Why We Should Support The Chicago Teacher’s Strike

The battle over the future of public education in the city of Chicago is in many ways a precursor of the battles we will have nationwide should our approach to public education not shift dramatically and soon.

But unlike some other labor battles, the battle over contracts between the city and the Chicago teacher’s union is not just a battle over pay and benefits. This one is a battle over vision. The teachers union is fighting for education quality and education equality, and in the context of our public school kids, they may be some of the last ones doing so.

In short, under Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the district is pushing to a model of teacher evaluation based on standardized test scores akin to the unmitigated failure of “No Child Left Behind” that left destroyed many urban public school systems already struggling with structural inequalities. And in earlier efforts to break unions, the city mandated that a 2/3 vote was needed to call for a strike while continuing efforts to cut services for kids close schools, and fire support staff.

Still, the teachers voted with 98% to authorize a strike if negotiations broke down. And when they did, so the strike began.

Despite claims by Emanuel’s administration that teachers rejected a 19% pay raise, the facts show otherwise. In 2011, Emanuel took away the 4% raise teachers were scheduled to receive, citing financial need. Later it was discovered that he shifted that money to the Chicago Police instead.

And that dynamic, of education versus public safety is everything that is wrong in the framing of the debate. Chicago is in the midst of a teen gun violence crisis and its public schools are falling apart. These are not competing interests, but part of the same problem.

One Chicago teacher puts it better than I ever could:

When you make me cram 30-50 kids in my classroom with no air conditioning so that temperatures hit 96 degrees, that hurts our kids.

When you lock down our schools with metal detectors and arrest brothers for play fighting in the halls, that hurts our kids.

When you take 18-25 days out of the school year for high stakes testing that is not even scientifically applicable for many of our students, that hurts our kids.

When you spend millions on your pet programs, but there’s no money for school level repairs, so the roof leaks on my students at their desks when it rains, that hurts our kids.

When you unilaterally institute a longer school day, insult us by calling it a “full school day” and then provide no implementation support, throwing our schools into chaos, that hurts our kids.

When you support Mayor Emanuel’s TIF program in diverting hundreds of millions of dollars of school funds into to the pockets of wealthy developers like billionaire member of your school board, Penny Pritzker so she can build more hotels, that not only hurts kids, but somebody should be going to jail.

The teachers are fighting for the vital programs that their students need and learning conditions that allow them to thrive all the while trying to make sure they can provide a modest existence for their own families. More importantly, they’re fighting for the future of these kids and the tradition of education as the great equalizer preached by President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama.

Related Stories:

Chicago Teachers Strike For The First Time In 25 Years

Chicago Public Schools Add 36 Minutes To High School Day

Recess Returns To Chicago Schools

Photo from union person via flickr.


Duane B.
.3 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Diane L.
Diane L.4 years ago

"And they are NOT all making 76,000 a year either for crying out loud".......that is the AVERAGE according to one website, Robert. "Google" it yourself. The others all state between $71,000 and $76,300 a year. They are the 2nd highest paid group of teachers in the U.S., right behind NYC. Do you understand what "average" means? Of course there are those who make less, so who would logically suggest that an entry level first grade teacher should make the same as a high school teacher with 10 or more years experience on the job? I wouldn't, same as in my profession, I made a lot more after 5 years or more than a new hire. It took 3 years ON THE JOB to even make full pay and get benefits and yes, it was a Teamster's Union Shop.

Diane L.
Diane L.4 years ago

Robert H., tell us, did you go to school in Chicago? It's called a "classroom" with a "C" not a glassroom with a "G". Not even close on a keyboard, so not a "typo". OMG, to think teachers should grade papers in their own time? Guess what, most are asking for extra pay to do that. When I was in school (yes, all thru high school and some college), teachers did exactly that........grade on their own time. Parent/teacher conferences? Wow, once a month or even less often, the teachers meet with parents. What a concept! What is this "she" thing like we're discussing just one individual? I guess you have also failed to comprehend that the "average" yearly salary of a teacher in Chicago is about twice the average wage for similarly educated and skilled workers in other fields, yet they put in far less time "on the job" in most cases. Sure, there is the occasional dedicated teacher who loves what they do and lives for their students, but they are the exception, not the rule these days. Have I been in a classroom...............nope, I fell fully hatched and "learned" off the melon truck last week. Spent my own youth in 12 years of public schools, then more in college, raised two children, both of whom graduated and also several grandchildren (meaning I'm familiar with how they are schooled) and I live close to a "middle" school so see first hand when the parking lot gets emptied out. Same with the high school here.........after 5:00 P.M., it's deserted unless a footba

