Chicago teachers strike


(Recently: parts one, two, three, four, and five.)

* An excellent update into the negotiations on teacher evaluations from Rebecca Harris at Catalyst, going deep into the numbers, and again revealing how the negotiations are a game of inches:

The union also wants the district to change the cut scores for each category. CPS already lowered the cut score for the second-lowest category, “Developing Teacher” or “Needs Improvement,” by 10 points, but CTU wants it lowered another 10 points, to 200 on a scale of 100 to 400.

* Carol Marin asks "How Did We Get Here?" and answers "Rahm," calling SB7 an "anti-collective bargaining measure." A number of people have made the argument that SB7 was counterproductive in that respect—by raising the bar for a strike, it also galvanized union members into greater solidarity. But: it's still worth remembering, as Ramsin Canon wrote in 2010, that the foundation had been laid in the last years of the Daley administration, not just by CPS and City Hall but by internal tensions within the union.

* Matt Yglesias compares Chicago teacher salaries to Chicagoland teacher salaries:

It's probably more fruitful to compare Chicago Public Schools teachers to other teachers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in the Chicago Metropolitan Division (i.e., Chicago and its near suburbs) high-school teachers earn a mean of $69,470 and elementary school teachers earn a mean of $61,970. The CPS systemwide mean of $74,236 is higher than either of those, and of course Chicago Public School teachers are a large component of the metro Chicago average. So Chicago is offering more compensation than the average Chicago suburb. Chicagoland as a whole pays teachers an above-average amount. The national average high-school teacher makes $56,760 and the average elementary school teacher makes $55,270.

That's true, but there's more nuance. As Art Golab reported back in August, Chicago teachers start at an above-average salary for area teachers, but top out lower:

Chicago Public Schools spokeswoman Becky Carroll said it’s not fair to compare Chicago’s salary to that of suburban and other districts that get “substantially more funding on the local level to support their schools.’’


Carroll said CPS’s salary looks strong compared to that offered in the nation’s 10 largest cities. Since 2003, some CPS teachers have enjoyed as much as a 68 percent pay increase, with steps and lanes, proving that “the district is committed to providing its teachers with competitive salaries for the great work they do for our kids.’’

However, researcher Ingersoll described CPS’ pay scale as “front loaded’’ compared to the rest of the state and “in real terms, CPS is not competing with New York, it’s competing with Springfield or Summit. … If veteran salaries aren’t higher, you’re going to have a retention problem.’’

* Dylan Matthews separates CTU's rhetoric on school reform (which he's critical of) from its actual ideas, and finds that they're good, but expensive: more than the current deficit in their most modest incarnation.

* At Crain's, Zev Eigen argues (contra Carol Marin) that it's not Rahm that's the bully, it's Karen Lewis, and questions whether CTU actually had any interest in preventing a strike.

* Along those lines, Steve Rhodes (who returned to the pages of Chicago for an excellent profile of Jesse Jackson, Jr.) and Matt Stoller make similar cases for the efficacy of a strike, not in terms of securing gains for union members, but drawing attention to broader labor issues. Rhodes points to the discussions that the strike has enabled, and Stoller extends that argument (emphasis his):

the de facto business unionism of the 1970s onward isn’t appealing. People might only like unions when they see strikes, otherwise all they hear about is backroom negotiations. Perhaps effectively striking is actually the way to force people to ask questions about what kind of country they want to live in.

* One of the questions forced by the strike is in regards to the role of labor in the Democratic party. There's a substantial rift; as Carol Felsenthal wrote, Obama is stuck between a rock (swing-state labor) and a hard place (Rahm Emanuel). But it's more than that. In an election when Democrats have been atypically united and Republicans have been atypically divided, labor is a big, big rift. A number of prominent liberal pundits have criticized the CTU's decision to strike and its positions, and they've been blasted in return. Historian Corey Robin attributes it to class:

Like I said, people move to Chappaqua for the schools, and if the graduation and post-graduate statistics are any indication—in my graduating class of 270, I’d guess about 50 of us went onto an Ivy League school—they’re getting their money’s worth. Yet many people I grew up with treated teachers as bumptious figures of ridicule….


“Those who can’t do, teach” goes the old saw. But where that traditionally bespoke a suspicion of fancy ideas that didn’t produce anything concrete, in my fancy suburb, it meant something else. Teachers had opted out of the capitalist game; they weren’t in this world for money. There could be only one reason for that: they were losers.

Perhaps there's some truth to that among a certain rarefied class, but in Chicago at least, it has more to do with history—years of struggling with bad schools, years of reform.

Collective bargaining hasn't really been a concrete issue in the presidential campaign, so I doubt that this rift will have much effect on the election. But it exists, and it's something Democrats will have to grapple with, particularly at state and local levels.


Photograph: Chicago Tribune