Teachers strike displaces students

By Kaley Fowler

As the Chicago Teachers Union and Chicago Public Schools battled over contract negotiations, approximately 350,000 students were displaced when the teachers strike wore on.

On Sept. 10, unionized teachers took to the streets following months of unsuccessful contract negotiations between CTU and CPS officials. As of press time, the teachers and school board were slated to reach an agreement on Sept. 16.

“[CTU and CPS] are working through the issues, but I do believe [the strike] was totally avoidable and totally unnecessary,” said Mayor Rahm Emanuel at a Sept. 11 press conference. “This was a strike of choice, and it’s the wrong choice for the children.”

During the press conference, Emanuel said he believes the students need to get back to school as soon as possible.

Michael McShane, a research fellow in education policy studies for the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, expressed a similar sentiment.

“There are 400,000 students that should be in school today that aren’t,” McShane said. “The school day is already one of the shortest in the country, so they’re losing valuable instruction time that they don’t really have to start with.”

While the students’ academic achievement is a major concern, it hasn’t necessarily been impacted by the strike, according to a 2008 study conducted by Harris Zwerling, assistant director of research for the Pennsylvania State Education Association.

The study, published in the Journal of Collective Negotiations, examined the duration of Pennsylvania teachers’ strikes compared to students’ scores on the Pennsylvania State Test. Zwerling said he found no correlation between the strikes and students’ test performance. According to him, this could be because strikes typically don’t last longer than the average winter break, and the lost instruction time is usually made up during the school year.

While Pennsylvania’s strikes had minimal impact on students, Zwerling said he is hesitant to speculate beyond the scope of his study, because conditions differ for low-income and minority students.

“Since students who [belong to] different at-risk groups are actually more reliant on the schools to provide their education than students who come from more advantaged backgrounds, the loss of time in schools would obviously impact [at-risk groups] more adversely,” he said.

In an effort to keep children safe while school was not in session, the city implemented the “Children First” contingency plan that offered parents a safe haven for their children during the strike.

As part of the plan, 144 CPS buildings were open Monday through Friday between 8:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m., providing families with a free childcare alternative.

Although the contingency plan was available to all CPS students, parents were asked to arrange their own childcare so children who most needed the supervision could take advantage of the program, according to Julie Greenberg, whose second-grade child attends a CPS elementary school.

As an alternative, Greenberg said she and other parents took turns babysitting each other’s children, using the time to encourage learning outside of the classroom through trips to the zoo, for example.Tonya Payne, a mother of two CPS students in the Beverly/Morgan Park neighborhood, also used the time to educate her children. According to Payne, her 8-year-old daughter started writing a book about the strike, and her 12-year-old son wrote daily reflections.

“Fortunately, speaking for my own children, they are in an environment where they have the type of support they need academically,” Payne said.

Payne said that although she had been able to look after her children during the day, she hoped the strike would end quickly and favorably for the teachers.

“My hope is that … there is truly some change that will take place,” Payne said. “If we don’t see change in the classroom then this [strike] is in vain, and that’s not fair to the teachers or the children.”

Footage of the teachers strike is available at ColumbiaChronicle.com.