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. mcord11758

    I am a pro teachers union guy, my wife is a member of a teacher's union. Their union is subject to the same testing and has made much tougher concessions than what is being asked here. I do not mind that they are fighting the testing as anyone who understands the system knows how flawed it is, but this strike is a disgusting out rage.

    Don't be fooled by the 4%/ year increases that will be largely used to pay for the higher healthcare cost and in the end will just keep the saleries in line with inflation. The only reason they are offering such increases is because they know they plan on mass layoffs that will make up the increase and then some

    People don't be fooled by the sallery amount. Teachers make enough relevant to their area they live to be middle class Americans. $70 in Chicago means you need another full time earner to make ends meet. Let's not paint them wealthy. My wife has $75,000 in student loans and about another $1,000/year that we pay for continuing ed. What a teacher gets paid is well deserved and is one of the most important jobs in our society

    September 11, 2012 at 6:40 am | Report abuse |
    • Ryan

      Back in the day, when you went to work for the state, everyone knew you would make less money than average and have better benefits. I understand the cost of living in Chicago is higher than some places, but a median of $74k is still higher than the median wage, and everyone else that works has to contribute to their healthcare and retirement...

      September 11, 2012 at 9:23 am | Report abuse |
    • James

      Odd – I guess teachers are the only people being screwed by healthcare. I had no idea that my 2% wage increase (which is actually considered decent) was supposed to more than cover my healthcare increases. WOW I AM REALLY GETTING HOSED. Healthcare it taking a bigger chunk out of everyone's paycheck.

      People live in Chicago just fine on $50k a year (I did just fine on $40k). Amazingly enough, they too have student loans, etc. Also, from your write-up, it's apparent that you and your wife are not paying any student loans for you.

      You annoy me.

      September 11, 2012 at 10:14 am | Report abuse |
  2. Mary

    This article is completely unfair in its execution. The teachers and the district are not striking against the pay and they are close on the medical benefits. READ the whole article. To use a standardized test as a tool to reduce the number of teachers is just wrong. If any of you have had difficulty taking a test, think about the fact that a teacher could loose their JOB because you can't take a test. I would not want children to be taught to a test! I want them to learn how to think and to understand and apply fundamentals of math, science and arts. I feel that management needs to get back to basics, if the teacher is unable to control, provide a safe and adequate school environment for learning do it by observation and basic human resources principles.

    By the way any teacher should make AT LEAST 74,000 my childs education is worth more than a basic engineering job.

    September 11, 2012 at 7:15 am | Report abuse |
    • mcord11758

      I agree with your points but the strike was not warranted. I am sorry but closing a city and disrupting the children's education does not solve the problem. In fact it makes the teachers look like they are greedy and hiding from accountability. The test suck, and the application of the scoring is terrible but how is that the kids or parents fault?

      September 11, 2012 at 7:25 am | Report abuse |
  3. Ken

    $75,000 for 8 months work equates to someone making $112K for a full year. The bottom line isn't weather it is fair or enough but whether others would be willing to take the job for that amount of compensation. The union holds everyone hostage in this regard and it's time our nation realizes the damage this cancer brings. If the union were eliminated, the average salary would quickly drop to what Charter school teachers earn in Chicago. None the less, I see the teacher's point when it comes to performance measures. It's reasonable to measure whether they present the information and provide an opportunity to learn, but it's the students responsibility to learn. No one can make an unmotivated person learn if they don't see the value.

