Today the 29,000 teachers and school employees in Chicago – the nation’s third largest school system – went on strike. It is the first time in 25 years that a job action like this has been called in the Windy City.
Their reasons for shutting down schools will sound disturbingly familiar to Louisiana educators.
No pay raises: The city school system, which is run by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, last year promised teachers a four percent pay raise. This year, the city cancelled the raise and refuses to discuss the broken promise in negotiations with the Chicago Teachers Union.
(In Louisiana, teachers haven’t received a state raise since 2008. Gov. Jindal, the legislature and the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education have all agreed not to raise the Minimum Foundation Program by the traditional 2.75% per year. That starves local systems of money that could be used for local pay raises.)
Teacher evaluation: A new evaluation system is being imposed on Chicago teachers that relies heavily on how well students perform on standardized tests. The union says the new system ignores important factors like poverty. Because Chicago has a collective bargaining agreement, the evaluation system should be determined collaboratively between teachers and the administration.
(In Louisiana, the Louisiana Federation of Teachers has sued to halt a new law that bases virtually every aspect of a teacher's professional life, including pay raises, termination and tenure, on evaluations that rely too heavily on standardized testing.)
Longer school days: While gutting salaries, the city is demanding longer school days.
(In Louisiana, Gov. Jindal’s new law – which is under legal challenge from the LFT – gives superintendents the right to demand more work without remuneration.)
Overcrowded classrooms: Illinois does not have a law limiting class size. CTU wants to negotiate limits on class sizes in its contract, but the city is refusing to discuss it.
(In Louisiana, which does have laws limiting class size, testimony has been given at BESE meetings and in the legislature to the effect that class size does not affect student achievement.)
Radical expansion of charter schools: The mayor is laying the groundwork to create as many as 250 new charter schools, or about half of the school system, in five to 10 years, despite the fact that studies show charter schools delivering about the same results as traditional public schools.
Teachers in Chicago charter schools earn about eight percent less than public school teachers and have no union representation. They have fewer benefits than traditional public school teachers.
(In Louisiana, the expansion of charter schools is accompanied by a de-professionalization of the teaching corps. No certification is required, and benefits can be far smaller than those in traditional public schools.)
Chicago teachers have long been protected by one of the strongest collective bargaining agreements in the nation, while very few Louisiana school districts even have collective bargaining agreements with educators.
That Chicago’s teachers and school employees have been pushed into a strike shows just how strong the movement to destroy traditional public education has become.
Even without collective bargaining, the Louisiana Federation of Teachers has fought to protect the rights of teachers and school employees as well as for education reform that is research-based, transparent and effective.
We stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Chicago. If they lose their fight for professional dignity, it will embolden anti-public forces in Louisiana and other states.