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Parting of the Red sea – The Epic Saga of Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Chicago Teachers Union

By Shavon Bailey
There is a war waging in Chicago between the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), led by Karen Lewis and the Chicago Board of Education (Board), led by Mayor Rahm Emaunel of epic proportion.  Not in 25 years have we seen such a contentious battle between CTU and the Board.  Karen Lewis is the proverbial “Moses”, trying to lead her teachers (the Israelites) to the Promised Land; and Mayor Rahm Emanuel is the proverbial Pharaoh, with the president and the superintendent of the CPS as Pharaoh’s army.  
This war began a year ago but couldn’t get traction until the current teacher’s contract expired at the end of June 2012.  As the new Mayor, Emanuel’s campaign promises for Chicago Public Schools included an extended school day (as he was completed embarrassed by Chicago having the shortest school day in the country), principal performance pay, teacher performance pay, a more rigorous curriculum and a teacher evaluation tool linked to student performance.  He drew first blood by trying to implement the longer school day before the contract expired.  The fact that a few schools adopted the longer day before the contract ended served to give the Mayor and the Board a false sense of security about the overall acceptance of this plan without the appropriate compensation for teachers.  Karen Lewis, the President of the CTU took immediate offense to this strategy and considered it “bullying” on the part of the Mayor and the Board.  She then launched her counter-attack and the battle was on.
The delegates of the CTU voted unanimously to strike and September 10, 2012 was the first day of the strike and an out-of-school day for the nearly 350,000 students in the country’s third largest school district.  As a remedy to parents and students the Board is spending up to $25 million for a plan that opens 145 schools and hires non-teaching staff and community-based organizations for non-instructional activities from 8:30 am to 12:30 pm daily.
This may be a remedy for keeping students occupied but it falls short of helping students improve their academic performance and standing in this global economy.  In 2009 Arne Duncan, the U.S. Secretary of Education, issued a statement that indicated that our students are “treading water” while students in other countries are “swimming faster and farther”.  Well as evidenced by the CTU strike, the Race to the Top and its policies has done little to improve teacher confidence, improve the academic environment and school performance.  A major component of the $4 billion Race to the Top competition urges states to link teacher evaluations to student achievement as measured by standardized test scores and set a teacher’s pay or end of employment by this strategy.  This is one of the main sticking points between CTU and the Board.
Illinois joined the ranks of 20 other states last year to mandate a new teacher evaluation tool in accordance with the Performance Evaluation Review Act.  The Board is currently proposing having 25% of the teacher’s performance evaluation measured by student achievement, as determined by standardized test scores, growing to 40% in five years.  CTU opposes this proposal for many reasons.  Here are some:  the proposal does not offer protection for teachers against unfair evaluations  by principals; the proposal does not include non-academic factors like poverty, homelessness, hunger and violence in measuring student success, only test scores; the proposal does not  include an impartial system for evaluating principal evaluation practices and objectivity; the proposal does not allow for a gradual rollout of the new evaluation system so that it can be refined if necessary, making it possible for 6000 current teachers to be at risk of losing their jobs; the proposal does not offer an appeal process for a teacher receiving an unsatisfactory rating; and the proposal makes it possible for mid-year evaluations of teachers to lower a teacher’s ranking  without considering the entire year of performance.
According to the Chicago Teachers Union, the CTU has 49 articles in its contract and to date only 6 of those articles have been signed off on and the Board has submitted changes to all of the articles.  Apparently Chicago school district isn’t the only school district at odds with the teacher’s union.  Teachers in north suburban Lake Forest District 115 are also striking over issues of salary and health benefits;  and teachers in south suburban Evergreen Park District 124 held a rally Monday to discuss an impending strike because talks about salary, insurance benefits and retirement benefits have stalled.
According to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, in 2009 our 15-year old’s math scores lagged behind 31 countries; our eighth grader’s science scores lagged behind 8 countries; and our forth grader’s reading scores lagged behind 5 countries.  We need to stop all of the fighting to resume the race and get our students to the Promised Land.
The way it looks at this time is the Red Sea (sea of red-shirted CTU teachers) will not be parted any time soon and the students will continue to fall behind in the global achievement gaps.  Anyone familiar with the bible knows that Pharaoh was eventually defeated.  Maybe he should just concede this time.

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