Take 5: Strike vote set, fewer black teachers, major changes to federal law

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CTU members and their supporters rallied in Grant Park in late November. The union will take a strike vote over three days next week.

Photo by Max Herman

CTU members and their supporters rallied in Grant Park in late November. The union will take a strike vote over three days next week.

Mark your calendars. The Chicago Teachers Union has scheduled a strike vote over three days next week: Dec. 9, 10 and 11. Following a House of Delegates meeting on Wednesday, CTU President Karen Lewis told reporters that a strike authorization vote is needed to speed contract negotiations.

“Clearly what they’re wanting to do is just stall, stall, stall because they don’t want a strike,” said Lewis, according to a Chicago Tribune story. “We don’t want a strike; we’d like to have a settled contract. It’s kind of hard to do without strike authorization at this point.”

An actual strike would still be more than three months away, as state law requires a lengthy process before educators can walk out on the job. March is the earliest a strike could take place.

In a bulletin updating members on contract negotiations, union leaders said authorization approval would signal CPS CEO Forrest Claypool and Mayor Rahm Emanuel that “their proposed give-backs totaling a 12% salary cut is NOT ACCEPTABLE. CPS has been dragging out the negotiations for one year now, and it is time to force them to find the revenue solutions that will keep our schools strong.”

Among the union’s contract proposals: enforceable lower class sizes; full-day free preschool for low-income 3- and 4-year-olds; more community schools; fewer standardized tests; an end to school closings and charter expansions; and a minimum $15 hourly salary for all CPS employees.

The district says the CTU is asking for an additional $1.3 billion in spending it can’t afford. CPS has threatened a combination of mid-year layoffs and more “unsustainable borrowing” if it doesn’t receive close to a half-billion dollars in aid from Springfield in the next two months.

2. Major changes to federal law … The U.S. House of Representatives easily approved sweeping changes to No Child Left Behind, which the New York Times describes as returning local control after an era “in which the federal government aggressively policed public school performance.”

The 2002 law brought a focus to accountability and high-stakes testing. It was supposed to penalize schools that failed to bring students up to standards by 2014, although the federal government doled out dozens of waivers to states that couldn’t meet all the standards. It has now become “anathema to both the right and the left, and it became clear that the sanctions as well as the goal of proficiency by 2014 were unworkable,” the Times says.

The new, bipartisan bill would largely dismantle the federal accountability system that required schools to demonstrate academic progress as measured by test scores, or face punishments, the Washington Post reports. But it would still retain annual testing requirements, and the reporting of these results by subsets such as race, poverty and disability status. It also continues to require that states use test scores and other measures to rate schools.

The bill significantly reduces the authority of the federal government, barring it from influencing state decisions on such issues as Common Core State Standards and teacher evaluations.

Arne Duncan, the outgoing education secretary, said the new bill would “reduce over-testing and one-size-fits-all federal mandates,” according to the story. The Washington Post’s editorial board says the argument for leaving it to the states to decide what to do about failing schools would be “more persuasive if not for the fact that before the strict accountability of No Child Left Behind, states generally did little to nothing to fix schools that badly served poor and minority children.”

The bill is expected to pass the Senate next week. President Obama has already said he will sign off.

3. Charter school appeals … It may not be the end for the three charter schools the CPS School Board voted last month to close due to poor academic performance. The schools can appeal to the State Charter School Commission by mid-December, and at least one school plans to do so, according to the Sun-Times. It would be the first time the four-year-old commission takes up an appeal from an existing charter school.

Hosanna Jones, the commission’s interim executive director, said that as of Thursday none had filed an official appeal. But officials from Betty Shabazz International Charter School’s Sizemore campus say they are preparing one, while Amandla Charter School is exploring its options. Bronzeville Lighthouse has filed for an injunction in Cook County court to prevent its closure, but declined to say whether it would file an appeal.

Meanwhile, the Chicago International Charter School is not planning to fight to keep open its Larry Hawkins campus, which also is slated for closure, with a School Board vote later this month. During a CICS meeting on Wednesday, board members considered the possibility of voting to “consolidate” the Altgeld Gardens campus with the nearby CICS-Longwood campus, potentially bypassing a CPS closure.

Charter Schools USA, the company that manages both Hawkins and Longwood, was in favor of a consolidation, which it said could help with messaging to students and families. Erin Lanoue, of Charter Schools USA, said she worries that many of Hawkins’ 179 students will drop out unless a sizeable cohort can be convinced to transfer to the same school. “If they feel demoralized, how do I keep them engaged and get them on a bus anywhere?” Lanoue asked.

