What’s really happening in Chicago?

Everyone is aware of the teacher’s strike taking place in Chicago, but I wonder if I am alone in feeling frustrated by the media coverage.  Everything I read about it contradicts something else I read, and not one article has given me the whole story.

Here’s a quote from the Chicago teacher’s union blog:

I literally almost had a stroke Sunday night when Mayor Rahm Emanuel got on television and said that as a result of the longer school day, Chicago Public Schools students were getting an hour of reading and an hour of writing each day. Well, I am the reading and writing teacher for most of the sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders at my school and based on what is happening where I teach, that is plainly a lie.

I have one hour to teach both reading and writing. One of my classes is broken into two sections — 30 minutes in the morning and 25 minutes at the end of the day. There are 41 seventh-graders in one classroom, and since I have only 31 desks in my room, we start the period borrowing chairs from two or three different classrooms. And the solution to an overcrowded class of 41? It is not to hire a new teacher. It is to take 10 seventh-graders out of their seventh-grade homeroom and add them to my eighth-grade homeroom, making a seventh-/eighth-grade split class. That essentially means teaching four different classes in the same hour.

This teacher goes on to cite more of the appalling conditions in which she is expected to teach:

Last year my students had a reading and a writing class. This year there is just a reading class. Last year my students had Spanish three days each week. This year they have it once. Last year my students had physical education two days each week. This year they have it once. My students are definitely getting a longer day, but I am hard-pressed to see how it is a better one.

To add insult to injury, my classroom was a blazing inferno last week, I was not even given accurate lists of the students in my five classes, and did I already tell you that one of my classes is broken into two discontinuous sessions?

This blog post, and many other articles I have read about the poor condition of the Chicago schools (such as not getting textbooks until 6 weeks into the school year, every year), makes it seem like the teachers are striking for better working conditions, and better support for academics.  This would be entirely reasonable — it is entirely reasonable — but the only thing you read in articles in the paper or online is a brief mention about air conditioning, and how the teachers are “demanding” it.

According to CNN,

The primary disagreement appears to be teacher job security in the wake of a new program that evaluates teachers based on students’standardized test scores. Chicago Teachers Union board member Jay Rehak called the idea “data-driven madness.”

As many as 6,000 teachers could lose their jobs under the evaluation system, according to Lewis, who called the system “unacceptable.” The mayor’s office, the city of Chicago, and school officials have questioned that job loss figure.

So, it’s not about working conditions, it’s about the teacher evaluation system?  The New York Times says “Many teachers said they were troubled by a new evaluation system and its reliance on student test scores.”  More information is needed here, and I’ve seen the district’s actual proposal listed…nowhere.  What percentage of a teacher’s evaluation will be based on test scores?  And what kind of test scores?  Will a teacher be judged on how this year’s class does compared to last year’s?  Or will a teacher be evaluated on how far she is able to take her students academically in one year, which would be more fair?  And will other factors count, such as how far students in poverty/with mental illness/with special needs/learning a second language/etc. can be expected to go according to national averages, and how the teacher’s students with these factors fare in comparison?  Again, I can’t find the answers.

But maybe it’s about salary.  Apparently, Chicago teachers make an average of $76,000, according to the NYTimes, and that is not bad.  However, I’ve read a lot of numbers about how much the district has offered the teachers in raises — 2% and 4% among them — and I’ve read that teachers want 19%, 20%, or 40%, depending on the source.  What is the real number, for each side?  And if teachers want a 20% raise, that seems unreasonable until you consider that they now have a longer school day.  If you want teachers to work more hours, shouldn’t you pay them for those hours?  That wouldn’t actually count as a raise.  Somewhere I read that Rahm Emanuel extended the school day and promised the teachers a pay increase to cover those extra hours, and then rescinded the offer.

I’d be pretty livid if that happened to me.  In fact, something like that happened in my school district, and our district had to back down and pay us the money it owed.  Actually, in my district, we almost always get all our text books on time.  When our school day was extended, we got extended pay.  When classes get too big, the district adds a teacher and opens a new classroom.  We have a new system for teacher evaluations that teachers have been instrumental in designing.  And our students get an hour and a half of reading each day, plus an hour of writing, and we haven’t had to cut back on things like art, libraries, gym, or languages.

So  I feel pretty lucky.  But what I really want to know is, what is happening in Chicago?

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2 thoughts on “What’s really happening in Chicago?

  1. Oh my holy hell, I want to reach through my screen and plant a big kiss right on your face!!! And, you really have only scratched at the surface of this lunacy! I won’t use your blog to rant, that’s why I have my own. But, let me say THANK YOU for bringing some attention to what Chicago teachers are dealing with here.

  2. I have heard that the percentage based on students’ test scores will start at 25% and go up to 40% over the 4 years this contract is for (at least that is what the city wants). I have also heard that both sides agreed on a 16% raise over 4 years (not exactly 4% a year due to compounding, but OK) before the talks broke down over the other things.

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