Are the Striking Teachers’ Demands in Chicago Reasonable? You Tell Me

The teacher strike in Chicago has entered its third day. This is one of the few facts the MSM is reporting along with the fact that the city and the union are far from reaching an agreement. What is missing from much of the coverage is what are their demands? Sure, the MSM reports that the teachers want to be “respected,” paid more, and have smaller class sizes, among other demands but compared to what?

According to NRO’s John Fund, the average annual salary of Chicago teachers is $76,000 before benefits. The highest teacher salary in the nation. Oh, but maybe the cost of living is higher than the rest of the nation! Maybe, maybe not but it also might be worth noting that the average Chicago family earns about $47,000 annually. The teachers were offered a 16% raise over the next four years – a salary of $88,000 by my math*, and the teachers rejected it as it’s still not enough. This doesn’t even take into account that the teachers only pay 3% of their healthcare costs, work 9 or so months out of the year, and are eligible to retire in their fifties with a pension. Yet we are told these poor, poor public servants are underpaid.

Okay, maybe these teachers are actually worth $88,000 a year. Maybe the Chicago teachers are just that good? Fund also points out that 15% of fourth graders can read proficiently and 56% of Chicago area freshman graduate. The U.S. Department of Education reports that 79% government educated Chicago eighth graders cannot read at grade level and 80% not grade-level proficient at math.

Are these government school teachers really getting such a raw deal? You tell me.

*Math that was taught to me by teachers making much less than this, I might add.

  • Brad Warbiany

    The teachers were offered a 16% raise over the next four years – a salary of $88,000 by my math*, and the teachers rejected it as it’s still not enough.

    You’re mischaracterizing their position. They’re not rejecting the pay raise as too small — they’re rejecting any semblance of accountability being placed on their performance.

    They’re opposed to the idea that test scores have any bearing on evaluating teacher performance, and the ability to get rid of low-performing teachers. They further want laid-off teachers to be given absolute preference in hiring decisions over other prospective candidates, despite the fact that those teachers *might* be laid off under the new system specifically because they’re low-performing.

    So their position isn’t just that they want more money. They want more money and no accountability. And they’re striking over the accountability piece.

  • Kyle Litke

    My understanding is that 15% number is absolutely false, that it’s based on an above average reading level.

    Also, anytime I see someone complain about teacher “accountability” and want to base it on test scores, I know they have absolutely no idea what they’re talking about. You cannot judge teachers based on student test scores. Not possible. There are far too many factors completely out of their control when it comes to students.

    I don’t see a compelling reason why a 16% raise is not enough, but I also understand that those claiming that’s the only reason why they’re striking are ignoring a lot of other factors.

  • Brad Warbiany


    It’s Rahm Emanuel who wants to base it on test scores. I don’t know if test scores are the *best* way to provide accountability. But I haven’t yet found a teacher accountability methodology that the unions have not fought against…

    Personally, my approach for accountability relies on the one thing that both school administrators and the teacher unions oppose: market pressure. Let parents decide where their kids should go to school, and schools will be *forced* by market discipline into improving.

  • Stephen Littau


    This post is by no means an exhaustive analysis of what is at issue in the strike. I focused mostly on compensation – only one item at issue for the strike. I should have also pointed out that the teachers want to have a 30% increase in their salary, 30%! You know how much my pay has increased in four years? About 1%. If you factor in the cost of living, I’m actually making less than I was four years ago. Yet these “underpaid” teachers have the nerve to demand a 30% pay increase while delivering very pathetic results.

    I don’t know if test results are the best metric for determining a teacher’s performance either but they should be held to some standard shouldn’t they? Salespeople are measured by the number of sales they make. Coaches are measured by wins and losses. Is this a good metric? Probably not, but at some point you have to deliver some kind of results.

  • MingoV

    My brother-in-law just retired after nearly 40 years of teaching in a public school system in a small town near Rochester NY. He was local NEA president for years. He claims that every method of evaluating teachers can be gamed by principals or superintendents and used to get rid of teachers they don’t like. (Hey, welcome to the real world where bosses can fire disliked employees.)

    I proposed this evaluation method: All students are tested in core subjects at the beginning of the school year and assigned grade-based scores. (Example: 2.2 = average score for a child one-fifth of the way through second grade). Students are tested again at the end of the school year. The average student should score one grade higher in all core subjects. Teachers whose mean student scores increase by less than 0.8 would be scrutinized and mentored the next year and fired if they don’t do better. Teachers whose mean student scores increase by more than 1.2 would get bonuses. I believe this would be an unbiased measure of teachers’ abilities. It also would provide an incentive to teach well.

    My brother-in-law claimed that my proposed evaluation system would be unfair, though he couldn’t explain why. In his view, teachers should be tenured early, be assessed never, and be given annual cost-of-living and years-of-teaching-experience pay raises. The striking Chicago teachers have the same viewpoint. Their failures as teachers are irrelevant to their demands for job security, high pay, and phenomenal benefits.

  • Stephen Littau


    What you propose here seems pretty reasonable. Maybe the top and bottom 1% (or perhaps even half of 1%) of the scores could be tossed aside so that results aren’t skewed by a few outliers. I also agree that teachers (and other government workers for that matter) are disconnected from the real world. The Left is always talking about how “we’re all in this together” (and let’s be real – people who work for the government tend to be on the Left) and how “we need to all sacrifice for the common good.” Well, here’s your chance people. Get in the same sinking boat as the rest of us who don’t get 16% raises (raise? What the hell is that) regardless of how poorly the economy performs.

  • Brad Warbiany

    As Chris pointed out in his post later, trying to create a “perfect” metric for measuring performance is dreadfully difficult for those of us in the corporate world. But that doesn’t mean performance isn’t evaluated.

    There’s a key difference. In order for my employer to be successful, we need to beat our competition. Our customers can *very* easily go somewhere else. So there’s a natural check and balance in the system — somebody has to own the P&L, and if it’s in the red, that’s not good. That’s what the public school system doesn’t have — it doesn’t see students [and their parents] as customers, because they can’t easily walk away and go elsewhere.

    You give parents the ability to choose where their kids go to school, and you can be *sure* that schools will find a way to ensure they have good teachers on staff.

    But that will destroy the unions, so the idea must be killed… with extreme prejudice.

  • John222

    Well said Brad. I would also mention home schooling as an option. You could look at it kind of like the parents going on strike.
    I realize that not everyone can do this, but sometimes it’s a matter of priorities. How important is the education of your children?
    Because of our decision to home school our children, we are a one income household and it is a sacrifice. Our children are the most important things in the world to us.
    I do wonder how much better our home classroom would be if we could get a voucher or even a refund from our property taxes. I imagine a new computer for each child every couple of years; instead of reading about Plymouth Rock or the Liberty Bell, we could go there. Jeez, for the average cost per student, we could probably hire private tutors for languages, music and art instruction.
    As it is, we do what we can with far less than 8-10 thousand per year per kid and nowhere near 76 thousand in compensation.