    September 11, 2012 at 7:32 am | Report abuse |
  4. HNIC

    "They are threatening a walk-out" ... "Well let 'em! They're not teaching anything down there anyway" The problem with the Teachers Union is that they are focused on the adults and not the children. The problem with parents is they expect teachers to do all the parenting too, and the problem with the system is it is profitable to diagnose kids with learning disabilities (more than half the students are on ADD, ADHD, ODD, or any other alphabet soup disorder) – does that mean kids without disabilities are the abnormal ones? There are problems throughout the system, and the Union is one of them. (By the way, I AM A PUBLIC SCHOOL TEACHER)

    September 11, 2012 at 7:41 am | Report abuse |
  5. Ron

    Let me see, the teachers are averaging over 70 thousand a year. The teachers were offered a 16% raise (outrageous) Only 15% of 4th graders in Chicago, read at the 4th grade level. Only 56% of students graduate with a HS Diploma. 71% of the entire education budget goes to retirement and benefits for teaches. I have the answer, fire all the teaches and start over.

    September 11, 2012 at 7:52 am | Report abuse |
  6. The Consultant

    Are these people out of their MINDS?!?!? Why should teachers be exempt from the effects of the economy? If my company doesn't have money for raises, we don't get raises. If they have to restructure benefits, guess what, they do. It's a part of life. If the teachers don't like the deal, THEN QUIT and find another job. It's their choice. Why are these teachers so special? Another example of why unions need to go.

    September 11, 2012 at 9:35 am | Report abuse |
  7. elsa

    Sorry – but what a bunch of whiners. I want a raise, I want job security, I want medical insurance mostly paid for me, I want others to find me a job if I'm laid off. GET REAL. No one gets that in the real world! Be happy for what you have! A lot of cities are BROKE and can't pay for anything anymore! If you don't like it, try and find a job in the real world. No sympathy.

    September 11, 2012 at 9:45 am | Report abuse |
    • Mike

      You put it perfectly, BooHoo tough life $74,000 average sallery and few months off year.

      September 11, 2012 at 9:56 am | Report abuse |
    • EE


      I'm not sure that calling Mike and elsa ignorant asses will help your case very much. Yes I'm sure they had teachers that taught them how to do many things. But the real question for me is, when did teachers get put so far up a pedestal that they can hold a community hostage? I will agree that teaching is not all that it seems on the surface. But when you take someone from the private sector that hasn't received a raise in a number of years and has always paid there medical they get a little upset when a group of public employees demand more and more when they themselves are taking home less and less. I assume most people want job security, most people want raises, and I'm sure most would like more medical coverage. It really comes across poorly on behalf of the teachers and their unions to go on strike when a school year has just begun and they just came back from summer break. It also think that demanding more and more in this economy is just plan damn greedy.

      September 11, 2012 at 11:50 am | Report abuse |

      I am a future teacher. I am currently in graduate school earning a Masters Degree in Education with a Credential in Mild/Moderate Special Education. As teachers, in order to receive increases in pay we are to continue our education, take more classes, earn other certifications, and credentials. These classes, credentials, and certifications are paid for by the teachers. Education is an ever evolving field. If we are to provide our students with the best education and compete with other countries, teachers must remain on top of their craft. To do so, we must take classes and earn certifications. For those in the private sector, many of them are not forced to further their education, many of them are not asked to take classes to learn how to deal with a group of 30 students, 10 who have been diagnosed with ADHD, 12 who come from broken families with multiple siblings, and a single mom who works two jobs, and the other 8 who come from good families, but are feeling the affects of the other students and how they behave. As a teacher we have to act as parents. We do the jobs that many parents are unable to do, and many don't want to do. I decided to become a teacher because I am passionate about education, and want to do what I can to change the future of children who otherwise might not have a chance. When you compare the salaries, those earning $74,000 a year have worked HARD for it. Elsa, as for not having sympathy, you should, especially if you have a child. Teachers spend equally as much time, and have as large, if not a larger impact on your childs life. I don't think those of you in the private sector should compare your lives to teachers, especially when many of those in the private sector haven't earned any type of degree, or decided after a Bachelors Degree they are done. Elsa, I hope you do get a raise soon but that may be unlikely as you are not an executive nor are you the child of an executive. I will always support teachers and their fight for better pay and job security.

