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CPS Strike Could Ignite Change

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Students who attend Chicago public schools may be excited they do not have to attend school due to the Chicago Teachers Union strike because -- well, they don't have school. What some students and parents don't realize is that this could be a benefit to the students in classrooms, not just the teachers.

According to data from Chicago Public Schools in the 2010-11 school year, 523 schools did not make Adequate Yearly Progress. AYP is an indicator of progress used by standards in No Child Left Behind to measure how a school has progressed based on a variety of different factors. Only 75 schools made AYP in the district in that same year.

AYP has been a very controversial tool to measure schools because it can often be dragged down was a small select group of student that don't adequately display the school as a whole, but some states, like New York, support it.

CTU says they are going on strike to reduce classes sizes and make sure social services -- like social workers and nurses in a city where violent crime is at a peak -- stay in schools. They also want to make sure CPS is investing in all schools equally and to support the teachers in other areas of their contract, such a salary and benefits.

Although parents are scrambling to find safe places for their children to go, there could be some major benefits that come out of the strike. For instance, if teachers are successful at negotiating smaller class sizes, education will benefit. According to a prominent study in Tennessee on class sizes, students performed better in classes with smaller numbers of students. Students who came from poorer communities or were African-American made even bigger gains. These results were from the Student/Teacher Achievement Ratio Study in the late part of the previous century.

Newer studies reaffirmed these results, like the Student Achievement Guarantee in Education, in which researchers at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee reported that over a five year period of time, students living in poverty performed much better with smaller class sizes. If the CTU makes sure that classes remain smaller, student achievement could become much better.

Another major issue in CPS is the lack of social services. Without implementing these services, the crime rate and gang rate in Chicago could continue to rise. According to Tribune Media Group's Redeye Homicide Tracker data, as of September 8, 2012, there have been 373 homicides in the City of Chicago so far this year. This is much higher than 2011's figures at 295 homicides as of September 8, 2011.

Social workers and school psychologists are a vital part of making sure students end up making the correct choices and not getting caught up in gang-related or other crime. If the CTU gets more support services in school, that would be another major step for education -- students will be able to receive the support they need -- and for the City of Chicago's crime rate.

The other two issues CTU is walking the picket lines for are related to funding of schools and teacher benefits. I believe that making sure schools are funded equally is a vital part of education, because schools that are underfunded underachieve is many cases. A new way of funding schools needs to be developed and implemented.

As for the teacher's salary/benefit demands, many of the details haven't been released, but both the State of Illinois and City of Chicago are facing tough times economically, so not all demands are probably going to be met.

My personal opinion on teacher's salaries is simple: Teachers are underpaid. I certainly believe that the majority of people believe the same thing. Education is the root of America. Without teachers, we wouldn't have the technological achievements, scientific boundaries broken, medical advances or engineering feats like we have today. Teachers spark imagination, teach the fundamentals and make sure students are well-off. We as Americans should and do credit them for our success, and as a whole, they need to be paid a lot more than they currently are. But, that is not the way the world works. That is a fight for another day.

On the other side of the debate, Mayor Rahm Emanuel stated that the two remaining issues were a new teacher evaluation system and a principal's ability to get rid of teachers. Evaluating teachers based on student performance and other classroom factors is an interesting concept. I think there needs to be a new way to evaluate teachers, but it cannot solely be based on student achievement and student data. There are numerous other factors that could lead to low student achievement, such as outside family issues, lack of focus or special needs. The answer to that issue is, again, a fight for another day.

The other issue the mayor said is still on the table is the principal's ability to fire teachers. I understand where the CTU is coming from, but I believe it is the principal's decision to let go of a teacher. There are many, many teachers who have sparked imagination, taught the fundamentals and made sure students are well off, but the fact is that there are some teachers who just cannot teach. When a student receives a poor teacher, it can set them behind in a certain subject area a level or two, making it difficult for the student to get caught up years later. If the idea that students to be better educated is the reason for this strike, then CTU needs to agree with CPS that the principals at the buildings can let go of teachers.

According to the Chicago Tribune, as of midnight Monday morning, the CTU disagrees with the mayor's statements that those are the only two issues on the bargaining table. What they are really battling is unknown, but one thing's for sure: The negotiations could provide some much-needed benefits to students, but the students should be back in school by Tuesday to make sure nothing bad happens on the streets and they are receiving the proper education.

So, students: When you are sitting at home watching TV or surfing the Internet instead of learning in the classroom, think about the benefits you may receive from this negotiation, but also think about thanking your teacher when you go back to school. Thank them for the excellent education they are providing to you.