Chicago teachers, school staff on strike!

Chicago public school teachers, support staff, and other education professionals went on strike today. Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis said that some progress has been made at the bargaining table but not enough to avoid a strike.

“Negotiations have been intense but productive,” Lewis said. “However, we have failed to reach an agreement that can avoid a labor strike. This is a difficult decision and one that we hoped we could avoid. Throughout the negotiations, I have remained hopeful but determined. We must do things differently in this city if we are to provide our students with the education they so rightfully deserve.”

Lewis said that the union would continue to work with parents and others who want to improve education in Chicago.

“As we continue to bargain in good faith, we stand in solidarity with parents, clergy, and community-based organizations who are advocating for smaller class sizes, a better school day, and an elected school board.

Lewis noted that some progress had been made toward the union’s contract proposal for a better school day that would expand the curriculum and provide more services for students.

“We restored some of the art, music, world language, technology, and physical education classes to many of our students,” Lewis said in describing some of the progress made during the bargaining sessions. “The board also agreed that we would now have textbooks on the first day of class rather than have our students and teachers wait until six weeks to receive instructional material.”

But the Chicago Public Schools Board of Education and Mayor Rahm Emanuel still want to radically change the curriculum to one that emphasizes standardized test preparation.

As part of this new emphasis, the board is trying to implement a new teacher evaluation system that the union says puts too much emphasis on how well students do on standardized tests.

“We are. . . concerned that too much of the new evaluations will be based on students’ standardized teaching scores,” Lewis said. “This is no way to measure the effectiveness of an educator. There are too many factors beyond our control which impact how well some students perform on standardized tests such as poverty, exposure to violence, homelessness, hunger, and other social issues beyond our control.”

Despite wanting to implement a new curriculum and a new evaluation system, the board has not offered any enhanced training to prepare teachers to implement the new curriculum

The union has offered the use of its nationally acclaimed Quest Center, which helps new teachers learn the skills of their profession, to help the board provide training.

Lewis also said that the union is fighting for more student services. “We join (parents) in their call for more social workers, counselors, audio/visual and hearing technicians, and school nurses,” Lewis said. “Our children are exposed to unprecedented levels of neighborhood violence and other social issues, so the fight for wraparound services is critically important to all of us. Our members will continue to support this ground swell of parent activism and grassroots engagement on these issues. And we hope the board will not shut these voices out.”

The two sides are close to agreement on a new pay package, but the school board is still demanding reductions to employees’ health care benefit.

Teachers, school counselors, nurses, and other education professionals walked picket lines this morning at 675 schools and the Board of Education office, but Lewis said that the union was willing to continue bargaining.

“We are committed to staying at the table until a contract is place,” Lewis said.” However, in the morning no CTU member will be inside our schools. We will walk the picket lines. We will talk to parents. We will talk to clergy. We will talk to the community. We will talk to anyone who will listen—we demand a fair contract today, we demand a fair contract now. And, until there is one in place that our members accept, we will be on the line.”

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