Chicago teacher strike threat grows as elementary students miss return

Chicago teacher strike threat grows as elementary students miss return

With an agreement close but the Chicago Teachers Union refusing to budge, elementary students missed what was to be their first day back in 10 months. Now the fourth strike in nine years is imminent.

Chicago Public Schools elementary students missed their Feb. 1 return to the classroom, as the district and the Chicago Teachers Union failed to even meet for negotiations on Jan. 31.

Students are now being told to return on Groundhog Day, but there is a probability their day will be a repeat of the past 10 months at home.

CPS plans to shut off access to remote learning by the end of the day Feb. 1 for teachers who fail to show up for work, schools CEO Janice Jackson said. CTU has said they will strike if online access is cut off.

That strike would likely be illegal. It would also be CTU’s fourth strike in nine years.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Jackson both lamented the union’s unwillingness to make a deal happen to get kids back to class.

“We can do this,” Jackson said. “Why should Chicago stand out when everybody else across the country has been able to safely do this? Why should CPS stand out when private and parochial schools in Chicago have been operating since the beginning of the school year?”

The answer may be that a strike is less about safety and more about CTU flexing its muscles and wanting to be a national standard bearer for teachers’ unions.

CTU takes credit for triggering multiple teachers’ union strikes around the nation in recent years, claiming its 2012 strike, “changed the future of organizing.” That strike also forced the closure of 50 schools and the layoff of thousands of teachers so Chicago Public Schools could cut costs to compensate for satisfying the union’s expensive demands.

Their actions have elevated awareness of the dispute: Jackson was on “Face the Nation” on Jan. 31 and the threatened strike was making national news Feb. 1.

CTU’s stated worries have science against them. The CDC found there is little evidence that schools contribute meaningfully to the spread of COVID-19. There is similar data from around the world, such as a UNICEF report citing evidence from 191 countries showing “no consistent association between school reopening status and COVID-19 infection rates.”

Even anecdotal evidence from Chicago shows in-person learning is relatively safe, with 40,000 parochial and charter school students safely in class. The district expects about 77,000 students, or one-third of its elementary students, to attend class Feb. 2.

But a strike threatens that. And CTU’s demand to continue remote learning comes with significant costs to the district’s students.

study out of Columbia University in December 2020 found remote learning is widening the achievement gap because it is less effective than in-person schooling.

Plus, Chicago students are not all using the online platforms.

The district in late May found less than 60% of Chicago students were logging on three or more days a week. They found nearly 25% never logged on at all.

“Many of our students aren’t logging on,” Jackson said. “We are seeing African American and Latinx students in particular being especially hard hit. And our goal is to really give every parent an option.”

British researchers just set the cost for 6 months out of school at about $55,000 in lost lifetime earnings.

CTU may gain status among the nation’s teachers’ unions, but the cost to students is both clear and hidden. Students are suffering academically and emotionally at present, and the cost of being out of school for nearly a year may not be evident until kids are decades older.

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