Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Chicago Teachers Strike

The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) went on strike Monday for the first time in 25 years, after negotiations failed to result in a new contract after 10 months.

If you have paid attention to the news, there are many varied and often controversial ideas about this event being slung in the news and on the blogosphere.  It has received so much attention that it has reached the national political stage with President Obama supporting the teachers concerns and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney claiming teachers are turning their backs on students.

As a tutor we are in a unique situation. We see where students fall through the cracks. We help them when they are struggling in the classrooms. We see where classrooms and their teachers do not have the resources they need. We also see what happens when kids don’t have a place to go.   We also we work with schools, principals, and teachers who have partnered with Femi Outreach to provide their students with tutors, free of cost.  We work and aid school teachers in classrooms. We tutor some of the neediest students during and after school at the request of teachers and principals.  As tutors we see where schools are struggling to meet the needs of students and we also see how schools reach out to organizations to further assist their students.
Teachers on Strike 09/13/12 Photo Courtesy of Courtney Neale
The title of the Chicago School Board is CEO. Many teachers’ concerns about the corporatization of education are seemingly valid especially with the title of the school board being the same title of a fortune 500 company. School funding is tied to test scores, test scores are also tied to teacher wages and job termination with little regard for varying special education programs or socio-economic factors that are beyond the teachers’ control.  Should schools continue to be funded in this manner? Will this lead to education being further corporatized and further diminish the quality of education for failing schools? Or does corporatization of education strive for improved teaching standards and test scores? There are just some of the many questions that this strike raises for Chicago schools and the direction of public education in general.

CTU Rally 09/14/12 Photo Courtesy of Courtney  Neale
CTU Union Park Rally 09/14/12 Photo Courtesy of Courtney Neale
I understand that we don’t live in a utopia where every district can have the same funding and the supply is endless. Chicago is the 3rd largest district in the United States and thus budgeting issues continually plague Chicago. In addition according to the Chicago Public School’s website, nearly 87% percent of all CPS students come from low-income households. How does this affect the increasingly challenging situation? Do the same corporate standards that apply to more affluent districts work the same when applied to CPS schools?
Two of the sticking points are teacher evaluations and how they affect teachers being laid off.  However, if you other teachers why they are striking it is for a number of different reasons including classroom size, funneling off of funds to charter schools, and lack of support services like social workers. According to the CTU website, “a CTU analysis shows that Chicago class sizes for kindergarten and first grade are larger than 95 percent of school districts in the state.”  32 other states have limits on classroom size, but not Illinois.  For a great interview that discusses teacher concerns and further reasons why they are striking follow the link here.

Union Park CTU Rally 09/14/12 Photo Courtesy of Courtney Neale
I don’t offer any or all solutions here. My role as a tutor makes my first instinct about the students and what is best for them. Is it best for them to have classrooms that are well equipped and with a teacher who is capable of teaching a reasonable class size?  Is it best for them to have available individuals like social workers or additional school nurses so that students can have their needs met? Is it best for them if CPS evaluates their teachers and hold them accountable for test scores to ensure that students meet state and federal achievement standards? Regardless of how a solution is reached, it cannot be at the expense of the students, teachers who are trying to teach them and the overall education system to which all parties have an invested interest in.

While the Chicago Teachers Union strikes, tutoring is not in session. I hope that negotiations can be reached so that I can go back to what I do best: tutoring kids- as I said it’s all about the students for me.

High Hopes

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