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The Weekly Update: The Chicago teachers strike and where it all began

The Weekly Update for the news and views you might have missed.

Words can’t begin to express my gratitude for this. I’m a very proud middle school reading teacher in CPS. I strike not by choice as the mayor has stated but on principle. You have clearly articulated why I am on the picket. My students deserve better. We bailed out the banks while allowing public schools to fail. I stand up for public education and demand that we not allow companies to run schools. I stand up for worker’s rights and for the rights of the poor. Thank you.

From Dissent magazine, Joanne Barkin writes:

Who Is Victimizing Chicago’s Kids?

Yes, schoolchildren in Chicago are victims, but not of their teachers. They are victims of a nationwide education “reform” movement geared to undermine teachers’ unions and shift public resources into private hands; they are victims of wave after wave of ill-conceived and failing policy “innovations”; they are victims of George Bush’s No Child Left Behind law, which turned inner-city public schools into boot camps for standardized test prep; they are victims of Barack Obama’s Race to the Top program, which paid states to use student test scores—a highly unreliable tool—for teacher evaluations and to lift caps on the number of privately managed charter schools, thus draining resources from public schools. Chicago’s children are victims of “mayoral control,” which allows Rahm Emanuel to run the school system, bully parents and teachers, and appoint a Board of Education dominated by corporate executives and political donors.

The city’s current reform wave began in 2004 with Mayor Richard Daley’s Renaissance 2010—a massive program, funded in part by $90 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, to transform the city’s schools by 2010. The strategy included firing and replacing entire staffs in low-income neighborhood schools, shutting down dozens of schools, and setting up charter schools. When reckoning day came, here is what the Chicago Tribune reported:

Six years after Mayor Richard Daley launched a bold initiative to close down and remake failing schools, Renaissance 2010 has done little to improve the educational performance of the city’s school system, according to a Tribune analysis of 2009 state test data.

…The moribund test scores follow other less than enthusiastic findings about Renaissance 2010—that displaced students ended up mostly in other low performing schools and that mass closings led to youth violence as rival gang members ended up in the same classrooms. Together, they suggest the initiative hasn’t lived up to its promise by this, its target year.

Given the failed reforms, the rational next step would have been to change course. Instead, Rahm Emanuel, shortly before confirming his candidacy for mayor, declared support for doubling down on Daley’s education strategy. On October 18, 2010, the Tribune summarized an interview with him:

In making his case, Emanuel said he would like to see a local, privately funded version of the federal education competition called Race to the Top, the signature Obama administration plan that rewarded states vowing to reform public schools.

“We’ve raised a ton of money for the Olympics,” Emanuel said. “Let’s raise a ton of money for school reform right here on our own Chicago version of Race to the Top. Let’s not wait for the feds.”

…Emanuel also criticized teachers unions, a significant political force in the city, for their opposition to the federal Race to the Top program, closing underperforming schools and charter school expansion.

After years of trying to work under one wrong-headed reform regime or another, Chicago’s teachers decided to push back in the hardest way they could. They went on strike for the first time in a quarter-century because they knew the following so well:

After twenty years of reform in Chicago, “Racial gaps in achievement have steadily increased, with White students making more progress than Latino students, and African American students falling behind all other groups.” (Consortium on Chicago School Research at the University of Chicago, Trends in Chicago’s Schools across Three Eras of Reform: Summary of Key Findings, 2011, p. 1)

In 1995 African Americans comprised 45 percent of the teaching force in Chicago. Today, after a decade of closing neighborhood public schools and opening charters, just 19 percent of city teachers are African American. About 42 percent of their students are African American. “[T]he private managers who run charter schools tend to favor rookie teachers who are younger and far less likely to be minorities, studies have shown.” (Reuters, September 10, 2012)

Chicago spends $7,946 a year on instruction per student. This is well below the wealthiest suburban Chicago districts. (Reuters, September 9, 2012)

According to recommendations of the American School Counselors Association, there should be about 1,600 counselors working in the Chicago public schools. Instead there are only 731. Much of the workday of these counselors consists of coordinating test administration and paperwork. (The Schools Chicago’s Students Deserve, p. 10)

Some 42 percent of neighborhood elementary schools are not funded for a full-time arts teacher or music teacher. (data from the Chicago Public Schools Position Roster, 2011, received by FOIA request, in The Schools Chicago’s Students Deserve, Chicago Teachers Union report, 2012, p. 5)

To read this article in full, go to Dissent Magazine.

And in contrast to Chicago public schools, there is the University of Chicago Lab School where Mayor Emanuel sends his children:

Director of Private School Where Rahm Sends His Kids Opposes Using Testing for Teacher Evaluations

Unlike occasional teacher union opponent Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel does not send his kids to public schools. Instead, Emanuel’s children attend one of the most elite prep schools in Chicago, the University of Chicago Lab School, where the annual tuition is more than $20,000. (Emanuel has repeatedly refused to answer questions about why he eschews public schools for his children, telling reporters that it is a private family decision.)

The conditions at the University of Chicago Lab Schools are dramatically different than those at Chicago Public Schools, which are currently closed with teachers engaged in a high-profile strike. The Lab School has seven full-time art teachers to serve a student population of 1,700. By contrast, only 25% of Chicago’s “neighborhood elementary schools” have both a full-time art and music instructor. The Lab School has three different libraries, while 160 Chicago public elementary schools do not have a library.

