Saturday, September 22, 2012


People have been asking if the teachers who were on strike for seven school days in Chicago won. It is a difficult question to answer. On the one hand, in their tentative agreement teachers gained a decent salary increase; they fought off merit pay while keeping their salary steps and differentials; hundreds of laid off teachers will be rehired; and they won an appeals procedure for adverse ratings as well as an anti-administrative bullying provision.  These are solid gains that more than likely would not have happened without a fight.
On the other hand, the fundamentals of privatization/school deform were not changed. School closings can continue so teachers remain as scapegoats. The Chicago Teacher’s Union agreed to cut the time their Absent Teacher Reserves are given to find a new job in a different school from ten months to five after they are excessed because of school closings/downsizing.  Since their mayor plans on closing many schools and opening up more charter schools, many teachers could lose their jobs.  CTU did get the administration to agree that half of the new hires will come from the pool of laid off teachers who were rated highly.  In addition, the new tentative contract allows for 30% of teacher ratings to be based on student scores on standardized tests.  This is the minimum allowed by Illinois state law but rating teachers based on student test scores is junk science and the strike could not stop it. There is also no solid provision in this contract to limit class sizes.

Whether the gains in the tentative agreement outweigh the losses is still an open question.  Teachers will vote on it. What is not debatable is that the CTU organized magnificently.  They had many successful huge rallies that included teachers, parents and other friends.  Teacher morale was reported as being quite upbeat throughout and the public (particularly parents) were on the side of the teachers during the strike despite a media barrage against the union.    

As we move ahead, the Caucus of Rank and File Educators (CORE), a dissident caucus that now runs the CTU, has much more work to do to enforce the contract and attempt to stop school closings. They were seeking a moratorium on school closings. They did not get that in the contract or any side agreement but they are keeping their struggle to save schools alive in the courts and in the public arena. If their continuing mobilization makes the non-elected Chicago Board of Education think twice about closing schools, then maybe they have turned the tide in our favor.

As for impact on New York, I do not see any kind of job action like they had in Chicago taking place in NYC simply because we have the Taylor Law in New York State which prohibits strikes of public employees (people are fined two days pay for every day on strike).  More significantly, our UFT leadership would never risk automatic dues check-off, which would be forfeited if we were to go on strike.    

This does not mean we will not be influenced by what went on in Chicago.  A new activist organization called the Movement of Rank and File Educators has started in New York.  MORE is combining the forces of several groups within the UFT (including ICE) along with new activists.  The group has close ties with the CORE people from Chicago. We can hope that MORE can energize the teachers here as CORE has done in Chicago.

On the down side for New York, since the mayor of Chicago was able to reduce the time from ten months to five that teachers are given to find a new job after being placed in excess, expect the mayor of New York to push again for a similar provision here.  New York’s mayor went to the State Legislature on this issue last year but the Assembly turned him down.  Chicago may give him the impetus to push to fire more of us and start more charter schools. 

At this point, I would give CORE/CTU an A for standing up to a bullying mayor and organizing a strike that received huge parental support, but am I marking on a generous curve since the policy of closing schools, scapegoating/firing teachers and starting non unionized charter schools looks like it is as strong as ever? Only time will tell if the strike was a speed bump on the road to privatization/union busting or if this was a real turning point in labor/education history.

Thank you to everyone who contributed to the CTU Solidarity Fund.  At Jamaica, we passed the hat around to raise some cash for Chicago from our depleted phasing out school. I recommend everyone do the same in their schools.



Anonymous said...

You left out that the extra hours will be devoted to enrichment classes like music, art and foreign languages. That's a win for students as well as teachers of those subjects.

Even though RTTT funding is based on test scores, I still feel the UFT should fight hard for PAR instead and get Danielson off the table. It's a ridiculous rubric that hampers great lessons. It is hurting teachers in Tennessee. It was stupid of Mulgrew to agree to it in the first place. NYC should be a leader in the fight for fair and balanced evals. The agreement with the governor was ridiculous and showed weakness on Mulgrew's part. He is no Karen Lewis and neither is Weingarten.

Raises and keeping our steps must also be paramount.

And lowering class size should also be paramount.

Teachers in NYC need to be willing to strike despite the Taylor Law. Losing a few weeks salary for better working conditions is a small price to pay. Neither the governor nor mayor wants a strike, but we should authorize one anyway and be willing to go out.

As for the ATR agreement, IMO it is a big win because our agreement doesn't give anyone the right to get open positions in good schools. Getting 50% of our teachers back to work will be a great gain. What MORE and the UFT have to figure out are:
1. How many ATRs are in the system.
2. How many can or eligible or close to retirement? Those close to retirement should either be placed or offered a buy-out.
3. And we should figure out a way to judge what "highly effective" means that is fair. Not just test scores but progress and a willingness to go the extra mile.
I hope good ATRs got letters of recommendation from administrators, parents and students.

What are the options for the remaining ATRs? Will they be able to keep their TDA money in the system?? Do they get any severance based on being vested???
Is there any way they can get themselves re-certified in other areas as was done during the 1970s layoffs.

I was laid off twice in the 70s. I subbed during that time. Principals should have the option of rehiring a laid-off teacher if they like them. And that teacher should be able to buy back their pension time as I did.

Anonymous said...

Great comment but I can't agree that having 50% back if they are rated highly effective is better than 100% of our atrs having a job, albeit not a good one.

Anonymous said...

We get more than 50% back each year and then it starts all over again the following year.