Academic Freedom

Teachers Union Failing Students and Community

Throughout the city of Chicago, hundreds of thousands of public school students remain at home; their schools closed while their union teachers protest in the streets and picket their classrooms.

The strike is the outcome of failed negotiations between the Chicago Teachers Union and Chicago’s Mayor, Rahm Emanuel.  Recognizing the failures of Chicago’s public education system—currently, there is a 40 percent drop-out rate and only 8 percent of students graduate prepared for college-level material—Emmanuel is attempting to implement longer school days, which, for children starting in Kindergarten, will result in an extra two-and-a-half years of learning time; allow principals, the people responsible for the success of their school, to make hiring decisions; and hold teachers accountable through evaluations, with added emphasis on student performance.

These common-sense reforms promote excellent teachers and provide a means to remove ineffective teachers, who are currently entrenched in the system.  A recent New York Times editorial explained that the reforms “are increasingly popular across the country and are unlikely to be rolled back, no matter how long the union stays out.”

Emanuel even offered a 16 percent raise over four years.  David Brooks illustrated this week that, on average, Chicago Public School (CPS) teachers are already paid $76,000 per year, excluding benefits, which trumps the national average teacher salary of around $55,000, and the average Chicago salary of $47,000.  However, the teachers unions rejected the offer.  At a great cost to the children who are already struggling to graduate and cannot afford to miss class time, the teachers union responded by holding the educational system hostage.

It is noteworthy that, while 350,000 students are out of school due to these actions, alternative schools, such as public charters, are up and running—52,000 Chicago public charter students will not miss a day of school. School choice options empower parents, freeing them from the interests of unions and providing them with opportunities to improve the quality of their child’s education.

Chicago schools are drowning in red ink, facing a budget deficit for the upcoming (indefinitely delayed) school year of at least $600 million, with $1 billion deficits as little as one year away.  The 16 percent raise that was rejected previously would have added a further $360 million to the shortfall over four years.

Meanwhile, pension obligations are increasing at a prodigious rate.  The Heritage Foundation points out that because of the generous CPS defined-benefit pension plan, the school system takes on an additional pension obligation of 46 cents per dollar it pays a teacher each year.  Compare this to the 4 cents per dollar it might incur if under a 401(k) style defined-contribution plan.

To his credit, Mayor Rahm Emanuel has recognized that CPS’s budget is unsustainable, and that the status quo only continues to promote a broken system that is failing to educate students or hold teachers accountable for their performance.

The Illinois Policy Institute recently released this video sharing some important facts behind the teacher strike.  The video shows teachers chanting “Who’s school?  Our school!”  We must remember that the schools also belong to the students and parents.

In Depth: Academic Freedom

Freedom of speech and inquiry are crucial in higher education. Universities exist to educate students and pursue knowledge. As a “marketplace of ideas,” the university offers a forum for ideas to compete. This intellectual competition produces a level of academic rigor that is impossible to produce without freedom of speech …

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