Editor's note:Â We're listening to you. Every day, we spot thought-provoking comments from readers. Here's some comments we noticed today.
In a tight economy, the sight of striking teachers in Chicago has many readers seeing red. On CNN iReport, we're seeing photos from the picket lines. Should teachers be asking for more when people have less? Sam Chaltain writes in an education opinion piece that the issues in this situation apply well beyond the heartland.
Some readers who posted comments wondered if teachers see themselves as above the standards of other professions, while others wondered how performance should be measured.
Chris: " 'Teachers want job security.' â€“ That says it all. Why should teachers get job security while the rest of the working world has to *perform* to achieve job security? And sometimes performance isnt even enough... Sometimes the way a system works is just ineffective, and it takes a dislocation of employees onb the journey to make it right, regardless of how effective those employees are individually. I've seen this happen in the business world- fantastically effective colleagues have lost their positions, and it's broken my heart to watch it happen- but then I've watched the business gets stronger and more effective as a result. 'Job security' is a figment of the past. Get over it, and work to make yourself relevent assuming you lose your job tomorrow."
Shelly: "No one debates accountability and evaluation. It is the terms of what does it mean to be an effective teacher? If we hold teachers accountable to student performance on a standardized assessment given on one day, shouldn't we also hold doctors accountable to patient wellness rate on a checkup day, regardless of if the patient took the advice to lose weight or exercise or take their medications? Shouldn't we blame farmers' poor yields in a drought on the farmers' incompetence? People hate teachers lately. If teaching is such a cake-walk job, please go to college and earn your degree so you can join in!"
daveyoung: "When you work for the taxpayers, you have no right to unionize. End of story."
This commenter applauded the efforts of teachers. CNN iReport is asking educators to share why they teach.
aflarend: "Great job, Chicago Teachers! You are standing up for what is right in the classroom. You know that tests are narrowing the curriculum and that they only measure a small part of what a child learns academically in school. As a graduate of a Chicago Public school in the 1980s and one on the far South Side, I know first hand the challenges that you face. And I know your successes since I earned advanced degrees in engineering, thanks in part to several inspiring teachers. Thank you for all your hard work and dedication. And thank you for standing up for students and teachers."
Some said the schools are poorly managed, and parents need to step up and do their jobs.
Barbra & Jack Donachy: "By and large, Chicago's public schools have been a mess for a very long time as one reform after another has ultimately gone nowhere. Like his friend President Obama, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel seems to be taking a tack that puts too much emphasis on standardized test scores and places too much blame on teachers for the failure many of Chicago's schools. It is frustrating that, like Mr. Obama, the mayor has given up attempts to get to the root of the problems in our education system (horrible leadership from school and district administrators and the school boards that supposedly oversee that leadership) and is instead desperately hacking at the leaves around the fringes of meaningful school reform while pointing a wrongly accusatorial finger at teachers. No company, no team, no military unit, no group of teachers can rise above the level of their leadership for any length of time, and until we make positive changes in terms of getting better superintendents, better principals, and better school boards our public schools will continue to founder.
J: " 'The real problem' are parents, not district administrators, not school boards, and not teachers, when it comes to test scores. Parents are a child's real teacher and most are no where involved in their children's academic life. Stop making excuses that other people are responsible for educating our children. PARENTS PARENTS PARENTS. I am so tired of people making excuses on this subject â€“ get involved with your children's education and recognize that you, the parent, are ultimately responsible and you only have yourself to blame."
The main story about the strike got thousands of comments from readers angry about the news. FULL POST
Chicago public school teachers began manning picket lines instead of classrooms Monday, launching the first teacher strike in the city in 25 years.
The strike, announced Sunday night, left about 350,000 students without schools to attend and parents scrambling to find alternatives.Â The union that represents nearly 30,000 teachers and support staff in the nation's third-largest school district called the strike after negotiators failed to reach a contract agreement with school administrators despite 10 months of negotiations.
Below, we break down the key issues that are keeping the teachers out of the classroom, what the teachers are asking for and what the schools are willing to offer.
Compensation and health care benefits
One of the key issues is salaries and benefits for teachers and their families.
What the teachers want: to maintain their existing health benefits, as well as salary increases.
"Recognizing the Boardâ€™s fiscal woes, we are not far apart on compensation," Â the Chicago Teachers Union said in a news release. "However, we are apart on benefits."
