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When teachers strike so they can teach kids less, something is wrong

Chicago finally got a longer school day in 2012. There can be no going back.

Thousands of striking Chicago Teachers Union members and supporters rally at the Thompson Center after a march on City Hall on Oct. 23, 2019.
Thousands of striking Chicago Teachers Union members and supporters rally at the Thompson Center after marching on City Hall.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

What’s holding up a deal for striking public school teachers in Chicago?

As we write this editorial, the stumbling blocks include two big demands by the Chicago Teachers Union: More prep time for teachers, and political support from Mayor Lori Lightfoot for a fully elected school board.

Lightfoot and her negotiating team have said no to both, and we’re with them.

The CTU has repeatedly insisted on a terrible idea: Giving elementary school teachers an extra 30 minutes of prep time every day, though this would meaning cutting 30 minutes of teaching time every day.

Forget it.

Chicago once had the shortest school day in the country, which was a national embarrassment. When kids are not in class, they cannot learn. But since 2012, thanks to the effort of many parents, educators and former Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Chicago has had a longer school day — something closer to the national average — and we cannot go back.

Yes, teachers need time to plan. But since when do salaried professionals watch the clock like hourly workers on an assembly line? True professionals — teachers, doctors, college professors and even journalists — agree on an annual salary and get on with the job.

They’re not working “for free.” They’re working.

But if the CTU is inclined to count every minute or half hour, let’s also understand that Chicago’s teachers work far fewer days than most full-time American workers.

Teachers in the Chicago Public Schools work 190 days a year, which includes two days for conferences and 10 days for professional development. They get eight paid holidays during the school year, a generous summer break, and week-long breaks for the winter holidays and in the spring.

The vast majority of American workers, by contrast, are on the job an average of 234 days a year. After five years on the job, they typically get about three weeks of vacation and seven or eight paid holidays.

As for the CTU’s second demand — City Hall’s support for a bill creating an elected school board — we can’t see how that’s an appropriate issue in these negotiations.

Whether Chicago switches from an appointed board to an elected board, or to a hybrid of the two, would seem to be the business of the mayor and the teachers, for sure.

But it’s also the business of every parent, taxpayer and alderman, none of whom are at this bargaining table.

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