A striking difference in Chicago

Daniel Perret-Goluboff


The fact that our culture still allows for the occurrence of striking within a workforce as integral to the growth of infrastructure as public education is absurd. Let me clarify now by stating that I fully endorse the teachers’ strike in Chicago that has — as of Tuesday, September 18– kept 350,000 public school students out of classes for an entire week.

I support the teachers in their striking efforts and firmly hope that their requests are met and exceeded in the proposed settlement between city officials and the Chicago Teachers Union; I simply lament the societal setting we have created that warranted a strike necessary.

Instances in modern American history in which teachers have been fairly compensated for the arduous work, long hours and painstaking labor that their profession requires are few and far between. That said, it isn’t entirely surprising that teacher strikes in America do occur more frequently than would be convenient.

The strike in Chicago is the first that that district has seen in about twenty-five years, but that does not necessarily mean that the teachers are just now becoming discontented with the state of their contract. Rather, it represents a boiling point that has been reached as the result of a discontent that has long since been brewing within the individual teachers that CPS employs.

I support the teachers’ strike in that I feel as though the teachers who do a phenomenal job of delivering instruction and preparing our youth for the real world deserve to be paid more than they currently are. That notion seems to be agreeable enough, as the settlement contract between the union and city officials reflects a relatively large pay increase to be issued across the board to CPS teachers over the next few years.

This isn’t entirely surprising; most people can get behind the idea of paying teachers more. What is surprising is the pronounced lack of support from parents and community members toward the teachers concerning the other main component of the strike: the introduction of merit-based-pay as an institution.

Introducing merit pay would, essentially, make it so that teachers’ pay reflects their students’ performance on various state standardized exams. The question we as Americans need to ask, then, when analyzing the strike, is whether or not we will allow a system that confuses individual accountability with that of a common accountability among all teachers.

A great teacher may work painstakingly all year to boost a student’s comprehension in a given area and still end up with that student’s scoring below the appropriate grade level. Is it right to let that teacher’s salary suffer based on the shortcomings of instructors that student was subjected to in prior years?

Of course, we need to find a way to boost accountability within education if we can ever hope to eliminate the aforementioned sub-par educators who leave children behind and, in turn, negatively influence the compensation of their peers while simultaneously increasing their workload.

Merit pay is not, however, an appropriate method through which to do this. We as a society need to find new ways to evaluate our teachers objectively while still providing them with an attractive contract and benefits package that inspires them to progressively strive for greatness in instruction.

If we continue to fail to do that, we can only expect the quality of American education to sink while the frequency of striking teacher unions rises.