What the Chicago Board of Education is offering: a deal that would increase salaries 16% over four years. The average teacher salary in Chicago was $74,839 for the 2011-12 school year, according to the district. The total salary increase would equal $380 million over four years.Â That includes "modified step increases that both reward experience and provides better incentives for mid-career teachers to help keep them serving in the Chicago Public School system," according to a news release from the school system.
"The Board is calling for a modification to the health care plan funding that will freeze allÂ employee health care contributions for single and couple plans with a small increase in family contributions of no more than $20 a pay period in addition to a small increase in emergency room co-pays," the school system says. "67% of all CTU members will not see a change to their healthcare."
[Updated at 6:04 p.m. ET]Â Authorities have re-opened security checkpoints and upper-level doors at a O'Hare International Airport terminal in Chicago after a brief disruption due to unspecified "possible suspicious item," theÂ Chicago Department of Aviation said.
The item in Terminal 2 "was cleared and determined to be no threat," the department said, adding that there was "minimal disruption to flight operations."
The checkpoints and doors were re-opened shortly after 4 p.m. CT, or 5 p.m. ET.
[Initial post, 5:03 p.m. ET] "Suspicious activity" at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport has prompted authorities to close security checkpoints at the airport's Terminal 2,Â Chicago Department of Aviation spokesmanÂ Gregg Cunningham said Thursday afternoon.
Upper-level doors at the terminal also have been "temporarily secured," but the terminal hasn't been evacuated, Cunningham said.
Cunningham said no details of the suspicious activity are available.
[Updated at 6:05 p.m. ET] An Illinois congressman has stuck to his guns – including during a testy interview with CNNâ€™s Ashleigh Banfield this week – in a flap over his assertions that his double-amputee election opponent talks too much about her military service and war injuries.
Rep. Joe Walsh, R-Illinois, has said that the story has been blown out of proportion, arguing that it has been manufactured by liberal opponents who recorded his comments at a campaign event Sunday and then posted them on the Internet, with liberal website ThinkProgress.org starting the coverage.
But heâ€™s defended his stance, arguing that Democrat Tammy Duckworth – a Black Hawk helicopter pilot who lost both legs when her crew was shot down in Iraq in 2004 – rarely makes campaign appearances in her bid to defeat him in Illinoisâ€™ 8th Congressional District. When she does, he said, she talks mostly about her background fighting overseas.
Weâ€™d like to hear what you think about the issue. First, hereâ€™s how it played out this week.
In a Sunday campaign event in a Chicago suburb, Walsh was recalling the 2008 presidential campaign of Republican Sen. John McCain, saying McCain was modest about his background as a prisoner of war during the Vietnam War. Walsh said McCain was reluctant to make that story a focus of his campaign, despite pressure from advisers to do otherwise.
â€śThat's what's so noble about our heroes. Now I'm running against a woman who, my God, that's all she talks about," Walsh said. "Our true heroes, it's the last thing in the world they talk about. That's why we're so indebted and in awe of what they've done."
President Barack Obama called Monday for NATO countries to sign off on his exit strategy from Afghanistan that calls for an end to combat operations next year and the withdrawal of the U.S.-led international military force by the end of 2014.
Against a backdrop of demonstrations that saw violent clashes between protesters and police, NATO and world leaders opened the second day of their Chicago summit with a focus on the unpopular war and how to pay for shoring up Afghanistan's security forces.
Obama told the dozens of heads of state in attendance, including Afghan President Hamid Karzai, that NATO can agree on both the timetable for withdrawing foreign forces from Afghanistan and a long-term plan for the strategic alliance to support the central Asian country's security forces.
The goal is to "responsibly bring this war to an end" in the next 19 months, Obama said in welcoming remarks Monday. He cited a recent strategic partnership agreement he signed with Karzai as a step toward ensuring that "as Afghans stand up, they will not stand alone."FULL STORY
In a move to make sure Afghan womenâ€™s issues are not forgotten during the upcoming NATO Summit in Chicago, Amnesty International USA is hosting on Sunday a Shadow Summit to focus exclusively on the rights of Afghan women and girls.
The summit will culminate with attendees gathering at Chicagoâ€™s Navy Pier to fly kites in support of Afghan womenâ€™s rights.
The concern of those who will attend the summit is this: What happens to Afghan women and girls after the United States and allied forces move to withdraw in 2014?
