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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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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August 7th, 2012
02:41 PM ET

N.J. Gov. Christie signs bipartisan reform of nation’s oldest teacher tenure law

by John Martin, CNN

(CNN) - New Jersey updated its teacher tenure law on Monday. New Jersey's law was the nation's oldest statewide tenure law, enacted in 1909.

The new law, signed by Gov. Chris Christie, means that New Jersey will be able to remove ineffective teachers, even ones who have earned tenure. The law still provides for tenure, but after four years of teaching instead of the current three.

Tenure laws generally provide teachers with due process rights before dismissal, but many critics of the practice say that it makes it unnecessarily difficult to fire bad teachers.

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My View: Chicago school day: A teacher responds
August 7th, 2012
06:10 AM ET

My View: Chicago school day: A teacher responds

Courtesy Madonna RampBy Xian Barrett, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Xian Barrett teaches law and Chicago history at Gage Park High School in Chicago, Illinois. In 2009, he was selected one of ten Classroom Teaching Ambassador Fellows by the U.S. Department of Education. This article is in response to comments on a previous story about Chicago teacher work days.

Educators will often observe with some frustration that our profession is one of the few that people from all walks of life feel comfortable commenting on and often criticizing. Precious few know the intimate details of what our days are like. While the negative feedback can often be disheartening, I think we must regard the public’s interest in our work as a great opportunity—it shows that people care deeply about the calling to which we have devoted our lives.

If some people’s perceptions of what we do with our workdays does not match up with the reality, we have an obligation to inform them of that reality. This need has been particularly noticeable in the public discourse on the length of our school day.

Much has been made of the shortness of our school day, especially here in Chicago. The oft-cited 296 minutes is the amount of time Chicago elementary school teachers are in front of students. As a high school teacher, my contract requires that I teach five 45-minute periods each day. On Fridays, each class is shortened by 4 minutes to allow for a 30-minute homeroom period. Doing the math, that’s 225 minutes each day, with 235 minutes on Fridays.

I can understand how that sounds like a short day.

However, to count a teacher’s working minutes by looking at the time we are directly teaching students is like only counting the minutes that a dentist has the drill in your mouth.

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In Chicago, longer school day for students, but not for teachers
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel (L) listens to Chicago Public Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard while participating in a forum about education in big cities
July 27th, 2012
06:00 AM ET

In Chicago, longer school day for students, but not for teachers

By John Martin, CNN

(CNN) - Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is pushing for a longer school day. The city’s teachers are insisting that their work days not be extended.

The agreement reached this week is something you might not see every day: both sides in the dispute are getting what they want.

Under the new proposal, elementary school children will have a 7-hour day this upcoming school year, while high school students will see their day increase to 7 ½ hours. Those figures represent a 20% increase in the school day for students.

But there will be little to no impact on the amount of time teachers spend in the classroom each school day. Instead, Chicago Public Schools will hire additional teachers to fill in the gaps.

With those hires, elementary school teachers will maintain a maximum of 296 minutes of instructional time per day. High school teachers will work about 15 minutes longer per school day than they did last year.

The school board president says the increased hiring could cost the district between $40 and $50 million per year, but neither the board nor the mayor’s office has yet to determine where the additional funds will come from. All of this is part of ongoing negotiations between city leaders and teachers unions to avoid a teachers strike.

Do you think a longer school day would benefit students? Tell us in the comments below.

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National Teacher of the Year: 'The revolution begins with us'
2012 National Teacher of the Year Rebecca Mieliwocki spoke at the NEA annual meeting on July 5.
July 5th, 2012
04:19 PM ET

National Teacher of the Year: 'The revolution begins with us'

By Donna Krache and Jamie Gumbrecht, CNN

(CNN) - The United States is obsessed with high-stakes testing that doesn't show whether teachers are masterful and students are knowledgeable, National Teacher of Year Rebecca Mieliwocki said to nearly 8,000 of her colleagues at the National Education Association annual meeting Thursday.

"When we help a child reach proficiency at any grade level, we have changed the quality of that child's life and that community forever," she said. "But aiming for proficiency means we aim to create generations of children who are average."

Instead, she said "people who haven't set foot in a classroom" should not be making decisions and policies about teaching, and teachers should be aiming to take all students - whether hungry, homeless, in the midst of their first crush or celebrating the big game - beyond the test.

"We have got to stop talking about testing and start talking more about developing, supporting and celebrating teachers," she said. "Teachers are the architects of the change we've been waiting for. We've forgotten what a teacher can do that a standardized test can't."


