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Teachers Strike Notebook 8

Now was that really so hard?

Well, yes.

But the part about the CTU's delegates asking for two days to go back to their members for input?

That part was beautiful.

After all, the delegate vote on Sunday against suspending the strike was reportedly 350-320.

After going back to teachers and studying the last contract offer, the delegates voted to suspend the strike - essentially accepting the deal - by a 98% margin.

Talk about a legitimizing process we rarely see in Illinois politics.

The teachers are united - for now - and go back to their schools with what must be a certain amount of enthusiasm, even if that's tempered by persistence of many of the problems raised in the discussion and the knowledge that we might be right back here in three years.

I would say a job well done by the union.

And let's note that CTU president Karen Lewis spoke in favor of the contract on Sunday - but did not dictate to the delegates with, say, threats and power plays the way a certain mayor would have. There was, to my knowledge, no back-room dealing.

That doesn't mean Lewis and the union are without flaws; they are decidedly not. But they made this process work despite being put in a deep hole starting with the notorious Senate Bill 7 and continuing through more than a year of a deeply cynical campaign designed to shift blame for failing schools on 20 years of failed "reform" efforts (see also the item The Emperor Was Named Daley) and the obvious socioeconomic root causes to . . . teachers. (See also the item Not Very Noble.)

Rahm's response the union's desire to actually let its membership read the contract and decided for themselves? A lawsuit.

If either side taught students a good lesson in this saga, it was undoubtedly the CTU. Maybe that's because it's members are teachers.

The Tribune reports that CPS parent Liz Shirley "was understanding at first but became frustrated when the CTU's House of Delegates didn't vote to send children back to school Monday."

And two paragaphs later: "Shirley said she didn't understand why the CTU couldn't meet again Monday, when there normally would have been school."

The reporter might have wanted to simply inform Shirley that Monday was Rosh Hashanah. Even the (Jewish) mayor didn't show up for work that day.


CPS grandparent Eardia Bassett told the Tribune that "she understood why the teachers went on strike, but thinks the issues should have been resolved during the summer."

Perhaps Bassett is unaware of the heated negotiations that continued through the summer, particularly the part where the mayor said everything would come down to an independent arbitrator's report - until it came out against him.

Then again, I'm not sure if most members of the media really understand what a long, strange trip this has been because I got awful tired of TV reporters and pundits asking "Why strike now?"

Um, because school is now in session? It's like asking factory workers why they waited for their shifts to start to go out on strike.


"These kids are already far behind," Bassett tells the Trib.

No, they're not. They're seven days behind (six if they're Jewish!). Those days are easily made up.

I'm not getting on Bassett's case, I'm getting on the Trib's case. Tighten it up.


This kind of shorthand isn't helpful either. Maybe that's why folks like Shirley and Bassett don't seem to know what they're talking about.

"The mayor also managed to secure a deal that gives teachers smaller raises than they had received under their previous five-year contract, maintains principals' right to determine which teachers will be hired and institutes, for the first time, a teacher evaluation system set out by state law that takes into account student performance."

The evaluation system is state law enacted as part of a federal directive by the Obama administration; it wasn't won by the mayor in negotiations. The union would have been happy to abide by that law - meaning that standardized test scores (not the euphemistic "student performance") would account for 25% of a teacher's evaluation. Rahm wanted 40%.

Also, why bother with tailored talking points whose premise is questionable? Such as this from Rahm:

"In this contract, we gave our children a seat at the table. In past negotiations, taxpayers paid more, but our kids got less. This time, our taxpayers are paying less, and our kids are getting more."

I'm pretty sure all of Chicago's previous mayors also said they gave children a seat at the table in teacher contract negotiations. Or would have, if they were asked.

And if Rahm is going to keep criticizing past negotiations, let's ask him if we should then blame Richard M. Daley.

Finally, are taxpayers paying less? Teachers are getting raises, after all.


The Sun-Times also couldn't resist taking as fact a cleverly turned but meaningless phrase:

"Across town at one of the city's premier high schools, Mayor Rahm Emanuel hailed the contract, with its teacher evaluations and his signature longer school day, for giving Chicago's children a seat at the table."

I'd be more interested in hearing why Rahm explain the politics behind holding his media event at Walter Payton College Prep instead of a school without air conditioning that won't get its textbooks in for another five weeks.

But the rest of the Sun-Times' account was quite strong at capturing the sentiments of teachers and, in general, the provisions of the contract.

John Cusick, a fifth-grade teacher at Ray School, said despite the strike's end, "We're not done."

He described the strike as something he would use with his students as a "teachable moment about standing up for yourself to bullies."

Many teachers said their experience with the strike had changed the way they felt about their jobs.

"I realized how much support we have from the parents and the community," said Tom Brady, a writing teacher at Henry Clay Elementary.

"The parents and the [people in the] city were with us, three-to-one against [Mayor] Rahm Emanuel," said Rolando Vazquez, a delegate from Brighton Park Elementary School. "And we made a great show of strength."


Teachers who Lewis said are "frightened'' by an expected wave of school closings and charter school expansions were relieved to see provisions that allow highly-rated tenured teachers to follow their students from a closed school to a new one, if vacancies exist in their subject in the new building.

Plus, union officials said, CPS committed to letting highly rated laid-off tenured teachers comprise half of all new hires, and to opening new full-time substitute teacher positions for them if necessary to make that quota.

On the teacher evaluation front, said CTU attorney Robert Bloch, the union was able to prevent any tenured teacher from being threatened with dismissal based solely on a drop in gains of her students from one year to the next. Even the best teachers turn out different gains in different years with kids, Bloch said.

But over and over during Wednesday's excruciating blow-by-blow of the contract's 49 articles and eight appendixes, teachers were delighted at new revelations about the contract. Some of them had no costs attached. CTU Financial Secretary Kristine Mayle said one of the biggest rounds of applause went to the clause that let teachers write their own lesson plans, rather than be forced to use a strict format.

"There were moments throughout the whole thing where people just got up and cheered,'' said Gage Park's Martinek. "They were like, 'Oh my God. I can't believe we got that . . . Wow.' Those little things that really impact our work day - that's huge.''

Parallel Universe
Bizarro strike also settled.

For some reason, John Kass takes Juan Rangel seriously instead of the typical Chicago hack he's been exposed of being.


* Teachers Strike Notebook 1: Textbooks and A/C.
* Teachers Strike Notebook 2: Obama vs. Sveum.
* Teachers Strike Notebook 3: Nickelback and Numerology.
* Teachers Strike Notebook 4: Astroturf and Optics.
* Teachers Strike Notebook 5: Rahm Hates Research.
* Teachers Strike Notebook 6: Media Frames and Chicken Joe.
* Teachers Strike Notebook 7: World-Class Teachers and Second-Rate Pols.


Comments welcome.


Posted on September 19, 2012

MUSIC - Britney's IUD.
TV - Vizio's Best Product Is You.
POLITICS - UIC: Soda Taxes Work.
SPORTS - Locked Out And Loaded.

BOOKS - Foxconned.


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