September 10th, 2012
12:01 PM ET

What are key issues in Chicago public school strike?

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. 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 Board’s fiscal woes, we are not far apart on compensation,"  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. 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 all 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."

Job security

Another major issue is making sure teachers will know their jobs are safe amid the likely closing of several schools over the next couple years. Teacher issues center on what options will be available to them if they are laid off, as well as how they can be promoted.

What the teachers want: more teacher training and help for laid-off workers.

“We want job security. Despite a new curriculum and new, stringent evaluation system, CPS proposes no increase (or even decreases) in teacher training. This is notable because our Union through our Quest Center is at the forefront teacher professional development in Illinois," the union says. "We have been lauded by the District and our colleagues across the country for our extensive teacher training programs that helped emerging teachers strengthen their craft and increased the number of nationally board certified educators."

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The union notes that "while new Illinois law prohibits us from striking over the recall of laid-off teachers," it does not plan to sign an agreement until both sides discuss the issue and implement a plan.

What the Chicago Board of Education is offering: The board has announced plans and opportunities for laid-off workers but only a willingness to discuss opportunities for promotion.

The school system notes that it has addressed concerns about teachers displaced by school closings, turnarounds or phaseouts, and other reasons.

If a school is closed, Chicago Public Schools says, teachers will "receive a job at a school receiving their students if there is a vacancy; placed in a reassigned teacher pool for five months or may elect to receive a three-month lump sum severance; or placed in a Quality Teacher Force Pool in which teachers who apply for positions shall be entitled to an interview and explanation if not hired."

If a teacher is displaced by turnarounds or phaseouts, they will be "placed in a reassigned teacher pool for five months or may elect three-month lump sum severance." Teachers displaced for other reasons will "have recall rights for one year for the same unit and position and will be offered interim assignment in substitute teacher pool."

As for moving up within the system, the Board of Education says the union should work with it "to increase promotion opportunities and identify differentiated compensation models that have worked in other places."

New teacher evaluation system

As many as 6,000 teachers could lose their jobs under a new evaluation system based on standardized test scores implemented by the school district, Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis said. Statistics from the Chicago Public School District and the state show that Chicago children perform poorly compared with the rest of students, with 10% to 20% more students not meeting the goals compared with rest of the state in reading, math and science during the 2010-11 school year.

What the teachers want: a change to the new evaluation system for teachers.

Lewis called the new system "unacceptable," saying that too much emphasis is being placed on testing scores.

"This is no way to measure the effectiveness of an educator. Further there are too many factors beyond our control which impact how well some students perform on standardized tests such as poverty, exposure to violence, homelessness, hunger and other social issues beyond our control," the union said in its news release.

What the Chicago Board of Education is offering: to help get the new system in place and reach required standards.

"The Board has proposed to work jointly with CTU to fully implement REACH Students and maintain performance standards and student growth requirements," it said in its release. "This proposal will also allow CPS and CTU to study REACH’s implementation jointly and make adjustments as needed."

Opinion: U.S. needs more strikes

My view: The whole world is watching Chicago

soundoff (500 Responses)
  1. Gary Hawke

    This is ridiculous! I am one of the higher paid teachers in the #1 per capita income county in the U.S. and I just make this amount...with a freeze for 3 years. Insurance premiums and co-pays have risen. Get a reality check Chicago.

    September 10, 2012 at 12:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dirk

      You could find another area of work-? Pay increases & rewards should be by performance- not union because.

      September 10, 2012 at 12:35 pm | Report abuse |
  2. rob breisch

    Because our teachers have fallen through the cracks in pay and benefits-our nation has fallen way behind in educating our youth! That and other trends like cell phones-texting and and social media networking there are so many distractions available to us today that we lacked 25 years ago-now students of all ages disregard education and replace it with communication as their main goal in life-we are slipping backwards! Technology is suppose to help advance us-but the reality is we are declining because of it!
    Cell phones in classrooms have saved lives but at the same time-without a proper education you won't achieve any realistic goal without a solid foundation-called Education!
    We must support our educators and demand more from our students!

    September 10, 2012 at 12:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • this guy

      Educators have to adapt just like everyone else. If they're teaching style is reaching the children they're teaching, change the teaching style.

      September 10, 2012 at 1:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • parent of CPS student

      We must demand more of BOTH our educators and our students.

      September 10, 2012 at 5:01 pm | Report abuse |
  3. joshu

    teachers are among the most important profession in the world, where I live teachers are grossly underpaid and are often caring individuals. They've seen their budget cut too many times and benefits that was once took for granted, health care, are being taken away

    September 10, 2012 at 12:19 pm | Report abuse |
  4. C

    They want no accountability for performance, more pay and are unwilling to pay more for health care which the rest of society has been doing for years. Sounds like a typical union agrument. So instead of being happy that they have a job that pays an average of 75K with summers and weekends off, they prefer acting like the children that they are charged with teaching. Today's lesson class is how to be an ungratful public service leach! Any questions?

    September 10, 2012 at 12:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • fourth81

      I have a question–do you actually know any teachers? Is it easier to insult people that you don't know with the anonymity of the internet?

      September 10, 2012 at 1:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike

      its not summer and weekends off. teachers put in about 60+ hours a week, and are laid off for the summer but can get their checks averaged out for 9 months or 12 months.

      September 10, 2012 at 2:27 pm | Report abuse |
  5. seamusmeboy

    I can only say the one benfit to all of this is that Ms.Lewis is not in a classroom teaching kids. Thank God for that. Good luck trying to change things(teacher evaluation criteria) that are state law. Oh yeah, the union had a seat at that table when the law (Senate Bill 7) was crafted. Fire em all!

