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Chicago: Why is the teachers strike ongoing? (+video)

Both sides in the Chicago teachers strike reported progress on Tuesday, but not enough to keep the strike from continuing into Wednesday. Teacher evaluations and the role of school principals are major issues in dispute.

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Some parents decided to bring children to the church rather than schools, where striking teachers were picketing, said Ticina Cutler, 32, who has three sons in Chicago Public Schools. "I don't want to cross any picket lines," she said.

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The strike has forced the cancellation of all public school-related extracurricular activities such as sports and the arts. It has not affected about 52,000 students at publicly funded, non-union charter schools attending classes as usual. 

National implications 

The face-off in Obama's home city is the biggest private or public sector labor dispute since 45,000 Verizon Communications workers went on strike last year.

The stakes are high for both supporters and foes of a national movement for radical reform of urban schools.

The most contentious issue is teacher evaluations, which Emanuel insists should be tied to performance of students, and which is at the heart of the national debate on school reform.

Emanuel is proposing that Chicago teachers be evaluated based on a system that would rate teachers in several categories. Administrators would observe them in the classroom. Students would be asked about teacher strengths and weaknesses. And, most controversially, many teachers would be assessed based on their students' performance on standardized tests.

The union fiercely opposes the proposed evaluation system, arguing that many Chicago students perform poorly on standardized tests because they come to school hungry and live in poor and crime-ridden neighborhoods.

"We are miles apart because this is a very serious ideological difference here," Lewis said.

Chicago Public Schools are offering teachers an average 16 percent pay rise over four years and sweetened benefits such as paid maternity leave and picking up most of the costs of pensions, which critics say already gives the union too much.

For the second day, Obama was silent on the Chicago strike which pits his ally Emanuel against organized labor, a key supporter of the president.

Obama's Education Secretary Arne Duncan, a former Chicago schools chief, issued a statement on Tuesday that avoided taking sides in the dispute even though his own education plan includes some of the reforms sought by Emanuel.

Republicans have sought to exploit the divisions within the Democratic coalition by publicly supporting Emanuel.

While Chicago and Obama's home state of Illinois are expected to vote for him in November, a prolonged strike could make it harder for Obama to motivate unions to get out the vote in key Midwest swing states such as Iowa, Wisconsin and Ohio.

Bob Peterson, president of the Milwaukee teachers union in Wisconsin, said some of his members were wearing red in solidarity with the Chicago union. Most teachers support Obama for many reasons, not just his education policy, Peterson said.

But some independent-minded union members might be affected in Milwaukee, he said, where a big Obama vote is crucial to the president winning the state on Nov. 6.

"If the strike isn't settled, it could (hurt) the Obama campaign and my hope is that the mayor of Chicago gets it together and finds a way to settle the strike," Peterson said.

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