Chicago School Strike: Teachers Should Focus on Students and Families, Not Themselves


"Please seek alternative care for your children," advised the Chicago Teachers' Union in their press conference on Sunday evening, after announcing their failure to reach an agreement in negotiations with city officials.

Chicago Public School (CPS) CEO Jean-Claude Brizard said in a written statement,"The choice by the leadership of the Chicago Teachers Union to strike is an incredible burden on our families and children, and I want to thank Chicago’s community and faith leaders for coming together to support our students in what will be a difficult time." 

I have read the union's side and the mayor's side, the press releases, many of the parents' blogs and reports, and watched news clips of the striking teachers. What have been the most important but least addressed aspects of the strike are the burdens placed on the students and their families. The Chicago Teachers Union is not focused on the impact of their selfish behavior.

The teachers' demands are all about the teachers. They aren't asking for better conditions for their customers, the students; they want more for themselves. The employers, the taxpayers, are not receiving a return on their investment in education for the city's children.

When the union has the upper hand, families and kids suffer. If you can't trust your schools and your teachers, who can you trust? 

When more than 80% of the students come from families considered to be below or near the poverty line (qualifying for free or reduced meals), how must they feel when teachers are demanding pay increases, and yet already receive an average salary of about $71,000?

"What about us?!" would be my cry. 

Taxpayers are bearing the cost of the disruption AND getting nothing in return, while poor parents have to juggle child care, worry that their children will be further behind in school, and spend extra money they may not have. 

The teachers, who are already well paid, are shifting the burden of their greed back to those who can afford it least. Many of those poverty-level families would benefit more from a pay increase, or even the knowledge that they will have a job when the strike is over. If they have jobs, many will have to work extra hours to make up for time lost or the extra cost of their children being out of school. That is not a burden they should have to shoulder when they receive no benefit for it.

These are the kids and families that need stability, safety, and education more than most, and they are receiving the least. The learning time that they desperately need is being wasted. There are concerns about their children's safety, and the trouble that unsupervised kids might get into while schools are closed. Understandably, the "surge in gang violence this summer" has some parents worried about problems, according to Fox Business.

What about the new kindergarten and first graders who only started school last week? It is traumatic enough for these young students, what with schedule adjustments, new rules and expectations.  Now, just a week into the new school year, they have to adjust to a new schedule, child care shifts, strangers and family upheaval. Not only will the children lose the strike days, but they will have to start anew once they are back. It's a shame, and it is unfair to the children.

Over the weekend, parents and community leaders scrambled to pull together childcare options.  Mommy blogs posted suggestions. Parents are smart and resourceful, and they have pulled together options for others parents to get childcare help so that kids can have a more positive experience during the strike. For instance, the Chicago Children's Museum is offering free children's admission during the strike. Blogger Caitlin Giles from Wee Windy City suggests several resources for parents who are "freaking out about the week ahead," including Macaroni Kid Chicago Loop Guide and Chicago Kids for strike-week activities.

Parents' greatest concerns are about safety, child care, losing learning time, and life disruption. One parent, Silvia Flores said she doesn't like her 'alternative childcare arrangements' because "he's just going to be watching TV, not learning ... he's going to get behind."

Parental opinions about the strike vary. Some parents are focused on how the strike affects them, rather than its impact on their kids. For instance, A City Mom states in her blog, "In reality, the strike will probably not affect my family very much, unless it lingers on and on and interferes with a planned vacation ... Full disclosure, I have three children in Chicago Public Schools, but they are all teenagers and will not need alternative childcare.  You should know, I'm a card-carrying union member as well."

On her blog, Joni Hudson-Reynolds quoted a Chicago friend, "My son is pissed because any days missed for the strike have to be made up and he's not feeling it. I'm fortunate that I don't have younger kids that I've had to figure out what to do with. On one hand I get it, but they should have worked this s**t out at the bargaining table!!!"

Robert Lee, a former Chicago resident, suggests that the problem could be helped by removing the power of administrators and unions to dictate educational policy. Students would benefit from educational choices that "can reflect learning capabilities, family values and professional career goals." Vouchers would help students find that environment best suited to their needs. Teachers, he says, "stand to benefit," as well. They can find the best environment for their needs as "vouchers follow good teachers to good schools." 

Supporting that same premise, in a comment on a blog post about the strike,"JRB" says, "This is an excellent opportunity. Students aren't captive anymore. The charter schools will see a boom with calls for more. Vouchers should get a boost as well ... Small, self-organizing groups of students helping others using online resources. Plus without all the down/bore time of classroom lecture instruction. Each undermines the damaging teachers' union ... but now there are options. Options limited only by undue influence by the corrupt unions."

Certainly, an answer that focuses on meeting the needs of students and their families is necessary. With teachers focused only on themselves, education is put on hold while taxpayers pay for nothing in return, and kids fall further behind.

I'm rooting for the kids. I wish the teachers were.