Chicago Teachers Union demands parents be kept in dark on curriculum

Mailee Smith

Senior Director of Labor Policy and Staff Attorney

Mailee Smith
May 28, 2024

Chicago Teachers Union demands parents be kept in dark on curriculum

The Chicago Teachers Union’s past lobbying to keep curriculum a secret plus its divisive tweets show the union’s demand to allow off-the-record curriculum isn’t in parents’ or students’ best interests.

The Chicago Teachers Union isn’t limiting its extreme contract demands to 9% annual wage increases and carbon-free schools. It also wants teacher control over curriculum in a way that could keep parents in the dark over what their children are being taught.

Among the union’s 700-plus proposed contract provisions, CTU is demanding teachers be able to reject any district-provided curriculum to “choose what works best for students.”

That includes any state-mandated curriculum related to “Black history, genocide and Holocaust study, Disability Rights Movement, LGBTQ contributions, culturally responsive teaching and learning standards, Reparations Won, CPS on interdisciplinary latin american [sic] studies, TEEACH ACT, Native American history, and antiracist curriculum, etc.”

The demands also include a provision that “teachers shall not be coerced, retaliated against, or disciplined for using their preferred curriculum and materials.”

It may sound like the union is trying to give teachers flexibility in teaching, but parents shouldn’t trust CTU. The union’s past lobbying includes efforts to hide curriculum and other school happenings from the community. Its social media content is also questionable.

Off-the-record curriculum in Chicago’s schools isn’t a good idea when the union in charge doesn’t want parents to see what’s being taught.

CTU has advocated for secrecy from parents

The American Federation of Teachers – CTU’s parent affiliate – has pushed hard against parental involvement in public education. CTU has done the same, advocating against bills that would keep parents informed on curriculum as well as safety issues.

In the Illinois General Assembly’s last legislative session, CTU opposedbill requiring school districts with 300 or more students to post a list of learning materials and activities that were used for student instruction in the previous school year. That would include, for example, the title and author of textbooks or any guest lectures.

But CTU’s push for secrecy hasn’t stopped with curriculum. A review at the six legislative sessions between 2011-2022 shows CTU has told lawmakers what to do more than 1,360 times, including on bills related to transparency. It opposed a bill requiring a school district to notify parents a school employee has been charged with a sex offense within seven days of receiving that information. Similarly, it opposedbill, which still passed, requiring a district superintendent’s notification to the state superintendent related to a teacher’s dismissal or resignation because of an intentional act of abuse or neglect to include the teacher’s education identification number and a brief description of the alleged conduct.

It also supported at least three bills that could allow a school district to hide from a student’s parents that he or she has been a victim of sexual violence. Parents could inspect the student’s records only if the student consented. If the student had any “health or safety concerns” that were not “satisfied to the student’s satisfaction,” then the student’s status as a victim of sexual violence “shall not be disclosed.”

CTU has demonstrated it doesn’t want parents to know what’s going on with their children. Parents shouldn’t trust CTU to then enshrine a right to go off-the-record with the curriculum their children are being taught.

CTU’s tweets – and poor track record – show it’s more interested in politics than education

CTU has a long history of divisive tweets that provide a glimpse into the kind of worldview it may push educators to teach in the classroom.

Take, for instance, CTU’s August 2020 retweet of a video claiming to be a staged guillotine outside the home of Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos.

CTU’s caption: “We are completely frightened by, completely impressed by and completely in support of wherever this is headed” (emphasis added).

While it appears the union later removed the retweet, a screenshot remains.

The posts of Stacy Davis Gates, CTU’s president, should also give parents pause. In a January 2020 tweet, she shared her support for students who walked out of school to support the city’s Gaza cease-fire resolution.

It begs the question: do parents want this union, which supported kids walking out of school, shaping the curriculum on “genocide and Holocaust study”?

The list of politically divisive tweets could go on and on. No matter where parents stand on such issues, it’s never a good idea to give carte blanche to a union that’s more a political machine that it is an educator’s ally.

What’s more, CTU has a poor track record when it comes to student outcomes. Since 2010, when the Caucus of Rank and File Educators took over CTU leadership, student proficiency has declined.

In 2023, just one-quarter of third through eighth grade students within the district could read at grade level. Even less could do math.

It’s time for CTU to get back to the basics, focusing more on reading and math than on polarizing political issues.

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