Ivan Favelevic & Alex Hall (News Editor / Managing Editor)
For the past week and a half the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) has been on strike for the first time in 25 years against the Chicago Public Schools (CPS). The strike is mostly fueled by the push by CPS to extend school days a full hour, without providing the union with a proper pay raise. However, the problems extend past that, as the organization says it is tired of CPS’s “draconian” policies and lack of funding for fine arts, physical education and world language courses. Overcrowded classrooms and understaffed schools round out the issues faced by many of the teachers in the Chicago School System.
“Its interesting.” said Dr. Daniel Zoller, a former member of the Crisis Intervention Unit at Chicago Public Schools and current school psychologist. “We’ve received lots of support from teachers, social workers, principals, parents, bus drivers, fire dept., Chicago PD, even anonymous gifts from members of the school administration. A recent WBEZ poll showed that 47 percent of the city supports the teachers and 39 percent supporting administration.”
According to Zoller, the city has taken a clear “us vs. them mentality” to the issue. Several students have taken to the streets in support of their teachers. “[The protests are happening] at all of the schools, the central office. Police opened up Michigan Ave. and the Hyatt Hotel to picket at because of the Pritzker family.” Penny Pritzker, a board member for CPS, has been targeted by picketers as one of those responsible for the mistreatment of teachers. The tax breaks her family benefits from alienates her from the working class majority of Chicago, according to Esquire.
The focus on funding non-unionized charter schools is a major focal point for the picket line, and Zoller believes that the city might backlash once the strike ends: “they’ll push to create more charter schools and that’s just not the way to go.”
Chicago Public Schools uses standardized test scores to evaluate teachers. The union is saying that the effect a teacher can have on the student body cannot be measured in numbers. “There’s a lot we could do, but we must be realistic,” said Zoller “The big thing is how to evaluate success. Test scores aren’t the way to go. The law of statistics state that there will always be 35 percent of the population at the 35th percentile.” Despite this evaluation, the CTU is attempting to bring to light some of the tenured faculty at schools that are not delivering their best work and coasting by.
“Per-student-financing is also an issue,” explains Zoller “Illinois is one of the worst economically challenged areas.” In a recent U.S. Census report Illinois ranked 19th in per student spending, however, this spending is not being spread fairly according to the Chicago Teachers Union. CPS is reporting a 2.3 percent increase in graduation from last year, with a projected 60.6 percent of students who entered high school as a freshman in the 2007-2008 school year graduating this spring.
The Boston Public School system recently closed two years of negotiations with the Boston Teachers Union on a deal to reduce class sizes, properly evaluate teachers and provide better public workers to schools. In response to the strikes in Chicago BTU president Richard Stutman said that “If we in Boston had to deal with someone as provocative as Rahm Emanuel, we too might have been out on strike.” Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel has clearly stated that the strike is hurting the students more than helping the teachers and has been particularly harsh about reaching a deal, reports the Huffington Post.
Nonetheless, Zoller claims that the alienation of the teachers by the media is not helping either side. “There’s a lot of anger. When they do these things, it works against everyone’s interest. Turning everyone against each other isn’t productive. The best interest of the students is to work together… There is a lot of tension between both sides. I want to make it clear though, that nobody is innocent in this situation.”
The large class sizes can pose much harder challenges to a teacher in Chicago than in other schools, claims Zoller. “There is also lots of domestic violence which helps misshape children. There are lots of children with lots of needs. The board doesn’t understand teacher’s challenges within the school. In one day at work, there were 10 students shot.” Chicago has been posting record homicide rates in 2012, with 19 shot on the night of August 24 alone.
“These issues underlying are complex and they’re certainly not easy,” explains Zoller.
CPS and CTU reached a tentative agreement overnight, with classes set to resume on Wednesday “but that doesn’t mean we couldn’t be back on the picket lines again at some point,” says Zoller.