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New contract fight will focus on fair compensation, staff diversity, teacher autonomy and classroom needs.

The Chicago Teachers Union’s 2015-2019 contract with Chicago Public Schools expires June 30, and bargaining for the next contract has begun. This excerpt from The Schools Chicago Students Deserve 2.0 report (SCSD 2.0), focuses on the need for schools to have fair compensation, diverse staff, fairly treated substitutes, reduced focus on evaluation, and teacher autonomy over grading and assessing students. Members of the CTU can use the arguments made here to win support for our just demands. Other contract proposals are supported by other sections of SCSD 2.0.

Professional teachers are fairly compensated

In 2012, the U.S. was still recovering from the 2008 recession. That is, the wealthy were recovering, banks were bailed out, but working class people were still struggling. The auto industry received multi-million-dollar government subsidies. Teachers, however, were told there was no money available to fairly pay them.

Contrary to right-wing propaganda, educator pay and job security are directly related to student needs. In West Virginia, for example, low pay for teachers led to a teacher shortage crisis, leaving thousands of students with no teachers. Teachers in that state recently won a 5 percent pay increase after striking for nine days.

There are also shortages in Chicago. Every year CPS announces exceptions to its Chicago residency requirement for teachers. These exceptions are for positions that have been hard to fill, and there are 16 positions listed, including counselors, many categories of clinicians, and teachers of special education, STEM (science, technology, engineering, math), ESL (English as a Second Language), CTE (Career and Technical Education), and world language.

Educator pay relative to pay for other professionals is low. Because of this, workers with college degrees often choose higher paying jobs, leading to shortages in teaching staffs. A 2016 Economic Policy Institute study revealed some interesting facts. From 1996 to 2015, teachers’ average weekly wages decreased $30 a week. Wages of other college graduates rose $124 a week in the same time period. Unionized teachers have a smaller gap, but even unionized teachers make less money than other college graduates.

The CTU has nevertheless been able to fight for modest salary increases during this time and will continue to fight in the current contract campaign. During bargaining for the 2015 contract, CPS demanded a 7 percent pay cut, in the form of having teachers (instead of CPS) pay 7 percent of pension costs. CPS was able to impose this pay cut on non-union employees, but the CTU’s strike preparation forced the district to take this demand off of the table for unionized employees. The 2015 contract preserved a compensation system that values teacher, clinician, and PSRP education and experience.

CPS employees are required to live in Chicago, which means the city’s rising housing prices are an issue for employees as well as our students’ families. From 2017 to 2018, housing prices increased by 6 percent and mortgage rates increased as well. CPS needs to pay teachers, clinicians and PSRPs salaries that enable them to afford Chicago’s high housing costs. Chicago’s developers and tech-billionaires, who are growing richer by the minute, benefit from the educated work force that Chicago’s teachers create. Instead of tax breaks, they need to have tax obligations that require them to contribute to Chicago’s public institutions.

Public educators and paraprofessionals who work at charter schools are, on the average, vastly underpaid. Their salaries are 20 to 30 percent lower than district school salaries. Charter management organizations (CMOs) treat their staff like second class educators. The CTU took an important step in eliminating these disparities when it changed its structure to allow charter school educators and paraprofessionals to join the CTU. As a united, federated union, district and charter school members can now fight together for fair compensation and the education our students deserve, as shown by the wins of the Acero strike.

The disappearing Black teacher

The problem of the disappearing Black teacher, identified in 2012, has gotten worse. CPS claims to be committed to a more diverse teaching staff, but statistics indicate otherwise. When CPS closed 50 schools in 2013, the number of Black teachers dropped precipitously. Both the REACH teacher evaluation system and student-based budgeting contributed to decreased numbers of Black teachers. In 2012, the percentage of Black teachers reached a low of 30 percent. By 2018, CPS teachers were only 21 percent Black and 16 percent Latinx.

The CTU won provisions in the 2015 contract that expanded the rights of laid-off tenured teachers. The Union also fought and won additional school revenue. As a result, fewer teachers, PSRPs, and clinicians are being laid off. On the other hand, CPS implemented student-based budgeting, which has wreaked havoc in many South and West Side schools, including displacement of teachers.

In Englewood, as the numbers of students in the area started to decline, CPS approved more charter and alternative schools in the area, continuing a reckless practice that has been in place since Arne Duncan was district CEO. This expansion, in combination with disinvestment from neighborhood schools, had the predictable effect of fewer students attending traditional CPS schools. Now Robeson and TEAM Englewood have closed, while Hope and Harper are being phased out.

School closings in Black neighborhoods and the resulting displacement of both teachers and students is directly related to city policies that drive out working class Black families. The lack of good paying jobs, safe neighborhoods, and affordable housing (related to tearing down but not replacing public housing, as well as the 2008 foreclosures), pushed 250,000 Black Chicagoans out of the city in the last 20 years.

The immigration of Latinx families has slowed as well. The students CPS has lost are only partially replaced by the families of predominately white professionals moving into the city. Many of those new families segregate themselves into areas with concentrated wealth and expensive private schools.

Teacher diversity is necessary. Students of color need educators of color and all students need to experience a racially diverse set of teachers. Students of color who have teachers of color have fewer discipline issues and better academic outcomes. White students need to see Black and Latinx adults in their schools teaching, and not just pushing brooms or serving lunch. There are 60 schools in Chicago with no Black teachers. Just as harmful are the 106 schools with only one or two Black teachers and the 145 schools with only one or two Latinx teachers.

