Chicago teachers move closer to ratifying new collective bargaining agreement

Chicago teachers took another step toward ratifying a new collective bargaining agreement with the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) when the Chicago Teachers Union’s House of Delegates voted on October 19 to endorse a tentative agreement.

The tentative agreement now goes to the 27,000 members of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) for a ratification vote that will be held on October 27 and 28.

The union and CPS reached an agreement on the eve of a strike.

After reaching an agreement on October 10, CTU President said, “We’re very pleased with the agreement” but also noted that the agreement isn’t perfect.

The bargaining over a new collective bargaining agreement began in 2015 as CPS was in the midst of a budget crisis. Over the last two years, the school district’s budget has been cut by $300 million.

Members of CTU worked all of the 2015-2016 without a contract as negotiations bogged down because the school district insisted on steep concessions from its teachers and other education workers.

As the beginning of the school year drew near, CPS CEO Forrest Claypool and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel tried to intimidate teachers into accepting CPS’ concession-laden contract proposal.

Claypool told the editorial board of the Chicago Tribune that CTU members had a choice: they either had to accept concession or accept further cuts to classroom resources that would hurt their students.

Mayor Emanuel backed up his handpicked leader at CPS by telling the media that the teachers had to make choice between one of the two alternatives.

In response, CTU called for a vote on whether to authorize a strike if a fair contract could not be reached. Ninety-five percent of the membership voted to authorize a strike.

The union, which has spent the last five years building a base of support among parents, students, and the community, said that if the union had to strike, the strike wouldn’t just be about better pay, it would be about better education.

Negotiations continued as the October 11 strike deadline drew near, but a strike appeared to be imminent.

On October 10, union members picked up picket signs and prepared to strike the next day.

But that evening, CPS offered a new proposal that included an additional $87.5 million that would come from a surplus in Mayor Emanuel’s Tax Increment Financing (TIF) fund.

TIF is a program that diverts property taxes in areas of the city targeted for redevelopment into a fund used to subsidize private development in those areas.

The offer to use the TIF surplus did not come out of thin air. The union, city council members, and parents had been urging the mayor for more than a year to invest more TIF money in public education.

The extra TIF money and savings resulting from the tentative agreement will significantly increase resources for Chicago’s classrooms.

For example, the district agreed to hire assistants for kindergarten through second grade teachers whose classes have 32 or more students.

The district will also spend more money on after school programs, counselling, and medical services for students.

Special education teachers, counselors, and other service providers will be able to spend more time teaching and providing services and less time on paper work, and elementary teachers will have more time to prepare lessons.

In addition, the agreement capped the number of charter schools that could operate in the district.

The tentative agreement also contains some economic gains for teachers and other union members.

The school district wanted to eliminate the 7 percent pick up, an extra pension contribution that the school district makes on behalf of each CTU member. The tentative agreement keeps the 7 percent pension pick up intact for current staff, but eliminates it for staff hired after January 1, 2017.

In lieu of the pick up, new staff will receive a 7 percent increase in base salary split over two years.

The school district also agreed to restore step and lane pay increases, which compensate teachers for years of service. The district stopped paying these increases last year.

The district also agreed to a 4.5 percent cost of living raise for the last two years of the agreement.

Teachers laid off at the end of the year will be eligible fill vacant positions. If no positions are available, laid off teachers can teach as a substitute with full pay and benefits for one year.

The agreement also includes incentive payments for eligible teachers to retire at the end of the current school year; although in order to get the incentive, at least 1500 teachers must retire at the end of the school year.

The House of Delegates voted 358 to 130 to endorse the tentative agreement. The margin of those voting yes over those voting was substantial; nevertheless, the number of no votes showed that there was significant opposition to the agreement.

During the delegates’ meeting, special education teachers and counselors expressed disappointment that the agreement did not include a cap on special education class sizes.

Others criticized the agreement for excluding new hires from receiving the 7 percent pension pick up.

Lewis said that much of the dissent could be traced to a feeling among teachers that CPS could not be trusted to carry out its responsibilities laid out in the tentative agreement.

