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On Monday, 30,000 Chicago Public School teachers and education personnel went on strike.  In this week’s CommenTerry, I take a closer look at the three main issues dividing the teachers union and the school district.

Bulletin Board

  • President Thomas Jefferson and President John Adams will address the public in the majestic auditorium of the North Carolina Museum of History on Monday, September 17, 2012 at 7:00 pm.  Two of the nation’s finest historical interpreters, both associated with Colonial Williamsburg, will bring the presidents to life. Bill Barker is the nation’s premier Jefferson interpreter and has performed at the White House and the Palace of Versailles. Steven Holloway is a veteran actor who interprets Adams with power and verve. A reception will follow the debate.  The event is sold out, but there is still room on the waiting list.
  • The Civitas institute and the Friedman Foundation invite you to a luncheon to report results of a statewide education poll and policy implications for North Carolina. Come join Paul Di Perna, Research director for the Freedom Foundation, education policy experts, and state lawmakers as they share views on how to improve educational opportunity in North Carolina.  The event will begin at 11:30 am on Tuesday, September 18 at the Raleigh Crabtree Marriott Hotel in Raleigh NC.  Cost is $10.00.
  • Join Byron York, Brad Crone, Marc Rotterman, and John Hood on Wednesday, September 19, 2012 at noon for an inside look into the 2012 Election.  The event will be held at the Double Tree Brownstone Hotel in Raleigh.  Cost is $30 per person.
  • The North Carolina History Project would like educators and homeschool parents to submit lesson plans suitable for middle and high school courses in North Carolina history.  Please provide links to N.C. History Project encyclopedia articles and other primary and secondary source material, if possible.  Go to the N.C. History Project website for further information.
  • JLF’s research newsletter archive would like to see a better performance from the Pittsburgh Steelers this week.


According to the Chicago Tribune, there are three main issues that divide the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) and the Chicago Public Schools (CPS).

1. Salary

There has been a lot of attention paid to the fact that the average Chicago Public School teacher earns a salary of over $70,000.   Paul Kersey of the Illinois Policy Institute pointed out that the average CPS teacher salary is over $20,000 a year more than the median annual wage for a Chicago worker with a college degree (See Facts and Stats below).  Their substantial pay allows an estimated 39 percent of CPS teachers to pay for private schools for their children.

Reports indicate that the CTU wanted a two-year contract that granted teachers a 19 percent raise in year one and a three percent raise in year two.  In exchange for the substantial increase in the first year, the union would have capitulated to a CPS request to lengthen the school day.

During contract negotiations, the CTU rejected a proposal that would have granted CPS teachers a 16 percent raise over four years.  The CPS proposal also included a plan to modify the salary schedule by adding new experience, credential, and incentive pay components.  The latter, not necessarily the former, was the sticking point between the CTU and CPS.  Indeed, the CTU sees incentive and merit pay on the horizon and is doing everything in its power to stop (or at least slow) it.  Their members enjoy the security and protection that comes with a traditional salary schedule and across-the-board pay increases.

2. Hiring

The Chicago Teachers Union proposed a recall system for teachers who have been laid off or displaced by school closure.  In this way, former Chicago Public School teachers (and, of course, union members) would be called upon to fill vacancies.  On the other hand, the CPS proposal would have given laid off or displaced teachers an advantage in the hiring process.  In their proposal, principals would be required to interview teachers who forgo a three-month severance and elect to be placed in a special teacher workforce pool.  CPS would still require laid off and displaced teachers to compete with all other applicants for vacant positions.

The issue of teacher effectiveness is absent in the CTU proposal.  Perhaps an argument could be made that former CPS teachers already demonstrated their effectiveness when they were employed by the system.  If that is the case, the CTU has nothing to worry about.  Principals will jump at the chance to hire a proven teacher.  But not all teachers laid off or displaced by the school districts have records of excellence.  Indeed, the CTU plan would require principals to employ teachers based on their previous employer, rather than on evidence of ability and success.

I suspect that few public school administrators in Chicago would welcome a plan that severely limits their pool of applicants.  Indeed, this replicates a flaw inherent in much of the thinking about teacher certification rules and other barriers to the profession, namely that certain attributes and credentials are indicative of teacher quality.

3. Teacher evaluation

This may be the most contentious issue between the CTU and the school district.  The union sought to include, but limit, the use of test score data in the teacher evaluation process.  CPS insists that the union seeks to undo a new teacher evaluation system that the union agreed to earlier this year.  Similar to the traditional salary schedule, teacher evaluations based on classroom observations and other qualitative factors often protect weak teachers, rather than provide critical information that teachers can use to improve their craft.

Disputes over pay structure, employment policy, and educator evaluations should sound familiar.   North Carolina lawmakers are mulling over some of the same reform proposals and may introduce legislation in 2013 that advances several education reform initiatives.  Obviously, proposals and/or legislation will receive strong opposition from well-funded public school advocacy groups.  There is one key difference.  Their opposition will not produce an unplanned vacation for schoolchildren and a childcare nightmare for North Carolina parents.

Random Thought

Would anyone else like to see a Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Yankovic tour?

Facts and Stats

An excerpt from Five things you need to know about Chicago Public Schools (CPS)

By Paul Kersey of the Illinois Policy Institute

  1. Chicago public school teachers are already well compensated. By CTU’s own figures an average teacher earns a salary of $71,000 (CPS reports the number is $76,000 without benefits). Even if we only compare CPS teachers to others with college degrees, they still do well. According to the US Census American Community Survey, the median annual wage for persons with a college degree is $48,866 in Chicago. CPS teachers earn nearly half again as much as an average worker in Chicago with a college degree.

    Note: Average teacher pay at Urban Prep Academy, the Chicago charter school that has sent 100% of its graduates to college for the third consecutive year is $47,714.

    Note: CTU walked away from a $400 million package that includes a 16 percent raise.

    Note: CPS is currently offering a 16% pay increase.

  2. Four out of every ten kids who start freshman year at a public high school in Chicago do not graduate. While poverty and crime certainly complicate instruction, this is not a system where anyone, including the administration, teachers or the union, can rest on their laurels.
  3. Chicago public schools expect to drain their cash reserves in the upcoming year and are likely facing another shortfall of as large as $1 billion the year after that. It is doubtful that the district can afford across-the-board pay raises.

    Note: CPS had to return a $35 million federal grant — Teacher Incentive Fund — because CTU refused to implement merit pay. CTU called CPS’ acceptance of the grant a "fraudulent action."

  4. Chicago receives almost $2 billion in funding from the state tax funds. That means almost 35 percent of Chicago’s total funding for education comes from state taxpayer funds. The entire state, not just Chicago, is paying for the failures of CPS and CTU.
  5. CPS has the shortest school days and year in the nation when compared to the ten largest cities in the nation.

    Dispelling longer school day myth: Under the interim agreement, teachers will continue to work roughly the same hours they do now. Instead of requiring teachers to work a 20 percent longer day, the Chicago Public Schools have agreed to hire more teachers to fill the extra instruction time with such classes as art, music and physical education.



I would like to invite all readers to submit announcements, as well as their personal insights, anecdotes, concerns, and observations about the state of education in North Carolina. I will publish selected submissions in future editions of the newsletter. Anonymity will be honored. For additional information or to send a submission, email Terry at [email protected].

Education Acronym of the Week

CPS — Chicago Public Schools

Quote of the Week

"Next time the teachers claim they had to leave those kids in the lurch in order to provide a quality education for them, ask: How does walking away from the classroom achieve that? And why wasn’t a budget-busting 16 percent enough?" — Chicago Tribune editorial, September 11, 2012.

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