Take 5: April 1 strike, bilingual ed, REACH

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The Chicago Teachers Union's House of Delegates voted 486 to 124 in favor of a one-day strike on April 1.

Photo by Melissa Sanchez

The Chicago Teachers Union's House of Delegates voted 486 to 124 in favor of a one-day strike on April 1.

By a 4-to-1 margin, the Chicago Teachers Union House of Delegates voted Wednesday to hold a one-day strike on Friday, April 1. The CTU is urging members to picket outside their schools that morning and then gather downtown for a rally, where labor allies are expected to join them and protest the state budget impasse, as well.

“A strike is about withholding labor because the labor conditions have gotten to a point that are not tolerable,” said union President Karen Lewis during a press conference following the 486 to 124 vote.

In a statement, CPS CEO Forrest Claypool said he was disappointed in the vote, which he said gives Gov. Bruce Rauner “more ammunition in his misguided attempt to bankrupt and take over Chicago Public Schools.”

District officials have argued that the union cannot legally strike until fact-finding and a subsequent waiting period required by state law are over, which would be in mid-May. The union counters that the April 1 walk-out would be over what it sees as an unfair labor practice, namely, the Board’s withholding of so-called “step and lane” salary increases. It contends federal labor law and Supreme Court rulings are on its side.

After the press conference, Lewis spoke to the concerns and frustrations of members who don’t think a one-day strike is a good idea, including some educators who plan to cross the picket line. “We’re hoping that between now and April 1 we’ll have a chance to talk to them,” said Lewis, who refused to call those workers scabs. “Can we not call people names yet? They haven’t done anything yet.”

Lewis acknowledged that the quick turnaround on the strike issue made it tough to get information out to members. “Normally they’ve had a longer time to plan. I apologize for that,” she said, adding that the union’s recent focus on the primary elections was also a factor. The district says it will provide contingency plans in the coming days for families that can’t find child care for April 1.

2. New bilingual ed policy … In an unprecedented move, a former high-ranking CPS official stepped up during the public comment session of a School Board meeting to criticize cuts to central office.

Karen Garibay-Mulattieri, who abruptly quit her position as chief of the Office of Language and Cultural Education (OLCE) last month, spoke toward the end of Wednesday’s meeting in which the Board approved a revised bilingual education policy that makes dual language the “optimal” model for bilingual education in CPS.

Garibay-Mulattieri said the new policy has the potential to be the best in the country but that it needs the support of an adequately staffed Central Office, which she says was severely cut back earlier this year. Neither Board members nor staff responded.

She was particularly concerned about having enough staff to support schools identified by an ongoing audit as needing help. The final results of that audit, originally due in February, now aren’t expected until June.

“You have to have an adequate team with expertise to help move those schools in the right direction,” she later told Catalyst.

In its first overhaul since 2002, the policy reflects state and federal standards related to bilingual education and removes references to outdated terminology. It also calls for more closely monitoring students after they’ve transitioned into general education classes and bringing preschool under the policy. It was not immediately clear what the impact will be on schools.

The School Board also approved Jorge Macias as the new chief of OLCE. Previously, he was the department’s deputy chief and a CPS principal.

(Catalyst wrote about the district’s move toward dual language and the growing need for bilingual education in Chicago’s suburbs in our Winter 2012 issue of In Depth.)

3. Too much time on REACH … Principals’ suggestions for improving the REACH teacher evaluation took center stage in a report presented this week by the Chicago Public Education Fund, a nonprofit that has long worked with CPS on principal and teacher quality issues.

The report says the average principal spends roughly six hours on one evaluation and an average of 2.5 weeks schoolwide on the required classroom observations.

According to the report, principals say they could provide better feedback to teachers if observations were shorter and more frequent, as opposed to the two formal observations the district now requires principals to make every year for each teacher.

