Talks to end Chicago teacher strike make progress

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CHICAGO (AP) — Negotiations between union and school officials in the nation’s third-largest school district resumed Thursday with an air of optimism and signals that a teachers’ strike could end soon.

Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis said students could be back in class by Monday, a week after teachers walked out. Ms. Lewis initially suggested classes could resume as early as Friday, then said approval of a final proposal would require a union delegates’ meeting, which could take more time.

“We still have some major stuff we have to look at,” she told reporters Thursday on her way into the talks. “Doing something fast is not the way to go. Haste makes waste.”

About 25,000 teachers have been on the picket line since Monday while negotiators have been locked in tense talks. Issues on the table have included teacher evaluations that incorporate students’ standardized test scores and job security.

Contract talks ended shortly before midnight Wednesday, and Ms. Lewis said the sides definitely had come closer together. School board President David Vitale was also more positive after Wednesday’s talks and was hopeful of a deal.

The optimism was evident on the picket lines, too.

“I know that we will have a good resolution to this, and I do believe it will be soon,” said Michelle Gunderson, an elementary school teacher picketing on the city’s North Side. “And they do not mean to have us be embroiled in this for longer than we have to.”

Negotiators appeared to make progress on teacher evaluations in talks that ran until nearly midnight Wednesday. The school board’s latest proposal scaled back on penalties to teachers after the two sides argued over what percent of student performance should be weighed and how that should be used to judge job performance.

Under an old proposal, the Chicago Teachers Union estimated that some 6,000 teachers could lose their jobs within two years.

The latest offer released Wednesday included provisions for evaluations of tenured teachers that would not result in dismissal in the first year. It also altered categories that teachers can be rated on and an appeals process.

School districts nationwide have grappled with teacher assessments. The Obama administration has given states incentives to use student performance as a component of evaluations, though the issue has been most contentious in Chicago.

Teachers have said it’s unfair to use test scores to evaluate them, especially with other factors affecting student learning that they can’t control: poverty, hunger and the inability to speak fluent English, to name just a few.

Chicago’s walkout canceled class for approximately 350,000 students and has left parents scrambling to make other arrangements for young children. The district has kept some schools open on a limited basis, mostly to provide meals and supervision. More than 80 percent of Chicago Public Schools students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches.

The walkout is the first strike by Chicago teachers in 25 years. In 1987, the teachers strike lasted 19 days.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has called the strike unnecessary and urged the union to continue negotiating with students in class.

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