As they march toward an Oct. 17 strike date, the Chicago Teachers Union has highlighted a host of non-economic demands it says will improve schools.
But the school district says it’s also seeking a set of changes it considers critical for schools on the South and West sides that serve mostly black and Latino students.
Chicago Public Schools wants to eliminate the option for teachers to transfer schools midyear without the permission of their principal. The number of midyear transfers — which take place between semesters in February — has been growing in recent years, from 88 in 2014 to 203 last year, according to school district data.
Most of the other non-economic proposals pushed by the school district revolve around giving principals more control over teachers and classes. They include limiting teacher input into testing decisions and grading policies. The union has rejected these proposals as non-starters.
The school district also wanted more teacher preparation time to be principal directed, but on Friday it agreed to drop that proposal as long as the union abandoned its ask for more prep time.
Union leaders say they understand why the school district wants to eliminate midyear transfers. However, they say they won’t agree until working conditions for teachers are improved across the board.
Chicago Public Schools Chief Talent Officer Matt Lyons said the problem with midyear transfers is that most teachers transfer from schools that serve poor and mostly black and Latino students to ones that serve more white and middle-class students.
Data he shared shows that for every six teachers who transfer from the South or West sides to the North Side, just one does the reverse transfer. Also, when a teacher leaves a North Side school, the school is almost twice as likely to fill the position by the end of the school year compared to schools on the South or West sides.
“This is really for us a concrete example and an immediate impactful measure that we can make to bring equity to students and to improve student learning,” Lyons said.
Lyons blamed midyear transfers for some schools missing teachers for months, even an entire year. A WBEZ analysis published this summer showed that majority black schools were twice as likely to have a year-long vacancy than other schools. During this time, students are often given worksheets or nothing at all as they are monitored by non-teaching staff.
The WBEZ analysis also showed that the schools hit hardest by long-term vacancies had a hard time getting substitute teachers for teachers who were not present.
Officials from the Chicago Teachers Union say they understand why the school district wants principals to be able to decide on allowing a midyear transfer. They say they know this leads to instability that is bad for students.
But they say the school district first needs to address the issues that cause teachers to leave a school. They say schools with low-income students on the South and West sides serve children that have experienced more trauma and those children aren’t getting the help they need. And a CTU spokeswoman says most teachers transfer because they “feel devalued, overwhelmed and unsupported.”
The union also said the school district should be monitoring midyear transfers and, if a school has a lot of them, it should work with principals to figure out the root cause.
Sarah Karp covers education for WBEZ. Follow her on Twitter at @WBEZeducation and @sskedreporter.