June 15th, 2012
03:57 PM ET

Overheard on Readers debate unions, seniority after Teacher of Year's ouster

Editor's note: This post is part of the Overheard on series, a regular feature that examines interesting comments and thought-provoking conversations posted by the community.

Thousands of teaching positions have reportedly been lost in the last month, but one of those layoffs has sparked a lively dialogue among's readers.

In May, the Sacramento City Unified School District in California handed a pink slip to Michelle Apperson, a sixth-grade teacher at Sutterville Elementary. Apperson was gracious about the job loss, telling CNN affiliate KXTV, "It hurts on a personal level because I really love what I do ... But professionally, politically, I get why it happens."

Many were not so accepting of the decision. Why? Because Apperson was not a newbie, nor had her performance been called into question. In fact, she had taught at Sutterville for nine years and recently was selected Teacher of the Year for the entire district.

After her ouster, one student wrote a letter, according to KXTV, that began: "Dear Ms. Apperson, I will miss you dearly. I will never forget you! You are the best teacher ever. I am very lucky that you are my teacher!"

The district's decision came amid a $43 million budget shortfall, which forced Sacramento schools to slash its workforce. The layoffs were based on seniority, per state law, and a district spokesman said that while the situation was unfortunate, "It's another sign of how education's funding really needs an overhaul."

A woman identifying herself as the ousted teacher commented that she sympathized with district's plight:

Apperson: Wow! I am glad that this article stirred emotion from people. In my hometown, I did the original interview to bring awareness to two main topics – children are affected when we cut education, and in CA we can make a difference as citizens to vote for education. 25 percent of my school's staff got pink slips. They are good people who work hard for kids. I have taught for 13 years, 9 in this district. My district is trying hard to make ends meet, they do not want to hurt kids. The union is trying hard to protect good teachers at school doing what's right. My perspective and that of the reporter was to shed light on the subject and stir awareness. Thank you, for talking about education and kids. I do not know the answer to any of it, but I do know that being named Teacher of the Year in my school district is a great honor and I am humbled.

One reader said the reason for the firings was simple and compared the situation to that faced by many business during the economic crisis:

BD: The fact that we are firing teachers rather than hiring them as a means to deal with the current economic climate is the saddest fact of all. It's no different than a bankrupt business selling off its physical assets.


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June 12th, 2012
02:34 PM ET

Possible Chicago teachers' strike, lecturers vs. teachers, and children's emotions

Here's what the editors of Schools of Thought are reading today:

Chicago Tribune: 9 out of 10 CPS teachers authorize strike
As negotiations between union members and Chicago's school district continue, 90% of the city's unionized teachers have authorized a strike. The union and district have reached agreement on several items, but remain split on teacher pay and linking teacher salaries to student performance.

Education Week: Telling Is Not Teaching
Walter Gardner scoffs at the advice that some college professors give to public school teachers. Most college professors lecture, Gardner says, and wouldn't survive long in a modern K-12 classroom. Teachers Need More Training to Handle Children’s Emotions
A new study suggests that when dealing with children's emotions, teachers tend to rely on how they respond to their own emotions. The study's author suggests that learning how to deal with children's feelings should be incorporated into teacher training.

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May 4th, 2012
12:35 PM ET

Today's Reading List

Here's what the editors of Schools of Thought are reading today:

Cooperative Catalyst: Behind the Standardized Test Curtain
Todd Farley wrote a book about his experiences working for some of the biggest standardized test publishers. Farley says there are a few reasons why schools shouldn't trust the industry to handle exam scoring.

Mail Tribune: 'It's Our Education'
Nearly 100 Eagle Point High School students walked out of school - not to spite their teachers but rather to support them. The Oregon school district and its teachers union have been trying to negotiate contracts for more than a year, and the teachers have threatened to strike beginning May 8.

Georgia Health News: Long weekends risky for teens?
A North Georgia town says it's seeing a higher teen birthrate and more teens having sex in general. Health officials say a four-day school week implemented this year has caused teens to have nothing better to do on Mondays.

Wired: My Standard Based Grading Notes
Physics professor Rhett Allain has started to use standards-based grading with his college students. Allain provides his methods and results, similar to a lab report, and says that his new method of grading measures what students understand and isn't just a measure of effort. 32 heads are better than 26: Class breaks twin record
The Guinness World Records certified that Valley Southwoods Freshman High School has the "Most Twins in the Same Academic Year at One School." The 16 sets of Iowa twins beat out the old record by three pairs.

February 21st, 2012
12:03 PM ET

Free plastic surgery for teachers

CNN's Gary Tuchman reports on a financially troubled school district where teachers get free plastic surgery.

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