Some Milwaukee teachers stand in solidarity with striking Chicago teachers

MILWAUKEE -- Wednesday, September 12th was Day Three in the standoff between Chicago's school board and its striking teachers. Teachers and staff members say some of their concerns are specific to Chicago, but they remain at odds over things like teacher evaluations and merit pay, as well as the role of charter schools -- issues school districts in Milwaukee are also working on.

The Milwaukee Teacher's Union is standing behind their brothers and sisters on strike in Chicago.

"Many of our members have worn red to school to indicate solidarity and plan on sending a bus load of folks to a rally on Saturday in support," Milwaukee Teachers' Education Association President Bob Peterson said.

Others, like MPS Superintendent Gregory Thornton says it's important not to choose sides.

"I'm optimistic things will turn the corner in Chicago. When you have strikes, everyone hurts," Thornton said.

In Wisconsin, teachers are legally forbidden from walking out and Act 10 also took away their right to collectively bargain, but they stand united with their Chicago brethren on some of the issues.

MPS has already begun a new teacher evaluation system where it considers classroom observation and not test scores, but student growth.

"It wasn't hard to get to new evaluation system for teachers. The teachers wanted it. We wanted it. Sat down and worked out something that's really compatible for both," Thornton said.

MPS is also looking at more charter schools -- something one principal says should be an important tool for public education, not against it.

"I think we need to look at what has worked in charter schools and come up with a way to transfer that excellence into the larger school system," Charter School Principal Patricia Hoben said.

Everyone agrees it cannot be one size fits all when it comes to public education, but they are pleased the conversation, though difficult, is taking place.

"If we want successful change in schools we have to involve people who are working day-to-day in the classroom and their voice has to be at the table and heard," Peterson said.

"I think what's happening -- there's a lot of talk. It's time for the rubber to meet the road and turn talk into actions," Thornton said.

When it comes to performance pay and teacher evaluations, everyone agreed it is extremely complicated. Many teachers support it because they want to be held accountable and rewarded for their success. Some administrators point out it can be difficult to sustain and may not be a good idea for every district, though many districts in Wisconsin are looking into it right now.

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