“Physical education, world languages, libraries and the arts are not frills. They are an essential piece of a well-rounded education,” wrote University of Chicago Lab School Director David Magill on the school’s website in February 2009.

Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) President Karen Lewis agrees with Magill, and believes what works for Mayor Emanuel’s kids should be a prescription for the rest of the city.  

“I’m actually glad that he did [send his kids to Lab School] because it gave me an opportunity to look at how the Lab school functions,” Lewis told Chicago magazine in November 2011. “I thought he gave us a wonderful pathway to seeing what a good education looks like, and I think he’s absolutely right, and so we love that model. We would love to see that model throughout.”

One of the key sticking points in union negotiations is that Emanuel wants to use standardized tests scores to count for 40 percent of the basis of teacher evaluations. Earlier this year, more than 80 researchers from 16 Chicago-area universities signed an open letter to Emanuel, criticizing the use of standardized test scores for this purpose. “The new evaluation system for teachers and principals centers on misconceptions about student growth, with potentially negative impact on the education of Chicago’s children,” they wrote. 

CTU claims that nearly 30% of its members could be dismissed within one to two years if the proposed evaluation process is put into effect and has opposed using tests scores as the basis of evaluation. They’re joined in their opposition to using testing in evaluations by Magill.

Writing on the University of Chicago’s Lab School website two years ago, Magill noted, “Measuring outcomes through standardized testing and referring to those results as the evidence of learning and the bottom line is, in my opinion, misguided and, unfortunately, continues to be advocated under a new name and supported by the current [Obama] administration.”

To read this article in full, go to In These Times.

From the National Academy of Education and written by Linda Darling-Hammond at Stanford University, Audrey Amrein-Beardsley at Arizona State University, Edward H. Haertel at Stanford University and Jesse Rothstein at University of California, Berkeley:

 A Research Brief: Getting Teacher Evaluation Right: A Challenge for Policy Makers

The Executive Summary:

Consensus that current teacher evaluation systems often do little to help teachers improve or to support personnel decision making has led to a range of new approaches to teacher evaluation.

This brief looks at the available research about teacher evaluation strategies and their impacts on teaching and learning.

Prominent among these new approaches are value-added models (VAM) for examining changes in student test scores over time. These models control for prior scores and some student characteristics known to be related to achievement when looking at score gains.

When linked to individual teachers, they are sometimes promoted as measuring teacher ―effectiveness.‖

Drawing this conclusion, however, assumes that student learning is measured well by a given test, is influenced by the teacher alone, and is independent of other aspects of the classroom context. Because these assumptions are problematic, researchers have documented problems with value-added models as measures of teachers‘ effectiveness. These include the facts that:

1. Value-Added Models of Teacher Effectiveness Are Highly Unstable: Teachers‘ ratings differ substantially from class to class and from year to year, as well as from one test to the next.

2. Teachers’ Value-Added Ratings Are Significantly Affected by Differences in the Students Who Are Assigned to Them: Even when models try to control for prior achievement and student demographic variables, teachers are advantaged or disadvantaged based on the students they teach.

In particular, teachers with large numbers of new English learners and others with special needs have been found to show lower gains than the same teachers when they are teaching other students.

3. Value-Added Ratings Cannot Disentangle the Many Influences on Student Progress: Many other home, school, and student factors influence student learning gains, and these matter more than the individual teacher in explaining changes in scores.

Other tools have been found to be more stable. Some have been found both to predict teacher effectiveness and to help improve teachers’ practice. These include:

• Performance assessments for licensure and advanced certification that are based on professional teaching standards, such as National Board Certification and beginning teacher performance assessments in states like California and Connecticut.

• On-the-job evaluation tools that include structured observations, classroom artifacts, analysis of student learning, and frequent feedback based on professional standards.

In addition to the use of well-grounded instruments, research has found benefits of systems that recognize teacher collaboration, which supports greater student learning.

Finally, systems are found to be more effective when they ensure that evaluators are well-trained, evaluation and feedback are frequent, mentoring and coaching are available, and processes, such as Peer Assistance and Review systems, are in place to support due process and timely decision making by an appropriate body.

To read this brief in full, go to naeducation.org.

This week, I will leave you with the radio broadcast from Education Radio:

With Strings Attached: The Gates Foundation and Venture Philanthropy

In this week’s program, we take a closer look at the role of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in funding and promoting corporate education reform. The Gates Foundation is one of a handful of venture philanthropists – along with the Broad and Walton Foundations – who have spent billions of dollars in the last decade to change the face of public education in the United States.

Gates’ agenda for reform is essentially identical to that of the U.S. Department of Education, namely increasing the use of high-stakes standardized tests at all levels, standardizing curriculum, creating a de-unionized system of merit-based pay for teachers tied to student test scores, and disinvesting in neighborhood public schools in favor of opening new charter schools.

As we’ve explored in previous episodes of Education Radio, all of these reforms can be tied to a larger ideology of free-market competition and a corporate agenda of deregulation and privatization, and are actually leading to greater social and economic inequalities. 

 

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