Question at heart of Chicago strike: How do you measure teacher performance?
M. Spencer Green / AP
Parents of Chicago public school students, Carmen Brownlee, left, and, Latonya Williams, right, walk a picket line outside Shoop Elementary School in support of striking CPS teachers, Sept. 11, 2012.
By Sevil Omer, NBC News
With negotiators trying to hammer out an agreement that would end Chicago’s teachers strike, one of the key sticking points is how to evaluate whether a teacher is doing a good job, an issue that has riled school boards across the U.S. in recent years.
But Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis is critical of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s push to make great use of standardized tests in teacher reviews, calling the process flawed. Union officials say the system wouldn’t do enough to take into account outside factors such as poverty, crime and homelessness.Chicago’s school leaders are proposing that student performance on standardized tests count toward 25 percent of a teacher’s assessment, growing to 40 percent in five years, according to NBCChicago.com.
The battle in Chicago over using student test scores to judge teachers is just one front in a nationwide battle over how to make sure teachers are doing a good job, and that taxpayer dollars and student time aren’t going to waste."Evaluate us on what we do, not the lives of our children we do not control," Lewis said in announcing the strike. It was unclear what union officials proposed instead.
"This is going to become a long-term battle that everyone's watching very closely," said Eric Hanushek, a senior fellow in education at the Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, a conservative research center. "Teacher unions are at a crossroads: Are they going to participate in designing better teacher evaluations or resist and not change anything. The Chicago union seems to be taking the resist option, drawing their line in the sand."
The Obama administration, through its $4 billion Race to the Top competition and waivers from the Bush-era No Child Left Behind, has urged states to change teacher assessments to make use of test data as a key component to set a teacher's pay or end their employment. The administration granted waivers to states that promised to show improvements in student and school performance and link teacher evaluations to student test scores.
Supporters say current review tools fail to give administrators a reliable assessment of a teacher's effectiveness, while critics argue there's no evidence linking student performance to a teacher's worth.
"Teacher evaluations should be based on multiple measures," said Marcus Mrowka, a spokesman for the American Federation of Teachers, which has 1.5 million members. "Testing has a role but should not sanction teachers but inform instruction."
Twenty-four states now require teacher evaluations based on some measure of student growth, according to an analysis by the National Council on Teacher Quality, a research and policy group. Public school districts in Tennessee and Washington, D.C., recently implemented new teacher evaluations tying outcomes to merit raises, while Colorado and New York are deep in the process of developing an evaluation system, the council noted.
In the past three years, at least 20 state legislatures have passed bills setting up new teacher evaluation processes, according to the council. Illinois joined the ranks last year when its legislature passed a law mandating new teacher evaluations, with Chicago’s leaders rushing to embrace the system, called the Performance Evaluation Review Act.
“The evaluation system should be built around continuing improvement of instruction,” said Rob Weil, AFT’s director of field programs and educational issues in Washington, D.C. “Evaluations should help people improve and we need to build systems that give teachers the information they need so they can improve. The process should not be punitive.”
In Chicago, Lewis has warned that as many as 6,000 teachers could lose their jobs under the new evaluation system. The union represents about 25,000 teachers and staff, who walked off the job Monday.
School officials say they do not know how union leaders determined that number, and telephone calls by NBC News to union headquarters went unanswered Tuesday.
Emanuel has promised that teachers would not be fired in the first year of the evaluation process.
Union leaders, however, are still resisting.
“This is no way to measure the effectiveness of an educator,” said the union in a statement. “Further 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.”
About 60 percent of students in Chicago public schools complete high school, according to the Illinois Policy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank.
“We are spending more and more on students, throwing more and more money into the system,” said Ted Dabrowski, vice president of the Illinois Policy Institute. “If you want the best teachers in the system, then teachers should be paid and promoted based on their performance. It’s important that we improve the system, which has become a failed system.”123
Union leader to Chicago teachers rally: In for the long haul
Scott Olson / Getty Images
Chicago public school teachers and their supporters rally in front of the school district headquarters on Tuesday in Chicago, Illinois. It was the second day in a strike that has idled some 350,000 students in the city.
By Kari Huus, NBC News
Thousands of teachers rallied in central Chicago on Tuesday on the second day of a strike that has idled more than 350,000 students. Speaking to the crowd, the head of the Chicago Teachers Union suggested that the labor group was digging in on key issues, including teacher evaluations, dashing hopes for a deal that would get students back into the classroom soon.
