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School Days Resume in Chicago as the Lessons From a Strike Are Assessed

Ohanian Comment: You want to help readers understand the Chicago teachers strike--and so you give the loudspeaker over to Michelle Rhee? This is what makes satire impossible.

AND while handing the magaphone to Stand for Children, describing them as "a group that has pushed for changes here." Indeed. Take a look at this. That's just for starters.

For shame, New York times.

By Monica Davey and Steven Greenhouse

CHICAGO — Across this city, students poured back into schools on Wednesday, restarting an academic year that had barely begun before a strike by their teachers brought everything to a sudden halt.

Clusters of families gathered outside some schools well before the doors were to open, relieved, they said, not only that their children would be studying once again, but that their own lives, which had been chaotic since the strike was announced hours before school was to begin on Sept. 10, might return to normal.

"Seven days, I think, is long enough," said Doris Gordon, who delivered her 5-year-old granddaughter to Walt Disney Magnet School, on the North Side of Chicago, after days, she said, of busying the girl with math problems and reading assignments. "I was getting a little frustrated."

But even as the union picket lines vanished and as Mayor Rahm Emanuel was photographed greeting children as they got to school, many in Chicago debated who had won and who had lost in the first such strike in a major United States city in a half dozen years and the first for this city in a quarter century.

Both sides, it seemed, were claiming victory, but the reality was mixed. The terms of the proposed contract reached between the Chicago Public Schools, the nation's third-largest school system, and the Chicago Teachers Union represented areas of gain and retreat for each side.

If anything, the fight in Chicago turned a spotlight on questions simmering in a larger national struggle over changes in educational policy, including how teachers are evaluated, how much security years of service should give them and the role of charter schools. Events here may have emboldened groups on both sides of the debate, experts said, raising the likelihood of more such clashes in other places.

Michelle A. Rhee, the former head of the school system in Washington and now an advocate for significant changes in education, said it "signaled a new day" that Mr. Emanuel, a Democrat, had taken on issues --like tougher teacher evaluations and longer school days -- so thorny with labor groups, and had pushed them forward even in the crucial few months before President Obama, his former boss and ally, seeks re-election.

'When someone like that is willing to take those issues on in a lot of ways, it gives cover to other mayors," Ms. Rhee said. "What they're saying right now is we're not going to sit idly by and let policies we know are bad for kids to continue just because of the union dynamic."

Meanwhile, some union leaders said that they, too, would be buoyed by what had happened here, as tens of thousands of teachers picketed for more than a week, publicly making their cases for fewer students in classes, more nurses and social workers in schools, and textbooks arriving on the first day of school.

In Los Angeles, David B. Goldberg, a bilingual elementary school teacher and a board member of the California Teachers Association, said teachers were now more likely to fight Mayor Antonio R. Villaraigosa’s push for more charter schools and for greater use of standardized tests in evaluating teachers.

Richard L. Trumka, president of the A.F.L.-C.I.O., said, "This really helps change the national conversation about what's really necessary and who's really trying to improve our school system."

In a statement, Mr. Villaraigosa described developments in Chicago as a "landmark moment" in the push for education change, and added, "This will have a transformative effect for those of us who are in the midst of developing our own evaluation systems to improve education in our cities, including here in Los Angeles."

The 26,000 members of the Chicago Teachers Union must still vote to ratify the contract in the coming weeks, but union leaders expect it to be approved after Tuesday's overwhelming majority vote to lift the strike.

The contract, which covers three years with an option for a fourth, would increase the school day for elementary pupils to seven hours from under six in Chicago, which formerly had one of the shortest school days in the country. It would provide raises to teachers, giving an average teacher more than 17 percent over the four years.

The contract would, for the first time in this city, count student test scores in teacher evaluations, although a first year would function as a trial run for most experienced teachers and an appeals process would be developed to handle disagreements over assessments. And it would aim to fill at least half of new teaching jobs with laid-off teachers who had high marks.

"There were definitely some compromises made," said Jessica Handy, policy director for Stand for Children of Illinois, a group that has pushed for changes here. "But it’s more important to have those parties getting along during implementation, rather than quick implementation. And the most important thing is that our kids are back in class.”

By afternoon, it looked like any other crisp September school day in Chicago, complete with yellow buses, backpacks and after-school sports. Adelina Rodriguez had returned her son, Victor, 5, to kindergarten, ending a juggling act of pleading for baby-sitting help from family members.

She said her son most of all had seemed puzzled about why school had started and ended and started again -- all in a matter of days. "I didn’t know how to explain it to him," she said.

Monica Davey reported from Chicago, and Steven Greenhouse from New York. Steven Yaccino contributed reporting from Chicago.

— Monica Davey and Steven Greenhouse
New York Times





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