As Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the leadership of the Chicago Public Schools have pressed to lengthen their school day by 90 minutes, the response from its teachers union has raised some eyebrows for its shrillness, in a city that has known its share of labor tumult.
“This type of behavior actually flies in the face of real collective bargaining,” Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) President Karen Lewis declared of the strategy to improve woeful academic performance. “It is problematic, and most importantly, it is illegal.”
Her union filed a complaint with the Illinois Education Labor Relations Board, accusing district officials of conducting meetings with teachers that were not in accordance with its collective bargaining agreement. Of the 17 school administrators who signed the complaint, 13 served at schools on Academic Warning Status.
The complaint alleged that city officials were offering teachers stipends and additional money that could be used for school equipment if they approved the longer school day, and threatened school closings should the measure fail. The labor board will likely decide the matter in December.
School district leaders noted that their students currently receive 15 percent less instructional time than the national average, and the least instructional time of any of the nation’s 10 largest cities. To date, teachers at 13 Chicago schools have voted to go along with the extended days. A growing number of public school faculties have voted to reject the change.
The initiative is a long-overdue response to particularly dismal results on standardized tests, including the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Average test scores for eighth graders remained unchanged between 2003 and 2009, and the gap in test scores between Chicago’s white eighth graders and their black and Latino classmates increased over this period.
Further analysis of these scores shows that 40 percent of the city’s eighth graders tested at dismal “below basic” levels. Scoring at a basic level on NAEP indicates partial mastery of knowledge and skills. Research shows conclusively that students who perform below this level in eighth grade reading are at extreme risk of dropping out of school.
CTU’s Lewis appears to be ignoring the educational need of the children her teachers are hired to teach in favor of political and negotiating tactics. “The big problem is this started as a political football when our 4 percent raise was denied us and then (longer school days) was kind of crammed down our throats,” she told a Chicago Tribune reporter earlier this month.
Meanwhile, Illinois is waiting to hear the verdict on its $400 million state application to federal Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s Race to the Top grant competition, where its plan hinges on measures to “strengthen the caliber of the statewide teacher workforce” to improve classroom results. Whatever the eventual outcome of these pending developments, pressure to improve results will continue to mount in the Chicago school district where Secretary Duncan rose to prominence.
Find Archived Articles: