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It’s Rahm’s strike

If there’s a teacher’s strike in Chicago this fall, it will be the result of Rahm Emanuel’s approach to implementing the longer school day.

And the simplest – and perhaps only – way to avert a strike will require Emanuel to take another look at the plan.

That’s the clear implication of the fact-finder’s report issued last week by mediator Edwin Benn (and rejected by CPS and the CTU).

Emanuel isn’t mentioned by name in Benn’s report, but since he controls the school board, every option Benn outlines for the board is one that will ultimately be decided by Emanuel.

In comments on the report, the mayor did not seem inclined to consider its suggestions for settling the dispute.

According to Benn, the board “has a very straightforward option” to reduce the monetary impact of recommendations to pay teachers for the longer day and year, which he calls “the major flashpoint” of the dispute: it “can simply reduce the length of the school day and/or the school year from its stated expansion.”

Although the media has downplayed this dynamic – and the Chicago Tribune has editorialized against compromising on the longer day (or on charter expansion) — parent groups involved in the issue are picking up on it.

Can we afford it?

In an analysis of the fact-finding report, Raise Your Hand points to the longstanding failure to address school funding issues and says, “RYH does not believe we can afford a seven-hour day that comes with a 14.5 percent raise at this time.

“A 6.5-hour day that works by moving the teacher lunch [break] to the middle of the day would be affordable,” RYH argues.  “If you can’t afford something, don’t do it.”

A 6.5-hour day “is a ‘full day'” and is in fact the national average, RYH adds.  And “longer or shorter, CPS has still not sufficiently addressed the issues of quality in the school day – class size, fine and performing arts, violence prevention, foreign language, physical education, etc.”

Finally, “until we get real about the state of education funding and do something to change it, we won’t make real improvements in the school day.”

Before this, RYH has called for including parents in planning and for focusing on the quality of schooling, but hasn’t taken a position on the optimal length of the day.  Other groups including 6.5 To Thrive and the 19th Ward Parents have called for expanding the school day to 6.5 hours in elementary schools.

(In high schools – despite Emanuel’s announcement that he would scale back the longer day to seven hours — he’s still planning to expand the day from 6 hours and 45 minutes to 7.5 hours.  He’s also adding ten days to the school year.)

Expanding the day to 6.5 hours is essentially a no-cost option, since it involves shifting teachers’ lunch break and adding recess for students.  Staffing lunch and recess would still be an issue – an issue CPS has yet to seriously address – and the extra days would still be a factor.

6.5 To Thrive argues that a seven-hour day is too much for kids – “children need school-life balance” – and that the quality and content of learning is at least as important.

“It’s really about resources and quality,” said Tracy Baldwin of 6.5.  “It’s about quality, not quantity.”

Top scores at 6.5-hour schools

While CPS (along with the Tribune) touts the marginally-higher gains of Pioneer Schools that adopted the 7.5-hour day last year – despite highly mixed results; half of the 12 schools actually performed worse than the CPS average – Baldwin shared data showing that last year, 12 CPS neighborhood schools with 6.5-hour days far outperformed 24 charter schools with days ranging from 7 to 9 hours long.

The 12 schools with 6.5-hour days averaged 90.47 on the ISAT composite – nearly 15 percent higher than the CPS average.  The 24 charters averaged 75.8 percent – just 0.2 points above the average. And again, half of the longer-day schools scored below the CPS average.

KIPP Ascend, with a nine-hour day (from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.) scored nearly 5 points below the CPS average.  The school has a level 3 performance rating – not making adequate progress.  If it weren’t a charter school, it would be on probation.

[Now KIPP is getting a second campus — with a $13 million renovation — while better-performing schools in the area crumble.]

That backs up national studies that show the content and quality of schooling has much more impact than the length of the day, Baldwin said.  She says she’s heard from Pioneer School parents that “children can’t handle all that time in school – there were a lot of behavior issues.”

Pointing to statements by CPS officials about the need to focus on new common core standards, Baldwin worries that the additional time will be spent on test preparation – the opposite direction from the richer curriculum desired by parents.

The 19th Ward Parents share that concern, said Maureen Cullnan.  She’s especially concerned the longer day will open the door to for-profit companies selling computerized test prep programs to school districts.

She’s heard from school administrators that CPS plans to use the longer day for computerized test prep.  She stresses support for what’s called “blended learning” by the Gates Foundation, always a weathervane for the flavor of the month in the corporate reform movement.

Two months on test prep

If CPS wants more instructional time, one place to start would be reducing standardized testing and time spent on test prep, Cullnan said.  She said in her daughter’s 8th grade class, “when they got back from winter break they started doing test prep instead of language arts” and continued until the ISATs in March – more than two full months.

But with common core standards and a new teacher evaluation system based on student scores, CPS continues to increase standardized tests.

CPS could also save some of the millions of dollars spent on standardized tests, Cullnan said.

Emanuel responded to Benn’s report saying it wasn’t “tethered to reality.”  What he meant was that it proposed a salary increase – between 14 and 18 percent in the first year, largely to compensate for the longer work schedule – that CPS can’t afford.

In fact the report is firmly anchored in a complex reality. It explicitly acknowledges that CPS can’t afford the raises to pay for the longer school day and year, and points out that the school board has the option of adjusting the proposed schedule.

Under state labor law the mediator must consider a range of factors “as applicable,” including the district’s financial situation, prior collective bargaining agreements, and the cost of living.

Benn accepts the board’s budget projections, and he takes into account the board’s argument that it’s already paid for the additional hours and days with 4 percent annual raises in the previous contract.  He reduces the salary recommendation by the amount teachers gained over the cost of living in the previous contract, which went into effect just before the economy tanked.

Something for nothing

But the board can’t extend working hours by 20 percent and expect teachers “to effectively work the additional hours for free or without fair compensation,” he said, noting the long hours teachers work outside of class time.

It turns out that, according to Benn, it is Emanuel who is not tethered to reality, thinking he could extend the school day without paying for it.  “The board cannot expect much weight, if any, to be given to a budget deficit argument to defeat the recommendation for additional compensation…when the board created the problem by unilaterally implementing the longer school day and year to the extent it has.”

This makes sense to parents.  “We believe teachers should be compensated for their time,” said Christine McGovern of 19th Ward Parents.

“Our state doesn’t have the money and our city certainly doesn’t have the money,” said Baldwin.  “We can’t do something that we can’t afford.  I want a bigger house, but I can’t afford it.  Does that mean I’m entitled to it?

“In our state and in our city we are in debt because of decisions like this, adding on programs that we can’t afford,” she said.  “It’s so irresponsible.  As a parent, as a taxpayer, it makes me mad.”

[From Catalyst:  “(CPS) chief administrative officer Tim Cawley gave an overview of the budget and was asked if the district would be willing to scale back the longer, seven-houur day given its fiscal crisis.  Cawley said no, saying district officials believe that the longer day is the ‘right thing’ to do for students….(Board president David) Vitale said CPS revenue is down this year and will decrease again next year.”]

For its part, CTU has indicated flexibility on economic issues if it can get some consideration on classroom issues.  With school closings and turnarounds costing hundreds of experienced teachers their jobs every year, job security is also a key issue.  CTU wants laid-off teachers to have first crack at new positions.

If CPS wants to avoid a strike, it will offer something on this.  So far it hasn’t.

“At this point it’s not clear what we’re negotiating with,” said Xian Barrett, a teacher who’s active with the Caucus of Rank and File Educators.  “[CPS doesn’t] want to give up anything, they don’t want to pay for anything.”

The parents’ experience with this issue – in which their concerns about the quality of the school day and about resources to back it up have been roundly ignored – have led them all to take up the current campaign for an elected school board.

Raise Your Hand, 19th Ward Parents, and 6.5 To Thrive are all working with Communities Organized for Democracy in Education on petition drives to get an advisory referendum calling for an elected board on the ballot in precincts across the city in November.  They’ve also won support for the referendum from several aldermen.

McGovern said they’re finding support for the campaign among neighborhood residents – particularly since CPS released a budget that drained its reserve fund.  “So many people are just shocked at that budget,” she said.

