What is it like as a CPS parent of a high school senior and her eighth grade brother waiting for news on the teachers' strike here in Chicago? Off the top, I have it easy. My children attend one of Chicago's top selective enrollment high schools. My eighth grader tested into the school's academic center, guaranteeing him a spot in the freshman class next year. Both have had access to incredible teachers, wonderful administrators, a challenging curriculum and an exceptionally supportive school environment.
I know that the vast majority of CPS students do not have these fortunes. And if the debate surrounding the CTU strike was squarely about leveling the playing field for those students, then I as a parent, a citizen and a moral human being would be out there, placard in hand, fighting the injustice of a system where a zip code not only determines your child's education, but their chances of making it through a summer weekend in Chicago alive.
But instead, all the online headlines, blog reading, newspaper scanning, and sound bites leading up to the strike revealed was a fight over compensation, merit pay, and the rehiring of 500 laid off teachers. Considering that the last two items had been conceded prior to this weekend's negotiations, I had to trust that the looming strike -- the first in 25 years -- was about much more than these issues.
After watching last night's press conference, I'm beginning to understand why I've been so confused.
The compensation issue, with CPS offering a 16 percent pay hike over four years, sounds like it is close to resolution. So what are the issues? According to last night's press conference, it's about health benefits, teacher evaluation procedures, job security, cuts to teacher training programs, air-conditioned classrooms, smaller class sizes, elected school boards, and increased wrap around services (i.e., social workers, school nurses and other support services). And beyond this is the issue of recall, a non-strike issue regarding the rehiring of laid-off teachers that, from all appearances, seems to be what the strike is about.
As a parent, thank you for giving us that list. But please don't look to CTU to prioritize the demands. "It's the whole package," Karen Lewis stated Sunday night, which explains the exasperated looks on Board President David Vitale's face.
While CPS prefers to negotiate in private, it publicly outmaneuvers CTU hands down. Opening 144 schools to provide breakfast, lunch, and a safe haven for the neediest students, or for those parents who cannot find alternative child care, is a good PR move. Calling those same places "scab schools," not so much. Updating the public with concessions as they occur, as we've observed CPS do over the past week -- good PR. Not being available to the board president and waiting hours to announce a strike while parents and students anxiously await confirmation (seemingly in order to open the 10 p.m. news), bad PR.
Ms. Lewis appears to have a good attorney standing beside her. What she may need for the next few days, however, is a better publicist.
As an informed, active parent, I shouldn't have had to guess what the issues at the strike's core really were. I should have known. And if the CTU hasn't won me over already, striking during the fall semester of my daughter's senior year, with college applications hovering, isn't going to help. And Ms. Lewis, I'm your left-wing, child of immigrants, first generation college-educated, union-loving base. If you want my support for the long haul (and I remember those Chicago teachers' strikes of old) you need to win me over now.
This blog post is part of HuffPost Chicago's "State of CPS" series, which features perspectives from Chicago Public School teachers, students, administrators, staff, parents and others experiencing recent changes to the district firsthand. Interested in sharing your take? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.