      September 11, 2012 at 1:11 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

    Bet the union president in republican! They not only like to disrupt government but all that matters to us and our kids. And the only thing that drives these right wingers is more money. Ask Ryan and Robmoney. There aint alot of people in America today making 75,000 annually and while these inconsiderate selfish trolls are whining about more money and more benefits, there are millions of Americans out there who are still struggling to make ends meet! Shame shame shame!

    September 11, 2012 at 10:11 am | Report abuse |
    • bobNC

      I bet you find the union leader are Democrats.

      September 11, 2012 at 10:46 am | Report abuse |
  9. Rebuttal

    Sorry folks, but the requests of the teachers are incredibly reasonable if you put yourself in their shoes. Seriously ask yourself if you would want to be held accountable for a low performing child that has one parent at home who works nights, so the kid has no fixed schedule, barely feeds him/herself if at all, has family in jail (or gets abused at home), no clean clothes or weather appropriate clothes, no breakfast, free gov't. paid services and lunches, no learning resources at home (just drugs, guns, tv and video games), zero social interaction because the neighborhood is too dangerous outside...this just BARELY touches the social and economic factors that are the real causes of underperforming students. Tell me that you could handle a classroom with students who's parents just murdered their grandparents or brother just stabbed their mother or this is the fourth house they've lived in this month. BUT OOO the teacher is responsible for little Sally failing her standardized test.....give me a break!!!

    September 11, 2012 at 10:45 am | Report abuse |
    • cja

      Let's say you coach basketball and by luck you get a team where everyone is under five feet tall. You loose every game so they fire you. Is that fair to a coach who can't chose his players? Same with teachers if you fire them because their students don't improve their test scores. It is simply a lottery if you happen to get a group of poor students. While $73K sounds good. These people, on average, will have 10+ years of experience and typically a masters degree plus more training after graduate school. In any other field that would get you double, at least their pay.

      September 11, 2012 at 11:10 am | Report abuse |
    • howyadoin?

      Seriously, watch your back......

      September 11, 2012 at 12:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Elperro

      Um, no. In any other field they would not be earning "double" the pay. Pro-rated to the days they actually work (180) they are being paid a rate that is equivalent to around $110,000 per year. That's the "average" rate! We can assume that those with Master's degrees are getting more. This puts them at the top of average salary lists for almost any profession.

      September 11, 2012 at 2:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • James

      I am pretty sure a lot of people get fired when poo hits the fan and even if it is out of their control. Just ask a sales person with a territory that has dried up. Ask an analyst that had a large project/client that was impossible to please and asks for a refund. Ask a retail sales person on the sales floor if they are cut breaks just because the economy is in the crapper. I don't think people are cut breaks fairly but life does not play fair.

      Everyone has performance metrics they have to live up to. Some may be unfair and out of their control – if you cannot handle the ones given to you, switch jobs. Some people are just not cut out for certain stresses and pressures.

      If you have all that amazing education and you are that crazy smart – like I keep reading – then get that awesome job with all those awesome benefits.

      September 11, 2012 at 5:43 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Rick

    Why should teachers receive raises when almost noone in the private sector is receiveing raises? I work in the private sector and I haven't had a raise in three years. I also pay into my health benefits. $74,000 for 9 months of work is a pretty good deal!

    September 11, 2012 at 11:01 am | Report abuse |
    • cja

      The pay is not so good what you consider the qualifications for the job. Pay is based on Education level and experience. To make the 74K level they would have a masters degree plus a bet more and then 10+ years on the job. New hires with "only" a four-year degree make a lot less. Apparently the average teacher in that system has considerable experience and education. The pay is low when you compare to jobs that require such qualifications

      September 11, 2012 at 11:17 am | Report abuse |
    • Elperro

      No, read the article. 74K is the "average rate," meaning that people with their masters and tenure are getting more, and those fresh out of school are getting less. But that is a remarkable "average" that is not commensurate with their education level, and certainly not with the difficulty (way easy) and transferability (almost non-existant) of said degrees.