The question about what the troop withdrawal will mean for women and girls in war-torn Afghanistan is not new. It was the question posed on the cover of Time magazine in August 2010, next to the photograph of a young woman who became the symbol of the oppression of Afghan women.
The award-winning image was that of Aesha Mohammadzai, then known as Bibi Aisha. Forced into marriage at a young age, her Taliban husband and in-laws punished her for running away by hacking off her nose and ears and leaving her for dead.
She was brought to America for reconstructive surgery in August 2010. But what has happened to Aesha since she arrived nearly two years ago?
Coming Sunday, CNNâ€™s Jessica Ravitz will answer this question in an exclusive story that traces Aeshaâ€™s complicated journey.
A former brother-in-law of entertainer Jennifer Hudson was found guilty Friday afternoon of murder and other charges in connection with the 2008 slayings of Hudson's mother, brother and 7-year-old nephew.
William Balfour, who was tried in Chicago, faces a maximum sentence of life in prison.
Authorities accused Balfour of fatally shooting Hudson's mother, Darnell Donerson, 57, and the singer's brother, Jason Hudson, 29, in their Chicago home in October 2008. The body of Hudson's 7-year-old nephew, Julian King, was found three days later in an abandoned vehicle.
Prosecutors portrayed Balfour as a jealous man who killed the three people in a rage at the thought that his wife – Julia Hudson, who is Jennifer Hudson's sister – had a boyfriend.
He was found guilty of three counts of first degree murder and one count each of home invasion, residential burglary, possession of a stolen vehicle, and aggravated kidnapping.FULL STORY
Imagine being aboard a commercial airliner as it violently bucks and bumps through rough winds. Or, the feeling of terror as you realize the aircraft you're on has to make an emergency landing. You've gotta watch how some pilots handled intense moments like these - all caught on camera.
Planes landing in Bilbao, Spain, fight to land straight while flying in 50-60 mph winds.
In 2008, iReporter Dave Gering shared his experience of riding on a plane that nearly crashed in Germany.
The FAA released audiotapes of the US Airways flight that crash-landed in the Hudson River.
The Butlers kept their secret for more than two weeks, but like most lottery winners they eventually had to let the world know of their millions.
It was revealed Wednesday that Merle and Pat Butler, a 60-something couple from the tiny St. Louis suburb of Red Bud, Illinois, had the third and final winning ticket in the $656 million Mega Millions jackpot from March 30.
Their take was $217 million, which comes to $158 million after taxes, and the couple had good reason for waiting so long to come forward.
â€śI figured the quieter I keep it, the better we are to get it set up and get it going before we did the claim,â€ť Merle Butler said.
Michael Boone, a Bellevue, Washington-based wealth manager, said he often encourages clients with â€śfound moneyâ€ť â€“ that is, inheritance, lottery winnings or high-dollar sports contracts â€“ to keep a low profile.
It seems at least a few lucky souls got similar advice. Of 10 past lottery winners CNN tried to reach, seven had changed their numbers. Of the three who answered their phones, two politely declined to discuss their experiences.
â€śI still prefer to remain anonymous,â€ť said a past District of Columbia Lotto winner.
[Updated at 11:26 a.m. ET] Merle and Pat Butler, lifetime residents of Red Bud, Illinois, hold the third winning ticket worth $218 million in last month's record $656 million Mega Millions lottery jackpot, officials announced Wednesday.
"I looked (at) my wife, who was right there with me, and said, 'We won,' Merle Butler, 65, told reporters in Red Bud on Wednesday of the moment he realized he had a winning ticket on the night of the March 30 drawing. "Then she looked at me funny, and I said, 'No, we won.' "
"She giggled for about four hours, I think," he said.
The retired couple bought just three numbers for the drawing, meaning they spent $3 to win their share of the jackpot. They bought the ticket in Red Bud, a community of about 3,700 people roughly 25 miles southeast of St. Louis, Missouri.
The Butlers came forward publicly in their hometown's City Hall on Wednesday after spending the past two weeks hiring "real good financial advisers" and a lawyer to help them manage their new fortune, which is $158 million after taxes are deducted, they said.
Two other winning tickets (worth roughly $218 million each, before taxes) were sold for the March 30 drawing that had a record $656 million pretax payout: One in Maryland, and one in Kansas.
The three people who shared a winning ticket in Maryland and the one winner in Kansas claimed their prizes earlier this month, but they exercised their rights in those states to not reveal their names. Illinois, unlike those states, requires lottery winners to come forward publicly.
