Chicago Teachers Have Raised the Bar; What was Accomplished,
1. Chicago Teachers Raise the Bar (Theresa Moran in Labor
2. Chicago Teachers Strike Ends, But `Multi-Year Revolution'
Begins (David Moberg in In These Times)
Chicago Teachers Raise the Bar
by Theresa Moran
September 19, 2012
The Chicago Teachers Union has done the seemingly impossible.
At a time when teachers are pilloried in the press and
attacked by Democrats and Republicans alike, Chicago teachers
walked out for seven days in a strike that challenged every
tenet of the corporate agenda for overhauling education.
Though on paper the strike was about teacher evaluations, in
fact the battle was waged over conflicting visions of public
Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his corporate cronies seek to privatize
public education into oblivion, creating profit-making
opportunities as new charters are opened and new curricula and
tests are adopted. Pushing high-stakes testing is key, as
student test results supply a justification for shuttering
schools as well as firing veteran teachers en masse.
CTU, on the other hand, says public schools are necessary
community institutions. Class sizes should be small; students
should study a rich curriculum with more art and music than
standardized tests; social workers, nurses, and counselors
should help students beat back the effects of poverty on their
chances of academic success.
Teachers should be respected as professionals, fairly
compensated, and given the supplies and the breathing room
they need to do their jobs.
Teachers believed so strongly in this vision of education for
all that they risked legal sanctions and financial hardship to
brave further vilification.
"they're my heroes," said Kerry Motoviloff, president of the
Madison, Wisconsin, teachers union. "Because of what they've
done, they've taken control of the debate. They are saying
that teachers have ideas on what real reform looks like - you
are just not funding them."
The new contract gains ground.
Teachers kept the percentage of a teacher's evaluation that
will be based on student test scores to 30 percent, the legal
limit after the Illinois legislature passed an anti-teacher
law last year. The board had sought 45 percent. The union also
earned the first-time ever right for teachers to appeal a
The union forced merit pay off the table and maintained almost
all the traditional salary structure, with raises for
experience and advanced degrees.
Teachers made major gains on recall rights, previously
Seniority had existed only at the school level.
Now, if a school closes, teachers will have the right to
"follow their students" if a position opens up at the school
where students are sent. Laid-off teachers will have 10 months
of recall if their old position is reinstated. And at least
half of all new openings must now be filled with laid-off
Six hundred teachers will be hired in art, music, and phys ed.
The union won break time for nursing mothers and a $250
reimbursement when teachers buy supplies. Students are
guaranteed to get their books on the first day of school.
The new deal is by no means perfect.
Teachers won a new evaluation system they think will be more
objective. But despite the flaws in principals' rankings, low-
rated teachers will not have seniority protection when layoffs
Laid-off teachers will now get paid for just six months, down
The contract does little to address class size - which state
law forbids only Chicago teachers to bargain over - preserving
toothless policies that have allowed classrooms to balloon to
40 or 50 kids despite caps of 35. Still, the status quo is a
minor win given that the board wanted to gut it. A panel to
monitor class size will get more funding and must now include
The board agreed to hire more social workers, counselors, and
school nurses, but only if new sources of revenue are found.
Emanuel is pushing for a Chicago casino to bring in tax money,
which Governor Pat Quinn has vetoed, but it likely will
eventually be approved.
Teachers nationwide were elated to see someone resisting the
tide of corporate-backed concessions teachers have accepted in
recent years, often at the prodding of national Teachers (AFT)
The national AFT played a small role in Chicago. A senior
staffer sat in on negotiations, but AFT otherwise deferred to
the local, lending money and staffers to help with strike
Once the strike started, AFT President Randi Weingarten
"didn't really have much choice," said Debby Pope, a strike
Merit pay and evaluations based on student test scores were
two national trends that Chicago teachers bucked.
Teachers in Pittsburgh took a deal in 2010 that introduced
merit pay for new hires and raised the number of years to gain
When Baltimore members nixed a merit-based contract, AFT top
brass swooped in to pressure members to change their votes.
Weingarten touted the agreement, but earlier this year, an
unprecedented majority of Baltimore teachers received
unsatisfactory mid-year evaluations, in what teachers say was
a deliberate attempt to avoid merit raises.
In the face of these defeats, CTU's electrifying stand could
spark resistance. Los Angeles teachers are now in negotiations
over incorporating student test scores into evaluations. Union
board member Joe Zeccola said, "One thing is for sure: it
emboldened us in negotiations and we're sticking to our guns
more than we were."
After a favorable court decision, Madison teachers are seeking
to reopen bargaining immediately. "Boy, is the shoe on the
other foot now," Motoviloff said.
The strike didn't come out of nowhere: Chicago teachers,
energized by the Caucus of Rank and File Educators, have been
organizing for years.
"To watch the change in the national discourse just in the
course of this week, it shows what the power of, first, a
small number of people in our caucus and then a large number
of people in our union could accomplish," said Xian Barrett, a
history and law teacher.
They also built strong parent connections fighting school
To cement relationships from school closure fights, the CTU
developed a community board composed of neighborhood
organizations. During the strike, these partners responded.
Albany Park Neighborhood Council organized busloads to attend
a 35,000-person rally on the strike's first day, turned out
members to picket lines across the neighborhood, and held a
forum on the strike issues.
