More National and Local Editorials in Support of CPS at Negotiation Table 

September 12, 2012


Wanted to share another set of editorials in support of CPS proposals at the negotiation table with the CTU from the New York Times and Chicago Tribune. 


New York Times

Chicago Teachers’ Folly

September 12, 2012

Teachers’ strikes, because they hurt children and their families, are never a good idea. The strike that has roiled the civic climate in Chicago — and left 350,000 children without classes — seems particularly senseless because it is partly a product of a personality clash between the blunt mayor, Rahm Emanuel, and the tough Chicago Teachers Union president, Karen Lewis. Beyond that, the strike is based on union discontent with sensible policy changes — including the teacher evaluation system required by Illinois law — that are increasingly popular across the country and are unlikely to be rolled back, no matter how long the union stays out.


Mr. Emanuel attracted the union’s anger when the city, citing budget deficits, rescinded a 4 percent raise that was supposed to go into effect last year. He further angered the union by bypassing the collective-bargaining process with a new policy that lengthened one of the shortest school days in the nation. Comparatively speaking, however, Chicago’s teachers are well paid, with an average salary of about $75,000 a year (roughly the same as in New York City). Before the strike, the city agreed to increase the size of the teacher corps to handle the longer school day. And despite its dismal fiscal condition, the city says it has offered the union a 16 percent raise over the next four years.


The union has listed several grievances in its public statements, but the main point of anger has to do with a state law that requires school systems to put in place an evaluation system in which a teacher’s total rating depends partly on student test scores. Half the states have agreed to create similar teacher evaluation systems that take student achievement into account in exchange for grants under the federal Race to the Top program or forgreater flexibility under the No Child Left Behind law. Such systems are already up and running in many places.


In Chicago, however, the union asserts that the city’s evaluation system will unfairly penalize teachers for fluctuations in student performance that might be attributable to family crises or even neighborhood violence. For its part, the city says it is willing to monitor the new system to ensure fairness and negotiate a grievance process that would allow the teachers to challenge their ratings. If the union has legitimate suggestions for how to improve the fairness and accuracy of the evaluation system, in particular, it needs to bring them forward in a way that does not involve holding the city hostage.


Another big sticking point has to do with the treatment of teachers who are laid off from schools that are closed or consolidated. The city rightly wants principals to determine which teachers are hired at a given school. The union wants a recall system that gives laid-off teachers priority in rehiring. The national trend, however, is going the other way, with systems increasingly giving principals a stronger voice in determining the makeup of the schools’ staff members.


What stands out about this strike, however, is that the differences between the two sides were not particularly vast, which means that this strike was unnecessary. Moreover, Ms. Lewis, who seems to be basking in the power of having shut down the school system, seems more inclined toward damaging the mayor politically than in getting this matter resolved. If the strike goes on for much longer, the union could pay a dear price in terms of public opinion.




Chicago Tribune 

Grading teachers

Chicago students deserve the best

September 12, 2012


"There are too many factors beyond our control which impact how well some students perform on standardized tests, such as poverty, exposure to violence, homelessness, hunger and other social issues beyond our control." 

—Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis, Sept. 9, 2012

When we heard CTU President Karen Lewis say that Sunday night, it sounded like an excuse. The context:

Lewis was complaining about teacher evaluations that for the first time will be tied to student academic growth. That issue — considering a teacher's effectiveness at helping students progress — is at the heart of this strike. Teachers are fighting to water down those evaluations. The union wants to lower how much student performance contributes to a teacher's rating. It wants to protect teachers' jobs — all teachers, whether they be effective or ineffective at helping children achieve better outcomes.

Are the social factors Lewis named beyond a teacher's control? Sure.

But do any of those mean kids can't learn, can't excel at school? Absolutely not. A 2011 federal study showed impoverished inner-city kids in Boston, New York, Houston and other metro areas outperforming Chicago elementary students in math and science. The kids all shared similar backgrounds. Teachers in those other cities' classrooms obviously didn't think their students couldn't learn.

Look, we know some children are easy to teach and some are tough. We know that some bring troubles from home to the classroom, that some can be disruptive.

But those students need great teachers — teachers who excel at reaching students.

Who are the best teachers in Chicago? CPS and CTU don't know. They don't know because for decades the evaluation system gave almost every teacher a passing grade, deserved or not.

That is supposed to change this year. CPS is rolling out a strong evaluation system tied to student academic growth and other factors. It will bring intense scrutiny to a teacher's classroom performance. It will help teachers improve.

How does the CTU's opposition to this system — not unlike evaluations of effectiveness that professionals in virtually every other field receive — benefit students in classrooms? Easy: It doesn't.

This isn't just a Chicago fight. Setting high standards tied to student growth is a flash point in districts across the U.S. It was a centerpiece of education reforms set in motion by the Obama administration's Race to the Top challenge.

Teachers, school officials, parents and school reformers nationwide are watching what happens here. CPS can't give on this. Parents and principals need to know which teachers excel and which take up space. Teachers need feedback about how well they're doing and where they can improve.

This system wasn't foisted on CTU. Chicago's teachers had a huge role in creating it. The district and CTU had 35 meetings and 90 hours of negotiations over these evaluations. CPS officials project that about 70 percent of Chicago's 25,000 teachers will be rated as proficient or excellent. About 3 percent will be deemed unsatisfactory — 10 times the current share. About 27 percent will fall into the "needs improvement" category.

Under CPS rules, those teachers will need to improve significantly every year or face possible dismissal.

The University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research says the new protocol will be effective in identifying the best teachers. That process won't merely reflect students' standardized test scores, as critics would have you believe: Turns out teachers who measurably spur student growth also are rated highly by principals in most other areas, too.

The best teachers get good results. And they should be rewarded with higher pay. Why? Because nothing is more important for a student than the quality of the teacher at the front of his or her classroom — every classroom. You can't improve Chicago's schools if you can't identify — and reward — Chicago's best teachers. Or if teachers don't even get the information they need to do their jobs better.

The Education Trust, a Washington-based advocacy group, hands out awards every year to high-poverty, high-achieving schools. "We see schools where poor kids and kids of color are outperforming white suburban kids," trust vice president Amy Wilkins tells us. "We are seeing more and more of these schools around the country. What that tells us is that teachers can indeed have a big impact."

She didn't mention anything about those exceptional teachers using their students as excuses.