he Chicago Teachers Union has reached an agreement with the city for a new three-year contract (with an option for a fourth), ending a tense seven-day strike that forced 350,000 children to stay at home. The city has agreed to raise the average teacher's salary by 17 percent over four years (the current average salary is $76,000, according to city officials), less than what the teachers' union had originally proposed, but more than the city had wanted to pay. Among the other compromises: Teachers have accepted that student test scores will account for 30 percent of their job evaluations, a percentage that adheres to a statewide standard but is lower than Mayor Rahm Emanuel had demanded. In addition, teachers agreed to lengthen the school day to seven hours. Here, a look at the strike's winners and losers:
The teachers successfully forced Emanuel to abandon his goal of making test scores the biggest factor in evaluating their performance, and were able to "trump the think-tankers" who often point their fingers at teachers whose students turn in mediocre test scores while overlooking "the lack of investment in every other aspect of the educational process," says Mark Brown at The Chicago Sun Times. Indeed, Chicago's teachers were able to convince the public that "other critical factors affecting student performance, in particular poverty and violence, weren't given enough consideration" by Emanuel and Co., says The Philadelphia Inquirer in an editorial.
The strike was a crucial test of the political strength of unions, which face outright hostility from many Republicans and waning support from their historical allies in the Democratic Party. Many see this "as a victory for Karen Lewis, the veteran chemistry teacher and combative new union leader who led the union out on strike," says Nick Carey at Reuters. The union managed to make its protests heard and win important concessions, all without turning public opinion against it for closing down the school system.
Kids in charter schools — public schools that are privately run and largely non-unionized — "haven't missed a single day of instruction while 350,000 of their peers have slept late and waited for striking teachers to return to classrooms," says The Chicago Tribune in an editorial. Critics say the advent of charter schools is a bid to privatize the entire school system for corporate profit, but "there's already a waiting list of 19,000 students for Chicago charter schools," and to many they represent the future of public education in urban environments.
The mayor has the reputation of being a "street-wise, profane, tough-taking yet effective and influential politician," says Carey. But his opponents have used his battle with the teachers' union to paint him as a "bully and a wealthy man out of touch with the labor movement, a vital part of the Democratic coalition for nearly 80 years." Some argue that Emanuel — by finally making test scores a part of teacher evaluations — will be seen as the winner in the long run. However, in the short term, he has paid a steep political price.
The president is connected to the strike in multiple ways, not least because Chicago is his hometown. Emanuel is also Obama's former chief of staff, and his proposals are similar to Obama's own education-reform initiative, Race to the Top, which relies on student test scores to evaluate teachers. "There's no doubt that this hurts President Obama," former Bush official Michael J. Petrilli told The New York Times last week. "He needs teachers to be energized and to go out and knock on doors and man phone banks for him. Right now they're watching his former chief of staff go toe to toe with the teachers' union in Chicago. This is not a position that the president wants to find himself in."
Anyone hoping for a balanced budget
The new contract did not resolve the $1 billion deficit for the city's school system. "The strike itself doesn't conjure up the funding to pay for the new deal, and the mayor's office doesn't have much to say as of yet about where that will come from," says Matthew Yglesias at Slate. Now Chicago faces "back-to-back billion-dollar deficits and huge upcoming pension payments," which will surely make school closings inevitable, says The Tribune. The strike is over for now, but the resolution "seems to lay the groundwork for more strife ahead," says Yglesias.
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