Educators are the most important determinant of students’ success in school. Yet, in both the public narrative and the hard data, schools across the country face a steep educator shortage that the pandemic has exacerbated. According to a National Education Association (NEA) poll from early 2022, 55% of educators reported that they plan to leave the field earlier than they would have before the pandemic, and 90% reported feeling burnout.
According to Chalkbeat, nearly twice as many teachers resigned in 2022 as 2021 and one-and-a-half times as many retired. At the same time, the district faces a severe substitute teacher shortage and is unable to hire enough substitutes due to low pay and disrespect of substitute or “guest” teachers. This was a problem before the pandemic that was exacerbated when CPS downplayed the COVID risk and shortchanged necessary safety measures.
CPS cannot meet the needs of students at current staffing levels. The 2019 CTU-CPS contract, adopted before the pandemic, calls for a nurse, social worker and counselor in every school by the end of the five-year agreement. Given the acute level of trauma our students face, the district must greatly ramp up the hiring of nurses, social workers, counselors, and other caregiving adults in schools. One per school is the bare minimum. The district should abide by the staff to student ratios recommended by national professional organizations, including the National Association of Social Workers and the National Association of School Nurses, including to staff school-based vaccine sites.
CPS has received $2.8 billion in extra federal funding to help ameliorate COVID impacts in our schools. However, instead of hiring additional educators and staff or creating more Sustainable Community Schools, with an emphasis on social emotional healing and trauma, CPS proposed slashing budgets at hundreds of schools for the 2022 2023 school year.
That is apparently the mayor’s idea of a “recovery year.” Her handpicked Board President jumped on the budget cut bandwagon, claiming the district would face a financial “cliff” if it hired permanent positions.
We reject these assertions, because they are bad for students and bad for school communities. Instead, the CTU supports recommendations promulgated by groups that include the Economic Policy Institute, and urge that these recommendations apply to all who work at CPS, not just teachers.
The instructional benefits of smaller class sizes are well documented. The well-respected Project Star study, for example, found that students in early childhood classes of 13-17 students had long-lasting positive achievement results relative to students in classes of 22-26. But most classes in Chicago are significantly larger, with class size caps of 28, 32, and even 40 (P.E.), that are often exceeded.
The COVID pandemic produced an added imperative to reduce class sizes: the health and well-being of students and staff. Crowding bodies indoors in congregate settings, like a classroom, is a recipe for disaster during a pandemic from an airborne virus.
Class size was a key issue in the 2019 strike. The CTU fought for and won for the first time ever, hard class size caps and a $35 million allocation to address oversized classrooms across the district. That represents a five-fold increase of funds provided for in CTU’s last contract.
CPS also is now required to provide teacher assistants in third-grade classrooms with 32 or more students, an expansion of the K-2 teacher aide provision the Union won in 2016. And a new class size supervisory council of CTU and CPS appointees will review class size data beginning on the tenth day of school to prioritize relief spending.
Over the years, CPS has denied the ballooning class sizes in the district and at, the April 2022 CPS Board meeting, CEO Martinez had the audacity to claim that lower class sizes would produce inequities:
Low percentages of BIPOC educators
As the graph below shows, the CPS educator force is much whiter than its student body, which is 89% students of color. This mismatch is deeply problematic on several levels. A diverse teaching force that reflects the student body — and can relate to the unique stress and trauma their students experience — is a key driver of student performance.
For example, a 2020 study found that having just one Black teacher for one year in elementary school “raised longrun educational attainment for Black male students, especially for those from low-income households.” For the most disadvantaged Black males, the study estimated that exposure to a Black teacher in elementary school reduced high school dropout rates by 39% and raised college-going aspirations.
Given the student demographics of CPS, it is vital that the district hire, train, and retain Black educators. However, historically, mass firings of Black teachers from closing and “turning around” schools have decimated the Black educator force, with the percentage of Blacks in the profession plummeting from 40% to 20%. Since 2011, Black educators have left and been forced out of the district at higher rates compared to educators of other races or ethnicities.
