<html> <head><style type ="text/css">body { font-family: "Bloomberg Prop Unicode I", Verdana, sans-serif; font-size:125%; letter-spacing: -0.3pt; color: #FF9F0F; background-color: #000000; text-align: left; } p {line-height: 1.25em; max-width:900px; width:expression(document.body.clientWidth > 900? "900px": "auto" );} h1, h2, h3 { text-align: left; font-weight: normal; color: #FFFFFF; } h1 { font-size: 130%; } h2 { font-size: 115%; } h3 { font-size: 100%; } #bb-style { font-size: 90%; max-width:900px; width:expression(document.body.clientWidth > 900? "900px": "auto" ); } b, strong { font-weight: bold; } i, em { color: #FEC54A; } pre { font-family: "Andale Mono", "Monaco", "Lucida Console"; letter-spacing: -0.3pt; line-height: 1.25em; } table { border: 0; font-size: 90%; width: 100%; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto; } td, tr { text-align: left; } td.numeric { text-align: right; } a:link { color:#53B2F5; text-decoration: none; } a:visited {color:#53B2F5} a:active {color:#53B2F5} a:hover {color:#53B2F5} </style> </head> <body> <p>By Tobin Harshaw</p> <p>Chicago public teachers walked out on 350,000 students today, the first strike in a quarter-century at the nation's third-largest school system.</p> <p>It's hard to have much sympathy for the strikers: At an average of $76,000 per year before benefits, they are the highest-paid big-city teachers in the nation. (Paradoxically, Chicago's per-student education expense is relatively low.) Union leaders initially asked for an increase of nearly 30 percent over two years; Mayor Rahm Emanuel offered a 16 percent pay raise over four years, which doesn't seem too shabby amid a high unemployment and a sluggish economy. The union points out that Emanuel rescinded 4 percent raises over the summer and is lengthening of the school day and year (Chicago teachers now spend <a title="Web Link" href="8%7CTrue%7Chttp%3a%2f%2fwww.illinoispolicy.org%2fuploads%2fmedia%2fLonger%2520School%2520Day%2520Elementary.jpg%7CHPQCTMZMCRIB">less time in the classroom</a> than their counterparts in any other large city.)</p> <p>Not all Chicago pupils will be enjoying this Indian-summer break, however. For the 52,000 who attend public charter schools, it will be business as usual -- and business is pretty good. <a title="Web Link" href="8%7CTrue%7Chttp%3a%2f%2fwww.qualitycharters.org%2fstate-by-state-overviews-106%7CYI6XKO4HUCEQ">Chicago has roughly 100 charters</a>. Such schools are publicly funded but usually non-union and mostly autonomous in terms of curriculum and finances. Chicago plans to <a title="Web Link" href="8%7CTrue%7Chttp%3a%2f%2farticles.chicagotribune.com%2f2012-05-16%2fnews%2fct-met-cps-charter-growth-20120517_1_charter-schools-charter-movement-cps-plans%7C923JA92X8ECC">create 60 more</a> within five years. The windy city ranks behind only New York City in the Brookings Institution's most recent <a title="Web Link" href="8%7CTrue%7Chttp%3a%2f%2fwww.brookings.edu%2fresearch%2finteractives%2fecci%7C1ZZDTBX8V8K9">Education Choice and Competition Index</a>.</p> <p>Academic success, as with most charter programs, has been mixed. A <a title="Web Link" href="8%7CTrue%7Chttp%3a%2f%2fwww.rand.org%2fpubs%2ftechnical_reports%2fTR585-1.html%7CEDWZBDIXU9B3">2009 Rand Corporation study</a> found that students who attended Chicago's "multi-grade" charters (including middle- and high-school grades) were more likely to graduate and go to college than their peers. In a <a title="Web Link" href="8%7CTrue%7Chttp%3a%2f%2fwww.illinoispolicy.org%2fuploads%2ffiles%2fcharterschoolsdeliver.pdf%7CXAU77HB6IYXH">September 2011 study</a> of ACT results by the Illinois Policy Institute, 14 of the top 25 performing open-enrollment high schools, and 9 of the top 10, were charters.</p> <p>Most of these high-achievers are run by the Noble Charter Network, including Pritzker College Prep, which was founded by Hyatt-hotel heiress Penny Pritzker, a longtime supporter of Emanuel and President Barack Obama. Several other operators <a href="http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2011-11-30/news/ct-met-charter-schools-performance-1130-20111130_1_chicago-international-charter-schools-andrew-broy-school-report-cards">have struggled</a>. This is typical: a major variable in charter success is oversight of the school operators and especially the school "authorizers," groups that get state permission to create the schools, draw up their founding contracts -- the “charter” -- and oversee their boards. (A <a href="http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-09-09/u-s-needs-more-charter-schools-with-better-rules.html">Bloomberg View editorial today</a> has specific recommendations for regulating authorizers.)</p> <p>The charter schools are at the heart of the Chicago strike. For the union, a big sticking point has been the school board's insistence that <a href="http://www.cps.edu/News/Press_releases/Pages/03_30_2012_PR1.aspx">teacher assessments</a> be used for merit pay and to make it easier to fire bad teachers. (This summer the city had to <a href="http://www.nbcchicago.com/blogs/ward-room/CPS-to-Give-Back-Nearly-35-Million-Dollars-156096225.html">return a $35 million</a> federal teacher-incentive grant because union officials wouldn't agree on an evaluation system.)</p> <p>Rewarding good teachers with financial bonuses and increased freedom in the classroom is a central tenet of the charter movement. It's a concept that will likely have new appeal to Chicago parents missing work today and sitting at home with idle children.</p> <p>(Tobin Harshaw writes editorials for Bloomberg View on education and national security. Follow him on <a href="https://twitter.com/tobinharshaw">Twitter</a>.)</p> <p> </p> </body> </html>