by Paul Kersey
Director of Labor Policy
Any positives in the contract? Yes, but…
A few parting observations, lessons to be learned, and
things to watch in the future:
It is hard to
find positives in the contract, but for what it’s worth: Chicago had one of the
shortest school days and years in the US.
The school day is a bit longer and the student calendar, at 175 days, is
close to normal length. There is an evaluation process that will include
measurements of student performance. That sets a useful precedent that might be
expanded upon in future contracts.
But the evaluation process could have been a lot better.
What the district agreed to barely meets the state minimum – and maybe doesn’t
even do that. The contract creates room for unions to manipulate scores and
prevent poor teachers from being identified and either coached up or moved out,
particularly by fiddling with the subjective “teacher practice” section of the
And the economic terms could lead to bankruptcy. A district that expects to drain its
reserve funds and is looking at a billion dollar budget hole the year after
this cannot afford across-the-board pay raises. CTU teachers could have taken a 13 percent pay cut and still
been doing better than many of their peers. Either CPS will need a bailout, or we
can look forward to schools being closed and teachers laid off.
Was the strike legal?
We at IPI believed it was not. We’ll never have the chance to have a court rule on this
question, but if CTU didn’t violate the letter of the law, they certainly
violated the spirit of the law. Evaluations in particular were supposed to be
set in a process that was separate from collective bargaining, but CTU used the
strike to force the administration to rewrite and water down evaluations. That wasn’t what CPS called for, and
CPS is supposed to have the final say.
But that’s what CTU got – from the strike.
Forget about the
strike, is the contract legal?
Two more legal problems to keep an eye on: First, state law
says that schools have to have a “needs improvement” category for subpar but
not quite disastrous evaluations.
In Chicago that will be called “Developing”. That may seem like
semantics, but it reflects a mindset that needs to be called out at least. A
“needs improvement” rating means a teacher should be working to be better.
“Developing” suggests “you’re okay, you just need a little more time.” Now we
don’t necessarily need dramatic, overnight improvement from all of these
teachers, (that’s what the “unsatisfactory” rating is for) but subpar teachers
need to get the message that they can’t stay where they are at indefinitely.
Calling them “Developing” doesn’t send that message.
Second legal issue: under the contract the first year of
evaluations under the new rules (with student performance included) are
basically for practice. A bad
evaluation is not supposed to be used against a teacher until the second
year. The question (and not being
an education law expert I’ll admit I don’t know the answer for sure) is whether
this is allowed. Under the state law that governs teacher evaluations, Chicago
Public Schools are supposed to implement the new evaluation process in at least
300 schools by September of this year. Is there some rule that allows for the
first year not to count? Not that I’m aware of.
Fight to win or don’t fight at all (A meditation on the Chicago Way)
If you’re an employer with a unionized workforce, and the
union is serious about a strike, at some point you’re going to have to make a
choice: Are you ready to do what it takes
to win the thing or aren’t you?
Winning means outlasting the union. It means setting terms and sticking to
them. It means angering the union
brass and being called names (like “bully”) and being accused of trying to bust
the union. It doesn’t mean busting
the union, but it does mean accepting the risk that the union will bust itself.
It means telling the people who
are affected by the strike (Chicago parents in this case) why you are sticking
to your guns and why they should be willing to endure with you. Once the union walks, it’s not your job
to protect the union. If you
aren’t ready to do what it takes to win, you would be better off giving in up
Which leads to the question: Was Rahm Emanuel willing to do
what it took to win? From my perch it looks like he didn’t fully count the
cost: he took steps to make life less difficult for parents by opening up
schools for lunches and activities, but he never really went to the parents and
told them why they should stand with him.
The lawsuit, filed just as the district and the union were closing in on
an agreement, seemed timed to do the minimum of damage to CTU.
In the end the mayor may wind up with the worst of all
outcomes: the CTU remains strong and has singled him out as an enemy; a lot of
teachers have gotten to associate him with The Grinch and there’s no guarantee
that CTU won’t back another candidate for mayor next time around. School
reforms have been watered down to a point where it will be difficult for the
mayor to present himself as an innovator. There’s a lesson for the next time a
big-city mayor confronts a teachers union: let the union take care of itself, count
the cost and fight to win.