Who Really Won in the Teachers' Strike?

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Chicago teachers will go back to work, but we shouldn't be surprised to see more aggressive contract negotiations in other major cities.

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Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis at a news conference on September 18 announcing the end of the strike. (Reuters)

Both the Chicago Teachers' Union and Mayor Rahm Emanuel are claiming some victories, now that the strike that shut down the Windy City's schools for seven days has ended. The teachers' strike -- the city's first in 25 years -- ended late Tuesday after the union's delegates voted to return to work.

According to the Chicago Tribune, there wasn't a clear winner in this fight. Both sides made notable concessions. The teachers will see their salary scale increase by double digits over the next three years, although it's not the 30 percent increase in base pay the union initially demanded. As for Emanuel's priorities, principals will continue to control staffing at schools, and Chicago will adopt an evaluation system that uses student test scores as a factor in evaluating teachers' job performance.

(For more coverage of the strike, check out the Chicago Sun-Times, as well as Catalyst Chicago.)

There was plenty of debate over whether a prolonged strike would hurt President Obama's re-election chances, as his administration's education reform measures spurred some of the key issues Chicago teachers were fighting against. Whether seven days was long enough to do real damage remains to be seen.

It will also be interesting to see if the Chicago strike is an anomaly, or if it has opened a door to more aggressive contract negotiations in other large urban school districts. To be sure, Chicago teachers aren't the only ones frustrated by the many new demands being placed on educators to boost student achievement. The strike might also end up being a warning to policymakers that there is, indeed, a limit to how hard reform can be pushed - and how fast.

What's next for the Windy City? I predict stories about the need to mend fences between staff and administration, and probably some details about how the strike will be explained to students. Additionally, you can expect reporting that schools are struggling to make up the lost instructional time. The strike might have stopped classes, but the clock -- measuring what students will be expected to know by the end of the academic year -- keeps on ticking.


This post also appears at The Educated Reporter, an Atlantic partner site.

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Emily Richmond is the public editor for the National Education Writers Association. She was the education reporter for the Las Vegas Sun from 2002 to 2010, and in 2011 she was Knight-Wallace Fellow at the University of Michigan. She blogs at www.educatedreporter.com.

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