Chicago teachers go on strike

Chicago teachers are on strike,reports the Chicago Sun-Times. Chicago Public Schools administrators are staffing some elementary schools to offer half-day child care; some churches and community centers also are open to children.

The city’s charter schools are open as usual. About one third have room for more students.

Key disputed issues in the talks were teacher cost of living raises, additional pay for experience, job security in the face of annual school closures and staff shakeups, and a new teacher evaluation process that ties teacher ratings in part to student test score growth.

. . . CTU officials contend that CPS’ offer of raises over the next four years does not fairly compensate them for the 4 percent raise they lost this past school year and the longer and “harder” school year they will face this school year, with the introduction of a tougher new curriculum.

The union also wants “smaller class sizes, more libraries, air-conditioned schools, and more social workers and counselors to address the increasing needs of students surrounded by violence,” reports the Sun-Times. Chicago has been hit by a wave of homicides this year. Many of the victims are children, teens and young adults.

CPS officials say teachers average $76,000 a year and would earn 16 percent more over four years in the proposed contract. The district could face a $1 billion deficit by the end of the school year.

Pay isn’t the big issue, argues a Reuters analysis. The teachers’ union is fighting education reforms that make it easier to fire teachers and close schools if test scores don’t improve.

In Chicago, last-minute contract talks broke down not over pay, but over the reform agenda, both sides said Sunday. The union would not agree to (Mayor Rahm) Emanuel’s proposal that teacher evaluations be based in large measure on student test scores.

Nor would the union accept his push to give principals more autonomy over hiring, weakening the seniority system that has long protected veteran teachers.

“This is fight for the soul of public education,” said Brandon Johnson, an organizer with the Chicago Teachers Union.

Did both sides want a strike? asks Alexander Russo.

“It’s a strike of choice,” says Emanuel.

About Joanne


  1. 16% raise over 4 years, in the current economic situation, and it’s not about money? Really? And they’re not willing/able to handle a “harder” curriculum and an average-length school day without more money? And they think teachers should keep their jobs even if enrollment declines? (smaller classes = more teacher jobs, more libraries=more jobs) And, they’re unwilling to be judged, even partially, on the academic results they achieve? (in the era of computers, things like absentee rate, change of schools etc. can be factored into in the results)

    One of the key differences between public and private schools is the authority of principals to hire/fire staff and to survive (or not) based on those decisions. Union demands/protections/procedures result in the “dance of the lemons”, in which the lazy, incompetent, abusive or otherwise undesirable teachers are moved from school to school.

    • Well mom, what do you think a labor union’s for if not to secure the best possible deal for the membership and to keep as many members enjoying that best possible deal as long as possible? If that results in the organization that makes sure the paychecks clear going bust well, that’s someone else’s problem to deal with although presented with a real likelihood of destroying the hen that lays the golden eggs many unions pull back, though not all.

      There are cases of unions driving the employer of their membership into bankruptcy and not just one or two.

      That’s why unions are indifferent even to criminal activities on the part of the membership. The union’s job isn’t to judge members. That would be the job of a professional association. About the only remnant of a professional association is in the name of the NEA.

      • Your last paragraph is spot-on. My DH and I have belonged to many professional associations – our choice (not a condition of employment) and our personal checks for dues. Public sector unions should be illegal, since there is a fundamental and inescapable conflict of interest – and one which leaves the taxpayers who pay the bills with little or no influence. Given the drastic plunge in union membership in states which have disallowed garnishment of wages to pay union dues (an even worse abuse), many teachers don’t feel the unions have much value for them.

        Don’t feed me that BS about “it’s for the kids”, either. Let’s remember the classic comment from a big-name union leader; “When kids/parents pay union dues, I’ll pay attention to them” (paraphrased). It’s all about union power and big bucks/perks for the union leaders.

    • Oh, and let’s not overlook the deliciousness of the politics involved.

      The very left wing Rahm Emmanual may find himself in the position of having to go head-to-head with the CTU. How far will Emmanual be willing to go?

      Will he try to break the union? Does Emmanual think he can survive caving in to the CTU given the continuing state of the the economy? How perilous is the state of the district’s finances?

      How will Illinois voters react, in the upcoming general election, to a big, fat raise for teachers when the economy’s still in the toilet? Illinois’, as of July, has an unemployment rate of 8.9% but is still seen as solidly in the Obama camp. Would a sweet settlement for the CTU result in more then a little resentment directed at President Obama?

