Hold firm, CPS

| Chicago Tribune | Editorial

The Chicago Teachers Union announced Thursday that it will lead its members off the job Sept. 10 if it does not have a new contract.

The teachers could walk off the job and abandon their children in 10 days.

And for what? Let's make no mistake. The union is not going to abandon those children because it's fighting for the best way to educate those children. It's fighting to protect the jobs of adults, the union members.

That's what a union does. Protect its members. We understand that. But let's make sure everyone's clear on why children and their parents could be shut out of the classroom Sept. 10.

One big stumbling block in negotiations is teacher recall. The union wants teachers who are laid off to be first in line for new jobs. Principals would not be free to hire the best teachers they can find.

How does that serve students? It does not.

CPS already has agreed to hire 477 more elementary school teachers from a pool of recently laid-off teachers. That was part of a preliminary deal on how schools would handle the longer day this school year.

But the union wants to broaden that deal to cover every teaching job that comes open.

CPS is resisting. It has to resist. Chicago's children need the very best teachers. Some will come from the ranks of former CPS teachers. Some will not.

This is a big deal because CPS will likely close or consolidate scores of schools next year, either because those schools aren't performing well or simply don't have enough students to be run efficiently. There's no money left to keep them open. Hundreds of teachers could lose their jobs. CTU wants to make sure its members don't have to compete with anyone other than its members for openings in the Chicago school system.

CTU argues that all of the teachers in the layoff pool will have passed annual performance evaluations. That's true, but those evaluations have been meaningless. A tiny fraction of CPS teachers — one study pegged it at 0.3 percent — are rated unsatisfactory in a typical year. The evaluations have not been a useful predictor of ability.

The New Teacher Project recently made a powerful case that school systems desperately need to hire and keep “irreplaceable” teachers — that cohort of teachers who make a profound difference with children but who often leave teaching out of frustration.

In a single school year, those great teachers “help students learn two to three additional months' worth of math and reading compared with the average teacher, and five to six months more compared with low-performing teachers,” the project found. Those students are less likely to become teen parents and more likely to go to college and earn higher salaries as adults.

CPS' overarching goal must be an “irreplaceable” teacher in every classroom.

The only way to achieve that is to give principals maximum flexibility to hire the best of the best. Principals should be held accountable for doing that, and for retaining superstar teachers who make a huge difference in their students' education and in their lives.

The layoff pool is not the only hurdle for negotiators. Teachers also want to continue to bank sick days, which costs the system millions of dollars a year.

How does that serve students? It does not.

There's plenty more on the table. The bottom line is: Will this contract aggressively promote a progressive, reform-oriented education system or protect the status quo?

Negotiators have been mum on where the talks stand. It's difficult from the outside to gauge the likelihood of a strike.

So 350,000 children and their parents have to prepare as though there will, indeed, be no school after next week.

A strike would be a terrible inconvenience for them.

It would also be instructive. Because 50,000 children in Chicago Public Schools will have class Sept. 10, even if there is a strike. They'll have class the next day. And the day after that.

They attend CPS charter schools — schools that union leaders vehemently oppose because they don't employ CTU members. There are waiting lists for those schools. A strike — in which 350,000 Chicago kids are shoved out on the street while 50,000 of their neighbors go to class — will produce a groundswell for more charter schools.

Chicago children in parochial and private schools will have class Sept. 10. Think frustrated parents of students in traditional CPS schools won't consider those alternatives? Think again. They will because they're focused on what is best for their kids.

This is a critical moment for the future of Chicago.

“Do you see the pattern here? Teachers get nice raises. Mayor Richard Daley and schools boss Arne Duncan get labor peace. Why, there's something in it for everybody — except for the 415,000 Chicago kids who don't get better schools.

“… The overriding message of this teachers contract is that the status quo is just fine, thank you. Excuse us. The status quo plus 4 percent a year. And virtually no structural reforms.”

That's what we wrote five years ago today, on Aug. 31, 2007, as the teachers union prepared to vote on the last contract.

That can't happen again. This cannot be a status quo contract. It can't.

Ten days. Start the countdown.

Imali Ariyarathne, seventh-grade teacher at Langston Hughes Academy, stands in front of her students while introducing them to the captivating world of science

Imali Ariyarathne, seventh-grade teacher at Langston Hughes Academy, introduces her students to the captivating world of science.

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