School's Out: Could a Chicago-style Strike Happen Here?

September 2012

As Chicago Public School district teachers head into week two of their strike, it’s natural to wonder if such a work stoppage could happen here in Denver. After all, Chicago teachers are objecting to many of the same measures that DPS already has in place, and public school teachers nationwide have come under intensified scrutiny in recent years as parents, students, politicians, and communities have realized how sorely American public education needs a makeover.

The short answer is, no, DPS teachers aren’t likely to stage a similar walkout. Although teachers resisted some of the recent changes to DPS curriculum and teacher evaluations, Colorado’s educational reform movement already had garnered enough broad support to put the measures in place. (In fact, Chicago’s new teacher evaluation criteria—tying their jobs to how well they help students grow academically—largely mimics Colorado’s model.)

Although some teachers understandably feel threatened by this new way of assessing their performance, it’s largely fallen on deaf ears here in Colorado. (You say your job suddenly depends upon you demonstrating results? Welcome to having a job.) Moreover, with almost 700 schools covering more than 404,000 students, Chicago’s public schools dwarf Denver’s—162 schools with just under 82,000 kids—and their teachers union is much more influential than ours, even given our current national state of anti-union sentiments.

Chicago currently is suffering through a horrible spike in violent crimes. Giving its public schoolchildren, many of them from low-income families that are disproportionately affected by the carnage, a safe haven from the violence, even for part of the day, would seem to be the least anyone can do. Yes, the district is asking for a lot from its teachers. But most reasonable people can agree that whether you’re in Denver or Chicago, our public schoolchildren deserve far better than what they’ve been getting for the past generation or two, and reform measures such as these are at least beginning to provide a step in the right direction. It's time to get a deal done, and get teachers and students back in the classroom where they belong.

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