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. this guy

    There are so many layers and reasons as to why the education system is failing, it's not just the union, it's not just the teachers themselves, the parents, students,'s that were humans. This is a prime example of why humans as a species are just as flawed as every other and certainly not anywhere close to the "perfection" that religious folks try to argue we are. The one thing I hope we can all agree on is that we certainly were not created by some divine deity. If we were, he did a terrible job.

    September 10, 2012 at 2:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • common sense

      You need to read the Bible; your belief that "religious folks" (and I'm speculating you ae referring to Christians) think that they are perfect is exactly the opposite of what Christianity and the Bible teach...the Bible teaches that mankind is in a fallen state, imperfect, and unable to achieve perfection, hence, the need for The Savior Jesus...

      September 10, 2012 at 3:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • this guy

      @common sense you haven't seen the many comments i've read on comment boards, primarily the one on this site through their religion blog.

      September 10, 2012 at 3:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • common sense

      @ this guy, hey, I'm not calling you an idiot or suggesting what other people blog is accurate, but before you form an opinion in your own mind that Christianity touts perfection, read the Bible, particularly the New Testament, then form an opinion...and I'm not suggesting you will accept Christianity, rather, you will have an accurate understanding of what Jesus taught and why He came to Earth...

      September 10, 2012 at 3:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • this guy

      @common sense

      I have a full undrstanding of Christianity and it's teachings. I studied Old and New testament in college as well as other religions/philosophies of the world. I understand what Christianity portrays in regards to the faults of man, but also understand that Christians point to many "perfections" of humans and the world around them as proof of a divine power and as further proof that it could not be coincidence in the slightest. I was merely making a condescending remark in regards to religion based on this one problem.

      Maybe we should all just pray that this problem gets resolved before tomorrows morning bell.

      September 10, 2012 at 3:25 pm | Report abuse |
  2. common sense

    the output of the chicago school system is horrific...gotta love socialism: poor performance = more money, more benefits and more paid time off...and people wonder why jobs end up overseas

    September 10, 2012 at 2:57 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Edie Moon

    Unions in this country have outlived their purpose and their life. Unions only function to hold a gun to the head of management and to the public to get their demands. Fair is fair and the union members often do far much better than employees who work in the private sector. This country is in such a bad state of affairs from the unions inflating their wages and benefits at the expense of the everyday citizen. We are in a trying time in this country and to make these emands when most people are struggleing is unwise and foolish. Only other Union Memebers would support this type of behavior. Teachers and their Union, SHAME ON YOU!!!!

    September 10, 2012 at 2:58 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Mav

    There is no money in the world that would pay me to teach, schools for many are just a day care for their unruly children.

    September 10, 2012 at 3:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • w5cdt

      Well....parents do matter! And they are the biggest problem in poor schools.

      September 10, 2012 at 3:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Klancy Schmertz

      Parents won't do their job, and expect the teachers to deal with it and/or do their job.
      Then when the teachers have to do it, the parents complain. Or worse.
      Then instead of providing the assistance the teachers need to handle the children who aren't parented correcty, the parents who don't do their job won't pay for someone else to do their job in the schools.
      As long as parents won't accept the repsonsibility to be parents, then be prepared to pay lots more for someone else to do it.

      September 10, 2012 at 3:44 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Frank

    People of the United States of America,Rom E. and President Obama,
    People of Chicago,how do you like the Unions controlling your city now.
    Per President Obama and your Mayor,if your want "Better Education" for your children it's time to PONY UP(Raise) your TAXES for give the Teachers Union what they want!Wait until President Obama puts on a pair of comfortable shoes, as he said in his 2008 Campaign and is out there marching on the picket lines with your teachers!

    September 10, 2012 at 3:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mark

      It's not about "Pony Up", it's about fairness. Chicago is an expensive place to live and you have to earn "real" money to live there. Been there, done that. As for you jumping all over the teachers, you are so wrong to do so. If you want to jump on anyone, you need to jump on the CEO's making $100+ million a year. Two of their saleries will take care of the health care differences for all of the teachers in the CPS system. Evidently you all have taken Twit/Paul math and cannot do simple addition! Get real people, it costs more than $70k a year to live!

      September 10, 2012 at 3:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mark

      It is also about the fact that my family pais 30% a year in taxes and people like Romney, pay less than 15%. We need the money more than he does! EQUALITY is the word! If I pay 30%, then so should the rich! Plain and simple!

      September 10, 2012 at 3:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • rob

      Unions have always controlled chicago I dont see how thats news to anyone. As a chicagoan i have a problem with someone complaining about making 74k a year and demanding a 30% raise while working for a union that has the shortest school year and shorter school day in the country. I also find it funny that people think Rahm is anti union now when hes historically a big labor advocate.