That distrust is not unwarranted. Soon after CTU won a strike and a new collective bargaining agreement in 2012, CPS began cutting its budget, laying off teachers, and closing schools.

But Lewis said that she thinks the agreement will be ratified.

“I think there’s enough in this tentative agreement that will appeal to the overwhelming majority of members,” said Lewis.

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Chicago Teachers Union demands that the state fund education and social services

At 6:30 A.M. on April 1, Chicago teachers arrived at their schools to walk picket lines and begin a one-day unfair labor practices strike called by the Chicago Teachers Union.

The strikers were demanding that the state provide adequate funding for public education and social services and that city leaders use public funds for public services such as education rather than for lining the pockets of well-connected bankers and businessmen.

“This is an unfair labor practices strike,” said Karen Lewis, president of the CTU, during an interview with television station WTTW. “This is a call for funding the schools and social services in the state appropriately.”

Lewis explained that the union’s April 1 action was supported by other unions, especially those whose members provide social services, and 45 community organizations.

The one thing that all these groups have in common is that a current budget impasse initiated by Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner, who wants to cut funding for education and social service, is  diminishing their ability to provide much needed public services.

“The governor has completely shutdown the budget process until he gets what he wants,” said Lewis. “The General Assembly did its job and passed a budget that he didn’t like.”

Now we have a budget impasse that hurts all public services, continued Lewis.

During the strike, CTU held solidarity actions with other unions and community groups affected by the state’s budget impasse.

In the morning, CTU members rallied at an Illinois Department of Rehabilitation Services office to demand that the state fund the program.

CTU members and supporters also rallied at Chicago State University to support state funding for higher education.

Prior to the rally at Chicago State, CTU members picketed McCormick Place, a luxury hotel that received $55 million in tax abatements from Chicago’s Tax Increment Financing (TIF) program.

The unfair labor strike comes at a time when CTU and Chicago Public Schools (CPS) are negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement. They have been negotiating since last summer.

The main stumbling block to reaching a fair contract has been CPS’ budget deficit, which the union says was self-inflicted.

Years ago, CPS entered into risky financial deals with banks such as the Bank of America. As a result of those deals, the school district is now paying unanticipated financing fees worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

The union wants the city to sue these banks to recover fees that the union contends were the result of predatory lending practices and fraud.

The city has also diverted city revenue from public education and social services to programs like TIF, which mainly enrich those who are already rich.

One of the results of misspending is that teachers and others who work for Chicago Public Schools are now being asked to work longer and harder for less money.

Last year, CPS increased the number of hours that educators and other staff must stay on the job.

In its negotiations with the union, CPS made an offer that included proposals that would have cut compensation for teachers and other staff.

CPS wanted to end its 7 percent pick up payment to its staff’s pension fund and increase employees’ health care costs. The district also threatened to layoff 5000 teachers and other staff members.

When CTU’s bargaining team rejected CPS’ offer, the district threatened to go ahead with its plan to end the 7 percent pension pick up payment. The district backed off its threat to layoff 5000, but said that 1000 teachers and staff members could lose their jobs.

After CTU announced in March that the union’s House of Delegates had voted to hold an unfair labor strike on April 1, CPS canceled its plan to stop pension pick up payments in April, but it did lay off 34 union members.

Currently, the negotiations are in the fact finding phase in which both sides submit reports on issues under negotiations to an independent fact finder.

While the April 1 strike was not related to contract negotiations, CPS filed charges with the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board contending that it was, which made the strike illegal. CPS also sought an injunction barring future strikes while negotiations are in progress.

“We disagree (that the strike was illegal),” said CTU spokeswoman Stephanie Gadlin in a statement about CPS’ charges. “The Supreme Court 60 years ago authorized unfair labor practice strikes under the National Labor Relations Action, and we believe teachers have those rights. This was a one-day job action. Their charges were filed after the fact and they seek to enjoin us from doing something we have no intention of doing again. We call on CPS to join us in fighting for more revenue for schools.”

Chicago walk-ins demonstrate solidarity for public education

Members of the Chicago Teachers Union, parents, students, and community supporters on February 17 rallied before school started at nearly 200 Chicago schools.

