Chicago Public Schools at Crisis: The Real Issues
For the first time in 25 years, 26,000 Chicago teachers went on strike affecting 400,000 public school students. Both sides said they were close on salary, but remain divided on other issues.
Those issues include potential changes to health benefits, receiving books on time and class size limitations and a new teacher evaluation system based partly on students’ standardized test scores.
The core problem is that the union believes that evaluation tests will be used against teachers working in poorer school districts who will have their schools closed, receive lower pay raises, be fired more often and receive inadequate opportunities for rehiring. Instead, new teachers at lower salaries will be hired saving money and reorganizing the district into charter schools.
The union wants more equitable distribution of funds across schools to avoid the problem of having poorer schools and wants teachers who are fired due to school closings to be given a second chance at another school.
The union has said
“The Schools Chicago’s Students Deserve immediate district-wide enforcement of practical and proven solutions to dramatically improve the academic performance of more than 400,000 students in a district of 675 schools. "
Details of their approach can be found here(pdf). They argue that the current school system is segregated by social class and race. For example, 90% African Americans attend schools. CPS had the highest suspension rate of all big-city school districts in 2008, with 13% of students suspended. One out of every four Black male students was suspended. Black males comprised nearly the majority of suspensions despite being only a quarter of the CPS student population.
“Of the 5,574 juveniles arrested on CPS grounds in 2010, 74% were African American. These issues are prevalent at charter schools as well. Unwarranted punitive measures, expulsions and “counseling out” of disruptive students are common at schools run by private management organizations. When standardized testing results determine the relative value of students, and schools run by private operators are unaccountable to the public, these schools push out troubled low-performing students.”
“What would it cost to have equitable treatment of our children? In our society students segregated by socio-economic status do not have equal access to education. Merely equalizing resources between the children of the haves and have-nots is insufficient. Students from the most disadvantaged backgrounds require additional support services to supplement their learning and emotional growth. Yet CPS does not even attempt this ‘nominal’ equity. Bringing real equity into the education system will require a depth of commitment and resources that is totally outside the scope of CPS’ current “reform” agenda.”
In a nutshell, the teacher evaluation system
“does not take into account external factors that affect performance, including poverty, violence and homelessness.”
said Union President Karen
To put it another way,
Rahm Emmanual ignored independent researchers who warned in March that,
“Value-added models (VAMs) of teacher effectiveness do not produce stable ratings of teachers. For example, different statistical models (all based on reasonable assumptions) can yield different effectiveness scores. Researchers have found that how a teacher is rated changes from class to class, from year to year, and even from test to test.
Assessments designed to evaluate student learning are not necessarily valid for measuring teacher effectiveness or student learning growth.5 Using them to measure the latter is akin to using a meter stick to weigh a person: you might be able to develop a formula that links height and weight, but there will be plenty of error in your calculations."
Teachers will subtly but surely be incentivized to avoid students with health issues, students with disabilities, students who are English Language Learners, or students suffering from emotional issues."
There is scientific debate about the effectives of value added models with most research suggesting that it is not a good idea. Alternative are available such as Total Quality management methods:] that have proven to be effective and is being used in countries with educational systems that produce superior results to the U.S. and countries that are improving at a more rapid rate than the U.S. Unlike value added methods, Total Quality Management gives teachers second chances and an opportunities to improve themselves and to inject new ideas from high achieving schools.
The tests Chicago uses were designed to measure school performance and not teacher performance. Comprehensive tests that cannot be “taught to” have been recommended.
The Chicago Public School system is dealing with performance problems. For example, fourth and eighth-graders in Chicago score below national averages on math and reading. Although some in the media claimed the school district was in dire straits with little room to maneuver that’s because money was secretly set aside for other purposes and the public was deceived about this.
The mayor wants to expand charter schools in Chicago to eventually encompass half of the city’s education system. Unfortunately, that approach is not backed by science but by economic and political considerations. A recent five year study found no differences in charter school performance after five years.
In sum, the problem is that the Chicago School district is working with a bad law that uses a statistical approach to solving educational problems. It’s an approach that teacher unions perceive to be decidedly unfair to teachers and poor schools. Protesters appear to have been paid to mischaracterize the union’s positions. Charter schools are an unproven method for improving school performance and the unions believe that a vast realignment toward charter schools will result in heavy job losses for senior teachers working in poorer school districts.
Presidential Candidate Romney put out the following statement
" I am disappointed by the decision of the Chicago Teachers Union to turn its back on not only a city negotiating in good faith but also the hundreds of thousands of children relying on the city’s public schools to provide them a safe place to receive a strong education.
Teachers unions have too often made plain that their interests conflict with those of our children, and today we are seeing one of the clearest examples yet. President Obama has chosen his side in this fight, sending his Vice President last year to assure the nation’s largest teachers union that “you should have no doubt about my affection for you and the President’s commitment to you.”
I choose to side with the parents and students depending on public schools to give them the skills to succeed, and my plan for education reform will do exactly that."
The President has refused to comment on the strike.
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