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Myths vs. Facts in the Chicago Teachers Union Strike

Politicians, journalists, liberal pundits and so-called education reform advocates are employing spin and misinformation to condemn and criticize the Chicago Teachers Union strike.

It’s important to note that Chicago is being used as the latest laboratory for anti-union privatization measures that some big business Democrats and Republicans hope to implement across the country. Firedoglake has assembled a Myth vs. Fact sheet to help you better understand what’s going on in the Windy City.

Firedoglake has also started a campaign asking the Boys & Girls Clubs of Chicago to drop Rahm Emanuel as honorary chairman of their corporate board. You can find out more and sign the petition here.

1. This is about teachers wanting to get paid more — not Chicago students’ wellbeing. In 2011, a provision was added to the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Act that makes it illegal for teachers to strike on all matters except compensation involving pay and benefits. The teachers had to make salary an issue in order to strike over classroom conditions in Chicago public schools.
2. Teachers are striking for higher salaries but already get paid enough or too much. As noted above, it is illegal for teachers to strike on all matters except pay and benefits. The teachers are in fact striking over classroom conditions, but have to raise salary issues so as to not violate Illinois labor laws. A report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) finds “teaching jobs in the United States are not as well paid as they are abroad, at least when you consider the other opportunities available to teachers in each country.Teachers in the city of Chicago make just over $70,000/year on average. Median household income statistics in Chicago was about $46,800/year. What people are really saying when they suggest teachers already get paid too much is that they should be earning a salary closer to the average worker in Chicago.
3. This is not the right time for teachers to strike. Whether it is the right time or not is a subjective discussion but what is clear is there are multiple systemic problems with Chicago public schools that certainly warrant the teachers taking a stand.

  1. Class sizes in Chicago are largest in the state of Illinois.
  2. On average, only a quarter of Chicago public schools offer arts and music education.
  3. There are only 370 social workers for 15,000 homeless children
  4. One-hundred and sixty schools do not have libraries.
  5. Schools lack air conditioning.
  6. Chicago continues to close schools or “turnaround” schools by firing by teacher and staff to improve student learning without any evidence that this meaningfully benefits students.
4. Teachers just do not want to admit they are the reason why students aren’t performing well. Simply focusing on teachers as the reason for low performance ignores the lack of resources in schools that make it difficult for learning. Public schools lack air conditioning, roofs that do not leak, textbooks, libraries, social workers, etc. They also have overcrowded classrooms, which make it harder for teachers to educate students.
5. Teachers oppose tying student test scores to teacher evaluations because they don’t want to be held accountable for poor performance. Teachers in Chicago are opposed because there is no evidence to support the idea that tying test scores to teacher evaluations will lead to gains in student achievement and worry this will mean more teaching to the test. Sixteen professors and researchers concurred in a letter to Emanuel sent in March, which emphasized, “Student test scores have not been found to be a strong predictor of the quality of teaching as measured by other instruments or approaches.”
6. Striking hurts the students. Teachers are striking so the city of Chicago will allocate more resources for students. In the short term, students may not be in class learning but there is no evidence to support this will have a long term impact on any students. Moreover, some students are joining their parents and teachers in demonstrations in the streets and are learning a valuable civics lesson they would not be learning in many of the Chicago schools.

1. Is Chicago’s teachers strike illegal? Alaska Dispatch, 9/12/12.
2. Does It Pay to Become a Teacher? NYT Economix Blog, 9/11/12.
Median Household Income in Chicago, 2006-2010, 9/14/12.
3.5 Facts You Need to Know About the Abominable State of Chicago Schools., 9/11/12.
The Schools Chicago’s Students Deserve. (PDF) Chicago Teachers Union, 2/16/12.
4.The Kids Are All Right. Mother Jones, September/October, 2012.
A Quick Peek at How Chicago Students are Performing. Mother Jones, 9/11/12.
5.Researchers blast Chicago teacher evaluation reform. Washington Post, 3/28/12.
Teachers accountability and the Chicago teachers strike. Economic Policy Institute, 9/14/12.

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."