      September 10, 2012 at 3:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ralph M

      For a long time education was the first to suffer cutbacks to afford some pretty lame projects [kick backs] and raises for others [over paid politicians]. Chicago is reaping the fruits of their unwillingness to stop the graft given to donors of campaigns etc. Instead of making taxpayers [who are already taxed to the breaking point] pay more, spend the money you already have the way it should have been spent to begin with.

      September 10, 2012 at 4:00 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Elizabeth

    I don't understand how CPS pays teachers, on average, over $70k and only half of the students graduate from high school. If I had that success rate, I'd be fired from my lower-paying job. That said, I did attend public schools in the Chicago suburbs and attained a fabulous public school education.

    September 10, 2012 at 3:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • And Yet....

      Keyword here being SUBURB.

      September 10, 2012 at 3:29 pm | Report abuse |
  7. paulm5545

    The unions haven't outlived their purpose. Look at the posts: fire them all, don't like your job, quit, these morons, load of hogwash, tenure should not exist...only opinions, I know, but some employers have this point of view. Unions of some sort will always exist.

    September 10, 2012 at 3:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • And Yet....

      I Iove the "fire them all" mentality. Where are they going to find 30,000 teachers to start >tomorrow?<

      September 10, 2012 at 3:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • Pauln4454

      Paulm5545, stick to talking about something you know. We have enough idiots complaining without knowing the facts.

      September 10, 2012 at 3:50 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Bob

    Who would get any guaranteed pay increase during these economic climate? Be happy with what you have been offered. You need to realize that country needs help to get out of its debt; IL needs help to get out of its debt; what makes teachers so special to have a guaranteed pay increase, plus job security requirements and no changes to health care and benefits? Start living in the real world.

    September 10, 2012 at 3:25 pm | Report abuse |
  9. And Yet....

    You soumd dissatisfied with your job. Quit, and become a Chicago Public School teacher. I dare you.

    September 10, 2012 at 3:28 pm | Report abuse |
  10. dd

    The teachers don't want evaluations. The teachers want to remain a union seniority shop and not professionals. The unions want to protect jobs and the heck with the kids. The unions want more money for being the worst school system in the country. Listen to the leaders talk. They can barely speak fluent English. They sound like dumb, uneducated criminals.

    September 10, 2012 at 3:30 pm | Report abuse |
  11. JG

    Unions should not be allowed in the public sector. Now, I as a taxpayer, have no choice but to give in to these demands. We all know teachers should be well compensated. However, an average salary of $75k a year seems a little high to me. Don't these people understand that their "out of touch" benefits packages are part of the reason that the states are in the mess they're in...? Union people will never understand the concept of "something is better than nothing". The whole point of the benefit cuts, is so that the state can continue to afford to pay you.

    September 10, 2012 at 3:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tom

      75k is an average middle class wage in any big city. Why do non union people try and lower the bar for the working class. Why don't we all try and bring wages/benefits up to that level. While the rich get richer the working people try and dummy everything down. The 1% just laugh at us.

      September 10, 2012 at 3:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • Wondering

      The "average teacher salary" is based on teachers that have been at their jobs for a long time. The starting salary for a CPS is $47,250 and with a masters in teaching it is $50,250. So in fact teachers only make 70K after being at their job for years.

      September 10, 2012 at 5:10 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Helen

    Less work, more pay, no accountability, who cares about the debt. Vote 0bama!

    September 10, 2012 at 3:39 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Swenny

    The biggest problem I have is with the teacher evaluation program. So, you're willing to let the standardized tests define a student but NOT willing to let it define the effectiveness of the teacher then why are standardized tests being used in the first place? Teachers should have to worry about keeping their jobs and performing well, everyone else does.

    September 10, 2012 at 3:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • In the Middle

      They are not saying not to evaluate them based on student performance, but saying that using these standardized tests are the not the way to do it. Teachers do not like standardized tests to evaulate students in the first place – some kids are naturally not good at test taking, but it doesn't mean they are not smart. Not to mention the bigger scale of things – how is it fair to evaluate a teacher on their kids test scores when so many things that affect a kids performance are out of a teachers control. Gang violence, parents involvement, poverty, english as a second language or too many kids in one classroom. None of these things a teacher can control and they all affect a students performance.

      September 10, 2012 at 4:01 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Trajk Logik

    The public school systems are a big farce. It's full of favoritism and nepotism where honest hard-working teachers who teach for the right reasons don't get a fair break. If you are lazy and know one of the administrators or superintendents then you get a good class so you do the least amount of damage and aren't constantly complaining about your low students. If you work hard you get the low-end students. This is why paying teachers according to the progress of the kids is ill-conceived. If you think children should be the top-priority of the education system and not teachers with connections and complaining problems, then the pubic school system needs a overhaul.

    September 10, 2012 at 3:43 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Tumaini

    Can I have a Chicago teachers salary AND not be held accountable for my workplace effectiveness? I'll sign up for that right now! I'm in corporate America and salaries are nowhere near what these teachers are making and you're lucky if you get 10 days of vacation a year.

    September 10, 2012 at 3:44 pm | Report abuse |
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