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End Of Chicago Strike Near, But Questions Remain


On a Friday, it's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep. The teacher's strike in Chicago enters its fifth day today. We're told a resolution appears to be close. Nearly 350,000 students could be heading back to class as early as Monday. Even with an end possibly in sight - you're hearing all the qualifiers here, right - teachers still remain skeptical about changes coming to Chicago Public Schools. NPR's Sonari Glinton reports from Chicago.

SONARI GLINTON, BYLINE: If you ask Chicago's mayor what this strike is about, Rahm Emanuel will say this almost every time.


MAYOR RAHM EMANUEL: This is, in my view, a strike of choice, and it's the wrong choice for our children.

GLINTON: Almost no one you ask - teacher, administrator, politician - will say it's about money. The big points of contention have been job security and a new way to evaluate teachers. Mayor Emanuel wants to make an array of changes to the school day and how teachers are hired and retained. The mayor says he wants local principals to have more authority and autonomy.


EMANUEL: Those principals locally, in your neighborhood, should select the best-qualified teacher, and not be dictated from downtown.

GLINTON: Teachers and the union see things a bit differently. There are about 400,000 students in the Chicago Public School system, about 350,000 in regular schools and 50,000 in charters. That charter number keeps growing, and the regular school number is shrinking. More charter schools are opening, more regular schools closing. That's a worry for teachers like George Drase. He teaches at Walt Disney Magnet school on Chicago's north side.

GEORGE DRASE: They're not going to close Disney Magnet on Lakeshore Drive, because we're - you can see the cars driving by, the Lexus driving by, and we're surrounded by high rises. But what they're going to close are your little neighborhood schools, your neighborhood high schools that are important and vital to those communities.

GLINTON: At the other end of Lakeshore Drive, Dortheia Goodrum teaches at Bouchet Math and Science on Chicago's South Side. To her, it's very clear what this strike and the charter school movement is about.

DORTHEIA GOODRUM: The key issue is union-busting. Charter school teachers are cheaper. It's another form of downsizing. You've got cheaper labor. Basically, you can get a charter school teacher that will make, 35, 40,000 a year. And, yeah, and you're right. There's a huge turnaround, because they're not union. You can go in there, if the principal don't like you, they can go - if they could come out there and protest, they would.

ANDREW BROY: You know, I don't think charter schools are designed to bust unions. I think charter schools were designed to create innovative schools not bound by collective bargaining constraints.

GLINTON: Andrew Broy is the president of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools.

BROY: I think I understand the fear, but, I mean, public schools are widely available in the city. Charter schools are public schools. And what's ironic about it is that we're providing options where they're most needed in the city, on the West and South sides, where current school options have not been strong historically.

GLINTON: Broy points to the nearly 20,000 kids on waiting lists for charter schools in Chicago. And he says many of the education innovations are coming from charter schools. Barbara Radner heads the center for Urban Education at DePaul University. She says this strike was not about this contract.

BARBARA RADNER: This is a school transformation, a school system transforming itself. This is not what's going to be my contract for the next two to four years. This is: What's my role? What's the school? What is the curriculum? Who's in charge? And who's going to choose the teachers who are in these classrooms five years from today?

GLINTON: Even though Chicago kids might head back to school on Monday, the argument over just what kind of public education the kids are going to get and where they'll get it is only beginning.

Sonari Glinton, NPR News, Chicago. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sonari Glinton is a NPR Business Desk Correspondent based at our NPR West bureau. He covers the auto industry, consumer goods, and consumer behavior, as well as marketing and advertising for NPR and Planet Money.

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