I do not think the Chicago Teachers' Union is winning the PR battle for the minds of the children, or the support of the community. It is time to regroup.
On the news last week, I was awestruck to see the Vice President of the CTU object to the incentives that Emanuel's administration offered to the elementary schools in Chicago for a longer day. This would be a 2% raise, and a $150,000 instructional fund. He claimed it was unfair of them to use bribery and "conjoling" (sic) to get teachers to diverge from the collective bargaining agreement. Both the sentiment and the misuse of English was disturbing to me. The first week of September is usually all about the kids. In the interim, the CTU has filed an unfair labor practices complaint with the Department of Labor. I don't think that is about the kids, either.
I am tired of the bickering between the CTU, the City and the School hierarchy. I started as a teacher. 6 years of teaching high school English about killed me. For every day of instruction, I had 3 hours of grading, encouraging, reading, preparing. I spent summers getting more training. I do not wish to hear observations about the 9 month, 7 hour day. A good teacher works WAY outside of the minimum requirements, and subsidizes with supplies, and enrichments. The dedicated teacher sacrifices each day; they are heroes to me.
But the current discussion about the school day in Chicago is rife with absurd comparisons and bunkered positions. This back and forth will not illuminate. It will doom the mutual goal of good teachers and the CPS - successful students.
I am sure Karen Lewis feels smug and clever, using the school day at the University of Chicago Lab Schools as a "model for reform." Really? She thinks the conditions are analogous to the CPS? She should get out into the field.
She is also somewhat of a magician in her proposal, when she pulls 75 extra minutes out of a hat with no extra instructional moments for her teachers. I am sick of the "not just extra time, only quality time" excuse to avoid a real examination of how the school day could be improved. Come to the table, Karen- make meaningful suggestions.
One thing is clear: a vast majority of Chicago public school students do not have the tools enjoyed by Lab school kids. Their readiness is greater. They are well fed. Their parents are well educated, and financially able to enrich their children's experiences. They come from homes with books, computers, music. When these kids go home at 3:00, their lessons are examined, reinforced and supported. Their lives complement the reality they have in school.
Many Chicago kids have a very different reality.
There are Chicago students who have never owned a book. Whose homes lack lightbulbs bright enough for reading. Whose parents are absent. There are children who sleep on the floor because their neighborhoods are dangerous. For them, school is a challenge, but it is their only chance to move forward. These kids represent the future of the city. They need a longer, AND better school day. Period.
They need 75 minutes a day of reading/language instruction. This instruction will provide a gateway for accomplishment in all subject areas. They need physical education each day, to get their wiggles out, and create appreciation for fitness. They deserve exposure to the arts and music. Science and math, when started early, can incite curiosity. There can be no argument about the list of needs. So the discussion is about the HOW.
Not about union protocol. Not labor relations. Not U of C Lab schools.
The question is: How can the city financially enable, and teachers educationally empower schools ? FOR CHICAGO'S KIDS.
Karen Lewis' predecessor negotiated a 10% raise for the CPS, spread over a multi-year contract. She lost her bid for re-election. Turns out, the CPS was so mired in deficits it could not pay the raises, and they were snatched back for the coming year. Lewis will need to aggressively advocate for her teachers to keep her presidency. But she needs to focus upon the kids or she will lose her soul. And their futures.
I know how pay works for teachers: for 11 years, there are also step increases, and bumps for advanced instruction. So a 2% raise can be greater. For veterans, the raises are only those which are negotiated. I know good teachers earn every cent of their pay. They should not underwrite an educational system by working for low salaries.
I also know that the CPS is very top heavy with administration and consultants. It is a system that maintains a roll call of failures by moving them to places where they do not touch kids. My tip: start pruning there.
Hire free lance educational consultants, with no benefits and pension obligations. Designate new methodology for observing, evaluating and eliminating bad classroom teachers. Don't pay extended severance pay. Good teachers want to work with other good teachers. Every failing teacher presents her colleagues with remedial work, and dooms the school to uphill struggles.
Every line item must be examined in the budget. Every employee's contribution to the system. Supplies. Contracts for janitorial services. Buildings. Health care costs. Union agreements with the trades who paint and maintain the schools. Privatization of some tasks should be considered.
This is a difficult task; the fact that the CTU muddies the water and avoids the round table will not endear it to the stakeholders. Get it done for the kids, or get out of the way.