CFL News
September 12, 2012

Randi Weingarten: Treat teachers as equal partners

AFT President makes the case for partnering with public school teachers to improve Chicago schools

Source: USA Today

By Randi Weingarten

I've spent a lot of time talking to Chicago's teachers. What they want more than anything are the tools and conditions to do their jobs and help all students succeed.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel came into office wanting to make major changes in Chicago's schools, and he wanted to do it quickly. For reform to work, changes must be done collaboratively and correctly, not just quickly. Chicago's teachers want to be treated as equal partners in this effort.

The issues that teachers are fighting for go to the heart of improving Chicago's public schools. Chicago has had 15 years of mayoral control, and it hasn't helped improve our schools. Today, 42% of neighborhood elementary schools are not funded for a full-time art or music teacher; 160 Chicago elementary schools don't have libraries. Teachers report classes of more than 43 students and not even enough chairs for them all. And teachers often lack textbooks and other materials up to six weeks after the start of school.

Chicago teachers are calling for a better day, not just a longer day, by investing in art, music and libraries. They are calling for smaller class sizes, investments in neighborhood schools and health care, social workers, meal services and additional services for students.

They want to focus on teaching and learning, and have legitimately objected to the district's fixation on high-stakes testing that is narrowing the curriculum and being used to sanction teachers. And they are calling for a fair evaluation process and additional professional development to help all teachers improve.

No one wants to strike. And no one strikes without cause. This strike comes on the heels of numerous steps that left teachers feeling disrespected, including the district's unilateral decision to strip teachers and paraprofessionals of an agreed-upon 4% raise. It comes only after long and intense negotiations failed to lead to an agreement that values the work of educators and invests in Chicago's schools.

Chicago's teachers would rather be in the classroom. But they have an obligation to stand up and do what is best for their students and Chicago's public schools.

Randi Weingarten is president of the American Federation of Teachers, the parent union of the Chicago Teachers Union.