Chicago’s Teacher Strike is Very Necessary and Not Just About Money

Listen, Chicago’s teacher strike is very necessary and not just about money as some would have you believe it to be.

I won’t presume to having a pulse on what’s going on in the city of Chicago. However, among the news of the one-day-old teacher strike, it’s good to know that people like Mitt Romney are on top of it. You know, people like him who see organized labor as a hindrance to being a slave master the free market, and the concept of school choice (which ultimately means modern-day segregation).

However, be that as it may, given the sudden concern about the education of Chicago’s students, who are believed to be abandoned by greedy teachers. What’s important (at least to me) is that we must stop treating teachers and other public employees like they are “the help.” Believe it or not, there are many teachers dedicated to educating our youth. Many of whom who are not just in it for the lengthy summer vacation. Truth is, many Chicago teachers are disgusted by Chicago’s failing school system. And when I say they’re failing, as Dylan Matthews writes, it’s pretty bad.

Chicago performs quite poorly on national assessments of educational quality. As Reutersnotes, fourth-graders in Chicago performed an average of nine points worse than the big city average and sixteen points worse than the national average on the math section of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the national gold standard for measuring learning. On reading, they were eight and seventeen points worse than big city and national averages, respectively. That’s a bit better than Los Angeles or Washington, D.C. but worse than New York.

Chicago also has shorter than average school years and school days. Many students areonly in class for 170 days a year as of a few years ago, below the state minimum of 176 days and the national average of 180 days; under Emanuel, the year was lengthened to 180 days. The school day in Chicago averages five hours and forty five minutes in elementary schools (as opposed to the national average of six hours and forty-two minutes) and seven hours for secondary schools, above the national average of 6.6 hours. Emanuel and teachers recentlynegotiated a deal to hire 500 new teachers to allow for a 90 minute school day extension without increasing hours for current teachers.

So while many assume this to be about money, the reality is, the demands of Chicago’s teachers are well beyond that narrative. But don’t tell that to the many opponents who are of the opinion that Chicago’s average teacher salary of $74,839 a year is more than enough compensation.

Watch the following:

The good thing, however, is that both parties involved in the dispute actually agree that Chicago teachers should be paid more. And actually, Chicago mayor Rahm Emmanuel’s proposed 16% pay hike over the next four years is far better than the earlier rescinded 4% increase. Yet and still, the truth remains: there is a lot more than money keeping Chicago’s teachers and the city apart; and, believe it or not, many parents actually support the efforts of the teachers on strike.

The Chicago Public Schools in March unveiled an evaluation system (pdf) in which standardized testing makes up 40 percent of the rubric, a percent that increases by 5 percent every year thereafter (45 percent in year two, 50 percent in year three, etc.), which was designed by panels that included teachers, principals, and teachers’ union officials (including the president). The system goes above and beyond the state requirement that testing make up 20-40 percent of teacher evaluations. The teachers’ unions are resisting this system, calling it too punitive.

Teachers also want laid off teachers to be able to be automatically “recalled” to positions if they open up. Emanuel would allow these teachers to apply to new openings, but given his desire to focus layoffs on worst-performing teachers, does not want automatic recalls. Finally, the teachers’ union is demanding smaller class sizes (both to improve working conditions and to improve student learning and life outcomes) and air conditioning for classrooms that don’t currently have it.

With Cook county, Illinois having the largest black population per capita in the country, and given the city’s much-talked-about problems with crime and poverty. Any improvement that promotes and encourages a healthier work environment for teachers, has to be a good thing. So while many may look at the current strike negatively and use students as pawns to advance their own self interests. To me, in the interest of improvement, this is a necessary move by Chicago’s 30,000 teachers; and, it’s my hope that this can all be worked out soon for the betterment of 350,000 kids.