Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Chicago teachers strike to better children’s education

Yesterday, as students across the country settled into home room and first period classes for the start of another week of school, students in the Chicago public school system were instead sent to temporary school sites, churches, daycares or home. The Chicago Teachers Union, after 10 months of negotiating with the school system, had gone on strike after failing to reach an agreement on a new contract, shutting down the third-largest school system in the country.

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The teachers’ strike is their last-ditch effort to win a fair contract from the Chicago Public Schools system. By striking, the teachers are temporarily stalling the educations of approximately 350,000 students; though the school system has kept 144 of its total 578 schools open during morning hours as “Children First centers,” they are not staffed by teachers and only offer activities like movies, games, and snacks. With the temporary sites closed after 12:30 p.m., many have criticized the teachers for putting students at risk by leaving them without supervised places to stay. The fear is what will become of unsupervised children while their parents are at work and the teachers are striking.

But make no mistake, the Chicago teachers’ strike is for the long-term benefit of students, and for the Chicago community as a whole. No one cares more about the success of a pupil than his or her teacher, and the teachers of Chicago have made it clear their goal is to get back to work as soon as possible and continue helping children.

It is first important to understand what the strike is not about, and that is the teachers’ salaries. Both sides have reported that they are close to an agreement on compensation; the main sticking point has come in regards to benefits, in particular health care. The teachers want to continue their current health care benefits, while the school system has counter-proposed a modified system whereby the teachers would see a slight increase in salary coupled with an increase in certain health payments by the teachers.

This issue makes it clear the teachers are not simply striking for more money. Though Mayor of Chicago Rahm Emmanuel reduced a planned salary increase for the teachers from four down to two percent, all the teachers are concerned about is being able to afford quality health care. There are more serious, underlying issues about the direction of public education in Chicago that are the true causes of the strike.

The main goals of the teachers’ union are based around one theme: making sure quality teachers are kept in the classroom so that children are receiving the best education possible. In particular, job security is a key issue for the teachers. Again, the key is to understand what this does not mean, and it does not mean the union is trying to protect bad teachers from getting fired. Instead, the union is anticipating teachers losing their jobs when the school system shuts down several schools over the next few years. The solution the union has come up with is increased teacher training and help for the teachers who have been laid off, but the school system has not agreed to the proposal.

The union’s proposal benefits students because it increases the training of teachers who have been laid off, making them better and more effective teachers when they re-enter the classroom. Helping laid-off teachers get back to work lowers the student-teacher ratio in the classroom, allowing more time for individual attention. It also strengthens the community by lowering unemployment rates among teachers. This is how the teachers’ demands only serve to benefit all of Chicago.

The last major issue is related to job security: teacher evaluations. The school system has proposed a new method of evaluating teacher performance, largely tying the evaluations to standardized-test scores. This is a deeply misguided and ineffective way of evaluating teachers, and as such the union has refused to agree to the school system’s proposal. There are many factors beyond a teacher’s control that affect standardized-test scores, including poverty, violence at home, and hunger. A 2010 report by the Economic Policy Institute titled, appropriately enough, “Problems with the Use of Student Test Scores to Evaluate Teachers,” stated that “there is broad agreement among statisticians, psychometricians, and economists that student test scores alone are not sufficiently reliable and valid indicators of teacher effectiveness to be used in high-stakes personnel decisions.”

This system could potentially remove effective teachers from the classroom because of forces beyond the teachers’ control resulting in low test scores. This is not in the best interest of students; while teachers need to be critically evaluated, a system based around test scores only encourages teachers to ‘teach to the test,’ rather than most effectively communicating the material. It is in the entire school system’s best interest that this system is not put in place, to ensure that teachers are evaluated properly.

Though students may be left unsupervised for the next few days, the long-term risks to the education system of Chicago pose a much greater threat to their educations, which is why the teachers of Chicago are fighting for a fair contract. What the teachers are asking for is what will prove best for the students, the most important part of any academic institution. This is why students and the city of Chicago as a whole should stand in solidarity with the Chicago teachers, as they strike for what is right for them and their community.

Billy Rainsford is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected].

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  • J

    JamieSep 15, 2012 at 3:54 pm

    The purpose of unions is to defend workers. The purpose of lawyers is to defend people accused of crimes. Do they both sometimes defend people who don’t deserve it? Sure. But a world without unions is just as scary as a world without lawyers, where you can’t get anyone to defend you in court.
    Also, I don’t understand why anti-union people keep accusing teachers of “not working year-round” as if that’s a bad thing. What do you expect teachers to do, get part-time jobs in the summer? Personally, I prefer teachers who stick to teaching and don’t have to go job-hunting every May, thank you very much.

  • K

    KrisSep 14, 2012 at 4:53 am

    I do know a little actually, I’ve been a teaching assistant on three occasions. I think the numbers argue for themselves though. The numbers the author left out so he could applaud these selfless heroes who only care about the children. And I do get to make arguments like that because everything I say is constantly correct.

  • H

    hmSep 13, 2012 at 8:31 pm

    So Kris, unless people know who you are, on the internet you don’t get to make arguments like “I was in a union so therefore i am right when i say unions suck” and have people take it at face value. So you need some kind of argument, which you don’t have, just a few numbers. Maybe unions suck, what about teachers? Do you know anything about teaching?

  • K

    KrisSep 12, 2012 at 8:02 am

    Currently, the salary increase they are close to agreement on is 4%. The strike is still going though. The average public school teacher salary in Chicago is a hair under $75,000. Not bad for not working year-round. The current Chicago public school system deficit: $665 million. Good of you to leave all that out, Billy. If there is one thing I’ve learned from being a former member of two unions, as well as my father’s 30 years in a union, it’s this: unions are there to make money and defend people who don’t deserve it. Rham needs to Calvin Coolidge these buffoons.