Chicago has been the focus of corporate school “reform,” but Chicago is now the epicenter of the push back against it. On June 11, 2012, Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) leaders announced that 89.73% of CTU members—98% of those who cast ballots—voted to give the union authority to call a strike if contract negotiations with Chicago Public Schools fail (Chicago Teachers Union). This astounding vote was about much more than a contract. It tapped into teachers’ deep anger at 17 years of neoliberal education “reforms” that have demoralized and blamed teachers and belittled their knowledge, taken the joy out of classrooms, and decimated public education. After 17 years of the tyranny of high stakes tests, business-like management of public schools, school closings and turnarounds by private operators, disinvestment of resources from neighborhood public schools, and moves to pay teachers based on competitive performance measures, teachers have had enough. A new revitalized teachers union, along with parents, students and community members of Chicago are standing up to the assault on public education.
On July 16, 2012, a mandatory fact finder—tasked with making recommendations for a new collective bargaining agreement between the Board of Education of the City of Chicago (Board) and CTU—shocked Mayor Rahm Emanuel by finding largely in favor of the CTU. Quickly, the Mayor and his appointed Board backed down on extending the school day without paying teachers for their extra time and agreed to rehire laid off teachers to add more art, music, and physical education classes to the school day. This was a victory for students, community members, and the CTU who have been fighting for a “better school day,” not just a longer day. But the struggle is far from finished. Teachers do not want a strike, but CTU leadership rejected the report noting that it left many key issues unresolved, including smaller class sizes, fair compensation for paraprofessionals, a rehire pool for laid-off teachers, and fair systems for teacher evaluation and compensation. Further, issues of charter school expansion and hiring more nurses and social workers are also at stake.
As a national Network of Teacher Activist Groups (TAG), we believe Chicago teachers are in a crucial battle to defend public education and make schools more equitable and just. The outcome of this struggle will not only impact the people of Chicago, but also set the tone for promoting educational equity across the nation. Their fight is our fight. We are asking educators, school social workers, parents, students, youth workers, and any concerned community members to join us in support and solidarity for the CTU teachers as they stand up to the powerful forces aligned to dismantle public education.