By Steve Gunn
CHICAGO – So the teachers of Chicago are back in their classrooms this morning.
It’s difficult to say why they decided to end their strike today. Perhaps Karen Lewis, president of the Chicago Teachers Union, actually had enough influence over her radical constituents to lead them back to work, despite their refusal a few days ago. Or perhaps they decided to go back to work before a judge ordered them to do so later this week.
Whatever the case, this situation will be remembered as a huge setback for public education, in Illinois and the rest of the nation. Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the school board waved the white flag of surrender and sold out the children of Chicago.
The teachers did not get the ridiculous 30 percent raise they originally sought, but came away with a seven percent increase over three years, according to the LA Times. That’s absurd in a school district with a budget deficit approaching the frightening $1 billion mark.
The teachers also maintained raises based on nothing but seniority and earned college credits. Merit pay, which would have rewarded the best teachers and put pressure on the underperformers, did not make the final cut.
The teachers reportedly also pushed through a policy forcing the district to call back laid off teachers for open staff positions, instead of allowing principals to fill the jobs with the best available teachers.
And worst of all, Emanuel backed off on his plan to make student test scores worth 50 percent of teacher evaluations. Instead they will only comprise 30 percent, which means, as ABC News put it, the system “will be more forgiving for teachers.”
As a result, thousands of mediocre or miserable teachers who could have been weeded out by a tougher evaluation system will remain employed. That probably means that students will continue to struggle academically, because the district did not insist on replacing bad teachers with good ones.
The only silver lining would be a change in Illinois state law that bans teacher strikes once and for all. A total of 37 states have banned teacher walkouts, and even Pennsylvania, the teacher strike capitol of the nation, is considering legislation that would do so.
Current Illinois statute almost invites teachers to strike by laying out the conditions under which it can occur. That sort of law is an insult to families and students. Public schools exist for children, not employees, and students have an absolute right to an education uninterrupted by adult squabbles over money and control.
Illinois state lawmakers should demonstrate they have the courage to stand up for children by banning teacher strikes. If no such action is taken, we will know they are more interested in pleasing the unions than protecting the families of their state.