From The Associated Press / Southern Illinoisan, Friday,
September 14, 2012.
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
"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
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
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
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 assistant
"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
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 reluctant
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 taxpayers."
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