UPDATE 5-Chicago teachers to strike for 1st time in 25 years

Mon Sep 10, 2012 11:44am IST

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* Strike could have implications for Obama's campaign

* Community leaders had urged agreement

* Teacher pay, evaluations are major issues

By James B. Kelleher

CHICAGO, Sept 9 (Reuters) - Chicago public school teachers will strike for the first time in a quarter century on Monday after they failed to reach agreement with the nation's third-largest school district over education reforms sought by Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

The historic confrontation between Emanuel - Barack Obama's former top White House aide - and organized labor could have implications for education reform nationwide and for the president's re-election campaign.

"We have failed to reach an agreement that will prevent a labor strike," Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis told a press conference on Sunday night. "In the morning, no CTU members will be inside our schools."

About 29,000 teachers and support staff in Obama's home city will not report for work on Monday morning, affecting some 350,000 students.

Lewis was interrupted by applause from about 100 union supporters as she spoke, some wearing red in support of the union and carrying signs "On Strike" even before she had finished speaking.

Leigh Nevels, an occupational therapist who works at several schools in the city, said she came out to support Lewis and other union leaders. "The teachers work really hard and they deserve every penny that they get, and then some," Nevels said. "Rahm (Emanuel) just pulled the rug out from under us."

The union wants Chicago to drastically reduce class sizes and increase funding for education.

It is suspicious of efforts to erode traditional job protections such as tenure, teacher autonomy and seniority.

Earlier, Chicago School Board President David Vitale said the talks had broken down after the city had made its "best offer" to the union, which included a proposed pay rise of an average 16 percent over four years.

"We've done everything we can," Vitale said.

Emanuel said the union chose to strike even though the two sides were close to agreement. "This is totally unnecessary, it is avoidable and our kids do not deserve this," he said at a press conference after the strike was announced.

The strike means parents will have to scramble to make arrangements for children either by sending them to alternative facilities like churches or keeping them home.

"It's not fair to the kids," said Alison Lange, who has two children in a magnet elementary school on Chicago's north side and who says she supports the teachers in the standoff. She said children went to bed on Sunday night not knowing whether they would go to school or not.

Community leaders had begged both sides to come to an agreement and keep children in school.

"We can't afford to have young people in harm's way," said Cy Fields, senior pastor of New Landmark Missionary Baptist Church, which is located in a violence-torn community.

A protracted stoppage could hurt relations between Obama's Democrats and national labor unions, which are among the biggest financial supporters of the Democratic Party and will be needed by the party to rally the vote in the Nov. 6 election.

The union believes charter schools supported by Emanuel, which are taxpayer-funded but not subject to all public school regulations, will undermine public education.

'A LOT AT STAKE'

Just over 12 percent of Chicago public school students go to the non-union charter schools, which will be open for classes on Monday, school officials said.

Emanuel said the two unresolved issues in the negotiations are his demand for teacher evaluations tied to the standardized test results of students, and giving principals of schools more authority and autonomy.

Teacher evaluations based on student results on tests is at the heart of a national debate on school reform.

Jesse Sharkey, the union vice president, said the evaluations sought by Emanuel would distort the curriculum, cheapen education and hurt school performance.

Both sides in Chicago agree the city's public schools need fixing. Chicago students lag national averages in key tests of reading math and science achievement, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

Only about 60 percent of high school students in Chicago graduate, compared with a national average of 75 percent and more than 90 percent in some affluent Chicago suburbs. More than 80 percent of Chicago public school students qualify for free lunches because they are from low-income families.

Chicago Public Schools has projected a $3 billion budget deficit over the next three years and faces a crushing burden of pensions promised to retiring teachers.

During the strike, the city has allocated $25 million to provide breakfast and lunch to students in the district and to pay for half a day of supervision at 144 of the city's 675 schools. Children also will be housed at churches, community centers and other locations under the plan.

The union has expressed concern about the plan for supervising children, calling it a "train wreck." Many of the people supervising children have not received proper training, the union said. And parents are uneasy about putting students from different schools together in neighborhoods which have suffered from gang-related shootings this summer.

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Comments (3)
Fastrudy wrote:
Teacher evaluations based on standardized tests are only valid if the sample class is identical. In other words, comparing two teachers via their classes results is invalid, unless the classes are identical

Sep 10, 2012 2:02pm IST  --  Report as abuse
Chronicler wrote:
In computer programming, there’s an old saying:

Garbage In – Garbage Out

I’m all for a reasonable method of evaluating teacher performance. But, by reasonable, I mean also taking into consideration the quality of students a teacher has to work with – not to mention the quality of the school’s infrastructure. There are only so many things a teacher alone can control.

If you underfund a school to a point where proper teaching tools are unavailable (ie., a decent library, computers, etc.) – then cram a room meant to hold 20 students with 30 students – and if the students who fill that room are gangbangers or other unfortunate kids whose parents don’t give a darn about their education – don’t expect them to get proper teaching.

Don’t punish teachers for the tight-fisted nature of communities they teach in or the tight-fisted nature of certain politicians who serve those communities. In fact, maybe it’s high time to do an evaluation on the “funders” to see if they even qualify to expect good teaching.

Sep 10, 2012 2:36pm IST  --  Report as abuse
Andybinga1 wrote:
“Emanuel said the district had offered the teachers a 16 percent pay raise over four yearrs”

Replace the greedy strikers.

Sep 10, 2012 2:51pm IST  --  Report as abuse
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