September 7th, 2012
05:28 PM ET

My View: The whole world is watching Chicago, once again

Courtesy Becky HaleBy Sam Chaltain, Special to CNN

Editor's Note: Sam Chaltain is a Washington-based writer and education advocate. He can be found on Twitter at @samchaltain.

In 1968, student protesters stationed outside the Democratic National Convention in Chicago broke into a spontaneous chant that quickly crystallized the tenor of the times: "The whole world is watching!"

It's ironic, then, that one day after this year's Democratic National Convention, rumors of a city-wide teacher strike in Chicago are reaching a similarly feverous pitch.

As they do, I want to borrow that famous line from 1968 and re-purpose it for 2012. The whole world should be watching, once again, because the core issues at stake in Chicago are the same core issues at stake in our ongoing efforts to improve American public education. In short, what's happening in Chicago is extremely important, extremely rare, and not entirely discouraging.

It's extremely important because you have a Democratic mayor pushing reforms that his city's teachers - the majority of who are also Democrats - are pushing back against. The mayor wants merit pay and a longer school day. The teachers want a more balanced set of courses, including the arts, music and foreign languages. The mayor wants 50% of a teacher's formal evaluation to be based on student reading and math scores. The teachers counter that if you enact a policy like that, the only thing your extended day will get you is more test prep and more concerted efforts to game the system.

In that sense, the fight in Chicago isn't purely about teacher contracts - it's also about conflicting visions of how you create the optimal conditions for teaching and learning.

It's extremely rare because it hasn't happened in a quarter-century - and yet 90% of Chicago's teachers voted to authorize a strike. That tells you just how strongly Windy City educators are feeling. And regardless of what one thinks about teacher unions, surely we can all agree that having teachers more directly engaged in core questions about education reform is a good idea.

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Filed under: Policy • Practice • Sam Chaltain • teacher unions • Teachers • Voices
Chicago braces for possible teachers' strike - its first in 25 years
September 7th, 2012
11:44 AM ET

Chicago braces for possible teachers' strike - its first in 25 years

by Faith Karimi, CNN

(CNN) - Chicago is bracing for a teachers' strike that could affect hundreds of thousands of students next week in the nation's third-largest school district.

Teachers and support staff set a walkout date for Monday, which would mark the first time they have gone on strike in 25 years.

"This is a difficult decision for all of us to make," said Karen Lewis, the union president . "But this is the only way to get the board's attention and show them we are serious about getting a fair contract which will give our students the resources they deserve."

If it happens, it will affect about 400,000 students, including some from neighborhoods struggling with crime and gang problems.

City officials scrambled to minimize the disruption by setting up 144 sites to provide a "safe environment, food and engaging activities" for students if the strike occurs.

"If the leadership of the Chicago Teachers Union chooses to strike, no one will be hurt more than our students, and we are prepared to offer a safety net for families who are not able to access alternative options for their students," said Jean-Claude Brizard, the school system chief executive.

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Filed under: Policy • Practice • teacher unions • Teachers
Breakfast comes to the classroom
September 7th, 2012
03:24 AM ET

Breakfast comes to the classroom

by John Martin, CNN

(CNN) - Less than half of the children in America who are eligible for a free or reduced breakfast take advantage of the USDA-provided meal. A program called "Breakfast in the Classroom" is trying to get more lower-income students to eat breakfast. The program, managed by a group of organizations known collectively as the Partners for Breakfast in the Classroom, brings food to the students in class after the morning bell. That way, students don't come to school early just to eat, and they aren't rushing to get to class, skipping breakfast on the way. The program was launched in five school districts around the country and expanding to include ten more this school year.

Research suggests that there are educational benefits to eating breakfast at school, even over students who eat the meal at home. These include better attendance, behavior and higher standardized test scores.

Knox County Schools in Tennessee, which opened its doors to students on August 14, is a newcomer to the in-classroom meal program .

Jon Dickl, the director of school nutrition for Knox County, told CNN that there are several advantages to eating breakfast in class. "The students are in their seats ready to learn as soon as the bell rings," Dickl said. "It reduces tardiness and discipline issues and provides an opportunity for teachers to develop relationships," he continued.

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Filed under: Kids' health • Nutrition • Practice