Chicago Contract Revises Accountability Program

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A recently ratified teachers' contract in Chicago promises to make the next several Septembers as forgettable as the last few: no strikes, no heated picket lines, and no delayed school openings.

The district's second consecutive four-year contract with the Chicago Teachers Union was approved last month by the mayorally appointed board of trustees that governs the nation's third-largest school district. The agreement guarantees teachers and most support workers 3 percent raises the first year and 2 percent raises in each of the next three years.

Another provision adds an interim layer to the system's accountability plan, allowing the district's most chronically low-performing schools extra time to improve before being "reconstituted," or almost totally restaffed, by the school board.

The new contract will take effect July 1 and run through June 30, 2003.

Approval by the board on Nov. 18 came a week after the 33,000-member union, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, approved the contract. Fifty-eight percent of the 23,443 members who voted favored the agreement.

Both city and union leaders hailed the accord as a sign of harmony between the city's teachers and its school governance team.

Richard M. Daley

Mayor Richard M. Daley said in a statement that the fact the agreement was reached several months before the current contract expires "is indicative of the spirit of cooperation between the administration and the teachers. The ones who will benefit are the students." The Illinois legislature gave the mayor control of the 430,000-student district in 1995.

The union's president, Thomas H. Reece, described the contract as "a real good compromise agreement."


The contract also revises Chicago's tough accountability program, under which seven of the city's lowest-performing high schools were reconstituted in the summer of 1997. That move led to union charges that the selection of the schools' new staffs were random and marred by favoritism.

Under the new contract, schools that are singled out as low-performing and fail to show improvement while on probation will face "re-engineering" as an intermediate phase before reconstitution. As with schools on probation, re-engineering requires strict district oversight of major financial and academic decisions. But under that new phase, panels of a school's principals and teachers will evaluate its staff and make recommendations for dismissals and transfers.

If, after two years of re-engineering, the school fails to show improvements, it will face reconstitution.

"We've taken accountability down to the grassroots level," said Cozette Buckney, Chicago's chief academic officer. With the additional layer, many schools may be able to avoid "the long, hard process" of being reconstituted, she said.

Vol. 18, Issue 15, Page 5

Published in Print: November 25, 1998, as Chicago Contract Revises Accountability Program
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  • The Fall 1998 edition of Rethinking Schools focuses on reconstitution. The issue includes: "Reconstituting Jefferson," the story of a teacher's experience with being fired as a result of reconstituting the "failing school" in which she was employed. Also, "Reconstitution Trend Cools," a review of an article from Catalyst that declares the end of union control over school systems is approaching. The Summer 1998 issue asks "What Will Be the Future of Teacher Unionism." Rethinking Schools is a nonprofit, independent publisher of educational materials that advocates the reform of elementary and secondary education, with a strong emphasis on issues of equity and social justice.
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