Late Sunday evening, the Chicago Public School Teachers Union announced that it failed to reach an agreement with the Chicago Public School System (CPS). CPS is responsible for approximately 400,000 students and employs nearly 25,000 teachers. As of Monday morning, only 45,000 of the students will be receiving instruction, and they are all charter school students. Another 150,000 students will be housed in schools where no instruction will take place and the remainder, over 200,000 students, will be left to whatever ends their guardians can come up with to accommodate them. Needless to say that in a city where the murder rate among youth is abnormally high, this is a crisis for the city of Chicago and Chicago’s kids.
According to flyers being distributed by the Chicago Public School Teachers Union, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), CPS threatens to increase class size to 55 students, refuses to provide necessary social services, refuses to invest in low-income schools, won’t give teachers a fair contract, and wants to continue charter school expansion. Alternatively, the President of CPS, David Vitale, has declared that the negotiations included a 16% raise over four years for the average teacher.
The undercurrent to the strike is Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s school reform efforts. He has pushed to increase the school year by 10 additional days and 1.5 hours per day, adding more than 300 hours of additional instruction to the school year. It is no secret that like every school system in the country right now, Chicago Public Schools is strapped for cash. The basic claim is that the school system wants more from teachers without giving more in return. Unfortunately, no one is discussing the real issue in Chicago: Students are not learning.
According to a National Council on Teacher Quality report, of the school systems currently in their database, Chicago Public Schools has the fourth highest starting salary at $49,159 and the second highest salary for a teacher with a bachelor’s and 5 years experience at $62,141. The average pay for teachers in Chicago Public Schools is $74,839. But, the average pay at Urban Prep Academy, the Chicago-based charter school that has sent 100% of its graduates to college for the third consecutive year is $71,236. While the Chicago Teacher’s Union is trying to make the case to slow or halt charter expansion, figures like the salary differential and the fact that Urban Prep students will be at school learning tomorrow demonstrate an issue with their position.
Mayor Emanuel is on to something in school reform, at least as far as it concerns longer school days and more instructional time. The fact that the teacher’s union is fighting his reform initiatives may be an additional indicator that he is on the right track. As for the upcoming strike period, Chicago will likely see a murder and violent crimes spike, parents will do their best to mitigate the consequences of this strike, and students will lose as adults continue to fight about the wrong things.