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How Good Is Chicago Contract?

Alexander Russo | September 20, 2012

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Last Friday, UTLA put on an event to demonstrate support for the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) and held a conference call with CTU delegates who were then still on strike (see Support spreads for CTU Socialist Worker).  Excitement among union leaders and rank-and-file teachers was high.  Accountability-minded reformers were grumbling that the district had given away too much.

Chicago teacher union leader Karen Lewis

The strike is now over, and the Chicago contract indeed includes some teacher-friendly provisions that UTLA would likely applaud.

However, there are some elements of the deal that was hammered out that probably wouldn’t please anyone at UTLA headquarters — specifically the new teacher evaluation provisions. And the reality is that figuring out how to do a citywide teacher evaluation plan that includes student achievement is something that many big districts are trying but no one has figured out.

In terms of contract provisions UTLA would like, the new Chicago deal retains traditional “steps and lanes” (extra pay for teachers who earn extra certifications and degrees, as well as seniority), excludes so-called “merit” pay (paying teachers more based on how much their kids learn), and provides “recall rights” for teachers at schools that are closed to get new jobs at other schools.  It also frees Chicago teachers up from having to do their daily lesson plans according to a centralized template, which was an annoying nuisance in the past. Oh, and there are some nice salary raises, too.  (See Chicago Public Radio:  Strike ends, union declares victory).

But Mayor Emanuel got a substantially longer school day and year out of the deal, and teacher evaluations in Chicago will now include measures of student achievement, which is something UTLA is trying to avoid or limit.  Emanuel wanted student achievement to count as much as 40 percent in teacher evaluations, but only got 25 percent in the first year.  (State law — adopted to help Illinois win Race To The Top funding — set a 30 percent target.) But that’s still a lot more than zero.

Compared to other places, Chicago’s new contract doesn’t go as far as it could have.  This Wall Street Journal article notes that Denver and Washington DC contracts both went further in terms of changing the traditional seniority- and tenure-based big city labor contracts. Student achievement counts 35 percent in DC, and federal law sets a range as high as 50 percent.  (See Chicago Sun Times:  Winners and losers in teachers’ strike — Rahm Emanuel is both; Chicago Tribune Teacher gains debated).

Where do things stand in Los Angeles? A “supplemental” labor agreement was negotiated and agreed to by UTLA and LAUSD last November.  Currently, the district and union are hashing out how to comply with the judge’s orders to include student achievement in teacher evaluations.

At some point in the not too distant future, it seems like Los Angeles, like many other districts, may have to deal with the issue of student achievement in teacher evaluations.  The long-term result may be better teaching and more student learning, but it’s not an easy process, and is unlikely to be a magic bullet.  (See Wall Street Journal: With Strike Over, Chicago Faces Another Test).

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