The strike: Our take

09/12/2012 10:00 PM


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Public education in Chicago is shut down right now, and itís a tragedy. No one wants to see kids kept out of schools and away from learning opportunities: Not parents, not teachers, not administrators and not (most) kids.

There are lots of issues on the board here that led to a strike, and without sitting in the room, itís difficult to know exactly whatís going on at the negotiating table.

But surprisingly, whatís not in dispute is pay. Union officials and Chicago Public Schools leaders have both implied that whatís on the table there ó moderate cost-of-living increases ó are acceptable.

Instead, the two main issues that are allegedly at the heart of disagreement relate to power and control, pure and simple. And both are directly connected to the area where the city needs the most help: underperforming, low-income schools in minority neighborhoods.

The first issue: What happens to teachers who lose their jobs because their schools are closed? The union wants these teachers to be guaranteed to get the first spots that open up at other schools, based on seniority. This would guarantee the most senior teachers get rehired when spots become available.

This would basically eliminate a luxury that CPS principals have: The ability to hire the teachers they choose, and who will be the best fit for their schools. Thatís a big problem. Teachers who have been around for a long time certainly deserve a shot to be rehired, but eliminating the ability for staff members to be hand-picked, school by school is a huge mistake.

Even teachers will tell you that not everyone is perfect for every school. A teacher at Jones College Prep in the South Loop might not do so well at Dunbar in Bronzeville. Teachersí demands for automatic rehiring are way out of line.

The second issue: How much student test scores should factor into teacher evaluations. This isnít quite as cut and dry. Yes, standardized testing can be brash and not the best measure of either student progress or teachersí abilities. So many factors outside teachersí control affect student performance ó including poverty.

However, there isnít really a better way to measure how well teachers are doing their jobs, and test scores shouldnít be left out of the equation entirely. They have a place in teacher evaluations, but how much weight they should be given is an issue that legitimately needs to be debated.

We hope this power struggle ends soon. As adults argue and jostle for power, it seems neither side really had the kidsí best interests at heart. Instead, the whole process has been an ego battle between Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis. Neither have acted admirably in this situation, and both are bringing shame to the city as its kids suffer.

Put your egos aside. Get the deal done.

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