      • I do wonder about the timing of the strike… it started right as the DNC convention ended. I can only imagine the change in press and tone if it began during the convention.
        I’ve also seen some conspiracy theorists mention that the White House will directly intervene prior to the election, for the children of course, and the two sides will instantly begin acting like best buds.

        • I kind of doubt the conspiracy theorist angle.

          No, this is real stuff for the union both from a political and an economic point of view.

          Unions really need a big victory, especially over someone as politically savvy and tough as Rahm Emmanual, to shore up the damage their political reputation has taken since the 2010 mid-terms. The failure of the Wisconsin recall was particularly damaging since it was so idiotic so they’ve got to win this one.

          But it’s also economic since the one union demand that’s always on the table is “more”. If the current union leadership hasn’t gotten you more, lately, then maybe it’s time to look at the loudmouth who’s been making the promise of “more” for some time.

          The timing isn’t coincidental I’m sure since Obama’s would much rather have the kids back in school quickly then to have the strike drag on so he’ll be pressuring Emmanual to settle. Perhaps offering some sort of sweetener to make the settlement more palatable but having the strike over quickly is better for Obama.

  2. It is also reported that 79% (almost 4 in every 5) of students are not proficient at reading as 8th graders. What will happen when the students go to high school next year, probably be given a diploma they can’t even read (assuming they don’t even drop out after a year or two)…


  3. GoogleMaster says:

    From a CNN article, “The average teacher salary in Chicago was $74,839 for the 2011-2012 school year, according to the district.”

    If that is true, then the average CPS salary (3rd largest district in the U.S.) is higher than the maximum capped salary for the 7th largest district in the U.S. Full 2012-2013 salary schedules for Houston ISD here: . A 10-month teacher with a master’s degree, which probably includes or exceeds most teachers in the district, tops out at $71K with 31+ years of service.

    • Yeah; but factor in both housing and income taxes. We in Texas do not pay income taxes, so there’s a 10% difference, at least.

      Additionally, I can find a 3400 square foot 2 story home for 110,000. And in a good school district, so no need for private schools.

      Cost of living is an important factor when comparing wages.

      And the only reason that HISD is the 7th largest is that there are 21 other school districts surrounding it.

  4. Well, here in Indiana it’s illegal for public school teachers to strike. Quite a few laws have changed and I’m now looking at a career of $42,000 a year for the duration.

    I’m working on my Masters. I was told I would be grandfathered in to the old pay scale, making about $47,000 a year – but I guess grandfathered actually means, “not grandfathered.”

    I’m staying in public education because I believe all kids deserve a chance, because I enjoy the people I work with – students and staff, and because I love the content I teach.

    I’m trying not to complain about being promised compensation, and then having it taken away. I’m trying to stay positive. But it’s tough. My masters degree is costing me $14,000. We’re still paying off about $70,000 in college loans. My own children qualify for free/reduced lunch at school because of how little I make.

    As for evaluating based on test scores, well I’m hoping for the best. My scores have constantly been above the state average, but there are so many other factors in there that the evaluation method doesn’t consider. And it is crazy how much time we are forced to spend on test prep. Absolutely insane.

    • Deirdre Mundy says:

      Philip– given that our state’s median HOUSEHOLD income is 47,000, and that my husband (a public librarian) made 30K at his first job AFTER he earned his master’s degree, 42,000 is not too shoddy. Especially if you get health insurance, which costs most families around 1000 a month, if they’re lucky.

      As far as I can tell, in Indiana, once you have 3 kids, it’s nearly impossible NOT to be eligible for free lunch and WIC unless both spouses work. But, in most parts of the state, it’s entirely possible to support a family of 5 on 42K– and that includes house, car, Y membership, and food.

      Unless you’re in a few of the wealthy suburbs surrounding Indy, 42K is not out of line with what the people around you are making.

      • Deirdre Mundy says:

        The 70K in student loans is really the problem. But, depending on where you teach, you may be eligible for loan forgiveness after some number of years…

        • Thanks, but it’s not making me feel much better. The part I’m complaining about most is, I was told that I’d be compensated for getting my degree – that I’d be grandfathered in. So, I took out the $14,000 loan and proceeded. Then, after I’m 4/5ths of the way finished I’m told, actually you’re not. I’m glad I have my masters. I’m glad I’m a better teacher. But I don’t have $14,000 to throw around when I still have $70,000 in college debt. (Also, I should note I don’t actually have it yet… I’ll be finishing it shortly…)

          Also, are you saying that your husband would never make more than $30,000? If I would have had my masters when I started teaching that’s about what I would have made my first year. But I would have earned more because experience counted for something as well. Now I’m looking at $42,000 for the duration of my career – without the chance of a raise.

