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. Lagos

    Wonderful that teachers in Chicago (and Cook County in general) make just as much as those in NYC, which absolutely obliterates Chicago in cost of living.

    September 10, 2012 at 2:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • CPS

      The NY teachers make significantly more. I do not know where you are getting your figures from, but I can probably guess.

      September 10, 2012 at 2:30 pm | Report abuse |
  2. alaidel

    You guys are kidding me. 74000 is the median not what every teacher earns.
    Something that you problably know but don't want to admit everybody to its job. if you work in a factory putting some buttons to the pan or shorts don't pretend to make the same salary as a doctor.
    Teachers have a very though job. If you think is easy think again, when the time comes that your child start asking you for something and crying and screaming until he drives you crazy and you just want him/her to shout the mouth up and they still continuos and you are in the mall and can not do anything about because a lot of people is watching.
    Well imagine a classroon with twenty something studnents from kinder to 5th grade, any classroom and just two of them start goofing around and fooling all over the place disrupting the class and making the others students laugh and not learn. Just tell me if you have ever put yourself in a situation like that and think how to sole the problem being nice and respectful with the student and at the same time keep teaching the rest of them that wwant to learn.
    Think on all that and then tell me how much do you think is the salary the teachers in United States deserve to be paid.
    In miami the teachers make alot less that in Chicago and I have been always thinking why they don't go to strike or something. Its ridiculuos everything with the teachers, salary, health, retirement plans, union dues, and more and nobody does anything about it, and yes thats why USA is not one of the top educational nations.

    September 10, 2012 at 2:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • this guy

      median and mean are not the same thing.

      September 10, 2012 at 2:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lagos

      Apparently this man needed a better math teacher in middle school.

      Also, riddle me this: If Chicago teachers as a whole (For the sake of simplicity, the entirely of Cook county) are making wages on par with those in New York City (For the sake of simplicity, the greater metro area) and NYC's cost of living is leaps and bounds beyond those in chicago, what would your conclusion be?

      September 10, 2012 at 2:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • CPS

      Again, NYC is significantly higher in salary, Lagos. Again, you figures are off.

      September 10, 2012 at 2:39 pm | Report abuse |
  3. rep

    I think the biggest issue/complaint the teachers had was that of the testing/evaluations based on standardized tests. they were OK with the pay concessions. i would have agree that the evaluation by avg student test scores can be kinda unfair, but I would place the onus on the teachers union to come up with some better suggestions themselves. no evaluation method is perfect, but i think everyone can agree that there should be one in place. perhaps the solution would be to start with one method, but allow it to slowly phase-in and even have a generous appeals process in the beginning as the method is improved to reflect the realities of various real-world situations. it may give teachers time to adjust and everyone time to understand and help shape a good evaluation method.

    September 10, 2012 at 2:06 pm | Report abuse |
  4. this guy

    This is why I plan on sending my children to a private school.

    September 10, 2012 at 2:08 pm | Report abuse |

      If you can effort $10K/year tuittion. How many kids do you have?

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

    While I understand that teachers are asking for some understanable conditions to the new contract, I am wondering with the budget deficit as high as it currently is, where will this money come from? There are some real concerns I have a chicago resident and tax payer. I, belonging to a union myself, believe that there needs to be more accountablity on the part of the teachers. If my performance is not up to the standards or goals that are set for me by my employer this is grounds for dismissal! I believe, as it currently stands, NCLB allocates funds based on those that perform the best on these standardized tests, therefore those who are performing the best should be compentasted accordingly. While factors effect the outcome of standardized testing, its hard to justify increased salaries, etc without meeting the standards of what your performance is being evaluated (ie these tests). I welcome some insight becasue I am not an expert on NCLB but from studying education and discussing with serval educators recently, I believe my understanding to be pretty accurate. Hopefully this is resolved soon to alleviate this burden on parents and students.

    September 10, 2012 at 2:11 pm | Report abuse |

      Money comes from Obama's "made in China" credit cards.

      September 10, 2012 at 2:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bill

      you are partially correct but NCLB does not go into full effect until 2014 when it says 100% of students must be proficient. Until that time we are working under something called adequate yearly progress which asks schools to make strides towards 100%. Funds are not withheld unless districts failing to improve see score decreases over two consecutive years and then only if they do not agree to making changes. The fact is, NCLB has not really added funds to schools. I am an administrator for a school and we have had to hire people just to keep up with our NCLB reporting requirements, but if we don't the penalty in terms of dollars is great. The funds used for data managers are funds that do not go to actually educating students but instead are spent on a bureaucracy. My personal opinion would be to do away with NCLB all together eliminating overhead and instead focus on teacher development and evaluation systems that are true representations of what teachers do and know.

      September 10, 2012 at 2:29 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Jen

    FIRE THEM ALL! Then post individual jobs and let them compete!