“Parents are not at the table on decisions,” said Baldwin.  “We have all these rich corporate people coming in saying we want to make changes, and they just bulldoze things through.”

She adds: “I don’t want to be protesting and petitioning, but they don’t give us any other option.”

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Category: CPS, labor

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18 Responses

  1. Phil says:

    Lets also remember that the so called pioneer schools were also granted extra money to extend their days. Rahm is proposing a completely unfunded longer day for the rest of cps.

  2. Louie says:

    Stop funding unsuccessful charter schools. I worked at a charter school 2 years ago, it was a nightmare. Students didn’t like it, the school did not offer any extra curricular activities even though the school day was from 8 – 4, and never was enough supplies for staff to effectively teach.

  3. 19th Ward Jim says:

    I’m saddened at the fact that a group,as Rahm refers to the 19th Ward as, ghetto Irish, figured out EXACTLY what Benn did, and we did it for free and much quicker I may add. These are the people who are intentionally running this city,state, and country into the ground. If you think of your self as a “progressive”, ask yourself “What really are the they progressing to? What is their goal? ” I have the answer to that too, the reason the “leaders” don’t state it publicly is that it would be considered tresonous.

  4. Jennifer says:

    There is no research to support that longer=better. Rahm’s decision was knee-jerk. As a parent of a Northside junior, I am vehemently opposed to a longer year and day. It would be detrimental for my son. The mayor’s proposal is what is not “tethered in reality.” Teachers already work extremely long hours outside of the school day. It is ludicrous to expect them to work even more without being compensated fairly. If a strike occurs, it will be because of Rahm’s stubbornness. DROP THE IDEA OF A LONGER DAY AND YEAR!!!!!!!!

  5. Maestro says:

    As a parent of students in the system and a CPS teacher, I refuse to let the lives of my own children and those that I teach to be used as political pawns. This tyrant of a mayor doesn’t care about our children (much the less me, as a professional), he only seeks to use them for his political gain. The longer day is nothing more than a check on the mayor’s list, this is why parents from around this city need to speak up and send a clear message to Emmanuel that our kids are not his pawns. If the mayor really cared about our public schools and their students, he would institute policy that would offer students in the system the same experiences and environment his own children have at U of C. Lab. Enough of the inequality, enough of your petty politicking, enough of phony concern, enough stifiling of the parental voice and enough of the charge of this being about the “children”. This all about you (and the corporate interest you represent) Mr. Emmanuel.

  6. Carlos S. says:

    There is no inevitable reason that the longer school day has to cost more. Workers in the private sector and in other branches of government get added responsibilities without additional compensation all the time. The contrary assumption demonstrates that public education is more about employing adults than educating kids.

  7. Ellie says:

    “But the board can’t extend working hours by 20 percent and expect teachers “to effectively work the additional hours for free or without fair compensation,” he said, noting the long hours teachers work outside of class time.”

    If the teachers could expect, and receive the 19 to 46 percent raises in their last contract for working no extra time whatsoever, then the board can, and should expect that money to be an advance payment for 30 minute longer day now. Unless you all wish to go back to the salary you had 4 years ago, and receive a 20% raise of that amount, you have no room to talk.

    And don’s start whining about the class sizes, classroom aides and libraries. We would have plenty of money to pay for all that if it did not end up in your pockets.

  8. Maestro says:


    It’s not about employing adults, just as it is not about educating our children. It is about milking a 5.6 billion dollar cash cow and ensuring that Mr. Emmanuel’s friends (Vitale, Rangel etc.) get their share.

  9. Mr. Rivermouth says:

    Carlos & Ellie,

    “Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration”. -Abe Lincoln

    1. For Capitalism to work, labor must be equal if not greater than capital- if people out there are willing to do extra work for free, they must be overpaid or in a very vulnerable position (funny you mention the private sector). The latter is called exploitation- its generally not something you want to defend.

    2. The teacher’s salary increase/raise is designed to keep up with the cost of living in a very expensive city-perhaps it should be more carefully calibrated from year to year, but teachers don’t make THAT much money- in the big picture you really think of teachers as the fat cats? The ones out here just draining the city’s resources hoarding their riches?

