This Monday morning, 25,000 teachers in Chicago’s public school district officially went on strike. The strike is the first in nearly 25 years and will impact nearly 350,000 students. The strike comes after the Chicago Teachers Union and the administration failed to come to an agreement after 10 months of negotiations regarding a new contract factoring in class sizes, health benefits, and teacher evaluations.
Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers said in a statement, “No one wants to strike, and no one strikes without cause. In this instance, it comes on the heels of numerous steps that left CTU members feeling disrespected, not the least of which was the district’s unilateral decision to strip teachers and paraprofessionals of an agreed-upon 4 percent raise. The strike comes only after long and intense negotiations failed to lead to an agreement that would give CTU members the tools they need to help all their students succeed.”
Teachers unions have been demonized of late, characterized as “greedy” and not considering what’s in the best interest of students. School “reformers” have been cast as the saviors attempting to fix failing schools on the road to privatization.
According to teachers, the strike is necessary because of the ongoing battle over high stakes testing and dilapidated conditions of the public schools creates inadequate working conditions for students who struggle to learn in overcrowded classes, in overheated rooms, with insufficient supplies of text books.
One hundred and sixty public schools in the city of Chicago have no library, yet Mayor Rahm Emanuel has ordered the city’s public libraries to close earlier, due to budget cuts, thus leaving students without resources. During the negotiations, teachers were offered a 4% annual raise in exchange for an extended school day, but that was eventually rescinded by Emanuel who then offered only a 2% raise.
The conflict over salary increases is the most reported part of the impasse, but it’s really high stakes testing (standardized exams which require teachers to “teach to the test”) being the basis for teacher evaluations that is the most significant conflict. Despite numerous studies showing that this testing is an ineffective method of cultivating successful students, reformers have succeeded in spinning the narrative around to blame teachers, damaging their public image.
“The American Federation of Teachers and our members across the country stand firmly with the CTU, and we will support its members in their efforts to secure a fair contract that will enable them to give their students the best opportunities,” said Weingarten.
As the strike continues on, so does the debate over who is doing the right thing. Meanwhile, Chicago’s students sit and wait for the adults to come to a resolution.