When the school day began, those at the rallies walked to the schools together to show their support for the union’s proposals for improving Chicago’s public schools.

The purpose of the walk-ins said a CTU flyer announcing the event was to show that “we stand together to tell the mayor that bankers cannot profit while schools are cut. We demand sustainable revenue solutions for the quality education that (Chicago Public Schools) students deserve.”

CTU is currently negotiating with Chicago’s Board of Education, which is appointed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, for a new collective bargaining agreement.

In the negotiations, the union is demanding smaller class sizes, relief from unnecessary paperwork that interferes with teaching, adequate time for lesson preparation, and services that students and their families need.

Chicago Public Schools (CPS) is facing a budget deficit of $500 million. Mayor Emanuel and his board of education want to address the deficit by laying off teachers, cutting their pay, and increasing their health care payments.

Instead of cuts, the union is proposing better schools and a better way to pay for them.

One of the union’s proposals is for the city to use unspent money in its Tax Incentive Financing (TIF) accounts to fund public education.

Over the years, the city has diverted billions of dollars in tax revenue, including revenue for public education, into TIF accounts to subsidize developers’ economic redevelopment projects.

The TIF Illumination Project has reported that the city’s TIF bank accounts have $1.4 billion in unspent money.

CTU in its contract negotiations is proposing that $700 million of this unspent TIF money be redirected back into CPS’ budget.

The union is also proposing that CPS and the city take legal action to recover some of the $500 million that the school district has paid in bank fees to predatory lenders.

With this and other revenue sources that the union has proposed, CPS could afford to make the improvements to education that CTU is proposing without having to cut pay or lay off educators and support staff.

At the walk-in rallies and community meetings held prior to the walk-ins, union members updated parents, teachers, and community members on the status of the union’s negotiations with CPS.

They reported that some progress has been made.

The school board agreed to less standardized testing, work space for speech therapists, nurses, and other clinicians, some paperwork reductions, a freeze on adding new charter schools, and some improvement in teacher evaluation.

The union however, rejected the school board’s proposal because it “had too many ways (for the board) to back out and not follow through with good promises.”

Also, Mayor Emanuel and his school board were not proposing a “sustainable” way to fund public schools.

In addition to using unspent TIF money and recovering fees from predatory lenders, the union is proposing a sustainable education funding structure that includes a progressive income tax, a millionaire’s tax, and a tax on stock trades.

The union also wants to close tax loopholes that divert much needed school funds into corporate coffers.

The success of the February 17 walk-ins in which thousands of Chicagoans demonstrated their solidarity for public education is the result of good organizing work.

The union began planning the walk-ins in January.

At the January meeting of its House of Delegates, the union’s governing body, delegates who represent union members at school building level were asked to take the lead in organizing a walk-in at their schools.

The delegates who volunteered to do so were given packets explaining how to organize the event.

Among other things, the packet included flyers explaining the walk-in that could be handed out to parents and community members.

Delegates were also given information on holding community meetings prior to the walk-ins. Parents, students,and community members living near their schools were invited to these meetings and given an update on the contract negotiations.

At the meetings, union members and those attending the meeting made plans for the walk-in at their schools.

Prior to the walk-ins, CPS CEO Forrest Claypool sent letters to parents describing the walk-ins as a security risk in an apparent attempt to keep parents from supporting the action. He also said that so-called “strangers” would be stopped from entering the schools.

But the scare tactics didn’t work.

Even though, school security staff prevented some parents and community members from walking into their schools, the participation by thousands was a clear show of support for the teachers and their demands for improved public education.

“This is our best one,” said Gabriel Sheridan, a teacher at Ray Elementary to the Chicago Tribune. “We’ve done it before and I think people are coming because they really do see the need to support the whole movement. It’s not just in Chicago, it’s all over, but we wanted to make sure our tax dollars are appropriately being managed to sustain the schools. It’s an important thing.”

CTU urges City Council to sue predatory lenders and demands mayor’s resignation

The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) on January 12 urged Chicago’s City Council to take legal action against predatory lenders whose alleged illegal conduct could cost the city and its schools as much as $1.4 billion.

