Chicago’s teachers stand tall

Published on Thursday, September 20, 2012

Chicago Teachers StrikeThe Chicago teachers’ strike is over, and both sides are now offering their perspective on what it all meant and who won.

Leave it to Diane Ravitch to cut through the spin.  In her blog, she wrote: “The strike transformed the teachers from powerless to powerful. The teachers said, ‘Enough is enough. With us, not to us.’”

Those two sentences summarize the significance of the week-long struggle. The Chicago Teachers Union’s 26,000 members drew a memorable line in the sand against a national top-down corporate reform movement that ignores respected research in a headlong rush for test score-driven “accountability.”

Not insignificantly, the CTU website’s FAQ on the settlement includes a sizeable section on what the students of Chicago won, thanks to the courage and conviction of their teachers.

The new contract requires the district to hire more social workers, psychologists, special ed teachers, counselors, and classroom assistants to meet the documented needs of the tens of thousands of disadvantaged students attending the city’s schools.

It maintains limits on class size, thwarting the desire of Mayor Rahm Emanuel to remove all class size limits and pack as many as 55 students into some classes.

It mandates that new textbooks will be available on the first day of school – rather than a week or three into the school year, as was too often the case.

And it requires the district to hire over 600 additional teachers in art, music, physical education, and other non-tested subjects, to enrich the school day.  As a corollary, the contract reduces the focus on standardized testing by lowering the percentage of teacher evaluations based on raising test scores.  That’s great news for students, parents, and teachers alike, none of whom benefit in any way from teaching to the test.

Yes, the CTU won a fair salary settlement and the right for laid-off teachers to bid for new positions.

By any measure, Chicago students and their parents were major winners in this struggle.  But as the CTU website notes, the gains are “FAR from enough.  The strike, unfortunately, is NOT the end of the fight for the schools Chicago’s students deserve.”

To the entire CTU and its intrepid leader, Karen Lewis – who, incidentally, is a Nationally Board Certified teacher – we all owe a hearty thanks.

And to the corporate reformers who believe they can impose their will on professional educators and their unions, the message from Chicago was a firm one: not so fast.

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