    3. Where do you 2 teach?

  10. Mr. Rivermouth says:

    4. It’s 90 minutes extra a day not 30.

  11. CitizensArrest says:

    Alderman Joe Moore, acting on behalf of the corrupt and cowardly mayor, has nuked all the elected school board petitions based on a set of contrived technicalities. The mayor does not give a rats ass what the parents of Chicago think, even though they are far better informed on education issues than either he or the rhee-ject from Rochester are.

  12. Ellie says:

    Mr. Rivermouth – duty-free lunch that would merely be moved to the middle of the day is not work, so the teachers should not expect be paid for it.

    Also, if we take the 330 million that Benn proposes to hand out to the teachers and divide it between all of the 671 schools instead, that would mean an extra 492K per school to spend on full-time nurses, aides, art and music instruction, libraries, etc.

    What were you all saying about giving children the better school day?

  13. Curtis says:


    Under their last contract, teachers got 16 percent raises (17 percent compounded) for cost of living over five years, and beyond that step and lane increases for longevity and additional training (which teachers pay for), which varied a lot. These step-type increases are fairly common in collective bargaining agreements, and have been for a long time, and they make a certain amount of sense. And they were freely agreed to.

    Benn, the mediator, who holds the collective bargaining process in high regard, argues that changes in state law allowing CPS to set the length of the school day and year are “not a license for the Board to unilaterally restructure the union’s contract to remove benefits which were put in place through decades of collective bargaining between the parties.”

    Also, the number of days in the year is being increased along with the number of hours in the day. And Benn points out that CPS did not challenge CTU’s estimate of the longer time being demanded of teachers.

    In any case, the reality is that even with these healthy raises, teachers salaries have steadily *declined* as a proportion of the CPS operating budget – from 48 percent in 2004 to 41 percent in 2010 – while the CPS deficit grew, neighborhood schools lost funding and millions were poured into charter and turnaround schools. So it’s hard to argue that teachers’ salaries are the cause of the school system’s financial difficulties – or its decision to disinvest in neighborhood schools.

  14. Curtis says:


    Workers in the private sector get added responsibilities without additional compensation in part because the private sector has largely succeeded in eliminating unions. That’s a big reason why corporate profits are so high while middle class living standards are declining – why the gap between the rich and the rest has grown so dramatically – and that in turn is a big reason why our economy is so stagnant, because consumers’ purchasing power has been eroded (while financial crisis has eroded their savings).

    Now they’ve got public sector unions in their sites. But eroding working people’s living standards is not good for the economy or the country or the city or our communities. The real problem is probably the board’s spending priorities – and the failure of political leadership to be responsible about raising revenue in a progressive manner, instead of piling on tax breaks and TIF subsidies for wealthy corporations.

  15. Ellie says:

    Curtis – automatic raises just for showing up may be the standard in the collective bargaining world, but they make absolutely no common sense to the taxpayers, especially when we’re talking about the outrageous percentages the teachers have received in their last contract.

    And if you want to talk about the standard of living, discuss it with people who received little-to-no raises in this declining economy, while being taxed to death to provide for the raises and pensions for those collective bargainers.

  16. Carlos S. says:

    Teachers’ salaries are only part of the total compensation they receive. When arguing in reductions of pensions and retirement health car benefits, the unions argue that those items are deferred compensation so that they can’t be cut retroactively. If you add those items in, I doubt very seriously that teacher compensation is a decreasing portion of school budgets. I imagine that it is growing at a very fast and ultimately unsustainable clip like it is in the rest of the public sector. The more tearchers’ services cost, the fewer there are going to be, and the less education is going to happen. The public unions’ general preference for higher wages at the expense of less senior colleagues’ jobs is a sad consequence of this phenomena just as their willingness to shaft their students over it.

  17. […] day left lots of confusion and little space for collaboration and planning over the past year, and ultimately led to Chicago’s first school strike in 25 years.  Top-down political domination of the school district has led to shifting personnel […]

  18. […] implementation – and an entirely unnecessary adversarial, “win-lose” approach, using the issue (unsuccessfully) as a weapon against the teachers’ union – led to a chaotic, alienating […]

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