In December 2021, CPS agreed to settle a long-running CTU civil rights case that tacitly ends CPS’ racially discriminatory “turnaround” model, which led to the firing of hundreds of educators at dozens of schools in Black neighborhoods. The CTU continues to push to fully replace the School Quality Rating Policy (SQRP), CPS’ evaluation tool that relies on racist metrics and contributes to declining populations in Black schools, with a less punitive model that centers student need.
Yet, while the current teaching force is 21% percent Black, only 16% of new hires are. Hence, as Black teachers leave, the district loses representation because new CPS hires are disproportionately white. And Black teachers as a whole have more years of experience in CPS — an average of 16 years versus 13 years for nonBlack teachers — meaning that when they leave, valuable experience is lost.
While Latinx teachers are still poorly represented compared to the student population, hiring of Latinx teachers has improved in recent years, and they now make up about a quarter of new hires. In the overall teacher population, Latinx teachers have increased from just 15% of teachers to 22% in 10 years. But at the same time, budget cuts are increasingly hitting Latinx schools and these cuts threaten to roll back gains in teacher diversity.
Researchers have found that BIPOC educators often face additional stresses on the job. For example, they often are asked to do additional work, including disciplinary work for Black teachers and translation/interpretation work for Latinx teachers. Educators of color confront being devalued in their work, while teacher evaluations harm Black teachers disproportionately, particularly those working in schools serving economically disadvantaged students.
The CTU’s fight for additional Restorative Justice Coordinators and translators, including 2019 contract wins, is a step towards helping to retain BIPOC teachers. Also, the CTU’s We Care Coaching and Mentoring Program provides critical support to new teachers, with an emphasis on new teachers of color. The program pairs each new teacher or clinician with an experienced coach from the same grade level and teaching or clinical area. New teachers are also provided with a mentor from their school. Monthly forums on topics that range from teacher evaluation to end-of-year planning supplement the coaching and mentoring provided individually. A key goal of the We Care program, which has been renewed for the 2022–2023 school year, is the retention of the 275 new educators who participated in We Care for the 2021–2022 school year.
The pandemic added another layer to the stress placed on BIPOC teachers, as families in their communities were hit hardest by COVID. Undocumented workers were not eligible for unemployment or other benefits offered by the CARES Act, but educators raised money and in other ways supported these families. Yet Chicago’s structural racism meant that COVID hit our Black and Brown communities much harder than white communities. As of August 2022, Black Chicagoans, who represent 29% of the city’s population, accounted for 42% of COVID deaths. In communities like Little Village and Austin, the death rates were 50% greater than in Chicago as a whole.
BIPOC individuals are also overrepresented in low-income frontline work, or in industries that lost jobs, with 65% of Black households and 68% of Latino households reporting lost income, compared to 39% of whites. Fewer Black and Brown families are insured and more than 50% of insured Black Chicagoans rely on public insurance, compared to 13% of whites.
Other disparities that negatively impact the health of Black and Brown Chicagoans include disproportionate lack of paid leave and sick pay, technological barriers to telehealth, longer travel times for essentials like food as well as often-needed trauma care, lack of trust in public health or safety net facilities, and fragmented mental health access.
Because the CTU has prioritized the hiring and retention of BIPOC educators, some positive changes have occurred. According to a CTU analysis of CPS staffing numbers:
- The average CPS teacher tenure is now 13 years, up from 11 years in 2013.
- New teachers with up to three years experience make up 13% of all teachers today, compared to 19% in 2013.
- Year-to-year teacher retention was as low as 80% in 2006 but had been reported at roughly 86/87% over the last five years (ISBE school report card).
- CTU helped pass a moratorium on school closures for the next three years.
These gains and others are threatened by the pandemic and its accompanying burnout and lack of resources for recovery. As of this writing, teacher retention for the 202122 school year is unknown. Teacher turnover in 202021 however, was larger than usual, with 1,240 teachers leaving, compared to 770 the previous year.