Still, the Maryland lottery winners made it known that they are three public school employees - a woman in her 20s, a man in his 40s and a woman in her 50s. The Maryland winners are an elementary school teacher, a special education teacher and an administrative worker, according to Maryland Lottery.
The man and two women who shared ownership of the winning ticket in Maryland are known only as the "Three Amigos." They said they plan to keep their fortune a secret - and keep working.FULL STORY
One of two teenage students who were stabbed Thursday morning at a Chicago public school has died, city police say.
The two students were stabbed in Goldsmith Public School, just past the front door, at 7:30 a.m. CT, Chicago police spokesman Mike Sullivan said.
A 17-year-old suspect is in police custody, Sullivan said.FULL STORY
Editor's note: CNN's Soledad O'Brien and Rose Marie Arce traveled to Harrisburg, Illinois, Wednesday night to survey damage from the devastating EF4 tornado that killed six people there. Soledad O'Brien is live covering the devastation for CNN"s morning show Starting Point.Â Here is what they saw:
We headed into the disaster area, driving northeast from St. Louis, where you could feel the pockets of hot and cold air buffeting each other. Early reports were that six people died in Harrisburg, Illinois, so that's where we were headed.
The storm hit Harrisburg, with winds as high as 170 miles per hour, cutting a swath through the city.Â The mayor described the path as "three or four football fields wide."
The greatest damage was in southern Harrisburg, in the southern part of the state.Â About 200 to 300 homes are estimated to be damaged or destroyed, and the Harrisburg Medical Center was also hit. The tornado tore through a wall and left several patients' room open to the elements. FULL POST
A tornado that hit an Illinois city during a storm that killed at least six people there Wednesday has preliminarily been given a rating of EF4 â€“ the second-most powerful on the Enhanced Fujita Scale, according to the National Weather Service.
A report indicated the tornado in Harrisburg, Illinois, had winds estimated at 170 mph. EF4 tornadoes have wind speeds between 166 mph and 200 mph.
The Enhanced Fujita Scale rates tornadoes by estimated wind speed, which is determined not by measurements, but by observations of the damage left behind, according to the National Weather Serviceâ€™s Storm Prediction Center.
To get the wind speed, the weather service goes to â€śdamage indicatorâ€ť tables that describe the wind speeds that would be required to do certain types of damage to certain structures. For example, if the exterior walls of one- and two-family homes collapsed, but not the interior walls, the service would consult the one- and two-family home table and find that wind speeds of about 132 mph were needed to do that.
A tornado of 132 mph would have an EF2 rating, which encompasses tornadoes between 111 mph and 135 mph.
EF0 is the weakest Enhanced Fujita rating, and EF5 is the strongest. Below is a description of the categories, with the general kinds of damage that may be associated with them.
Last night, a system of devastating storms swept through the Plains states, leaving trails of destruction in Missouri, Â Illinois and Kansas.Â Take a look atÂ some storm-related videoÂ that's come in from the region, including one of a tornado touching down in one Kansas county.
Storm chasers capture footage of a tornado touching down in Reno County, Kansas. Watch the funnel cloud form and lightning flash in this nighttime video.
â€” The small town of Harveyville, Kansas, was especially hard hit. This video shows the devastating damage that the town faces the morning after a suspected tornado struck.
Residents of Edgar Springs, Missouri react to damage in their town. See a flattened burger shop and listen to one man describe what he did when he heard a tornado coming.
The reelection campaign of President Barack Obama said Tuesday it plans to return about $200,000 in donations collected by two Chicago men after a newspaper report described their brother as a fugitive with alleged links to violence and corruption in Mexico.
"More than 1.3 million Americans have donated to the campaign and we constantly review those contributions for any issues. On the basis of the questions that have been raised, we will return the contributions from these individuals and from any other donors they brought to the campaign," Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt said.
The announcement came after The New York Times published a report detailing alleged ties between two campaign donors and a Mexican casino magnate.FULL STORY
One person died and nine others, including two firefighters, were injured in a fire early Sunday in a Chicago high-rise, according to the city's fire department.
The body of the 32-year-old resident, who lived on the 12th floor, was found in an open elevator, said Chicago Fire Department spokesman Larry Langford.
The elevator had superheated air, which could have been up to 1,000 degrees "at head level where she was," Langford said.
