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Chicago Teacher Strike Ends, But Schools Still Failing: Pedro Noguera

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Roughly 350,000 Chicago students are back in school Wednesday as the impasse between the Chicago Teachers Union and the city came to an end after a seven-day strike.

"We said that it was time — that we couldn't solve all the problems of the world with one contract, and that it was time to suspend the strike," said Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel called the settlement an "honest compromise."

The deal contains concessions from both sides. A major compromise for teachers was agreeing to undergo evaluations based on students' standardized test scores, which they had opposed.

For onlookers in the private sector where evaluations are de rigueur, it seemed absurd that some of the highest paid teachers in the country did not want to be evaluated on the merits of student performance, says The Daily Ticker's Henry Blodget in the accompanying interview. Teachers in the nation's third largest school district earn an average annual salary of $76,000.

[Related: Chicago Teacher Strike Underscores One of the Most Important Issues of Our Time]

The terms of the three-year contract (which could be extended to four years) have not been made public, but here's what we do know:

  • Teachers will receive a 17% pay raise over the next four years, an annual increase of 4.4%.
  • The school day for elementary kids will be extended to 7 hours versus less than 6 hours before the strike.
  • Teachers will be evaluated based in part on student performance. This year and next, 25% of a teacher's evaluation will be based on standardized test scores. By 2014, roughly a third of a teacher's assessment will depend on student test scores.
  • The new contract still needs to be ratified by the union's 26,000 members, which could take up to several weeks.

While the deal settles the city's first teachers' strike in 25 years, education expert Pedro Noguera, a professor at New York University and director of the Metropolitan Center for Urban Education, says the new contract won't solve the city's failing school system, which has been under the guise of "reforms" for years.

"In the short term, [the teachers] clearly got what they wanted," says Noguera, who is also the author of "The Trouble With Black Boys ... And Other Reflections on Race, Equity and the Future of Public Education. The strike underscored that the "reforms that have been being pursued by Rahm Emanuel and Chicago Public Schools were really having an injurious impact on schools and on children."

Mayor Emanuel has been pushing to close failing schools, open new charter schools and base teacher evaluations on test scores. Chicago has closed more schools than any other school district, says Noguera, adding that all these ideas began when Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of Education, sat at the helm of the Chicago Public Schools Board during the last decade.

[Related: Obama Education Chief: Complacency Caused U.S. to Slip to 16th in World College Graduation Rates]

Noguera says the strike brought attention to the ineffectiveness of these reforms. "The conditions in the schools are the issues that don't get enough attention, but were being raised by the teachers," he adds.

The conditions Noguera refers to include large class sizes, lack of playgrounds and no air conditioning, which can be distracting for students on days when temperatures hit 100-plus degrees. These are not good learning conditions, Noguera says. Student poverty also plays a large role in a child's ability to learn. More than 80% of students in Chicago Public Schools come from low-income households.

"The strike might not be the best way to raise those issues," says Noguera. "But if something is not done to improve learning conditions you are not going to see better outcomes."

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