The critical need for more nurses, social workers, librarians and substitute teachers
CPS schools faced the global COVID pandemic with a critical shortage of school nurses and healthcare professionals. In September of 2019, the district counted 333 School Nurses, Hospital Licenced Practical Nurses, Health Service Nurses, or Advanced Nurse Practitioners on its roster. A few months later, the CTU strike won a commitment from CPS to steadily increase those numbers so that by 2024 every school would have a full time nurse.
As of March 2022, the number of all CPS nurses had increased to 509. While this represents a real staffing increase, nurses are still primarily tasked with and deployed across schools to cover the needs of our students with disabilities. Their staffing is still insufficient to address the daily healthcare needs of our students, much less the challenges of the pandemic.
Once students started school in person, the need for health protocols, including care rooms, contact tracing, COVID testing, and health screening overwhelmed school staff. It took two separate CTU work actions to get these health issues even minimally addressed in schools.
Unfortunately, CPS has a long history of refusing to provide for students’ health needs, as we reported in 2016:
Chicago began systematically providing nursing services in the schools in 1951 after the U.S. Public Health Service found that the city of Chicago was not providing systemized and effective medical and nursing services to children. Chicago was the only major city at that time without a school health program. There was actually a nursing program in CPS that began at the turn of the 20th century and peaked with 100 nurses working in the schools in 1914. From the end of WWI until the Great Depression, there were drastic cuts in the number of nurses and their roles and responsibilities in the schools. By 1932, only 25 nurses worked for the school health program and their only task was to check for communicable diseases and administer vaccines. It wasn’t until 1951 that there was once again a renewed effort to treat and prevent health problems (e.g., communicable diseases and vision impairment) so that children could fully participate in school.
The CTU’s hard won 2019 contract has helped to ameliorate that shortcoming, at the same time that the 2019 contract also won an historic agreement to provide a social worker in every school by 2024. As of March 2022, the district employed 592 School Social Workers, or one social worker for every 558 students. While this ratio represents an improvement, it remains more than double the ratio of 250 students per social worker recommended by the School Social Work Association of America, and more than 10 times the ratio of 50:1 for high-needs populations like our students.
CPS has also long suffered from an acute shortage of substitute teachers. During the pandemic, when educators were missing work because they or a family member had contracted COVID, the need for classroom coverage exploded. But substitutes are not easy to come by because of the low pay, poor working conditions and lack of respect they confront.
An investigation by WBEZ shed additional light on this issue. The report found large disparities in substitute coverage among schools that are majority Black or Latinx compared to those that are over 30% white. Vacancies at more heavily white schools were filled 80% of the time, at Latinx schools 69% of the time, and Black schools only 60% of the time.
Schools are attempting to solve substitute shortages by assigning teachers to cover classes of absent colleagues during their preparation or lunch times. School janitors, lunch room staff, and even parents have been asked to help. In high schools, students are often sent to cafeterias, gyms, or auditoriums and supervised by one teacher when a substitute cannot be found. That is unacceptable.
Through negotiations, CTU won bonus pay and a $1,000 signing incentive for substitutes, but the district needs to do much more to compensate and treat guest teachers with the respect they deserve if it expects to eliminate shortages. For example, in some schools, substitutes are required to cover classes of more than one teacher. This practice should be prohibited. Substitutes should be given planning time, be paid more and receive health care and other benefits. This work is difficult and valuable and needs to be compensated and respected accordingly.
This summer, CPS laid off eight school librarians, bringing the number of schools with a library staffed by a certified school librarian to just 90. Access to libraries in CPS has long been one of the district’s deepest resource disparities, with Black schools systematically robbed of librarians by budget cuts over the last decade. The latest cuts meant that as of this summer only 10% of majority Black schools had a librarian, compared to 27% of majority white schools. Building back libraries in our district cannot just be left to the discretion of school leaders and subject to potential future budget cuts. Instead, they should be treated and funded as an essential element of the infrastructure of school resources and curriculum for all our students.
