Tribune: Voters generally side with teachers union over Emanuel
by Joel Hood and Rick Pearson | 05/16/2012
Poll shows support for longer school day
But voters generally side with teachers union over Emanuel
Rahm Emanuel's push to extend the school day is overwhelmingly backed by Chicago voters, but far more of them side with the teachers union than the mayor on overall efforts to improve education, a new Tribune/WGN-TV poll shows.
The survey results could serve as a warning sign to the mayor not to engage in a full-throated contract battle with the Chicago Teachers Union, which has already begun polling its members and galvanizing its allies in preparation for a possible strike next fall.
Moreover, the poll could embolden a union that has been on the defensive during the contentious debate over a longer school day — the signature reform effort of the mayor's first year and one he hopes can drive even greater changes in the city's troubled public school system.
The poll found 62 percent approve of Emanuel's effort to keep students in school longer each day, compared to 32 percent who oppose it. Support was even greater among parents of Chicago Public Schools students, at 66 percent.
"The schedule (for CPS) is so short, it's ridiculous," said poll respondent Donald Faliszek, who has a daughter at a public school and a son at a parochial school. "Without a question, the longer day is going to make a difference."
Although Chicago residents favor the longer day, support was down from a similar Tribune poll in January 2011, months before Emanuel took office. Then, 78 percent of city residents favored more time in the classroom, compared to 17 percent who opposed it.
The latest poll of 700 registered Chicago voters was conducted May 2-10 and has an error margin of 3.7 percentage points, greater for subgroups.
If teachers are going to teach longer hours, they should be paid more for it, the poll found. Sizable majorities of Chicago residents as a whole (86 percent) and public school parents (92 percent) agreed with that concept.
Respondent Jennifer Butterly was one of them.
"I think a longer school day will be helpful to keep the children off the street, but (teachers) need to be paid for it," said Butterly, who has three children in CPS. "There's no way you can expect them to work a longer day and not compensate them for that."
Perhaps somewhat surprising was the support the teachers union garnered over Emanuel. On the question of who voters sided with in the more comprehensive debate over improving the city's public school system, the union scored a better than 2-1 ratio over the mayor, who has had a testy relationship with the union's leadership.
Among all respondents, 40 percent sided with the union, compared to 17 percent who backed Emanuel. Thirty-six percent said they supported neither. Among public school parents, 48 percent sided with the teachers union and 18 percent sided with the mayor. Thirty percent said they sided with neither.
The support for the union may reflect concerns that Emanuel has moved too aggressively against teachers in his first year in office, overtly attempting to portray the teachers union as the obstacle to comprehensive school reform. It could mean that parents worry about how a strike might disrupt their daily routines, or it could underscore the city's long tradition of support for organized labor.
Or, as some poll respondents suggested, it could simply be about Emanuel.
"It's his attitude, the way he is with people," said respondent Laura Diaz, a mother to four children in CPS. "It's too early to judge really who he is. He's trying to do everything all at once, and you don't really know what's ahead."
African-American and Latino voters showed the most support for the union, at 51 percent and 40 percent, respectively. White voters backed the union at 27 percent, with 42 percent of them choosing neither the CTU nor Emanuel.
Emanuel took command of a public school system weakened by years of instability, structural inefficiencies and massive debt. A revolving door of leadership atop the district — three chief executives in the previous three years — and conflicting reform efforts made little difference for hundreds of underperforming schools languishing on academic probation.
With tension already simmering between the mayor and union leaders, Emanuel followed through on his campaign pledge to lengthen Chicago's school day, arguing that students are more likely to succeed academically when they spend more time with teachers. A longer school day also would provide a haven for children in some of the city's most violent communities, Emanuel said.
Lengthening what had been among the shortest school days and shortest school years in the nation would become the centerpiece of Emanuel's plan to improve CPS. But it came at significant political risk.
In September, union officials were outraged when district leadership began offering schools financialincentives to add 90 minutes to the school day by getting teachers to sign waivers to opt out of their union contracts.