Firefighters received a call just after 2 a.m. Sunday about a fire on the 12th floor of the building. In the apartment where the fire broke out, the resident left the door open hoping their pets would escape, which caused the hallway to fill with smoke and fire, he said.FULL STORY
[Updated at 8:03 p.m. ET] Sam Hurd was released on a $100,000 cash bond late Friday afternoon.
His case will now be handled by the federal court for the Northern District of Texas. Hurd waived his probable cause hearing so his case will move to a grand jury, which will decide whether to indict him, the U.S. Attorney's Office said.
Sean Jensen, an NFL Columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times, told CNN that the Chicago Bears organization was blindsided by the arrest of one of the most "cordial, friendly and accountable" players in the clubhouse.
"Everybody throughout this building is shocked by this revelation the other day. The team didn't know anything of it until Thursday morning when Sam Hurd wasn't in the usual receiver meeting. That's when they started asking around and figuring out what happened," Jensen said.
[Posted at 3:49 p.m. ET] A judge granted Sam Hurd a $100,000 bail in a federal drug case that alleges the ex-Chicago Bears receiver conspired to buy hundreds of thousands of dollars worth or mairjuana and cocaine for distribution in the Chicago area, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.
Judge Young B. Kim set the bail amount Friday afternoon hearing in federal court, where Hurd appeared in an orange prison jumpsuit with his feet chained together, the paper reported.
Hurd looked to the gallery, where his father and wife, Stacee, sat, as he entered the courtroom, the paper said. He spoke only to say â€śYes, sirâ€ť to Kimâ€™s questions.
[Posted at 3:23 p.m. ET] Bears GM Jerry Angelo announces the team has cut player Sam Hurd.
College students are lending their voices this week to spread holiday cheer –Â and you can hear them in your ear.
Students at Snyder Hall at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign are completing a marathon phone-in, called the Dial-A-Carol, in which they take calls 24 hours a dayÂ from all over the world and play or sing a requested holiday tune for listeners.
The ritual, conducted annually during finals week, will last until 11:59 p.m. Wednesday.
Collegians shuffle in and out to take part in the student-run program, which is in its 51st year. For students like sophomore Kurt Hanson of Lake Zurich, Illinois, itâ€™s a labor of love.
â€śIâ€™ve been here since 9 a.m.,â€ť Hanson said. â€śWe all got here after our 8 a.m. finals, and weâ€™ve been singing.â€ť
The group then broke into a gleeful rendition of â€śFeliz Navidad,â€ť complete with several of them making drum sounds and the like.
Phone lines were â€śblowing up,â€ť Hanson said, after the Dial-A-Carol phone number was posted on social networking sites Twitter and Reddit.
The Dial-A-CarolÂ number is 217-332-1882. The studentsÂ will sing to every fifth caller.
[Updated at 1:33 p.m. ET] Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich has been sentenced to 14 years in prison.
Blagojevich was also sentenced to pay a $20,000 fine.
The judge said he does not have report to prison for 90 days.
"I do accept his apology in his testimony, and I do believe he may regret the fate of others," Judge James Zagel said.
But that wasn't enough for the judge.
"It comes late," he said, of Blagojevich's accepting responsibility for his actions.
In announcing the sentence Judge James Zagel said Blagojevich's abuse of the governor's office "is more damaging than any other office in the U.S." besides the presidency.
Zagel noted that he did not resign as governor despite the indictments, but if he had it might have helped show he accepted responsibility.
The judge told Blagojevich that he had ruined the careers of a few people who worked for him. Zagel also questioned part of Blagojevich's accepting responsibility.
"Why did the thoughts of his children not weigh heavily on his reckless conduct?" Zagel said.
Robert D. Grant, Special Agent-in-Charge of the Chicago Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation applauded the sentence.
â€śThe sentence handed down today represents a repayment of the debt that Blagojevich owes to the people of Illinois," he said. "While promising an open and honest administration, in reality, the former governor oversaw a comprehensive assault on the publicâ€™s trust."
[Posted at 1:03 p.m. ET] Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich apologized to his state, his family and the judge, saying he is "unbelievably sorry," during his sentencing hearing for corruption convictions Wednesday.FULL STORY
About 800 people were evacuated Friday morning after a train derailed in Tiskilwa, Illinois, authorities said.
The 126-car train was hauling ethanol alcohol when some of the cars derailed around 2:20 a.m., the Bureau County Sheriff's Office said.
Additional details were not immediately available.