          Is the median household income $47,000 where the main breadwinner has 6+years of college education?

          • Deirdre Mundy says:

            No, he’s up higher now because he moved into library administration. But we’ve never had health insurance expenses of less than 10K a year (not including the high deductible since we’ve had HSAs)

            HOWEVER, in many small Indiana towns, even lawyers working 50 hours a week only make about 50K. I think you may have an exagerated idea of how much other people are making. Most households I know with a single breadwinner make 45K or less.

            Heck, the households I know where the main breadwinner has a PhD are only making around 45! On the other hand, in most of the state you can buy a decent house for 100K or less.

            Basically (and I think this applies to the Chicago teachers as well) a lot of teachers who complain about how unfairly low their wages are don’t actually realize how little everyone else makes. And usually, when you look at hours worked, risk of lawsuit, and danger of dying on the job, most salaries make a lot of sense.

            My husband and I taught at a Catholic school out of college (4 year degrees, but not in teaching.) He made 18, I made 17. But our health insurance was practically free…..

          • To be honest, I’m not too bothered about my pay. I didn’t get into teaching to get rich. I was under the impression there would be some upward mobility though.

            I don’t know how much other people make. I haven’t gone around asking them. I’m sure some people are doing well, and others aren’t, etc, etc…

            The biggest hurdle I’ve faced in not growing bitter is that I was promised the compensation for my masters, and then they pulled it back.

            Out of curiosity, what does your husband make now? And will he be eligible to make more, or has he reached the top?

  5. Stacy in NJ says:

    We should give the parents vouchers for roughly the 11k the Chicago schools get per head. Let the parents choose private, charter or existing public.

  6. How exactly is the average teacher pay calculated? Are administrators salaries thrown in to make it seem like the teachers are being paid more?

    What is the cost of living in Chicago? How well does someone live on a teacher’s salary?

    • Stacy in NJ says:

      It’s not about pay really. It’s about performance measurements. The city and state got an Arne Duncan (former Chicago school Chancellor) Race to the Top grant that requires teachers’ performance measures as an attached string.

      The union wants the grant money of course, but they don’t want the performance measure because they’d do horribly on it. 79% of Chicago students fail to reach the proficient level in 8th grade reading.

      I’m going to sit back enjoy some blue on blue aggression. There won’t be any winners here.

  7. Katie Jones says:

    I heard about this. I hope everything gets resolved not only for the people involved in the strike but for the sake of the kids in the schools affected.

  8. Obi-Wandreas says:

    Given how horribly wrong and off-the mark is pretty much every article I’ve ever seen written about my district, I’m going to reserve judgement on this one to those with personal experience.

    Although I do have to admit rolling my eyes at the request for air-conditioned schools. Would monsieur care for a hot towel as well?

    • Roger Sweeny says:

      I’ve lived in Chicago and taught in the northeast. Chicago is humid, and June and September can be pretty hot. Under those circumstances, schools without air conditioning can be unpleasant for the teacher and deadening for the student.

      Given the state of Chicago’s finances (and the fact that most schools are closed in the summer), it probably doesn’t make sense to retrofit old schools–but an efficient heating/cooling system may be a good idea for new construction.

  9. Here’s a nasty thought: (Which I just put into a post.) Maybe Karen Lewis, the union leader, likes to break things. (As someone who was once a small boy, I can tell you that breaking things can be fun.)

    That would explain why she called the strike — and seemed very happy about it — even though the sides are said to be close to an agreement.

    And it would be consistent with some of her more, uh, unusual behavior.

    • Amy in Texas says:

      I wondered the same thing, Jim. She is perversely self-righteous and a terrible spokesperson for education.

  10. Thanks, Mike. Sitting here in Chicago I can tell you that my take is similar to Carol Marin’s. And the A/C issue, Obi-Wandreas, is more about the coming push for a year-round school schedule. There’s a legitimate concern about having kids in 3rd and 4th floor classroom on 98 degree days in July without AC–especially in those classrooms where the windows don’t open or have been painted shut. Welcome to Chicago. . .

  11. To be clear on the above regarding AC. . .As the CTU can no longer negotiate over the length or format of the school year, courtesty of State Senate Bill SB7, they’re negotiating over what they can. . .air conditioning. Since CPS claims it will cost $2 billion to outfit all the schools with air conditioning, this appears to be CTU’s attempt to keep the school year confined to the 9 cooler months of the year. When a state law severely truncates your bargaining rights, I suppose, you do what you have to do. I, for one, hope they succeed.