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Chicago Teachers Rally With Deal In The Works


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. The Chicago Teachers Union and city school officials have reportedly reached what they call a framework for an agreement that would end a five-day teacher strike. The walkout has shut down school for 350,000 students this week. They could be back in class as early as Monday.

We're joined now by NPR education correspondent Claudio Sanchez. Claudio, thanks for being with us.


SIMON: What do we know, do we know what the union, school officials and Mayor Emanuel have tentatively agreed to?

SANCHEZ: We don't, Scott. We don't have any specifics. The union's 800 or so members of the House of Delegates and the city's teachers have to look at the deal before union president Karen Lewis goes public with anything. And she has to be absolutely confident that her members will vote for it, probably on Sunday. In the meantime, the union is going ahead with a big rally today, this afternoon, where thousands of union activists and teachers from across the country are expected to attend.

SIMON: What issues are on the table?

SANCHEZ: First, new teacher evaluation policy. It's unlikely that Mayor Rahm Emanuel will get what he wanted, that student's standardized test scores count up to 40 percent in deciding whether to fire or reward a teacher versus the 25 to 30 percent, which is what teachers might agree to. The deal might also be that this policy be piloted before it's fully implemented, which is what AFD members have done in places like Cleveland.

Then there's the teacher layoffs and school closings issue. The deal might be to give teachers generous severance packages. And in the case of school closings, the mayor could agree to the union's demand that laid-off teachers get first shot at a job openings elsewhere. The union has said that 6,000 teachers could lose their jobs in the next two years.

Emanuel's insistence, by the way, that principals have more - get more power to hire and fire teachers, that's been a big issue. The union may drop its opposition to this demand if it can secure some agreement that if a teacher is fired, it must be for cause, not because a principal doesn't like a teacher. And, of course, administrators respect due process and allow for appeals.

Recent polling in Chicago, by the way, shows that parents support a much, much speedier process that helps weed out incompetent teachers. And finally, the 16 percent increase in salary over four years that Mayor Emanuel has offered is a no-brainer for teachers. This would presumably include compensation for longer school days, which is what everybody believes the mayor did get.

What nobody talks about, by the way, Scott, is that it's not clear how the city's going to pay for any of this. The district is facing a $665 million budget deficit this year.

SIMON: Help us understand, Claudio, why the strike's been so important to teachers unions and other unions, in fact, across the country.

SANCHEZ: Well, union rank and file members in Chicago and around the country have seen this strike as a perfect opportunity to reassert not just the collective bargaining rights, but their say in what reform school officials adopt. Many teachers believe that some reforms have been pushed down their throats and that union leaders have given up too much in the name of reform, so it's time to push back.

In other words, Chicago has shown that locals can and must now take the lead in defending seniority, tenure and opposing things like pay for performance or schemes that tie teacher evaluations to test scores.

SIMON: Claudio, what do you see as some of the political ripples of this possible five-day strike? After all, Mayor Emanuel closely identified with the president of the United States in Chicago.

SANCHEZ: Exactly. Well, if this pushback from teachers spreads, the alliance between teachers unions and the Democratic Party becomes more tenuous. As you point out, Mayor Emanuel, who union leaders at one point called a liar and a bully during the most heated part of the negotiations, is President Obama's former chief of staff.

Early on, Mayor Emanuel blasted the teachers union for opposing longer school days, charter schools, which aren't unionized, and tougher policies for evaluating teachers. Now, these are reforms that President Obama has promoted at the federal level since the day he took office and that unions have essentially denounced, but have been unable to stop.

The reason? Because the Obama administration has dangled $4 billion, that's with a B, in the federal school aid that the government sends to school districts and to states. So he's pushed his reforms, dangling a lot of money in front of them and teachers have said, look, even with that money around, we still think that we're being short-changed, we're being bullied.

And so the Obama administration's education agenda has been pivotal in all this.

SIMON: Claudio Sanchez, thanks so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.