      September 11, 2012 at 2:34 pm | Report abuse |
  11. hotairwarrior

    When you are a public school teacher you do not even have time to go pee during the day.

    September 11, 2012 at 11:18 am | Report abuse |
    • Eric

      Irony: A striking home-economics teacher planning to teach a class on balancing a checkbook as he/she strikes for demands that simply cannot be paid for.

      Teachers: YOU selected your job – not the tax payers. If YOU made a mistake don't like having to work 8 or 9 months of the year, then QUIT! Don't strike and make the unemployed private sector citizen struggling to pay a mortgage have to fear the next property tax hike to fund your summer vacation.

      Why do people simply refuse to believe that these bargained promises cannot be paid for? I'm lucky enough to work for a successful business, however the economy is so bad that even our best performers only got about 2% increase this last year – and guess what – they were surprised and happy!

      What planet do these teachers live on? If it's so bad, QUIT. Take your degrees and credentials and start the unfunded utopia of your wildest dreams where everything is free. Within four months of your self-exaulted departure, the school system will have all of you replaced with people who WANT to be there and the kids will benefit.

      September 11, 2012 at 2:48 pm | Report abuse |
  12. melissa

    What a bunch of big baby's they make more money in 1 year then in 3 years and I am work for the banking industry as a teller for the last 5 years what a bunch of BS too me. I think they she be greatful for how good they have it and stop what they are doing go back to work teaching the kids because them being greedy or get layed off and replaced because it is harmful to the kids education.

    September 11, 2012 at 11:36 am | Report abuse |
  13. hivoltg

    This is only the beginning of the end. Please know that this has nothing to do with education, teachers or students. This FIGHT is about America converting from a compassionate, friendly and caring nation to one of selfishness and hatred for those who don't share the same vision for how life should be lived. This nation has already experienced a few of these transitions in its history. Those transitions were only solved by the people of this nation picking up weapons and killing each other. You only need to look at the comments posted here. Make no mistake that if Elsa and Rick were standing in front of each other right now, the winner would be the one with the most bullets. Those of us in the middle, pre-emptively thank you for destroying us and our great nation.

    September 11, 2012 at 12:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • Eric

      It's not that bad. What we're witnessing is a reluctant citenzry that is still in the denial phase of all the unfunded promises given by its elected officials. Ask a person under 40 if they ever expect to see Medicare or Social Security – the answer is no. Retirees are already set. The core issue is baby boomers are in the lurch because they believed since the hippy days that everything will be cool in the end – but unfortunately, the $$$ don't add up and they will be screwed and waiting tables to make ends meet into their 80's and that's a big buzz kill – even for a child of the 60's to deal with – union or not.

      September 11, 2012 at 2:52 pm | Report abuse |
  14. howyadoin?

    Well, this Obama's "hometown", all his peeps are there- where is HIS opinion? HA!- "fire 'em all", right, chicken????
    How DARE you, Mr. President, to hide behind your wife's apron strings on this!- This was perfectly staged politically!!!
    Come on, Obama- STEP UP- lets see your next move. And to you wonderful teachers who ARE employed- I invite you to come to NEVADA and find work......
    As for your all's gunning and shooting around- guess that's what you people do. Yea, that solves problems.......

    September 11, 2012 at 12:11 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Diane Zodikoff

    The teachers are concerned about the testing of their students. If the students do not test well, it's the teacher who may lose her/his job. From my experience, schools often place the more difficult/slower students with the best teachers. Please check into this aspect of the strike. If true, the best teachers may pay for helping our less sophisticated, less bright student get their measure of success, Saing this strike is all about the money is too simplistic.

    September 11, 2012 at 12:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • Maggie

      That's not how it worked at my school. The teachers with the most seniority got the pick of the litter, and always taught the honors students.

      September 11, 2012 at 1:11 pm | Report abuse |
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