    September 10, 2012 at 2:12 pm | Report abuse |

      I think the Chicago Mayor must post an emergency open hiring ads first. He is too buzy to Obama campaign.

      September 10, 2012 at 2:33 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Jen

    They have the option to quit but not to strike!

    September 10, 2012 at 2:13 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Toddgunter

    I hear the public cry all the time about low pay for teachers and how unfair it is to assess their performance. $74000 for a 180 day contract is more thatn $400 per day. Lets agree that a teacher does put in 10 hours per day. That would be the equivelent of $40 per hour. Can anyone name me another profession that is willing to pay their average employee $40 /hour and still be willing to give them 12 weeks of vacation each year. This sort of belly aching is simply beyond belief. If they want more money let them be willing to give up a portion or all of their 12 weeks of vacation each year and teach summer school. The have it so rough. I have to work as a truck driver an average of 70 hours per week and sacrifice my family and home time in order to make a fraction of what they are making. Think about the high levels of mediacrity that we are willing to accept because most people are sold on the concept that a person who only works 9 months out of the year should be rewarded as if working 12.

    September 10, 2012 at 2:14 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Chris

    $74000 per year plus pension and healthcare after you retire? sign me up!

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

    Your kidding me! 74k a year? No wonder this country is going bankrupt. Yeah teaching may be hard at times, but everyone thinks their job is harder than theirs. Expect raises? I would be lucky to get a raise after working 3 years at my current company. You poor teachers, I feel bad for you! Now I know why you vote for OBAMAnation.

    September 10, 2012 at 2:16 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Nick

    Average Chicago teacher's salary: $71000. Average Chicagoan's wages: $30000. Teachers want a 30% raise. Really? When you're already making more than double the prospective taxpayer? When you can guarantee our students come out 30% smarter or better prepared, but not one thin dime until then.

    September 10, 2012 at 2:17 pm | Report abuse |
  12. thetruth

    YES WITH THE HELP OF ALL COMMUNISTS, SOCIALISTS and remaining Obama supporters we can bring this terrible country to it's knees.....lets join together COMRADES we can end this 250 year rein of democracy...19% for 2 years and all health benefits, want it all...want it now....l don't care if there's money to pay for it.....who cares if it will help bankrupt Chicago there's nothing but murders here anyway, and those little snot nose kids the heck with them...NOT!!!!

    September 10, 2012 at 2:18 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Bob

    $74,000...darn good salary...; check around and see what the rest of the country is making!
    Health Care....yes, we all would like for our health care costs to slow down...welcome to the real world....
    Job Security....wouldn't we all like it...they're living in a fantasy world!
    They ought to be thankful they have a job with the benefits they have in today's world...
    Completely them start over...get rid of the rif-raff and the substandard "coatriders"...

    September 10, 2012 at 2:18 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Mike

    $74,000 average. I wish my wife made that. She is a 4th year teacher and works 60+ hours a week and makes 31k. Thanks Idaho.

    September 10, 2012 at 2:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • Concerned Parent

      Then maybe she should fight for more money. People are calling chicago teachers lazy when they are actually out there fighting for their kids to have social workers, nurses, librarians, and books at school.

      September 10, 2012 at 2:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lagos

      Ah yes, the "For the kids" argument. Yes, teachers are vitally important for kids, parents, and society as a whole. No, Chicago teachers should not make substantially more than the national average when factoring in cost of living and then whine about premium increases as a result of health care laws their unions helped support. Yes, some teachers get paid a lot less than they should. Chicago/Cook county's are ridiculously overpaid.

      September 10, 2012 at 2:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • CPS

      Have a gun pulled on you by a kid, Lagos. Get screamed at and spit on daily, Lagos. You're not a teacher, Lagos. You need to teach a week in CPS,'d be wetting your pants, Lagos.

      September 10, 2012 at 2:47 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Troy Brown

    As a former Chicagoan who took his kids away from this madness, if the teachers don't like the approach being taken here to get a better performance from the teachers to get better results out of our kids. THEN GO SOMEWHERE ELSE! I don't get to make the rules at my job, and I have to accept what pay structure is being offered and work within that structure. If I don't like it, I move to another job that I feel more comfortable doing. I do not agree with the teachers here sorry! If you have a better solution for getting the most out of our kids without wasting more money then come with that approach, not the I don't want to do that because I don't see it working anywhere else approach.

    September 10, 2012 at 2:20 pm | Report abuse |

      The problem is the UNION, who are trying to offer "life-time" job to incompetent teachers!

      September 10, 2012 at 2:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Augie March

      Troy, do the people making the rules in your company or in your field have experience in that field? If education policies were made by people with robust teaching resumes or education researchers, then I suspect teachers would be more willing to accept policies–because the policies would have more merit. That's not the case in ed policy now.

      September 10, 2012 at 2:35 pm | Report abuse |
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