Other priorities are crowding Chicago teachers out of the budget

By Cate Long
September 11, 2012

Chicago public school teachers went on strike after attempts to reach an agreement with public school negotiators failed on Sunday. There are many issues at stake for Chicago, but the struggle is basically about job security and control of hiring decisions by school principals. As school reform is being further implemented in Chicago, teachers are bearing the brunt of tightening fiscal priorities. Reuters reports:

In Chicago, last-minute contract talks broke down not over pay, but over the reform agenda, both sides said Sunday. The union would not agree to Emanuel’s proposal that teacher evaluations be based in large measure on student test scores.

Nor would the union accept his push to give principals more autonomy over hiring, weakening the seniority system that has long protected veteran teachers. Already, the demographics of the teaching profession in Chicago have notably shifted, as the private managers who run charter schools tend to favor rookie teachers who are younger and far less likely to be minorities, studies have shown.

The increased emphasis on centralization and testing is costly for the school system and necessary resources are being wrestled from the teachers. The management of Chicago public schools laid out its strategy for taking funds from teacher salaries and benefits to fund more centralized administration, charter schools and testing in its 2011 financial filing:

As we look forward to the FY2013 budget cycle, we have identified numerous initiatives, such as the longer school day, common core state standards implementation and a comprehensive teacher evaluation process, which will require significant funds. In addition, we continue to invest in charter schools and turn-around actions to support our continued drive for improved school performance. These incremental appropriations will require tough decisions to find savings to offset the additional costs.

The fiscal year 2012 budget is $5.11 billion, up 4.2% from 2011. It is difficult to know what the entire 4.2% went toward. On the Chicago Public Schools website we can see the budget changes between 2010 and 2011, and teachers were being squeezed as their year over year salaries remained flat and contributions to their pension funds were slashed:

These decisions have a crowding-out effect, as resources are diverted to higher central administration costs, testing expenses and charter schools. This is the bigger story of the Chicago strike. An anonymous teacher calling themselves “Teacher X” wrote a blog post addressed to CPS CEO Jean-Claude Brizard to talk about the effects of these priorities:

But even more importantly, I wanted to educate Mr. Brizard about what it means to “help or hurt our kids”.

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.

There is a lot at stake in the teacher’s strike in Chicago. The teachers are fighting for autonomy and less emphasis on standardized testing and the school administration is angling for more control. It may take a few or more years to evaluate the true outcome of this battle.

2 comments

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Given freedom of choice, I don’t doubt that “the private managers who run charter schools tend to favor rookie teachers who are younger and far less likely to be minorities…”. It’s much easier to take a relatively new teacher who has an open mind and get them to honestly implement management concepts to increase teacher effectiveness in the classroom.

It’s impossible to increase teacher effectiveness in the classroom when that teacher gets the same pay regardless of how well he/she motivates student hearts and minds. No Principal can effectively act to “turn a school around” if teacher’s unions can and do resist with “passive aggression” to perpetuate the ongoing failures of the “status quo”.

When the person in charge of the class is a “minority” first and a “teacher” second, it’s time to replace them with someone competent and effective. If that requires a change of color, so be it.

Posted by OneOfTheSheep | Report as abusive

Ms. Long, as a “guest” contributor to Reuters.com perhaps you could help us mere “commenters” to understand a bit more about the Reuter’s “analysis and opinion” system?

What is the process of comment “collection/review/posting”? All indicate by the “POST YOUR COMMENT” box that comments are solicited.

Some articles are apparently “set up” to post individual comments almost in “real time”. Others seem set up for a slower, but still timely “batch release” up to several times a day. Yours (and some others) seem entirely uninterested in posting what commenters have to say…to the point that comments are held indefinitely. Who, precisely, is responsible for such variance?

Your earlier Chicago “union” article came out on August 14th, just the time the whole comments system went “dark for two weeks or so. I was able to submit a comment on 9/5, but it did not display until yesterday! I guess others would-be commenters just gave up.

Over two days ago I posted a comment on this 9/11 “Other Priorities…” piece. As of 8:30pm CST, not a single comment has yet displayed.

Is this a case where “contributors” have the option of withholding comments so “their message” is the only one competing for “hearts and minds”? Or is there some number of persons whose job it is to review and post…some of which are conscientious and timely and others not so much?

If Reuters wants to encourage a dynamic “give and take” atmosphere, there must be more timely and regular posting of comments considering that public interest in any column has perhaps half the practical life of a fruit fly.

Posted by OneOfTheSheep | Report as abusive