Education International
Education International

US: Teachers in Chicago strike over pay and evaluation changes

published 11 September 2012 updated 17 September 2012

As many as 6,000 US teachers are facing potential dismissal due to recent education reforms that were passed in Chicago, a city which houses the third-largest public school district in the country.

Chicagoan teachers’ jobs will now be subject to an evaluation based on their students’ standardised test scores. This, among other issues such as teacher benefits and pay increase freezes, triggered the largest education strike in 25 years on Sunday, 9 September, by the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), which represents around 30,000 teachers state-wide.

Failed negotiationsThe strike, which has left as many as 350,000 students out of school, was deemed a reluctant, but necessary, choice by CTU President Karen Lewis after several negotiation attempts between the union and school administrators had failed over a period of eight months. "This is no way to measure the effectiveness of an educator," Lewis said.

“There are too many factors beyond our control which impact on how well some students perform on standardised tests such as poverty, exposure to violence, homelessness, hunger and other social issues,” she said.

Following Sunday’s strike, the union entered immediate negotiations with Chicago legislative officials and Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Monday, but a collective agreement has not yet been reached.

US unions’ support

EI’s affiliate, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), has issued a letter of support for its affiliate, the CTU.

In it, AFT President Randi Weingarten states: “The American Federation of Teachers and our members across the country stand firmly with the CTU, and we will support its members in their efforts to secure a fair contract that will enable them to give their students the best opportunities.

“CTU members - the women and men who spend every day with Chicago’s children - want to have their voice and experience respected and valued. They want to be treated as equal partners in making sure every student in Chicago succeeds. That has been the CTU’s guiding philosophy throughout these negotiations, and it remains so on the picket lines. The students, teachers and educational support staff - and the city of Chicago - deserve a school system that works for everyone. In the end, that is what this strike is all about.”

EI’s affiliate, the National Education Association (NEA), also issued a letter of solidarity with the CTU. “On behalf of over three million National Education Association members across the country, I am writing to express our solidarity with you and your fellow Chicago Teachers Union members,” wrote NEA President Dennis Van Roekel. “The fact that more than 90 per cent of your membership participated in the strike authorization vote is incredible. This level of participation illustrates how deeply your membership cares about providing the best possible atmosphere for learning and student development, and we salute you.  You are on the frontlines – giving students the tools they need to succeed in school and in life.  I hope for a quick resolution so that you can get back to doing what you love - providing great public schools for the students of Chicago.”

EI solidarity

EI stands in solidarity with both the CTU and our affiliate unions, the AFT and NEA. EI General Secretary Fred van Leeuwen stated: “EI represents the voice of teachers worldwide, and Chicago’s teachers need to be heard; teachers’ job security should not suffer as a result of poor education reforms. Quality education is contingent upon quality, effective teachers, whose rights should not be infringed. The quality of teaching cannot be assessed on the basis of standardised tests of students.  Chicago’s teachers deserve a fair system of evaluation as well as appropriate pay and benefits.”