According to CTU and the Chicago Tribune, Bank of America and other financial institutions marketed risky derivative deals called interest rate swaps as safe insurance against potential interest rate increases on school bonds.

The Chicago Public School district is currently facing a budget deficit that could cause the layoff of 5000 teachers and other public school employees. CTU is negotiating with school district on a new collective bargaining agreement and is fighting the proposed layoffs.

The head of the school district was appointed by and reports to Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

A week earlier, CTU’s House of Delegates  overwhelmingly voted for a resolution calling for the resignation of Mayor Emanuel.

The resolution criticized Emanuel’s divestment in public education, which the resolution says “(has harmed) Chicago’s public schools and working-class neighborhoods” and his actions in trying to cover up the facts in the police shooting of Laquan McDonald, a 17 year-old African American high school student shot and killed by a white Chicago police officer as McDonald was walking away from the officer.

In calling on the City Council to take legal action against financial institutions that sold the questionable interest rate swaps, CTU President Karen Lewis said that the union had strong evidence showing that Bank of America and others broke the law.

The interest rate swaps were essentially bets on the volatility of the auction-rate bond market, where the school district sold some of its variable rate bonds.

If the market’s interest rates increased, the swaps would protect the school district from paying higher interest rates. If, however, interest rates declined, the school district would owe the swaps’ sellers hundreds of millions of dollars in penalties

CTU has obtained internal e-mails from 2007 showing that Bank of America had knowledge that the auction-rate market was about to crater causing interest rates to drop precipitously. The bank, however, did not share this information with the school district putting the district on the hook for $450 million in penalty payments.

Furthermore, according to the union, Bank of America and other banks “illegally (colluded) to manipulate the interest rates.”

“We should take legal action to cancel the deals, get out of penalties and claw back losses,” said CTU President Karen Lewis. “The standard industry practice was for banks to emphasize the potential upside of these deals, but downplay the risks. This is a violation of the ‘fair dealing’ rule that governs municipal finance.”

In addition to the $450 in swaps penalties, CTU wants $850 million in swap payments returned.

According to the Chicago Tribune, the swap deals “contributed to (the school district’s) ongoing financial troubles.”

In response to these financial troubles, Mayor Emanuel has closed 50 schools mostly in predominately African American and Latino neighborhoods despite the strenuous objections of parents and community members, laid off teachers and other school employees, which caused overcrowding in classrooms, and under funded wrap around services to students such as counseling, libraries, and psychological support.

The union in its resolution calling for Mayor Emanuel’s resignation said that Emanuel’s cuts to school wrap around services contributed to McDonald’s death.

While McDonald posed no threat to the officer who shot him, McDonald was a troubled young man.

He spent most of his life in foster care and suffered from severe psychological trauma.

According to CTU’s resolution, McDonald’s fate “may have been altered had his mental health needs been met both in and out of school.”

In addition to not adequately funding school counseling services, Emanuel also closed six of city’s 12 mental health clinics.

CTU’s call for Mayor Emanuel’s resignation and its call for legal action to recover more than $1 billion resulting from questionable swaps deals, comes at a time when the union is negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement with the school district.

CTU is aiming to stop the proposed layoffs, improve teaching and learning conditions in schools, and improve the district’s wrap around services, especially in low-income communities.

Union members took the first step toward improving Chicago public education when 88 percent of the membership voted in December to authorize a strike unless the new collective bargaining agreement allows for investment rather than divestment in Chicago’s public schools.

After the vote, CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey urged the mayor and his school CEO to “listen to what teachers and educators are trying to tell you: do not cut the schools anymore, do not make the layoffs that you have threatened; instead, respect educators and give us the tools we need to do our jobs.”

“Chicago Teachers Union members do not want to strike, but we do demand that you listen to us,” added Sharkey.

CTU’s Lewis calls Byrd Bennett scandal, “the tip of the iceberg”

Karen Lewis, president of the Chicago Teachers Union, called on the Chicago Board of Education to revisit all decisions that the board made while Barbara Byrd Bennett was CEO of the Chicago Public Schools (CPS).