Teacher diversity, however, is only the beginning. If teachers experience racism at their schools, then diversity is just a statistic. Diversity cannot mean that Black teachers are de facto disciplinarians for Black students or Black teachers are not seen as equal contributors to the intellectual life of the school. Diversity is insufficient if teachers are discouraged from or not allowed to teach material that promotes racial understanding or racial justice, or are mandated to teach from material that downplays or ignores racism.

Substitutes: Vital but unappreciated members of school communities

Regularly assigned teachers are often treated disrespectfully, but substitute teachers are usually treated worse. Substitutes are vital, yet often unappreciated, members of the school community. When their services are needed, they are often called the same day, and must be prepared to fill in for a teacher of any subject matter or grade level. Many substitute teachers buy materials with their own money. These teachers often encounter rudeness from students and staff alike, and some principals try to take advantage of them by assigning extra work.

This has gotten worse since 2012, when CPS took away teachers’ right to bank sick days. Many administrators coerced teachers into covering classes for their absent colleagues because there were insufficient numbers of substitutes. Due to pressure from the CTU, CPS made changes for the 2018-19 school year that may lead to a larger substitute teacher pool. The changes include monetary incentives to sub at schools with historically insufficient numbers of substitutes.

REACH fight continues

A significant change for teachers, which has taken place since 2012, is the implementation of a new teacher evaluation system, which CPS named Recognizing Educators Advancing Chicago Students (REACH). The underlying law requiring the new system was rapidly pushed through the Illinois legislature in 2010, in anticipation of federal Race to the Top funds.

Teacher evaluation mandates were developed and promoted by corporate funders like the Gates Foundation and TNTP (formerly The New Teacher Project), which claimed that the main problem in education was that most teachers had inflated evaluation scores. This claim was wrong on both counts. Teachers’ evaluations were not inflated, and poor educational outcomes are mostly due to poverty and racism. Millions of dollars and countless hours of principal and teacher time later, the REACH evaluation system found that 89 percent of teachers achieved one of the top two ratings during the 2016-17 school year.

On the other hand, teachers who have received lower ratings are disproportionately those who teach in economically disadvantaged schools or are Black or male, according to a 2016 University of Chicago Consortium on School Research (CCSR) report. These lower ratings, the CCSR found, are driven by evaluators’ observation scores, not test scores.

Schools serving high-poverty students are schools that lack much-needed resources, including sufficient numbers of nurses, social workers, psychologists, and counselors. Their class sizes are too large and their schools are often disorganized. Teachers in those schools have, on average, lower evaluation scores because of school climate issues, not because the teachers are less able.

The lower evaluation scores given to Black teachers, in particular, are driving many to leave the system, voluntarily or otherwise. Further, CPS does not appear to value their importance in the classroom. In many schools, Black teachers, especially those at the top of the pay scale, are targeted for dismissal. Latinx teachers and other teachers of color have also received lower evaluation scores. A win in the 2015 contract requires CPS to participate in a joint study investigating ways to remove these disparities.

The CTU has fought hard for changes to REACH, starting with the 2012 strike, which won an appeals process, a decreased weight for the testing component, and a rigorous Joint Teacher Evaluation Committee. The CTU won additional needed changes to REACH in the 2015 contract, including the incorporation of best practices that principals now must follow. But the fight continues.

As the results of both the old evaluation system and the new one indicate, the vast majority of teachers do not need to be continuously evaluated. Some teachers need intensive supports, and they should receive those. For most teachers, however, having time to work with their colleagues in collaborative professional learning groups is considerably more helpful than REACH evaluations. Yet most teachers have few opportunities to use their preparation periods in this way. Students deserve teachers who are treated as professionals.

Treating teachers as professionals

An important part of every teacher’s job is student assessment. Traditionally, teachers have used a wide variety of assessments, tailored to the class and subject. Standardized tests have been a feature of schools for decades, but their numbers have increased dramatically in this century. In 2005, Chicago’s students took two standardized tests, and CPS eliminated one of them, saying, “They were spending too much time on standardized tests.”

By 2018, CPS testing was out of control. In addition to tests required by the state, tests used for teacher evaluation, and tests for special programs, CPS network chiefs regularly required progress monitoring every five weeks or made other testing demands. Because a school’s rating is heavily dependent on student test scores (65 percent of elementary and 40 percent of high schools’ rating is tied to testing), principals feel obliged to mandate several practice tests as well.

In the 2015 contract, the CTU won the right to vote on whether to give certain tests at members’ schools. Teachers and students have since received some much-needed relief from relentless testing, but the struggle continues to return testing autonomy to the teacher.

Similarly, CPS has attempted to micromanage teachers’ grading. This is another responsibility that teachers have always had, and one that is dependent on the objectives of the class and the particularities of the students in the classroom. The CTU won contract language on this issue as well, and some of the more odious impositions of grading policies have ended.

CPS initiatives that take classroom decision-making away from teachers are similar to teacher-proof curricula. These materials aim to minimize teachers’ control through scripted curricula and other resources that give educators little room to deviate, even when student needs indicate they should. With the new emphasis on computerized personalized learning, many people imagine that CPS may start to decrease the role of teachers and increase the role of computers in student learning. This would be great for tech companies, horrible for Chicago students, and something that would never be suggested for wealthy or private school students. The CTU will continue to fight for the teachers our students deserve.

This article appears in the January 2019 issue of the Chicago Union Teacher.

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