In the end, board members decided not to go the consolidation route because they believe the district will shutter Hawkins regardless. “They are dead set on closing the school, because they want to make a point about being willing to close charter schools,” said board member David Chizewer.

CICS and Charter Schools USA officials at the meeting expressed skepticism that CPS would ensure all Hawkins students end up at a better school after the closure. CICS officials said the district has offered to pay for students’ transportation costs for one year, but only if at least 10 students transfer to the same school. For most students, the closest neighborhood school option is Fenger. In addition, officials said the Noble Network of Charter Schools has said it will absorb any students who want to attend.

In related news, of the five applicants that were denied charters from CPS in late October, Jones says just one has filed an appeal: Connected Futures. The group had proposed opening five campuses.

4. Fewer black teachers … The BGA reported that the number of black teachers in CPS has reached a “modern-day record low.” District data and state data show that just 22 percent of the nearly 22,000 teachers in non-charter schools are black, a decline of 9 percentage points from the 2007-2008 school year.

School closings, teacher layoffs, the establishment of a teacher quality pool and more difficult standards for aspiring teachers to pass the state’s basic skills test have contributed to the decline. State records show that pass rates for this test are lower for black and Latino candidates than for white candidates.

In a statement, CPS said it “is taking additional proactive steps to improve the diversity of our workforce.” The district said that these steps include recruiting partnerships with historically black colleges and encouraging CPS students — 39 percent of whom are black — to enter the teaching profession.

5. Pension fund lawsuit … The Chicago Teachers’ Pension Fund filed a lawsuit in New York federal court last week against two trading platforms and 10 big banks, including Bank of America, Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase.

The pension fund alleges the banks colluded for at least eight years to prevent interest-rate swaps from being publicly traded on electronic exchanges, Reuters reports.

As a result, the lawsuit alleges, the banks prevented competition, and the pension fund overpaid for the interest rate swaps it purchased from several banks. (Swaps allow the pension fund to switch out fixed interest-rate payments for variable ones, and can help hedge against risk.) The pension fund is seeking class action status for the lawsuit, as well as an “end to this anti-competitive agreement,” plus compensation for damages.

Interest-rate swaps have made headlines in Chicago before: Last year the Tribune published an investigation into CPS’ risky use of interest-rate swaps that resulted in the district paying tens of millions of dollars more in interest on bond deals.

A few last notes … Data gathered by the anti-testing group More Than a Score show at least 20,000 Illinois public school students opted out of the controversial PARCC exam earlier this spring. The group compiled the data by requesting public records from 150-plus Illinois school districts, in addition to using surveys and previously reported opt-out numbers (including a Catalyst report on preliminary data from CPS).

If the group’s numbers are correct, that means that last year’s opt-out rate from the state standardized assessment was 10 times higher than that from the ISATa year earlier. Officials plan to release statewide and local PARCC results, as well as the opt-out rate, on Dec. 11. The state superintendent already has said districts won’t lose funding if they failed to test the federally required percentage of students.

And finally, check out this WBEZ story about a group of Roosevelt High School civics students who launched the “School Lunch Project” to petition CPS to change what goes into school lunches.

  • Concerned Parent

    At the CTU meeting a group of teachers were discussing the required-to-attend math workshop that Pearson gave to a network. Teachers had only negative things to say about it-waste of time, not relevant to them or the grade level they teach. Worse, one said when her table asked about using PARCC results for instructional planning, the presenter could not answer the question.
    Teachers said they are being made to go to more of these math workshops.
    How much does CPS pay for this? Did they not learn with Supes?

  • Northside

    When you make being a teacher more and more expensive and taking more time, it is inevitable that economic and racial diversity will suffer. What other middle class jobs make you take unpaid internships for up to a year ? who can afford this?
    Our schools has student teachers who are super smart , but you can also tell they come form high middle class backgrounds and white. I am white, and I don’t think that it is a bad thing to have white teachers. What I don’t like is that teachers are starting to come from only middle class families.

    What struggling family is going to spend 50k a year to educate their college age child for a job that eventually pay about 40k a year, no pension, no union protections, and no respect. You can get that kind of job working in entry level tech jobs. The only people that can afford to be a teacher are people from middle class and upper class backgrounds. I’ll admit I tell EVERYONE not to go into education, even our student teachers. It is not worth it.

    BTW, as usual I ask, why isn’t anyone complaining that only 5 to 8 percent of all teachers are male? I would assume that in the case of Black Male teachers, it must be less than 2 or 3 percent of the whole work force??? Nice job Bush, Obama, and Duncan with “making teaching” diverse???