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Chicago teachers reach tentative agreement to end strike

Striking teachers in Chicago came to a tentative agreement with Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Friday, ending a five-day walkout in the country’s third-largest school district over disputes about education reform that have reverberated around the country.

The union was able to win some ground on two major issues — how teachers should be evaluated and whether teachers laid off when a school closes had an automatic right to job openings in other schools.

The details of the agreement between the Chicago Teachers Union and the school district were still being worked out Friday. The union had scheduled a vote for Sunday for its 700-member House of Delegates that would enable the 2,600 striking teachers and paraprofessionals to return to classrooms on Monday. The full union would finalize the deal sometime after that.

The union agreed that the school system could tie teacher evaluations to student test scores, but the school administration promised that test scores would play a smaller role than it initially wanted.

In addition, the union won assurances that if a teacher is laid off because of a school closing, that teacher gets preference in hiring decisions in other schools as long as he or she has positive teacher evaluations.

The strike attracted national attention not just because the battle was over education reforms that are taking place around the country but because it involved Emanuel, a prominent Democrat and President Obama’s former chief of staff, brawling with organized labor, a key constituency that Democrats are depending upon in the coming presidential election.

The fight also exposed a rift within the Democratic party over the direction of school reform. Other Democratic mayors, including Antonio Villaraigosa in Los Angeles and Cory Booker in Newark have pressed for tougher teacher evaluations and an end to tenure that are part of many union contracts. On the other side are labor leaders and others convinced that the reforms are union-busting by another name.

While Obama has maintained close ties to teachers, he has promoted policies many of them dislike through his Race to the Top grants, which reward states for evaluating teachers in part by how well their students perform on standardized tests.

Obama and his Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who once ran the Chicago public schools, have said little publicly about the strike.

Most observers said Friday the strike will not damage Obama or his relationship with unions.

“No runs, no hits, no errors,” said Steve Rosenthal, a longtime union organizer who is active in Democratic politics. “In the scheme of things, it’s over. When was the last time any labor dispute other than PATCO with (President Ronald) Reagan in ‘91 or baseball in ‘94 had any type of impact on the nation? I don’t think a teachers strike will have any lasting impact.”

“The unions recognize the clear differences between the Obama administration and Romney and the Republicans, who have denigrated unions and made them whipping posts,” he said.

Lyndsey Layton has been covering national education since 2011, writing about everything from parent trigger laws to poverty’s impact on education to the shifting politics of school reform.

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