After striking for seven days at the beginning of the new school year, the members of the Chicago Teachers Union voted to return to work just over a week ago.
The union engaged in the strike to demonstrate against trends pointing towards larger class sizes, decreased funding for schools and the recently passed Senate Bill 7. The new bill introduced teacher evaluations to Chicago classrooms based on standardized test results.
Many members of the Chicago Teachers Union viewed this strike as symbolic of a larger movement in national education, specifically against the continued implementation of standardized testing in the classroom.
“Teachers are held accountable for their [standardized test] results regardless of the state of their students,” Lecturer in Educational Studies Joel Estes said. “This means that teachers in wealthy suburban districts are evaluated the same way as teachers from inner city schools and rural schools. None of the evaluations take into account the circumstances of the student. If they come to school hungry, homeless or if they don’t have support at home, teachers will still be evaluated on those standardized test results.”
This problem with standardized testing is especially exacerbated in the state of Illinois, which has some of the worst disparity in education funding of any state in the U.S.
“The funding, especially in the last couple years, has gotten really bad. The class sizes are huge. They’re bigger than the classrooms can accommodate here. Teachers had to rearrange their schedules, rearrange the students’ schedules, because they couldn’t accommodate the number of students to the classroom they’d been assigned,” freshman Enkhjin Tumenjargal said of her time at Lane Technical High School in the north side of Chicago.
With growing nationwide tensions in the classroom between the interests of the federal government and teachers, more strikes — especially those similar in sentiment to Chicago’s — seem inevitable.
“In the public school system, there’s a huge blame on the teacher mentality. When test scores were low, people blamed the teacher… there’s been a strike waiting to happen for the past three years,” Tumenjargal said.
Andrew Marr, a freshman from DuPage County in Illinois, expresses his support for the recent strike and any future action thusly: “Teachers help to educate citizens and have one of the most important positions in society … they are deserving of just wages and equity in their field.”
Despite the resolution of the grievances in Chicago, the future of teaching in America is still fraught with trouble.
“I think there’s going to be more and more difficulty in encouraging young people to go into teaching. If we don’t change it, our education system in the United States is headed for even bigger trouble than it already is,” Estes said.