    September 10, 2012 at 12:21 pm | Report abuse |
  6. clark1v

    average salary of $74,000 sounds really good. slight increase in health care cost ... very reasonable. job security ... why? better evaluation system ... ok. striking when cities around the country are going broke and the nation's debt just topped 16 trillion dollars ... very selfish and self seeking.

    September 10, 2012 at 12:21 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Lynn

    I would love guaranteed job security, pay increase and my medical benefits not to increase each year as well but I live in the real world where those things don't happen. Why should a teacher get special treatment? In this economy be thankful you have a job. Do you job well and you will be rewarded by keeping your job. That is how it works. Stop being selfish. I know you have to spend money out of your own pocket for supplies. Well suck it up and do it. You are there for the kids and if it means you have to go the extra mile then do it. The only people that suffer from teachers striking are the students. If you really do have the students best interest at heart then stop the petty arguing and get back to work. Do you job do it well and you have nothing to worry about.

    September 10, 2012 at 12:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • willy

      replace them with teachers out of work from around the usa and see if the replacements conplain
      I would bet they do not and welcome chance to work again

      September 10, 2012 at 12:51 pm | Report abuse |
  8. kc

    It should be illegal for civil servant for form unions. The ballot box is the way to get the people you want in office.

    September 10, 2012 at 12:25 pm | Report abuse |
  9. JDM

    Nice job teachers! If the kids walked out of class because they felt that they were getting too much homework, would they be in trouble? Way to care about the kids and their educations teachers! Good for you!

    September 10, 2012 at 12:28 pm | Report abuse |
  10. David

    I am a public school teacher in the state of Utah. I know cost of living plays into wages of all professions, but seeing 74k annual salary as an average and comparing that to my 33k makes me scoff at their salary concerns.

    September 10, 2012 at 12:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dan

      I agree David. In Southeastern Pennsylvania, the average salary in my district is $54k. I understand in Chicago there is the cost of living difference, but $74k is plenty. Most of these teachers live in the 'burbs anyway were cost of living is lower (average house going for about $300k). $54k will have someone living comfortably there so I want to know WHY they deserve more. I also understand there needs to be an effective way to give teachers performance reviews. It should not be based from standardized test scores because kids all act differently in testing situations. It should be based on how effective a teacher presents information and how willing they are to help students succeed. Someone needs to shadow them often. Also they could review teachers after their 2nd school year. The first year they get baseline grades, etc. After the 2nd year, compare the scores again to see if children are making an improvement and if the teacher is teaching more effectively. So in essence, no raise until after Year 2 and only a raise if there is improvement year over year. After that if they maintain the same level, slight raise, if they are a percentage point higher, more money. This should help I believe.

      September 10, 2012 at 12:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • emlynn

      Dan~
      Just an FYI...CPS teachers MUST live within the City of Chicago. They have no choice.

      September 20, 2012 at 7:14 pm | Report abuse |
  11. john photios

    As a citizen of Chicago, I would appreciate answers from the Union Leaders to the following:
    Why should the schooll teachers average salaries be greater than the tax paying public?
    Why shouldn't teachers contribute the same percentage to the health care costs?
    Why should the Health Care Benefit be greater than the average tax paying public?
    Why don't the Teachers work at least 12 months a year?

    September 10, 2012 at 12:31 pm | Report abuse |
  12. buckeye 1

    I am sick and tired of people bashing teachers because they do not like their job. Our teachers work there tails off, without proper compensation based on their education. If you think teaching is such an easy profession, shut up and become one and see how long YOU last.

    September 10, 2012 at 12:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • seamusmeboy

      I am one Buckeye 1 and you are way off base. What the Chicago teachers are moaning about and asking for is way outside what is acceptable for this area. A 16% compensation increase for four years....You have got to be kidding me. Look at the districts deficits. Teachers in surrounding areas have taken pay freezes and increased their contributions to Health Care. Regardless of the fat that a portion of tehri complaint is not strikeable, it was law passed last Spring, it affects us all.

      September 10, 2012 at 12:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • seamusmeboy

      Sorry for my spelling errors, heated opinion!

      September 10, 2012 at 12:45 pm | Report abuse |
  13. JFS in IL

    I agree with Lynn, who posted "I would love guaranteed job security, pay increase and my medical benefits not to increase each year as well but I live in the real world where those things don't happen. Why should a teacher get special treatment? In this economy be thankful you have a job.".

    A 16% increase over four years would sound GREAT to many folks.

    I do think the test-based evaluation system is faulty. But anyone have any better ideas?

    September 10, 2012 at 12:34 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Sirned

    Yes why should teachers have a decent wage after graduating from college trained to teach your children for their futures. Knock down their wages and job security instead of demanding higher wages from the private sector and better job security. Folks we got this backward we should defend the teachers and demand better from our private employers...

    September 10, 2012 at 12:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • this guy

      OOHHHHH...you graduated college and are performing on the job? you're right! you should be guaranteed your job with raises for life...so should I. so should all my college friends and every other person that graduated college. sorry to tell you, that's not the case.

      September 10, 2012 at 2:06 pm | Report abuse |
  15. al

    All I know is that I am glad my kids are out of school but I fear for their kids. We do not seem to believe that education is important in this country. Parents think it is a babysitting service and a place for kids to get a free (to them) meal. Teachers are performing too many other roles in the classroom today. Relying only on tests to give feedback on a students progress is not working. I don't know what the answers are but I do know that what this country is doing right now is not working and something needs to change. I think most of the fault lies with parents who blame teachers when their kids are not doing well, are not actively engaged in their child's education and a system that is rooted in the past and not designed for today's world.

    September 10, 2012 at 12:35 pm | Report abuse |
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