26,000 teachers went on strike in Chicago Monday, leaving 350,000 students stranded in a political battle they’re too young to understand. Here are seven things you should know about the city’s public school system and the union that controls it.
1. Chicago Public Schools (CPS) are known for underachieving. In 2011, they had a dropout rate of 38 percent and graduated only 58 percent of their students. You’ll notice the numbers are even worse when you isolate for male students: 45 percent and 52 percent, respectively.
2. Test scores are nonetheless dismal for students who stay in the classroom. Approximately 79 percent of 8th graders in the CPS system are not proficient in reading, and another 80 percent are not proficient in mathematics.
3. Chicago is home to one of the shortest school years in the country: 170 days. When the city suggested at least adding a little time onto the average school day, teachers refused to work. CPS were forced hire 477 new teachers, and union members were able to keep their salaries.
4. Voters demanded accountability through legislation that would make it easier to fire teachers whose students weren’t succeeding in the classroom. The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) recently referred to the evaluation process as “unacceptable,” admitting that nearly 30 percent of its members may be fired as result.
5. The CTU then tried to shift blame for the failing test scores onto things like “poverty” and “exposure to violence.” Yet only ten states rank worse than Illinois in terms of unemployment. With parents struggling to make ends meet, raising taxes and taking away students’ schools do nothing except exacerbate these conditions.
6. Compared to their fellow Chicagoans, union-connected teachers are practically sailing yachts to work and eating caviar at lunchtime. The city’s average teacher makes $74,839 per year (not including benefits), does not pay into Social Security, and receives a plentiful government worker pension upon retirement. (Teachers with 30+ years of employment had a final salary of $106,000.) And, despite public school teachers already making roughly 42 percent more than their counterparts in the private sector, the CTU still argued for a 30 percent pay increase.
7. President Obama has no comment on the strike. I have zero room for astonishment.