Robert H.
Robert Hamm4 years ago

And they are NOT all making 76,000 a year either for crying out loud. And yes they ARE Highly educated. MANY of them have Masters degrees.

Robert H.
Robert Hamm4 years ago

another person who has never taught a class in her life is ripping them apart as lazy butts. How about the parent teacher meets,How about all the festivals and stuff. How about grading papers?? How about all the extra glasswork they have to continue upgrading. Unless you have been in her house and heard how may times parents call you dont know shit about what they do. Grading papers is very time consuming. There is a LOT more to teaching than you are putting forward. if you haven't been in her shoes then you are just blowing smoke about what you wish to believe they are doing. In the inner city schools its even worse and harder. Get rid of all the standardized tests etc and let teachers TEACH.

Diane L.
Diane L.4 years ago

"Highly educated and hard working"? Really? All of them? When a teacher who is home by 4:00 P.M. everyday, doesn't work overtime or on week-ends, is on "vacation" for 3 months of the year and is bringing home upward of $50,000 a year (stated that in Chicago it's $71,000, or $76,000 depending on which website you read), then that is far more than the average worker who also happens to have a college education and works HARD.

NOBODY said that hard working people shouldn't make a decent wage, but $76,000/year or so and asking for MORE in this economy, with so many people having NO job, is just obscene. Many unions have negotiated new contracts asking for nothing but the "status quo" and/or just not going BACK and lowering wages or reducing benefits. When working, the last two contracts that I was involved in as a Teamster were exactly such. We got nothing but a cost of living raise if there was one, for over 7 years, and that amounted to anywhere from 1% - 3% each year of the contract (3 year contracts). We lost benefits in the way of less health & welfare, lost dental and vision care completely. It was voting FOR such contracts or having the company close the doors.

Kevin Brown
Kevin Brown4 years ago

Yeah Sarah, highly educated, hard working people making a decent wage is horrible. We have to stop that, right?

Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill4 years ago

We should NOT support these teachers striking! They had NO thought about the children they have charge over. It is shameful that the average teacher makes almost twice what the average taxpayer makes in the city of Chicago!

Diane L.
Diane L.4 years ago

Dr C., my comments here were on the topic, which is the teachers striking in Chicago for yet more money than they already receive, which is more than the average for teachers anywhere in this country, actually the 2nd highest in the U.S. I didn't address a single comment to you, personally, until you chose to meander off the topic and start making mindless comments to me trying to impress everyone with your "intelligence". They made little sense to me and I asked you for clarification, which resulted in nothing but insults and more ramblings. You still are not posting anything on the topic. I get it that you may have gone to school in Chicago, based on what Eliabeth M C just posted.

Elizabeth M C.
Past Member 4 years ago

This is the monster that democrats create.

Chicago teachers average the highest salaries in the country.
But with stats like those listed below, they should all be grateful they even HAVE a job. and get back to work for the kids!!!!

Just 15% of fourth graders in Chicago are proficient in reading. Only 56% of students in Chicago who enter their freshman year of high school wind up graduating. 79% of the 8th graders in the Chicago Public Schools are not grade-level proficient in reading, according to the U.S. Department of Education. 80% of the 8th graders in the Chicago Public Schools are not grade-level proficient in math.

A recipe for disaster:
Out of every new dollar set aside for public education in Illinois in the last five years, a full 71 cents has gone to teacher retirement costs. ~40% of Chicago teachers send their kids to private schools.