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Vol. 76/No. 35      October 1, 2012

Teachers in Chicago end 9-day strike
(front page)
CHICAGO—A meeting of 800 members of the Chicago Teachers Union House of Delegates representing 26,000 striking teachers decided Sept. 18 to suspend their nine-day strike and return to work. Teachers will vote on a contract proposal over the next few weeks.

The decision to suspend the strike came a day after Democratic Party Mayor Rahm Emanuel went to court seeking an injunction to force the teachers back to work.

The strike affecting the Chicago school system, the third largest in the country with some 350,000 students, received national attention and prominent coverage. The dispute represented a foray against teachers in a bipartisan battle to deal blows to teachers’ unions in a drive to cut government expenses. The timing of the assault and fact that it was led by Emanuel, former chief of staff to President Barack Obama, generated some concern within the Democratic Party for what impact the dispute might have on the presidential election.

The teachers received widespread support from working people here. Strike support rallies in downtown Chicago drew thousands of workers from a wide range of unions.

At the same time, Emanuel’s demagogic attack on the teachers on the pretext of seeking to improve public education got a hearing.

And the argument among many teachers that it isn’t fair to evaluate them based on student performance because of the low-quality of the clay they are asked to mold didn’t help them. During the dispute Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis made disparaging statements toward working-class students and their families.

The Sept. 14 Washington Post wrote that “according to Lewis … there are factors beyond the control of teachers—poverty, exposure to violence, homelessness, hunger—that prevent children from learning. ‘I wonder how well you would learn your ABCs in an overcrowded classroom where 10 percent of the children have asthma, 20 percent didn’t get a good night’s sleep and another 30 percent are recovering from witnessing a shooting in their neighborhood?’”

“I am hitting it hard in the classroom, giving it everything I have,” Romanetha Walker Looper, who teaches middle-school science, told Reuters, echoing Lewis’s sentiments. “But the students at my school…” she paused, searching for words, “I’m their mother, teacher, nurse and psychologist.”

Contract proposals

Sharing many features of the Bush administration’s “No Child Left Behind” scheme, the Obama administration’s “Race To The Top” initiative requires state governments to impose teacher evaluations based on student test results and expand charter schools if they are to receive billions of dollars in federal funding.

In 2010 the Illinois state legislature passed a law mandating that student test scores count for 25 percent of a teacher’s evaluation for two years, and 30 percent thereafter.

In 2011 the legislature voted that school boards could use teacher evaluations in considering tenure and layoffs.

The Chicago contract proposal includes making teachers’ jobs dependent on their students’ test scores, but limited their impact on teacher evaluations to 30 percent. School officials had proposed to have test scores count for 40 percent of teacher evaluations.

The three-year contract proposal includes an increase in base wages of 3 percent the first year and two subsequent 2 percent raises. “We will be working for free,” Debra Windham, a teacher at Bond Elementary, told the Militant, pointing to the fact that the contract includes longer work hours and a longer calendar year.

The union successfully beat back demands to substitute merit pay or other “pay for performance” schemes for wage levels guaranteed by the contract.

Teachers will continue to receive “step” pay increases for their years of experience and “lane” raises for getting a masters degree or other graduate credits.

Another contract demand made by Emanuel and the School Board was to deny teachers who are laid off any recall rights.

The new contract would guarantee that at least half of all new hires would come from laid-off teachers with good evaluations. According to the Chicago Tribune, the school officials said that some laid-off teachers will be given substitute jobs to fulfill the 50 percent requirement.

The board is considering plans to close 80 to 120 “failing” schools, which will mean thousands of teachers laid off.
Related articles:
Miners in S. Africa win wage raise despite crackdown by government
Hundreds killed in two factory fires in Pakistan
W. Va. miners demand pensions, health care in bankruptcy
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