A city-wide youth project organized a protest against high-
stakes testing, highlighting how standardized tests
misrepresent and punish students and teachers alike.
The Logan Square Neighborhood Association organized a "freedom
camp" for out-of-school kids. A week of lessons on Cesar
Chavez and Martin Luther King Jr. capped off with parents and
students demonstrating in support. Waving handmade signs, the
kids performed the civil rights classic "We Shall Not Be
Moved" for beaming teachers.
Ofelia Sanchez, mother of five, said she knows from her
experience as a classroom volunteer that "you can't teach a
class of 40 students. It's impossible. Students learn at their
She said she backed the strike because she didn't want to see
her children's teachers beg for help from parents.
Lauren Mikol, a Madison teacher, says other unions would do
well to take a page from CTU's community engagement playbook.
"they're showing the way," she said. "We have to do the same
thing - convince everyone that public schools have to be stood
In Chicago, that fight will soon relaunch. By December the
district is expected to announce 80-120 more school closures.
"We lit a fire under parents and community groups," Cavallero
said, "and with our support, they can take on that struggle to
fight for their neighborhood schools. People realize that this
is just the beginning."
Chicago Teachers Strike Ends, But `Multi-Year Revolution'
By David Moberg
In These Times
September 19, 2012
Chicago teachers--and their students--returned to their
classrooms today after the union's 800-member House of
Delegates voted overwhelmingly yesterday to suspend their
seven-day strike. The local contract fight drew national
attention to the clash between two different visions of school
Within the next two weeks, roughly 29,000 teachers and staff
will vote on their new contract. Reactions from union
delegates who talked with members walking the picket lines--
and who did not vote on whether to recommend adoption of the
contract--indicate that teachers are likely to approve the
Already the debate is starting over who won and what lessons
should be learned.
Here are some initial thoughts:
1. Teachers, students, parents and the public are the
immediate winners--not because the contract was a sweeping
victory, or the fundamental problems of Chicago Public Schools
(CPS) were solved, but because the contract limits the
encroachment of corporate-style school reform. Such reform
adopts a punitive attitude towards teachers, rather than a
collaborative approach to encourage continual improvement
while weeding out the hopelessly incompetent. The reform
agenda also relies heavily on high-stakes, standardized tests
that distort education and have proven an inaccurate and
unreliable measure of teacher performance.
In the public-relations battle over who was helping "the
kids," the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) held its own by
emphasizing how it successfully bargained for a commitment to
hire 600 new teachers in art, music and other "enrichment"
courses. CTU also extracted promises from CPS to hire more
counselors, supply textbooks by the first day of school and
include a parent representative on a class-size review
2. Defenders of corporate reforms--such as the Chicago Tribune
editorial page--see the contract as their victory: Teachers
will be evaluated partly on student test scores and the school
year will be longer (but not as long as mayor Rahm Emanuel
wanted). But CTU had to make some of its concessions to comply
with state law, and some of those state changes came in
response to conditions the Obama administration placed on
3. The union came away stronger. Members were inspired by the
strike, the rallies and the strong public support. That
support came especially from low-income African-American and
Latino parents, whom anti-union writers and public
spokespeople continued to describe as hostile to teachers
(despite two polls to the contrary). Ultimately, the strike
was a success and will serve as a model for the future because
the new, more radical CTU leadership educated and organized
members far in advance; organized parental allies and public
support; and kept faith in internal union democracy, open
debate and ultimate deference to the will of rank-and-file
It's little surprise that on the day the strike ended, top
Emanuel advisor, charter school advocate and "wealthy venture
capitalist" (as the Tribune described him) Bruce Rauner told a
right-wing policy conference, "The critical issue is to
separate the union from the teachers." That will be harder
now, but the Tribune editorialists had another solution:
accelerate the closing of public schools and opening of
publicly funded but private charter schools and prohibit
teachers from striking. In any case, Rauner sees the strike as
the start of "a multi-year revolution." His reactionary
"revolution" imposed from above, however, now faces a
revolution from below.
As union delegates left the meeting yesterday, one after
another stressed, "We're not done," "It's not the end," or, as
middle school teacher Mike Murphy put it, "The contract is a
first step in a long struggle for justice."
The bigger battles ahead include fights over CPS's plan to
close 80 to 200 schools and open more charters, fair funding
for the schools, proper implementation of the contract and
much more. Meanwhile, the national American Federation of
Teachers (with which CTU is affiliated) has already had some
success with a parallel, ongoing effort to organize more
charter school teachers.
But these local Chicago fights have less chance of succeeding
if Democratic politicians throughout much of the country--
starting with the administration--continue to embrace
corporate school reform and reject a more collaborative
approach that starts--as CTU president Karen Lewis said
Tuesday--by taking into account the views of those who do the
Democrats should reject the corporate reforms not just because
they ape Republican policies or because they're anti-union or
because they give up on government--all good enough reasons.
They should also do so because research shows that most of the
corporate nostrums don't work (including evaluating teachers
based on student test scores) and that charters are no panacea
(with more performing worse than comparable public schools
than the small share performing better).
Of course, education by itself will not significantly reduce
inequality and poverty, both of which make teaching more
difficult, especially in big city schools like Chicago, where
more than four-fifths of students qualify for free lunches on
the basis of low family income. Ultimately, reforming public
education must be part of--not a substitute for--a broader
movement for economic justice.
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