Byrd Bennett recently pleaded guilty to taking bribes from her former employer that in 2013 won a $20 million no-bid contract to train Chicago Public School principals in executive management techniques.

She was appointed in 2012 by Mayor Rahm Emanuel to lead Chicago’s public school system. She resigned in June 2015 after being indicted in federal court on 20 counts of taking bribes and kickbacks.

“I am calling for the Board of Ed to overturn every decision she made during her unethical tenure, including closing 50 neighborhood schools, the layoffs of thousands of educators, and the awarding of lucrative contracts to politically connected companies and allies tied to both her and City Hall,” said Lewis. “The disgraced CEO is at the tip of the iceberg. The CTU has been calling for an investigation into the Board’s dealings for several years. It is unfortunate that it took someone going to federal prison for them to take our pleas seriously.”

According to Byrd Bennett’s arrest warrant, she conspired with the owners of the SUPES Academy to steer contracts to SUPES in return she was promised a 10 percent cut of the contracts.

SUPES Academy advertises itself as “a dynamic leadership preparation program for emerging K-12 leaders, aspiring principals, sitting principals, and regional, central office, and cabinet level administrators.” It is owned by Gary Solomon and Thomas Vranas, both of whom have been indicted for bribing Byrd Bennett. Both have pleaded not guilty.

Before the indictments, SUPES was involved in an intricate web of connections to politicians and corporate executives who championed what they call education reform.

Reform for these reformers means replacing public schools with privately operated charter schools.

One of these groups of so called reformers is the Chicago Public Education Fund (CPEF).

According to the Chicago Tribune  CPEF “is made up of influential politicians and business leaders–all of whom have made restructuring education a top civic priority.”

CPEF gave SUPES $380,000 in seed money get its “dynamic leadership preparation program” off the ground.

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner is a director emeritus of CPEF and his family foundation has contributed “many millions of dollars to CPEF over the years.”

Rauner has denied any connection to Solomon, Vranas, or the SUPES Academy.

Solomon also is said to be politically connected to Mayor Emanuel; although, the mayor recently denied knowing Solomon.

The Chicago Sun Times reports that Solomon played a key role in the hiring of Byrd Bennett’s predecessor Jean-Claude Brizard, and that Brizard told the Sun Times that Solomon also was instrumental in Byrd Bennett’s hiring. Emanuel appointed both Brizard and Byrd Bennett.

SUPES and Solomon are also linked to the Broad Foundation, the creation of ardent charter school advocate Eli Broad, who Forbes ranks as the 65th most wealthy person in the US.

When SUPES was in its start-up phase it hired Dr. Timothy Quinn to help develop its curriculum. Dr. Quinn also helped Broad create the Broad Superintendents Academy, which trains school superintendents in Broad’s management philosophy.

Solomon is also the head of a superintendent search company called PROACT Search that helps school districts identify possible candidates for superintendent openings.

PROACT draws draws heavily from graduates of the Broad Superintendents Academy when identifying candidates for open superintendent jobs.

Spokes people for Broad have denied any connection to Solomon. Internet links that showed a connection have been deleted.

One of  Broad’s education management philosophies is that public school closures present an excellent opportunity for superintendents to introduce or expand charter schools.

Broad’s education foundation  has even produced a manual that guides school superintendents through the closure process.

In addition to being a former employee of SUPES, Byrd Bennett is also connected to Broad.  In These Times reports that she worked as an executive coach for the Broad Superintendent Academy in 2006.

During her tenure as CPS CEO, she oversaw the closure of 47 public schools, the largest single public school closure in the US.

Most of the closed schools were in low-income, predominately African-American neighborhoods. Of those students affected by these closures, 88 percent were African American.

The closures were met with heavy resistance by parents, students, and members of the communities affected by the closures.

She justified the closures by saying that they were needed to cope with budgetary constraints.

Coincidentally, the Broad manual for school closures is entitled, “School Closure Guide Closing Schools as a Means for Addressing Budgetary Challenges.”

She also approved opening seven new charter schools.

In her comments on the Byrd Bennett guilty plea, CTU President Lewis said that private agendas of Byrd Bennett, Solomon, and their backers brought into question whether CPS board members and its CEO should continue to be appointed by the mayor.