Sustainable community schools
In CTU’s 2016 contract, we won a commitment to establish 20 Sustainable Community Schools. These are community hubs that provide academic, health, and social support for the entire community, both during and beyond the school day. Sustainable Community Schools, or SCSs, leverage community assets, resources, and external partnerships to bring students, parents, educators, school staff, community members, and service providers together.
But Sustainable Community Schools are about more than providing extra services and programs. This proven model is guided by six pillars that aim to transform education for Black and Brown students and promote neighborhood health and wellbeing with a community-led, community-driven approach to educational justice and equity.
The SCS program at Schurz High School provides one example of the power of Sustainable Community Schools:
The SCS program supports 10 Parents in Action and a Parent Coordinator at Schurz, mostly mothers who receive a living wage working in the school to provide critical assistance to students who are learning English, newly arrived immigrants and diverse learners.
“Their presence and work demonstrates the power of ‘mama magic’ to deepen connections to students socially and emotionally. They serve as extra eyes and hands in a classroom. Their wisdom has restoratively supported youth in crisis and their gifts of engaging youth in art-making have decreased lunchroom fights.”
During the first year of Parents in Action, mothers responded to daily lunchroom altercations by bringing in art materials and engaging the students in “artesanias”— cultural crafts. The “magic mamas” taught students how to knit scarves, make friendship bracelets, key chains, greeting cards, custom stamps and so much more. After a few weeks, the fights began to diminish.
“Art brought peace to our lunchroom.”
SCS is not actually “magic” of course. SCS is built on common sense, grounded in research and real community engagement. Sustainable Community Schools provide stakeholders real decision-making authority. Staff, parents and other members of the school community feel empowered to help address the problems afflicting students and their families. The schools can become sites for transformation within the school and within the greater community.
The SCS model requires a balance of power — an opportunity for principals, parents, students, community and teachers to collaborate and make decisions together. This powerfully augments existing Local School Councils, envisions principals as willing partners who embrace shared leadership, and helps to improve the school/community relationship and school culture.
CTU is committed to ensuring that every school becomes a Sustainable Community School, and expansion of the program is a key priority in bargaining with CPS. Our buildings needed more adults and a new, transformative approach to meeting young peoples’ needs long before the pandemic. Those needs are even greater today.
Educators, students and families understand acutely that CPS cannot meet the increased needs of students at current staffing levels. The distinct must:
- Abandon Student Based Budgeting (SBB), which punishes students at smaller schools — including those that have been depopulated through charter expansion and school privatization — and contributes to school closures. We will discuss the destructive impacts of SBB later in this report.
- Fund foundational positions centrally, including a social worker, nurse, librarian, and technical coordinator, as well as a clerk, principal, and counselor for every school.
- Limit class sizes to no more than 25 maximum.
- Increase substitute pay and provide other incentives — including sick days and other health benefits — to address the shortage.
- Hire more special education and English Language Learner teachers and reduce their caseloads.
- Expand the Sustainable Community Schools program to a minimum 100 schools in the communities with greatest need and adopt a timetable for further expansion throughout the district.
CTU also supports the recommendations laid out in an Economic Policy Institute study of teacher shortages, which concluded there is no quick fix for educator shortages, but the following policy proposals could, over time, reduce them:
- Raise teacher pay to attract new teachers and keep teachers in their schools and the profession.
- Elevate teacher voice and nurture stronger learning communities to increase teachers’ influence and sense of belonging.
- Lower the barriers to teaching that affect teachers’ ability to do their jobs and their morale.
- Design professional supports that strengthen teachers’ sense of purpose, career development, and effectiveness.
- Strengthen mentoring and pipeline programs, from We Care to Grow Your Own, that help bring more fully trained educators of color into our buildings and help support CPS students, paraprofessionals and others who seek to assemble the credentials and experience to teach in our schools.