Date: Sep 14, 2012 5:34 PM
Author: Jerry P. Becker
Subject: Teacher evaluations at center of Chicago strike
From The Associated Press / Southern Illinoisan, Friday, September
Teacher evaluations at center of Chicago strike
CHICAGO (AP) - Educators in Los Angeles just signed a new deal with
the city's school district. So, too, did teachers in Boston. Both
require performance evaluations based in part on how well students
succeed, a system that's making its debut in Cleveland.
So what's the problem in Chicago, where 25,000 teachers in the
nation's third-largest district have responded to an impatient
mayor's demand that teacher evaluations be tied to student
performance by walking off the job for the first time in 25 years?
To start, contract agreements in other cities have hardly come
quickly or with ease. They were often signed grudgingly, at the
direction of a court or following negotiations that took years. And
mayors and school officials have also won over reluctant teachers by
promising to first launch pilot projects aimed at proving a concept
many believe is inherently unfair.
"It has been a very tough issue across the country," said Rob Weil, a
director at the American Federation of Teachers, one of the nation's
two largest teachers' unions. "Teachers in many places believe that
they see administrations and state legislatures creating language and
policies that's nothing more than a mousetrap."
Chicago's teachers have drawn the hardest line in recent memory
against using student test scores to rate teacher performance. And
Mayor Rahm Emanuel is pushing hard to implement the new evaluations.
That clash is one of the main points of contention in a nasty
contract dispute between Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago
Teachers Union, which President Karen Lewis has called "a fight for
the very soul of public education."
The strike, which has left approximately 350,000 students out of
class as the city and the union also fight over pay and job security,
entered its fourth day Thursday. After late-night talks Wednesday,
both sides expressed optimism that students could be back in class as
soon as Friday.
The Chicago Teachers Union had argued that a proposed evaluation
system could cost some 6,000 teachers their jobs within two years.
The school board made a new proposal Wednesday that would scale back
potential penalties for teachers, including protecting tenured
teachers from being dismissed in the first year for a bad evaluation,
alterations in rating categories and an appeals process.
The push to judge teachers in part by their student's work stems from
the reform efforts of the Obama administration, which has used its $4
billion Race to the Top competition and waivers to the federal No
Child Left Behind law to encourage states to change how teachers are
Teachers unions argue that doing so ignores too many things that can
affect a student's performance, such as poverty, the ability to speak
English or even a school's lack of air conditioning. Or as said by an
incredulous Dean Refakes, a physical education teacher in Chicago,
"You are going to judge me on the results of the tests where there
could be some extenuating circumstances that are beyond my control?"
Yet, tempted by the money offered by the federal government,
lawmakers have made that directive in several states. In Florida, 50
percent of teacher appraisals must be based on student scores on
standardized tests. In California, after the state legislature
mandated the use of student progress benchmarks to rate teachers, an
education reform group sued the Los Angeles Unified School District
to force the issue.
The nation's second-largest school system eventually found itself
under a court order to come up with a plan to start using such
evaluations by this December. Superintendent John Deasy announced
this week the district had reached a one-year agreement to do so with
the union that represents the district's 2,000 principal and
"It's a remarkable breakthrough," Deasy said.
But it's also a limited one, said Judith Perez, the president of
Associated Administrators of Los Angeles. Student test scores won't
be used to judge individual performance, but will rather be reviewed
at the beginning and end of each school year - along with additional
measures, such as attendance and graduation rates - to give
principals feedback on how to improve a school's results. It's a
one-year deal designed simply to comply with the court order, she
Meanwhile, the district faces thornier negotiations with the union
representing its 36,000 teachers, which has already objected to a
voluntary pilot project in 100 schools that uses test scores in
Illinois lawmakers voted in 2010 to require that all public schools
use student achievement as a component of teacher evaluations by the
2016-17 school year. In Chicago, Emanuel is living up to a promise
made during his inauguration speech by demanding the Chicago union
agree to make the change years ahead of that schedule.
"As some have noted, including (his wife) Amy, I am not a patient
man," Emanuel said after he was sworn in as mayor a year ago. "When
it comes to improving our schools, I will not be a patient mayor."
The issue of teacher evaluations has only been on the table in
Chicago for a few months, and Emanuel acknowledged this week that his
swift push for change could be a factor in why his relationship with
the union has been so contentious. In other big cities, a more
patient approach has led to success in finding agreement with
The deal reached Wednesday in Boston will allow administrators to
rely more heavily on student achievement in teacher evaluations and
remove from the classroom those receiving poor evaluations within 30
days. That contract came after 400 hours of contract negotiations
that spanned more than 50 separate sessions over two years.
"Change is hard and is often hard-fought. But we should make special
note that through all the tough negotiations, neither side let their
frustrations spill onto the students of the Boston Public Schools,"
said Mayor Thomas Menino. "I tell you, this is a contract that's
great for our students, works for our teachers and it's fair to our
Slowing down the timeline for implementing the evaluations has also
led to success elsewhere.
In Cleveland, the city's school district made its deal with teachers
by agreeing to a loose framework for the new evaluations that would
take four years to implement. The school system and the union spent a
year constructing the evaluations, and then began a two-year pilot
process that will not incorporate student test scores. That will come
for the first time in the 2013-14 school year.
"This is complex work and it takes time to build it thoughtfully and
carefully," said Cleveland schools CEO Eric Gordon. "It really has
been a joint commitment in the beginning. We all believe that this is
the right (approach)."
Associated Press writers Christina Hoag in Los Angeles and Rodrique
Ngowi in Boston contributed to this report.
Jerry P. Becker
Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction
Southern Illinois University
625 Wham Drive
Mail Code 4610
Carbondale, IL 62901-4610
Phone: (618) 453-4241 [O]
(618) 457-8903 [H]
Fax: (618) 453-4244