“The mayor’s handpicked CEO’s admission of guilt is an also admission of bad management and the culture of failed leadership that have plagued our district over the last five years,” said Lewis. “This is why we need an elected representative school board.”

Chicago teachers bargain to transform education

When the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) and the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) on March 27 began negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement, CTU President Karen Lewis was joined at the bargaining table by 50 teachers and education support personnel representing CTU members.

The union is bargaining for a new collective bargaining agreement that transforms education in Chicago.

“Our new contract will reflect our values as educators, and the stake we have—and our city should have—in the education of the children we serve,” said Lewis. “There is absolutely no greater interest for our members than the lives of their students, and we look forward to honest, transparent conversations with the (CPS) Board on how to strengthen the district and provide adequate resources for all of its students, their families, and the city our students deserve.”

The union wants smaller class sizes, more preparation time for teachers, adequate support staffing such as nurses, counselors, librarians, etc. at all schools, but especially in those schools in under served communities, and for CPS to make pre-K classes available to more working class families.

But the union’s bargaining demands go much further.

To make education more participatory and more relevant, the union wants CPS to create 50 sustainable community schools where communities and students will participate in developing curriculum that “reflects the experience and identities of our students.”

CTU’s most far-reaching demands challenge economic and educational orthodoxy.

For example, the orthodox view on teaching is that it isn’t really a profession. It doesn’t require rigorous training and years of experience to master. In fact, it’s so easy that anyone with a college degree and youthful exuberance can teach and teach well.

That’s why a 1990s bipartisan piece of legislation created Teach for America, which pays our best and brightest college graduates a stipend to teach temporarily in communities where poverty is high and income low.

Teach for America isn’t about training a cadre of well qualified teachers with a long-term commitment to quality education.

It is, instead, about giving college graduates an opportunity to perform two years of community service before they embark on their real careers.

So far, Teach for America has done little to improve education in the US.

It has, however, provided charter school operators with a pool of temps who act as teachers. These low-paid temps help lower labor costs for charter school operators, which help boost their profits.

Some of CPS’ budget is used to subsidize the local Teach for America program.

CTU is proposing that CPS divert public tax dollars that subsidize Teach for America into a program that recruits and retains teachers and other education professionals committed to education as a career and profession.

CTU is calling this program Grow Your Own, and its purpose would be to help former CPS graduates return to Chicago’s public school classrooms as teachers and other education professionals, so that CPS can “develop a more diverse and local teaching force” that is committed to education for the long haul.

CTU is also calling for a moratorium on charter school expansion and union rights for those who work in charter schools.

The economic orthodoxy on public school funding is that money is scarce for all public services, especially public education; therefore, austerity measures such as closing neighborhood schools, cutting enrichment programs like music, art, and physical education, and laying off teachers and support staff are the only sensible way to deal with the problems of public education.

CTU has a different view. According to the union, money that should be going to fund quality education is being diverted to Wall Street and corporate America.

CTU is demanding that CPS and the city of Chicago take action to get that money back.

One of the union’s bargaining demands is for CPS to take legal action to recover at least $1 billion that CPS has lost to Wall Street banks because of excessive fees on bond deals, bond deals that were arguably fraudulent, and predatory lending practices, all of which have been documented in a recent ReFund America Project report entitled, ““Our Kind of Town: A Financial Plan that Puts Chicago’s Communities First.

In addition to being victimized by shady bond deals, hundreds of millions of dollars in public school revenue has been siphoned away to selected corporations.

The city of Chicago has a program called tax increment financing (TIF), which allows selected corporations to avoid paying taxes.

CTU is demanding that public revenue diverted to corporations by TIF be returned to Chicago’s schools.

“We demand that Chicago’s leaders treat our children as the priority—not the bankers and stock-traders who fund their campaigns,” said Jesse Sharkey, vice-president of CTU. “If we are to be accountable to the needs of our children, we will have to hold the wealthy accountable for the massive investments that our schools deserve.”