Other recommendations include limiting district-related meetings outside of schools, quarterly sessions on effective coaching conversations with teachers and providing full school-level reports in July, instead of the fall, so principals can plan better and develop their teachers. It also said that existing supports for principals, including online professional development tools, were not easily accessible and tough to navigate.

“School leaders said very few of the existing supports help them foster the various skills necessary to effectively evaluate and coach teachers across all content areas, grade levels and experience sets in a building,” the report says.

4. Arne’s return … After months of speculation about what he would do next, former U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced last week he’s returning to Chicago as a managing partner of a quasi-philanthropic group that’s focused on education, immigration and social justice issues. Duncan will set up a Chicago office for the Emerson Collective that is dedicated to bringing investment and jobs to youth in low-income neighborhoods.

Duncan, who was CEO of CPS from 2001 to 2009, said he was drawn to the job because of increasing violence in Chicago, which can be linked to a lack of jobs. “If kids have hope, they don’t pick up guns,” Duncan told the LA Times.

A recent study found that 47 percent of African-American males and 20 percent of Latino males in Chicago between the ages of 20 and 24 were neither working nor in school.

The Palo Alto-based Emerson Collective is a limited liability corporation that was founded in 2011 by Steve Jobs’ widow, Laurene Powell Jobs. She and other Silicon Valley billionaires, most famously Mark Zuckerberg, have faced criticism over their use of LLCs, rather than traditional nonprofits, as charity vehicles.

Unlike traditional nonprofits, LLCs can lobby lawmakers and invest in private companies without disclosing any information to the public.

5. University union drives … Adjunct professors at Duke University voted last week to unionize — the most recent in a series of universities across the country, including two in Chicago. The move is part of a national SEIU campaign that started last year.

The campaign is meant to address what union activists see as a worrying shift in university hiring practices from tenured professors to adjunct professors, who are paid less and face job instability, as a way to cut costs.

In recent months, adjunct instructors and professors who aren’t on tenure tracks unionized at the University of Chicago and Loyola University. Adjunct professors at Columbia College, Roosevelt University and the University of Illinois at Chicago had preceded them.

Meanwhile, an organizing drive is under way among the 1,900 adjunct employees at DePaul University, a Catholic institution. DePaul’s president, The Rev. Dennis H. Holtschneide, has expressed concern that unionization under National Labor Relation Board’s standards “would blur the boundaries of church and state.”

Holtschneide believes a 1979 Supreme Court ruling protects the First Amendment rights of “schools operated by a church to teach both religious and secular subjects” out of the NLRB’s jurisdiction. Despite that ruling, a regional NLRB office ruled in December that it had jurisdiction over Loyola, which is also a Catholic institution.

  • Concerned Parent

    Really Mr. Claypool ? On PARCC – CPS has even suggested that schools call the police if they see people
    handing out leaflets to students. We generally do not encourage
    leafletting to elementary students, but the call to bring in the police
    is a bit over-the-top. Students do have a right to refuse. Chief
    Education Officer Janice Jackson acknowledged at the BOE meeting
    yesterday that schools have to attempt to administer the test but that
    students may refuse the test. From Raise Your hand

  • Concerned Parent

    From the Fund study: “there were 18 IES who spent the majority of their time in schools.” Who gave the Fund this information ? I have heard from many leaders that this was NOT the case and some caused confusion and gave wrong information.

    If this support would have been there then this would not have happened: The UChicago Consortium on School Research also
    suggests that low-performing schools have disproportionately low numbers
    of proficient and distinguished teachers, suggesting additional support
    is especially important there.

    FTI- some chiefs push principals into giving lower ratings to (red-shirted) teachers based on MAP scores and student grades. This diminishes principal and new teacher retention and chases distinguishes teachers out.

  • Concerned Parent

    Gov. Rauner, will you sue charter school UNO and its leader Rangel? CPS is suing BBB. Where was the Illinois charter school commission on monitoring UNOs outrageous spending and rip-off of funds? Help, we need the Feds.