Members of the Occupy movement rallied in support of Chicago public school teachers whose strike for better pay and working conditions continued Tuesday.
But according to financial reports from the Chicago Teachers’ Pension Fund, many retiring public teachers in Chicago receive a pension that puts them in the wealthiest echelons of the workforce—a group of people typically criticized by Occupy Wall Street.
Andrew Biggs, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, pointed this out in a blog post on the AEI website.
“The average teacher who retired in 2011 after 30 or more years of employment—what passes for a full career in the public sector—had a final salary of $105,888 and will receive an annual guaranteed pension of $78,576,” Biggs wrote. “The salary puts the average Chicago teacher in the top 5% or so of workers nationwide, while even fewer private sector workers will receive a pension that generous.”
But Rachel Unterman, a member of Occupy Chicago, said that public teachers in Chicago have neither fair compensation nor adequate working conditions.
“They are being asked to work a longer day and they have not been offered appropriate compensation for that,” she said in an interview with The Daily Caller News Foundation. “What they are striking for now is better working conditions and better learning environments for the students.”
When told that Chicago Public Schools teachers were highly compensated when compared to not just other teachers, but all employees nationwide, she responded that this was just evidence that public teachers everywhere were insufficiently compensated.
“We are in a part of the country where teachers are better paid,” she said, “but all that means is that teachers are underpaid everywhere, and we really need to put our focus on paying the public servants that are going to make the next generation grow up and be productive.”
But Occupy protesters are wrong to see Chicago’s highly paid, poorly incentivized public teachers as the victims, said Biggs.
“The irony is in teachers believing themselves to be the aggrieved party when Chicago school teachers receive annual salaries nearly 50 percent higher than the typical Chicago college graduate, for a work day and work year that is short even by school teachers’ standards, and with job security that far exceeds private sector levels,” he wrote in an e-mail to The DC News Foundation.
CPS has a high school graduation rate of 60 percent, compared to 75 percent nationwide. While CPS has modestly improved its graduation rate over the last five years, average teacher pay has increased a whopping 42 percent over the last 10 years.
Chicago protects its worst teachers, and fails to reward its excellent ones, said Biggs.
“We shouldn’t blame the teachers there for the fact that so many kids are ill-equipped to learn,” he wrote. “But we also shouldn’t exempt teachers from the same standards that apply to other professionals, where pay and promotion depend on the quality of your work.”
Members of the Occupy movement oppose Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s merit-based reforms, which would evaluate teachers’ effectiveness based on their students test scores. Unterman called such tests “very flawed.”
“We have a problem with merit pay because the way that they decide if students are improving is standardized testing, which has proven to be very flawed,” she said. “We want to have a learning environment where people are able to actually teach, and not teach to a standardized test.”
The strike is expected to continue so long as merit-based evaluations remain a major sticking point in negotiations between the union and the city.
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