Teachers to testers: “Let us teach; let our students learn”

Members of the Chicago Teachers Union, parents, and community supporters rallied on March 10 to support teachers at two Chicago schools who are refusing to administer the Illinois Standardized Achievement Test (ISAT).

The union organized the demonstration after the Chicago Public Schools’ top administrator said that the teachers could be disciplined if they did not administer the test.

“Administration of this meaningless test means students will lose hours of valuable classroom instruction time, disrupting as many as ten school days,”  reads a petition supporting the boycotting teachers.

So far more than 2,500 parents at 69 schools have signed opt out letters telling school administrators that their children will not be taking the ISAT.

Karen Lewis, president of CTU, said that the union is supporting the parents’ opt out movement and will defend teachers who refuse to administer the test.

According to Lewis, the ISAT isn’t being used to evaluate student achievement, isn’t being used to determine school funding levels, and serves no useful purpose.

“You should not feel like you need to subject (your students) to unnecessary testing and anxiety,” said Lewis. “Life is hard enough for our children. Let’s make it better. Let’s take (the time scheduled for testing) to teach and to bring some joy back to education.”

In addition to the ISAT, Chicago students in a school year will take the NWEA MAP, Interim Benchmark Tests, REACH Performance Tasks, ACCESS, NAEP, pilot Common Core, and other standardized tests.

The proliferation and questionable value of standardized testing has created a backlash among parents and educators.

“Standardized tests are used to rank children as first and second class citizens,” said Anne Carlson, a teacher at Drummond Montessori where teachers are refusing to administer the ISAT. “We need to rise up and take back our schools.”

Carlson was speaking at the March 10 rally held at Saucedo Scholastic Academy, the other school where teachers are refusing to administer the ISAT.

Also speaking at the rally was Sherise McDaniel, a parent who signed an opt out letter excusing her child from the ISAT.

McDaniel urged Chicago Public School administrators to take a pledge to support students, parents, and teachers. That pledge includes the promise “to treat all students equally and not to tolerate any punishment against children who did not take the ISAT” and “to respect teachers’ right to free speech and to speak against the misuse of standardized tests.”

“No teacher should be disciplined for teaching,” said McDaniel.

Since the Saucedo and Drummond teachers announced that they would not be administering the ISAT, support for them has been growing.

They recently received a letter of support from London teachers who belong to the National Union of Teachers.

“The world over, corporations and corporate politicians want to turn our kids into ranked numbers to help them privatize education and narrow the curriculum,” reads the short letter of support. “Stand up to the corporate bullies, stand firm against the ISAT.”

Chicago labor has also taken a stand to support the Saucedo and Drummond teachers.

The Chicago Federation of Labor, whose 320 plus affiliates represent more than 500,000 union workers, unanimously passed a resolution supporting the right of teachers to exercise their first amendment rights to boycott the standardized tests.

According to John Kugler, CTU’s representatives to the CFL, one reason that CFL delegates supported the resolution is that the irrelevant ISAT takes up to two weeks away from student instructional time.

Much of the Chicago school year is now consumed by preparing for and taking standardized tests including NWEA MAP, new Interim Benchmark Tests, REACH Performance Tasks, ACCESS, NAEP, pilot Common Core, and more.

Eleanor Griffin, an 8th grader, recently told the Chicago Board of Education how its emphasis on standardized testing has affected her education.

Three times a year we prepare for the NWEA; three times a year we take the test, she said. It’s very stressful.

“NWEA is changing the idea of school for the worse,” said Griffin. “Instead of being a place of meaningful learning, schools have become places of stressful testing.”

Devoting so much time to standardized test may not help students, but it has helped the bottom line of the corporations who design standardized tests.

Back in 1955, standardized test sales were slightly more than $10 million in 2014 dollars.

After the passage of the federal No Child Left Behind law that mandated the use of more standardized tests, “the value of the testing market (was) anywhere from $400 million to $700 million,” reports PBS’ Frontline.

That was early in the new millennium.

In 2013, Pearson, one of the leading standardized test designers and the designer of the ISAT, reported sales of $4 billion for its North American division.

At the time, John Fallon, Pearson’s new CEO, complained that North American sales were flat, which would mean that the company would have to lay off workers.