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Rahm says Chicago strikes, while Boston teachers settle

Posted by Jim Stergios  September 14, 2012 12:06 PM

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Those Chicago teachers are really being intransigent. They need to learn how to compromise, settle and drink deep from the well of education reform—just like the Boston teachers union, which finalized a contract with the city’s school department on Wednesday.

That’s the view from Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. But is it true? False? Well, it certainly seems like the rest of Chicago isn’t buying it. The fact is, neither should we. The debate on the Chicago school contract and its now four-day-old strike is enlightening if we look at what the Chicago Teachers Union wants and what the BTU got.

Consider what the Boston Teachers Union says about the comparative terms sought (CTU) and agreed to (BTU) in their full-page ad in today’s Chicago Sun-Times.

On teacher quality, there are two issues that are perennial points of contention. Can a principal choose who s/he wants in the classroom based on performance or will it be based upon other factors such as the number of years a teacher has in the profession? At its core, it's a question of who gets to control hiring and firing of teachers.

As CBS Chicago notes, the BTU ad argues that

teachers in Boston whose schools have closed have a seniority-based right to obtain positions in other schools. The deal is the same when there are layoffs, the ad says.

“We support the right of Chicago Teachers to obtain similar protections. To deny hard-working professionals this right is to deny that experience and training matter in educating our youngsters,” the ad says.

The Chicago Sun-Times has an editorial today on Mayor Emanuel’s misrepresentation of the BTU contract settlement, where it notes:

The Chicago Teachers Union wants teachers displaced from closed schools to get first crack at job openings, something Chicago has never had.

Boston has always had recall, always and forever guaranteeing laid-off teachers a job. Seniority trumps all else. That remains in the new contract for teachers displaced from closed schools.

A second critical issue for districts seeking to improve the quality of teaching is often said to be having a standard evaluation process. (I have written extensively about how overstated the impact of such evaluations will be in the hands of school officials who will employ them bureaucratically — but that’s another discussion.) On evaluations, the BTU settlement and what’s at stake for the CTU are miles apart. CBS notes:

the ad says, “At some point, student test score data will be used as one of multiple measures to determine part of the teacher’s ratings.” It says there is no set percentage, and the issue was not part of the settlement.

The Sun-Times’ editorial underscores the fact that Emanuel is seeking to attach 40 percent of teachers’ evaluations on student performance. In contrast

Boston teachers agreed to evaluations based in part on student performance. Boston doesn’t have a set percentage like Chicago… and their union president tells us it will never get that high in Boston. [my italics]

Finally, there is more money. Emanuel repeated that while the CTU is striking to gain a 16 percent raise over a four-year contract, Boston teachers settled for a nominal 12 percent raise—and that was for a six-year contract. And that raise included cost-of-living increases. Wow, right? Not so fast, says the Sun-Times editorial:

Chicago’s 16 percent includes a cost-of-living pay raise plus annual increases for each extra year of service and more education. The COLA raise is only half of the 16 percent.

Shockingly, Boston’s announced raise only includes the COLA. But the district, like nearly every one in the country, also offers raises for experience and education. This omission makes comparison impossible and unfair — but so hard to resist!

Those extra raises in Boston amount to an additional 2 to 3 percent a year, the school system tells us.

Boston teachers, it follows, will get raises that range from roughly 24 to 30 percent on average over six years.

Not 12 percent.

This stuff is complex. It’s complex because we, the adults, have made it overly complex to muddy the waters and the ability to have a debate that is non-political. Here are some basic facts for us in Boston:

  1. Seniority continues its reign in Boston.
  2. The teacher evaluation will not include the kind of focus on student performance that will have an impact, and it will likely be just more paper that covers all kinds of soft measures that will lead to sparingly few changes. This is another way of restating (1).
  3. The topline 12 percent raise is the product of legal parsing and theory. In reality, we will see 4-plus percent increases annually.

I get why Rahm is using Boston as his example. Our politics these days is not a place of vision, and that’s why the rhetoric has little to recommend it in terms of hard truths. That’s in part why people have turned off from following what should be important debates, like the teacher contract. We all knew how it would turn out. Admit it.

Our political and community leaders keep tacking toward the siren’s song of in-district reform for no other reason than their own ambitions. Literary history teaches us that only two boats ever escaped the siren’s song. That’s a lot of kids washed up on shore.

The Boston Teachers Union did not settle. They won.

Crossposted at Pioneer's blog. Follow me on twitter at @jimstergios, or visit Pioneer's website.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

Jim Stergios is executive director of the Pioneer Institute. Before joining Pioneer, he was Chief of Staff and Undersecretary for Policy in the Commonwealth's Executive Office of Environmental Affairs, where More »

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