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.
That – and the fact that negotiators were reportedly fairly close to an agreement over the weekend – caused Mayor Emanuel to suggest, in press conferences on both Sunday and Monday, that this is “a strike of choice” that could have been avoided. And some wondered whether it was primarily a show of force by a strong union president eager to show Emanuel just how badly he miscalculated the union’s power.
Ms. Lewis, for her part, sought to portray the union as being forced into the strike by a bullying mayor and Chicago schools CEO who aren’t listening to teachers on important concerns related to class size, benefits, job security, and even the lack of air conditioning in many buildings.
“This is a difficult decision and one we hoped we could avoid,” Lewis said in a statement Sunday night. “We must do things differently in this city if we are to provide our students with the education they so rightfully deserve.”
Performance-based teacher evaluations have been a contentious issue in many states and districts. Use of student test results to help measure teacher quality was heavily encouraged with the federal Race to the Top Fund, and is one of the fastest-moving and most controversial of current reforms.
In Illinois, a new state law has mandated a teacher-evaluation system which relies in part on student growth on test scores, which alarms teachers unions, who fear that teachers will be fired for factors beyond their control. Chicago Public Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard says that the new evaluation system “was not developed to be a hammer,” but rather to help teachers improve – but that’s not the way many teachers see it. The union claims that the proposed system could result in 6,000 teachers losing their jobs in the first few years of the program – a figure the district vigorously disputes.