Chicago Strike: a “Teachable Moment” for Kids


Chicago-HonkPHOTO: Flickr/Chicago Teachers Union

Chicago-CatSeptember 15 rally. PHOTO: Flickr/Chicago Teachers Union

ChicagoStrikeChildren and parents march with teachers in Chicago on September 15. PHOTO: Flickr/Chicago Teachers Union

Children returning to public schools in Chicago, Illinois, this fall were in for a new experience—and it wasn’t just new friends, a new teacher or even a new school. On September 10, just a few days into the new school year, their teachers decided to go on strike.

In all, 26,000 teachers, who are members of a union, walked off their jobs in protest against longer hours and cuts to school budgets. It was the first strike in Chicago public schools in 25 years. The strike meant no school for seven days for 350,000 Chicago kids.

For one first grader, Madeleine Reed-Horn, the strike made her think hard about what her new teacher needed in order to do her job.

“I thought it was a teachable moment,” said Diana Reed, a former public school teacher and Madeleine’s mother. She explained to her daughter why the strike was important for the teachers, even if it wasn’t easy on families. “I supported the teachers, because in order to do their jobs, they need respect,” said Ms. Reed.

The mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emmanuel, a Democrat, wanted to make changes in the school system. He wanted a longer school day (7 hours for elementary and middle school and 7.5 hours for high school). He also wanted to grade teachers according to how well kids do on standardized tests.

Teachers wanted to get paid more if they had to work longer hours. They also said that standardized tests are not the best way to judge how good they are as teachers, because a lot of things affect how well kids do on tests. When their families are poor and they don’t have enough food to eat, for example, children won’t do well on tests no matter how good the teacher is.

In the end, the teachers and the Mayor worked out a compromise. The teachers agreed to a longer school day, but they got extra pay for their extra work. Also, tests will count for grading teachers, but not as much as the Mayor wanted. The teachers went back to work on September 19.

So who won?

Most experts say teachers did exactly what Diana Reed described: the strike taught people about what teachers need to do their jobs.

Karen Lewis, the president of the Chicago Teachers Union, told CNN, “I think this has been an opportunity for people across the nation to have their voices heard, and I think we’re moving in the right direction.”

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