"To say that the contract will be settled today is lunacy," union president Karen Lewis told the cheering crowd of teachers, whom she addressed as “brothers and sisters.”
A statement issued by the union earlier Tuesday said that the two sides were not close to an agreement, calling that characterization "misinformation" from the office of Mayor Rahm Emanuel."The assault on public education started here. It needs to end here," Lewis said, according to the report.
Chicago school board President David Vitale wouldn't comment Tuesday ahead of the continued negotiations, but he insisted Monday night the two sides were close on the two major remaining issues — teacher evaluations and job security."The Chicago Teachers Union has 49 Articles in its contract (and) to date we have only signed off on six of them," said union spokeswoman Stephanie Gadlin. "The Chicago Public Schools has made proposals to change nearly every article. It is not accurate to say both sides are extremely close. This is misinformation on behalf of the board and Mayor Emanuel. We have a considerable way to go. This is a fact they cannot deny."
"We're ready to go to work," Vitale said earlier in the day. "We're disappointed that the urgency we feel doesn't seem to be shared on the other side."
Lewis said teachers don't like the amount of standardized testing required to evaluate them and worry the evaluations could mean lost jobs. Another sticking point is a reform proposed by the school board to give principals the power to hire teachers.
In a letter sent Tuesday to Lewis on behalf of 30 Chicago school principals, A.N. Pritzker Elementary School Principal Dr. Joenile S. Albert-Reese wrote, "It's imperative that principals be given the autonomy they need in the hiring process.
"This autonomy is necessary to ensure that principals can hire the most qualified and best fit candidate for the position and our kids. Without this autonomy, principals may be forced to hire individuals whose skill set and value systems are not conducive to the school’s culture, mission and vision."
Weighing in from Washington, D.C. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, former CEO of the Chicago Public Schools, called for compromise in his old neighborhood.
As Chicago teachers enter day two of their massive strike, parents and students are struggling with unexpected days off. However, there is hope that the walk-out may end soon, with both the teachers union and the school board saying progress is being made in negotiations. NBC's Kevin Tibbles reports.
"I hope that the parties will come together to settle this quickly and get our kids back in the classroom," he said in a statement. "I'm confident that both sides have the best interests of the students at heart, and that they can collaborate at the bargaining table — as teachers have all over the country — to reach a solution that puts kids first."
In the Chicago press, there has been speculation that Mayor Emanuel may seek a court injunction to stop the strike, under a provision of the Illinois Education Labor Relations Act that makes it allowable if a teacher strike "is or has become a clear and present danger to the public." But how a judge would interpret the law is uncertain, according to a report in Catalyst Chicago, a website that reports on urban education.
"(Emanuel) doesn't have a legal standing," Lewis said. "We have a completely legal work stoppage. We have followed every rule!"
More than 26,000 teachers and support staff went on strike Monday morning after talks broke down Sunday night. The move left students in nearly 700 schools without classroom instruction.
Meantime, parents were offered some options for placing their children who were displaced from school by the labor dispute.Teachers at Chicago's charter schools, which serve about 45,000 students, are not striking and those schools remained open.
WMAQ's Phil Rogers shares the latest on the teachers strike in Chicago. Emmeline Zhao then joins to discuss the key issues separating Chicago Public School and the Chicago Teachers Union.
The school district on Monday opened 144 schools for half days to provide a destination for kids whose parents were working, as well as breakfast and lunch to those who needed it. Dozens of other sites run by churches and community organizations were also available, but for the second day attendance was lower than anticipated. At a South Side YMCA, the site saw 35 kids Monday and Tuesday, fewer than expected.
On Tuesday, the school district announced it planned to extend hours at its the "Children First" sites beginning on Thursday if the strike continued, providing six hours of coverage a day instead of four, to better support working parents.
Gathering Monday in front of the school district headquarters, some marchers expressed impatience, the Chicago Tribune reported earlier.
"This could have been solved on day negative five," complained Christopher Barker, a math teacher at George Manierre Elementary School, speaking to the Tribune. But he added, "I'll be here as long as I need to."
A fellow picketer Susan Hickey, a social worker for the district, was worried about students most in need of help.
"These children need these services," Hickey told the Tribune. "They need more quality services."
The only consolation, she said, was that the strike provided "a bit of a history lesson."
"We're telling them, 'This is how you stand for your rights,'" she said.