My view:  To unions, Chicago is the next Wisconsin
Chicago school teachers picket outside Lane Tech College Prep High School on September 11, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois.
September 14th, 2012
04:36 AM ET

My view: To unions, Chicago is the next Wisconsin

Courtesy Illinois Policy InstituteBy Collin Hitt, Special to CNN.

Editor’s note: Collin Hitt is a senior fellow at the Illinois Policy Institute, a nonpartisan research foundation, and a Doctoral Academy Fellow at the University of Arkansas Department of Education Reform.

Shortly after President Obama took his historic oath of office, a small group of people back in his home state of Illinois gathered to negotiate a key issue of school reform. Before substantive discussions even began, a representative from the Chicago Teachers Union interjected: “For us,” she said, “this is about jobs.”

It was not about kids. It was not about results. It was not even about the issue at hand, charter schools. She said it was about jobs.

I was part of those negotiations, stunned at such frank selfishness. In the three years since, a national debate over education reform has been renewed. It’s become obvious that this stance was not unique to that moment, to that union or even to Illinois.

The battle over school reform is national, with support from both parties. The president has proposed reforms centered on better accountability for teachers and intense staffing changes at failing schools. Republicans have sought to give parents more school choice and more information.

But teachers unions have attempted to block those reforms at every turn. Exhibit A: this week’s strike by the Chicago Teachers Union.

At that meeting in 2009, we debated whether the number of charter schools in Chicago should be allowed to increase. The call seemed obvious. More than 30,000 kids were enrolled at Chicago charter schools, with another 15,000 or so on waiting lists. The schools were open to everybody but didn’t have enough seats. Research was piling up showing improved test scores and graduation rates for Chicago’s charter school students, who were almost all poor, black or Hispanic. But the unions opposed the expansion because charter schools didn’t have to hire union teachers. It didn’t matter that even Obama supported charter schools.

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September 13th, 2012
02:06 PM ET

For high school athletes, strike could put scholarships on the line

By Chris Welch, CNN

Chicago, Illinois (CNN) -  Dante Culbreath is head football coach at Simeon Career Academy on Chicago’s south side. It’s safe to say the football program here is a powerhouse - they’ve won six city titles in the state public school division.

Many of the team's seniors are scouted by some of the biggest-name colleges and universities, and this year should be no different.

However, as the Chicago teachers strike continues, the threat that many of this year’s top athletes will miss some crucial games is a real one.

"Simeon is known for getting kids in Division I programs," Culbreath said. "It'll be pretty bad if our guys can't get out and play football, because a lot is riding on them being able to play football."

The junior varsity football team at Simeon is already missing out. Their first game was set for Monday, the first day of the strike.

"It's already serious because every time we step on the football field it's an interview for us. No matter what level it is. I have young men being offered scholarships as sophomores."

One of Culbreath’s standouts this year is offensive lineman Kendall Moore. Moore says he’s been offered a few scholarships already, but being able to play all his games this season could mean more opportunities and more options.

"It’s very important because after college I want to start my career," Moore said.

He and his mother, Khem Davis, said that without a scholarship, college would be out of reach.

"It is a must-have. Otherwise it would be impossible for us to afford for him to go to a college that’s worthy," Davis said. FULL POST

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September 13th, 2012
04:00 AM ET

My view: From the picket lines

Courtesy NAMEBy Xian Barrett, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Xian Barrett teaches law and Chicago history at Gage Park High School in Chicago. In 2010 he was selected one of 10 Classroom Teaching Ambassador Fellows by the U.S. Department of Education. He can be found on Twitter at @xianb8.

Sunday night, as Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis announced the first Chicago teachers’ strike in 25 years, I posted a short piece explaining why I felt striking was the right decision.

I understood, especially in these tough economic times, that striking can be an unpopular choice, but I wrote it with some rage at the lack of empathy and understanding I felt as an educator. I wrote it with the hope people would understand that we made this tough choice in the interests of our students.

As I reflect back on the first day of the Chicago Teachers Union strike, I know many are still angry. I hope that those who are angry with us would put aside their party affiliation and personal opinions on unions. Some critics reminded me that this needs to be about the students. They are 100% correct. So I ask you to think of your own son or daughter or sister or brother sitting in a Chicago Public Schools classroom.

