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Chicago teacher: Strike was Rahm's choice, not ours

Chicago’s public school teachers and school staff went on strike today, demanding better pay, fair teacher evaluations, and ongoing health benefits.

The strike—the first in 25 years for Chicago's schools—is one of the biggest eruptions to date of the nationwide battle to tie teacher pay to standardized testing scores. The teachers' union, which represents 26,000 teachers and staff, has been in contract negotiations since November; it is also demanding air conditioning in classrooms, more social workers, and to cap class sizes.

Gov. Mitt Romney condemned the strike on Monday. "Teachers unions have too often made plain that there interests conflict with those of our children," he said in a statement.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel criticized the union for what he called a "strike of choice." On The Ed Show on Monday night, Chicago teacher Phillip Cantor said the choice was the mayor’s, not the teachers.

“The teachers have been at the table since November, Mr. Emanuel has never been at the table,” Cantor, a science teacher and a strike captain, said.  “It’s all been out of town lawyers doing the negotiations, I don’t think he’s been taking it seriously.”

In a last-ditch effort to avert the strike, the city offered a deal on Sunday night for a 16-percent raise over the next four years and new job opportunities for laid-off teachers. The teachers rejected the deal and continued with plans to strike. Emanuel spoke to the press late Sunday night, saying the two unresolved issues of contention in negotiations were the principal’s right to choose teachers and tying teacher’s pay to standardized testing scores.

“It’s been shown over and over in tying teacher’s pay to test score —it’s not valid, it doesn’t work. A lot of teachers vary from year to year,” Cantor said. “We know that the teacher isn’t the one that’s changing at that point, there are so many outside factors.” The district is 90 percent low-income students.

Despite the continued battles and the massive city-wide distruption, teachers say they’re striking for the future of the students.

“When you’ve been in a classroom with 41 kids when it’s 95 degrees for weeks at a time, you know [Chicago Public Schools] doesn’t put kids first,” Cantor said.