Tuesday, August 4, 2020
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Rumblings of several strikes in Illinois schools

It started with the world-famous Chicago Teachers Union going on strike for seven days in early September, but before that, teachers in Mahomet-Seymour went on strike. A few days after the Chicago strike began, Lake Forest High School teachers walked off the job for two days. Evergreen Park District 124 followed later in the month, putting about 2,000 elementary and middle school students out of school.

There seems to be something in the water, because now several school districts and teachers’ unions have essentially given notice that they expect a strike in their schools.

For example, teachers in Champaign on Wednesday voted “overwhelmingly” to support a strike, although no strike date has been set and negotiating sessions between the Champaign Federation of Teachers and Champaign Unit School District No. 4 have been scheduled for Oct. 15 and 24. The district was apparently shocked that teachers would vote to authorize a strike while negotiations were still scheduled.

“We firmly believe that the issues on the table can be resolved through continued collective bargaining,” the Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette quoted a statement from the district as saying. “We value and respect our faculty and staff and want to work with the CFT to come to a successful conclusion to these negotiations.”

Strikes threaten schools elsewhere in the state as well—so ubiquitous that it’s getting difficult to keep up with news reports.

The latest news, from north suburban Highland Park, says teachers and District 112 are far apart and five hours of negotiations yesterday yielded little progress. With more than 98 percent of North Shore School District 112’s teachers voting to authorize a strike, teachers have set a strike date of Oct. 16 there.

Differences between the North Shore Education Association and the district seem to be about pay for teachers and benefits: The board’s current proposal is said to be “lower than anything teachers in surrounding districts got in [their] contracts,” the Highland Park News quoted one teacher as saying.

The fear, of course, is that if the union were to accept the board’s proposal, it could force teachers to use the district as a gateway to higher-paying jobs in neighboring suburban districts. If that were true, it would compromise the quality of teachers in District 112. The teachers believe it’s true, but we believe it’s not a universal truth. Many teachers, good teachers, would stay.

Don’t expect it to stop here

One of the major issues in the Chicago strike was the use of a controversial teacher evaluation system. A compromise was reached in Chicago, but the question about the effectiveness of school reform remains open, as University of Illinois sociologist Rachel Gordon writes.

A new law in Illinois requires student test scores and other measures of student growth to be incorporated into teacher evaluations by the 2015-16 school year, but the Chicago Public Schools wanted to jump start the process. No other district in Illinois moved forward with full implementation in this year, but we expect this issue will come up in several school districts when current collective bargaining agreements are renegotiated a few years from now, unless the laws are toughened.

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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