You wouldn’t want your kids in 96-degree classrooms. You wouldn’t want them without books or teachers for the first month of the year. You wouldn’t want them tested over and over again instead of taught. You would want their teachers evaluated, but you wouldn’t want their favorite teacher bullied or fired due to an inaccurately measured test.

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Chicago strike could influence teacher accountability debate
September 11th, 2012
04:08 PM ET

Chicago strike could influence teacher accountability debate

by Michael Pearson, CNN

(CNN) The debate over teacher evaluations that's taken center stage in the Chicago schools strike could have major effects on the issue in the future, an education expert says.

"Chicago absolutely matters," said Elena Silva, senior associate for public policy engagement at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

"I think what happens here will substantially matter for what we see happen with teacher evaluations nationwide," she said.

In the last three years, 21 states have passed have legislation or implemented new regulations designed to highlight teacher accountability, according to a report by Bellwether Education Partners, a consulting firm.

The changes came often by way of the kind of standardized testing that one Chicago Teachers Union board member referred to as "data-driven madness."

My View: A parent's take on the CPS teachers strike

In many - but not all - cases, the reforms were hotly contested, with teachers unions saying the changes put jobs at risk without enough evidence they would work in the way both sides say reforms should work - helping students learn, said Sara Mead, a Bellwether analyst who tracks teacher effectiveness policy nationwide.

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My View: A parent’s take on the CPS teachers strike
September 11th, 2012
01:33 PM ET

My View: A parent’s take on the CPS teachers strike

Courtesy Rebecca LabowitzBy Rebecca Labowitz, Special to CNN

Editor’s Note: Rebecca Labowitz writes about the Chicago Public Schools on her blog which has become a discussion board for parents and teachers in Chicago.  She began the blog in 2008 when her now fourth-grade son was entering kindergarten as a way to share information with other parents navigating school options in Chicago.

Parents of public school kids stayed up late Sunday night, glued to the TV and the Internet, waiting to find out whether they needed to make lunches, arrange backpacks, and get their kids hustled out the door in the morning.  Facebook alerts were flying fast and furious, similar to update I saw during the Olympics and the Oscars.  “She’s coming out now!”  No names needed.

We all collectively were waiting for outcome of the weekend negotiation session between CPS and the Chicago Teachers Union – would our Chicago teachers call a strike?

Karen Lewis’ announcement of the strike was not surprising as most parents who’d been keeping up with the events suspected that the two sides were still fairly far apart in their negotiations.  What was a little more surprising was the anger that started to mount immediately.  Many parents didn’t seem to believe that CTU would actually pull the trigger and bring the school year to a halt.  Some parents feel inconvenienced, feel like the CTU is not working in the kids’ best interest by calling the strike, and feel like both sides should have found a way to work something out.

I’ve heard comments from angry parents who feel that teachers should feel lucky to have their job – a job that many feel is well-paying and secure compared to workers in the private sector.  There is a palpable sense of exasperation that the teachers gave up, wouldn’t budge, wouldn’t even prioritize their list of demands.  Whether or not this was true, it was the impression that many parents had after watching the press interview Sunday evening.

Parents who regularly comment on my blog have spent time talking to teachers, learning more about what it’s like to teach in an inner-city school with limited resources and a revolving door administration.  These parents realize that teachers are feeling disrespected lately both within CPS and as a profession as a whole.  Teachers are being blamed for a lot of the ills of the school system.  They’re being asked to work longer, being asked to do a lot with very little.  Most are spending their own money on school supplies.  They tell stories about their students that will break your heart.  Those of us who have listened have certainly had our eyes opened to the realities of teaching in CPS.  Having summer break doesn’t make it an easy gig.

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Voices of the Chicago Public Schools strike
Teachers strike in Chicago on Monday. has reached out to teachers, parents and students for their take.
September 10th, 2012
05:16 PM ET

Voices of the Chicago Public Schools strike

by Sari Zeidler, CNN

(CNN) Amid blaring horns and intermittent chants, Chicago Public School teacher Xian Barrett called CNN from the picket lines Monday morning.

