A Look Inside the CPS Teacher Strike

“According to the Sun Times, a family must make $150,000 per year to live a middle class lifestyle in the city of Chicago.”  This quote from this piece pretty much floored me, since I know that I will never be part of the Chicago “middle-class” even with three degrees, if this is the case.  There has been much scrutiny over the Chicago Teacher’s Union strike in Chicago over the past few days, and I came across this explanation from a teacher over Facebook.  Check it out for an explanation that is not coming from mass media.

via This is a great….

This is a great piece about the strike from a friend of my family, an extremely qualified teacher and educator for over 30 years. I know several CPS teachers very well and am happy to support them in their fight for a fair contract in gratitude for teaching this generation of children and hands-down saving my life as a product of CPS.

Hi Everyone:

In the past few days I have been asked many questions about the Chicago Teachers Union strike. The questions come from friends, neighbors and even strangers and have helped me realize that many people have not been able to get a complete picture of the struggle through traditional media outlets. Here are some of the best answers that I can provide to common questions. If you have other questions, don’t hesitate to send them my way.

Q: Why not support merit pay? Why shouldn’t standardized testing be one consideration for teacher accountability?

A: I see three major problems with the proposed evaluations:

1) The test-based evaluation system would use scores from our current NCLB measure of progress – the ACT (ISAT for elementary). The only two sections that the state counts are math and reading. Therefore, teachers of other subjects (art, for example) will be judged based on either the school’s math or reading scores, subjects they are not certified to teach, rather than on their performance as teachers of their own subject areas. CTU teachers fought against a math and reading – only curriculum and won the struggle to get more art, music, and gym classes for kids because a diverse education is important for student growth, not just length of day.

2) The system will become even more unequal because teachers will be penalized for teaching the “toughest” kids. When I say toughest, I mean children who get a late-start reading, low-income children, special needs students, and ESL kids, who typically develop at a slower rate for various factors beyond quality teaching. In my first two years I taught at a bilingual school where children were just learning English & failed to meet testing standards every year. Many students had been in America for only weeks or months prior to testing. We teachers and the children were considered a “failing school.” It will be nearly impossible to recruit quality teachers to the areas of greatest need if they are guaranteed to be paid less for some of the hardest work in the profession. Despite public animosity for such “failing schools,” many Chicago teachers love their jobs and their students at such schools and are doing great work there. This is what we are fighting for – fair and humane treatment for children. Such children and schools are also at greatest risk for “closing” or “turnarounds” which have not proven successful (charters, etc.) and have caused much harm to communities and great cost to taxpayers. We, the teachers, stand with children, not with testing statistics used by politicians to humiliate people who need the most help.

3) The merit system proposed to the teachers includes a quota: only 25% of teachers can receive a superior, excellent, satisfactory, or unsatisfactory evaluation respectively. That means that in a department of four teachers, for example, someone must always receive an unsatisfactory and be terminated, even if all four teachers are exemplary. Clearly this will save money for the system, but does not reflect true performance in any way. In the existing system, after 2 years of unsatisfactory reviews, a tenured teacher can be fired. However, the administrator needs to actually give a bad rating. There is no reason for a “bad” teacher to hang around if the administrator is doing her job.

Q: Teachers make $76,000 a year. That seems like a reasonable salary. Why fight for more?

A: This amount, which the media has repeated directly from the CPS Board, includes thousands of retired teachers and is inaccurate. The CTU found the median (middle) salary of an active teacher to be $56,000 and the average to be $69,000. While that amount seems decent (after all, it is about $20,000 more than the average Chicago salary), it is well below the average state-wide salary for people holding similar degrees. That includes all the lower-paying regions of Illinois outside the Chicago area. Many teachers have multiple Bachelors and Masters degrees and student loans, yet according to media outlets, our salaries should be closer to those of rural employees without college degrees. According to the Sun Times, a family must make $150,000 per year to live a middle class lifestyle in the city of Chicago, where we are required to reside. It is disturbing that so many people are offended by teachers making less than half of what it takes to be a middle-class Chicagoan.

Q: 16% seems like a great raise for teachers. Why are they not satisfied? Times are hard!

A: The 16% figure, which has made its way around the media with no explanation is baffling. The math is simple. CPS is offering teachers 3% the first year, then 2% the following three years. That comes out to 9%. Then when you factor in last year’s broken contract that took away the 4% raise we were promised, it equals 5% over the course of five years, or 1% per year, despite a greater workload. Though many of us were pretty ecstatic when the independent arbitrator (selected by CPS) recommended giving us a 35.7% raise over the course of four years for the extended day, we realize this is not tenable. Despite public opinion to the contrary, teachers are not in this for the money and are not holding the city to this 35% raise, but we’d like to at least get some compensation for the increased time & cost of living increases.

Q: Why not go back to work while you resolve all this? Why punish the parents and children for a contract dispute?

A: Teachers are not going to enter the classroom without a complete contract because the current administration broke the last contract. Claiming to have no funds to honor negotiated raises, we were told we would receive no raise and then were told to work longer hours without compensation. Later, through an FOIA request, it was revealed that $70 million had been secretly diverted from teacher salary funds to the police department right before the contract was broken. In addition, a load of TIF funds that had been diverted from property taxes in the first place were available to the mayor at that time. CPS hired an arbitrator and pledged to abide by his decision. When his decision favored the teachers, they broke their pledge. Teachers have good reasons not to trust CPS and we are anxious to begin teaching as soon when we have a rock-solid contract that cannot be broken again. We are fighting for many things that positively affect students and that parents also support, such as smaller classes and better resources. We do realize how hard this is for Chicago families, as it is hard for our own families while we are unpaid, risk loss of health benefits, and scramble for childcare ourselves.



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