Debate Center, 9/18

Chicago Teachers Go On Strike

A week ago from yesterday, 25,000 Chicago teachers (average salary: $76,000 before benefits) walked out of their classrooms, leaving nearly 350,000 schoolchildren and their parents with no school. The Chicago teachers union decided Sunday to continue its weeklong strike, extending the standoff with Mayor Rahm Emanuel. The teachers are fighting to increase their pay by 30 percent, preserve benefit packages and are also trying to stave off a new accountability plan that would evaluate their effectiveness based on students’ test scores.

Union delegates declined to formally vote on a proposed contract settlement worked out over the weekend with officials from the nation’s third-largest school district. Schools will remain closed Monday. Union leaders explained that teachers want the opportunity to continue to discuss the offer that is on the table, but felt unfairly rushed to make a quick decision on Sunday.

This walkout is the first job action by teachers in Chicago in 25 years.  The strike instantly canceled classes for 350,000 students who just returned from summer vacation.  It also forced tens of thousands of parents to find alternatives for idle children. Mayor Emanuel’s tough demands for reform had angered the teachers last year as cash-strapped Chicago began bargaining with a number of unions.

After weeks of talks, the district proposed a 16 percent increase in salary over four years, including bumps for experience and education. This offer goes far beyond what most American employers have offered in the aftermath of the Great Recession.

Part of the reforms proposed by the mayor included a new evaluation method. The Chicago Teachers Union considers these evaluations unfair. These evaluation methods are one of the teachers union’s major complaints.  A new Illinois law will require student test scores to be a factor in new teacher evaluation systems by 2016. Chicago is getting a jump by introducing new evaluations in 300 schools this fall. Teachers unions complain that evaluating teachers solely on the basis of their students’ scores on standardized tests can accidentally penalize good teachers while rewarding bad ones. It also gives teachers a strong incentive to “teach to the test.”

New research funded by the U.S. Department of Education, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and others shows that teacher evaluation can improve learning via certain protocols. That means supplementing test scores with seasoned judgment from independent evaluators and providing teachers with detailed, personalized feedback that they can use to do their jobs better.

As of the printing of this week’s edition of the Dayton City Paper, we, along with the rest of the world expect union members will have voted Monday, September 17 on the proposed contract. Regardless of the vote result, our question of the week remains the same.

Forum Question of the Week:

“Should teachers be standardized in their evaluations in similar fashion to other professions so as to eliminate poorly performing teachers from the educational system?”

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