“I’m a union activist, but most of us are these days,” said Barrett, who teaches law in American society and Chicago history at Chicago’s Gage Park High School.

“At the height, we’ve got about 50 students and our entire staff of about 70 – it’s more like 80 – staffers, teachers, clerks, assistant teachers. And we had a rally, we had a singalong, we picketed the entrances,” he said describing the first morning of a strike that left about 350,000 Chicago students without school today.

Surrounded by supportive staff and students, Barrett explained that in the afternoon union buses and buses furnished by community organizations would come to gather Gage Park supporters and transport them to downtown Chicago, where they expected to join a larger crowd there to support the union that represents nearly 30,000 teachers and support staff.

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

"It shows the power of what happens when unions work with students and families directly," Barrett said.

But parents might not stay supportive for long.


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September 10th, 2012
12:48 PM ET

What are the key issues in the Chicago public school strike?

(CNN) Chicago public school teachers began manning picket lines instead of classrooms Monday, launching the first teacher strike in the city in 25 years.

The strike, announced Sunday night, left about 350,000 students without schools to attend and parents scrambling to find alternatives. The union that represents nearly 30,000 teachers and support staff in the nation's third-largest school district called the strike after negotiators failed to reach a contract agreement with school administrators despite 10 months of negotiations.

Below, we break down the key issues that are keeping the teachers out of the classroom, what the teachers are asking for and what the schools are willing to offer.

Compensation and health care benefits

One of the key issues is salaries and benefits for teachers and their families.

What the teachers want: to maintain their existing health benefits, as well as salary increases.

"Recognizing the Board’s fiscal woes, we are not far apart on compensation,"  the Chicago Teachers Union said in a news release. "However, we are apart on benefits."

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September 10th, 2012
03:14 AM ET

Official: No deal yet between Chicago teachers and school system

By Michael Pearson and Holly Yan, CNN

Chicago parents: What are you doing to keep your kids busy? Share your story with CNN iReport.

(CNN)- There will be no contract deal Monday night between Chicago public school officials and the city's teacher's union, city school board President David Vitale said.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel's spokeswoman, Sarah Hamilton, said talks were continuing late Monday, though Vitale said by then that he'd left the negotiating session for the night.

"We said to them again, 'We should resolve this tomorrow, we are close enough,'" Vitale said. "This is hard work. We want to get this resolved. We want our kids back in school."

The failure to produce a breakthrough comes a day after the Chicago Teacher's Union called a strike as school officials said they had nothing more to offer. The union has not stated, as of late Monday night, if the city's first teachers strike in 25 years will continue into a second day Tuesday in the absence of a deal.

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Union: Chicago teachers to go on strike
President of Chicago's Board of Education David Vitale holds a news conference Sunday night.
September 9th, 2012
11:34 PM ET

Union: Chicago teachers to go on strike

By the CNN Wire Staff

(CNN) - Tens of thousands of teachers and support staff in Chicago are set to go on strike Monday after their union and school officials failed to reach a contract agreement, the union president said.

"Negotiations have been intense but productive, but we have failed to reach an agreement that would prevent a labor strike," Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis told reporters late Sunday night.

Minutes earlier, the president of Chicago's school board said officials offered the city's teachers a contract including pay increases and other measures they'd requested.

"We've been as responsive as we know how," David Vitale told reporters just before 10 p.m. CT (11 p.m. ET) Sunday.

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September 9th, 2012
05:45 PM ET

Chicago school board chief cites progress, but no strike-averting deal

By the CNN Wire Staff

(CNN) - Despite what the head of Chicago's school board deemed a day of "productive talks," the nation's third-largest public school system entered Sunday without a contract with teachers - and with a strike looming.

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

Speaking late Saturday, Chicago Teachers Union chief Karen Lewis said that no action has been taken to alter the teacher's plans not to work next week.

"We've made some progress, but we've still got big issues on the items we've always had big issues on," she told reporters, shortly after walking out of union headquarters with a group singing "solidarity forever."

About 40 minutes earlier, the president of Chicago's board of education told reporters progress was made in extensive talks Saturday, while noting the pressure posed by the fast approaching deadline.

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