The city of Chicago and its children can breathe a sigh of relief, as the Teachers Union strike was brought to an end last night. Yesterday’s calamity of a democratic process prevented school from starting for approximately 350,000 students in the nation’s third largest school district for over a week.
The compromise entailed the following concessions: over 17 percent pay raise for teachers and further increases for more experienced educators over four years, the reacquisition of jobs to a pool of laid-off teachers at their former schools and the intent of redesigning teacher evaluations without firing teachers with tenure for the first year.
The strike was brought about by the concerns of educators over Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s decision to lengthen the school day by 90 minutes and hire more teachers instead of paying more to current teachers. Mayor Emanuel believed that teachers’ concerns with these decisions could be easily solved through compromise before the start of the semester. Clearly, he was mistaken.
So the discussion at hand is not a question of whether standardized testing is counter-productive, whether unions are impediments or even if the whole system requires reform. Those are much more complex discussions. The focus, rather, is this particular strike and these particular teachers and their outlandish demands that threatened an infrastructure that was already teetering at the brink of implosion.
Primarily, the schools themselves are failures as institutions, yet the teachers refuse responsibility. According to state tests, the high school graduation rate is 60 percent and only eight percent of juniors are college ready, which makes sense when considering that 99.7 percent of Chicago teachers are rated as satisfactory.
The teachers are afraid that an evaluation system would jeopardize many of their jobs and weed out what is known as a bad teacher — a title the union fears because “a teacher is a teacher is a teacher.” The numbers say otherwise, and in a city whose escalating problems include poverty and poor academics, maybe we should try fixing these by giving children a good education. And, no, bad teachers should not be rehired because common sense should prevent this decision.
Now we come to the issue of salary. Teachers in this district have the highest wages of any school district in the country, with an astonishing $76,000 income, whereas the median household income in Chicago is $47,000, and 84 percent of students live close or at the poverty level. These teachers are paid dream salaries for ineptitude and complain that their schools don’t have toilet paper for inner-city kids, while that money is going into their retirement funds instead of the schools. And still they insist on a 16 percent pay raise, but that is in addition to the 30 percent raise they originally demanded. All on a multi-million dollar deficit. All the while, the resources of the parents are hopelessly drained trying to find alternative places for their children.
The argument against this strike is not anti-teacher, anti-union or pro-austerity. But the deal Chicago made might have been too generous and too apologetic to a group that is misguided enough to believe their issues had greater gravity than those they were creating. Rather than focusing on themselves, the Teachers Union should focus on laying a strong foundation for this nation’s future — namely the children.
Nikolas Reda-catelao is a contributing columnist. Email him at [email protected]