By Paul Kersey, Illinois Policy Institute -
A few parting observations, lessons to be learned, and things to watch in the future:
It is hard to find positives in the contract, but for what it’s worth: Chicago had one of the shortest school days and years in the US. The school day is a bit longer and the student calendar, at 175 days, is close to normal length. There is an evaluation process that will include measurements of student performance. That sets a useful precedent that might be expanded upon in future contracts.
But the evaluation process could have been a lot better. What the district agreed to barely meets the state minimum – and maybe doesn’t even do that. The contract creates room for unions to manipulate scores and prevent poor teachers from being identified and either coached up or moved out, particularly by fiddling with the subjective “teacher practice” section of the evaluation.
And the economic terms could lead to bankruptcy. A district that expects to drain its reserve funds and is looking at a billion dollar budget hole the year after this cannot afford across-the-board pay raises. CTU teachers could have taken a 13 percent pay cut and still been doing better than many of their peers. Either CPS will need a bailout, or we can look forward to schools being closed and teachers laid off.
Was the strike legal?
We at IPI believed it was not. We’ll never have the chance to have a court rule on this question, but if CTU didn’t violate the letter of the law, they certainly violated the spirit of the law. Evaluations in particular were supposed to be set in a process that was separate from collective bargaining, but CTU used the strike to force the administration to rewrite and water down evaluations. That wasn’t what CPS called for, and CPS is supposed to have the final say. But that’s what CTU got – from the strike.
Forget about the strike, is the contract legal?
Two more legal problems to keep an eye on: First, state law says that schools have to have a “needs improvement” category for subpar but not quite disastrous evaluations. In Chicago that will be called “Developing”. That may seem like semantics, but it reflects a mindset that needs to be called out at least. A “needs improvement” rating means a teacher should be working to be better. “Developing” suggests “you’re okay, you just need a little more time.” Now we don’t necessarily need dramatic, overnight improvement from all of these teachers, (that’s what the “unsatisfactory” rating is for) but subpar teachers need to get the message that they can’t stay where they are at indefinitely. Calling them “Developing” doesn’t send that message.
Second legal issue: under the contract the first year of evaluations under the new rules (with student performance included) are basically for practice. A bad evaluation is not supposed to be used against a teacher until the second year. The question (and not being an education law expert I’ll admit I don’t know the answer for sure) is whether this is allowed. Under the state law that governs teacher evaluations, Chicago Public Schools are supposed to implement the new evaluation process in at least 300 schools by September of this year. Is there some rule that allows for the first year not to count? Not that I’m aware of.
Fight to Win or Don’t Fight At All (A Meditation on the Chicago Way)
If you’re an employer with a unionized workforce, and the union is serious about a strike, at some point you’re going to have to make a choice: Are you ready to do what it takes to win the thing or aren’t you?
Winning means outlasting the union. It means setting terms and sticking to them. It means angering the union brass and being called names (like “bully”) and being accused of trying to bust the union. It doesn’t mean busting the union, but it does mean accepting the risk that the union will bust itself. It means telling the people who are affected by the strike (Chicago parents in this case) why you are sticking to your guns and why they should be willing to endure with you. Once the union walks, it’s not your job to protect the union. If you aren’t ready to do what it takes to win, you would be better off giving in up front.
Which leads to the question: Was Rahm Emanuel willing to do what it took to win? From my perch it looks like he didn’t fully count the cost: he took steps to make life less difficult for parents by opening up schools for lunches and activities, but he never really went to the parents and told them why they should stand with him. The lawsuit, filed just as the district and the union were closing in on an agreement, seemed timed to do the minimum of damage to CTU.
In the end the mayor may wind up with the worst of all outcomes: the CTU remains strong and has singled him out as an enemy; a lot of teachers have gotten to associate him with The Grinch and there’s no guarantee that CTU won’t back another candidate for mayor next time around. School reforms have been watered down to a point where it will be difficult for the mayor to present himself as an innovator. There’s a lesson for the next time a big-city mayor confronts a teachers union: let the union take care of itself, count the cost and fight to win.