by Paul Kersey
Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) are on strike for the first time in 25 years after talks with Chicago Public Schools ended without resolution. Teachers walked off the job for 19 days in October 1987. Prior to that, there had been nine strikes between 1969 and 1987.
CTU President Karen Lewis said, “We have failed to reach an agreement that will prevent a labor strike…No CTU members will be inside of our schools Monday.”
Lewis went on to say, “Real school will not be open [Monday]. … No CTU member will be inside our schools.”
CTU walked out on more than 400,000 students at 675 schools. It’s important to note that nonunion teachers are holding classes at charter schools throughout the city, while CTU strikes. Roughly 50,000 students attend charters — about 12 percent of the city’s total student enrollment. The number of charters is expected to increase over the next five years.
The debate is likely to be fierce as representatives of the Chicago Teachers Union and the district jockey for support from the general public. The rhetoric has already been heated; CTU President Karen Lewis has described Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel as “a liar and a bully“.
Chicago is no stranger to contentious teacher strikes. During a strike in the summer of 1931, the school board stopped paying teachers in cash, defaulted on 24 payrolls and offered to pay teachers in scrip instead. Businesses by September were giving Chicago’s 14,000 teachers only pennies on the dollar for their nearly worthless paper. Teachers passed out in classrooms due to a lack of food. Read more about the 1931 strike here.
There are certain critical facts that we believe the people of Illinois should keep in mind as they watch the conflict develop and evaluate the claims made by the two sides:
- Chicago public school teachers are already well compensated. By CTU’s own figures median teacher salary is $71,000 (CPS reports the number is $76,000 without benefits). Even if we only compare CPS teachers to others with college degrees, they still do well. According to the US Census American Community Survey, the median annual wage for persons with a college degree is $48,866 in Chicago; $62,352 for a Chicagoan with a graduate or professional degree. CPS teachers earn nearly twice as much as an average worker in Chicago with a college degree.
Note: Average teacher pay at Urban Prep Academy, the Chicago charter school that has sent 100% of its graduates to college for the third consecutive year is $47,714.
- Four out of every ten kids who start freshman year at a public high school in Chicago do not graduate. While poverty and crime certainly complicate instruction, this is not a system where anyone, including the administration, teachers or the union, can rest on their laurels.
A 2006 study by the Consortium on Chicago School Research found that for every 100 Chicago public high school freshmen, only six get four-year college degrees. Among African-American and Hispanic boys, the number is three of 100.
- Chicago public schools expect to drain their cash reserves in the upcoming year and are likely facing another shortfall of as large as $1 billion the year after that. It is doubtful that the district can afford across-the-board pay raises.
- Chicago receives almost $2 billion in funding from the state tax funds. That means almost 35 percent of Chicago’s total funding for education comes from state taxpayer funds. The entire state, not just Chicago, is paying for the failures of CPS and CTU.
- CPS has the shortest school days and year in the nation when compared to the ten largest cities in the nation.
Dispelling longer school day myth: Under the interim agreement, teachers will continue to work roughly the same hours they do now. Instead of requiring teachers to work a 20 percent longer day, the Chicago Public Schools have agreed to hire more teachers to fill the extra instruction time with such classes as art, music and physical education.
Annual instructional hours: The average Chicago teacher works 1,039 instructional hours per year—roughly 130 8-hour work days or half the time logged by the average 40-hour-a-week working Joe.
As frustrating as the strike is, a bad contract will last longer, and do more damage to both children and taxpayers, than a strike is likely to. The district faces serious financial and academic challenges, and if the district is to overcome these challenges it will need to change the relationship it has with its teachers. The days of automatic generous wages for poor teaching performance need to end, and the fundamental goal of education, imparting knowledge to children, needs to be at the center of everything the district does.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel who Karen Lewis called a “liar and a bully” said, “This is not a strike I wanted… It was a strike of choice … it’s unnecessary, it’s avoidable and it’s wrong.”