
A few things to watch for:
Does the city cave on the teacher recall issue? It could give some concessions, but if the union actually gets the full recall rights it wants, it would be a big victory for the CTU.
Does the city get the changes it would like on so-called “step and lane” increases? These are salary increases that a teacher gets automatically due to seniority and extra credentials, which the city would like to do away with. Emanuel has already conceded on the merit pay he wanted to implement, and may have to give way here too.
A less-talked about issue, says Knowles, is “bumping rights.” Chicago is one of the few unionized cities where teachers don’t have the right to bump another less senior teacher out of a position at a different school. If the union somehow gets that reinstated – perhaps in exchange for something else – that would be a big win for labor.
“You have traditional organized labor à la Chicago, and a hard-charging reform-minded Democrat [mayor], pro-charter [school], pro-teacher accountability, pro-merit pay, but he has no money,” says Knowles. “I think everyone around the country is interested in" what will happen.