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In Chicago strike, teachers draw a line on education reform (+video)

A key question in Chicago's first teacher strike in a generation is whether teachers will accept new rules on education reform issues ranging from teacher evaluations to seniority.

Day 2: Chicago teacher strike
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The image of 29,000 teachers and support staff striking, just a week into the school year, and nearly 400,000 students in the nation’s third-largest district left without classes is not one that any mayor wants.

As Chicago teachers go into the second day of strikes, both Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D) and Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) President Karen Lewis have a lot at stake – and the outcome may well affect education-reform efforts far beyond the city of Chicago.

The pivotal points of disagreement in Chicago echo battles in many other districts as reforms around teacher evaluation, seniority, and teacher accountability are pushed through, but this is the first big district in which organized labor has taken such a major stand. 

“It’s Old Labor meets New Democrat meets fiscal crisis. That’s the perfect storm,” says Timothy Knowles, director of the University of Chicago’s Urban Education Institute. “Mayors are saying, 'Is Rahm going to prevail? If he does, it may mean I can push harder here.' Labor is saying, ‘Is Karen going to prevail? If she does … it means we can dig in our heels and resist the reform mantra more aggressively.' That’s what’s in the balance.”

The strike is Chicago’s first in 25 years, and the first in a major urban district since Detroit teachers went on strike in 2006. Notably, negotiators seem to have largely agreed on compensation – traditionally the biggest reason for a strike – with the city ultimately offering a 16 percent salary increase over the next four years, far more than it initially put on the table. Instead, the major sticking points have been around some of the most prevalent education-reform issues, particularly teacher evaluations and job security.

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