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Teachers Strike Notebook 2

The president may not have the courage to admit he has an opinion about the teachers strike, and Democrats may think Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan are merely playing politics with their half-informed statements, but there is no question that Barack Obama is entangled in the proceedings on several levels.

Here's one:

"The wrangling has to do with a new teacher rating system pushed by the Obama administration, which has sparked new laws and controversy in Illinois and around the country," the Tribune reports.

"The new evaluations judge teachers in part on how their students perform, with a focus on academic gains. Teachers say that isn't fair for a lot of reasons and that bad ratings resulting from the new system could threaten teachers' livelihoods."

More to the point is that the new evaluations would dramatically increase the significance of how students perform on standardized tests. Why is this a problem?

Well, besides opposition among teachers to overvaluing standardized tests as a metric of educational success, consider the plight of Cubs manager Dale Sveum, who is trying really hard to prevent his team from losing 100 games in its inaugural season.

If he were piloting any other team in the league, he would have been fired by now. But Cubs bosses know it isn't fair to judge Sveum just on wins and losses, given the slop of a roster he's had to work with.

Now, I'm not calling Chicago public schoolkids slop. But some teachers face greater challenges than others with their "roster" in any given year in any given school. Or judging editors of wildly different staffs with variations of skill and size on the same metrics. Using student performance on standardized tests, then, is a pretty poor way to judge a teacher's effectiveness.

But if you don't want to believe the Chicago Teachers Union on this point, how about the administrators where Rahm sends his kids? To wit:

At the Laboratory Schools, teachers assess students by observing and interacting with them in the classroom, evaluating their day-to-day classroom work and homework assignments, meeting with their parents, and administering standardized tests.

Standardized testing at Lab is viewed as only part of the profile of students; it gives teachers a snapshot of each child's strengths and difficulties. Standardized tests are designed to give a common measure of students' performance. Since standardized tests are given to large groups of students throughout the country, a common standard of measure is derived. Lab teachers and administrators may use this information to tell how well school programs are succeeding or to learn more about the skills and abilities of individual students.

Somehow I don't think Rahm is paying all that dough to the Lab Schools at the same time he opposes the way his kids' teachers are evaluated. Why not just drop the same language into the CTU contract?

Obama, too, seems more than happy with de-emphasized standardized testing where he sends his kids even as he wants teachers to be more stringently judged on how well students do on standardized tests.

"At a downtown rally Monday, Rick Sawicki, a seventh-grade teacher at Evergreen Middle School, said it's unfair to tie a teacher's evaluation to student performance. He compared it to a coach not being able to pick the members of his team but still being evaluated on how they do on the field.

"There are a lot of factors that go into a child's education that is not reflected in test scores," he said. "Children are more to me than their test scores."

Hipster Joe
"It's ridiculous that they're striking," said Ald. Joe Moreno, a self-described "pragmatic progressive" punk. "In my opinion, they had a fair offer, there is a fair offer, and I just think some of the union leadership are hellbent on striking."

City Council Survey
"The willingness to cast blame on the union was not universal among aldermen, however, evidenced by the fact that only 33 of 50 signed a weekend letter to Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis urging her to 'keep students in the classroom during negotiations,'" the Tribune reports.

"Several aldermen, including Ald. Robert Fioretti, 2nd, and Ald. Roderick Sawyer, 6th, said the letter should have been directed to both Lewis and the Chicago Public Schools leaders appointed by Emanuel.

"A few said they were never asked to sign. Among those was Nicholas Sposato, 36th, who was not pleased that it came down to a strike but supported the union's right to hit the picket lines.

"Ald. Timothy Cullerton, 38th, signed the letter but expressed support for the teachers. 'They certainly didn't want it to come to this,' Cullerton said. 'I support the teachers. I hope it comes to a quick resolution for everybody's sake.'"

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The list:

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Ald. Patrick O'Connor - Rahm's floor leader, as he was for Daley - has one of the cooler heads in the drama.

"They're close on the economic parts - but there are other issues that are holding it up and preventing them from signing off on the economic package," he told the Sun-Times.

But he did allow that he doesn't think a short strike would be "hugely devastating."

"We've been talking about it for weeks," O'Connor said. "Everybody has been steeling themselves for it. That being the case, you just hope that if they go out they keep bargaining and working to get it done . . .

"If it's a protracted strike, it may be something that has a lingering effect. If it's not, people in Chicago have seen this coming. The idea that it's here - nobody should be surprised. I don't think it's the end of the world or that it will have long lasting repercussions.

Cocktail Chatter
"[T]he most compelling figure in the debate over education is that more than eighty per cent of students in the Chicago school system qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, which is usually taken to be a measure of poverty," Rebecca Mead writes in the New Yorker. (The number in New York City is about three-quarters.)

"One problem with Chicago's schools - like schools in urban centers all over this country - is that their constituents, the students, suffer from the usual hindrances of poverty: having no place at home to study; having no support at home for studying; sometimes having no home at all.

"Another problem is that talk of breaking teachers' unions has become common parlance among the kind of people whose kids do not live below the poverty line, polite Pinkerton agents of education reform, circling at cocktail parties.

"No doubt there are some lousy teachers in Chicago, as there are everywhere. But blaming teachers for the failure of schools is like blaming doctors for the diseases they are seeking to treat."

Tweedy's Teachers
Jeff Tweedy isn't exactly a union sympathizer despite making music out of remnant Woody Guthrie lyrics with Billy Bragg, and he raised money for Rahm.

But his son Spencer, who attends a Chicago public school, stands with the teachers.

Who Is Karen Lewis?
Karen Lewis was extremely unimpressive in her Sunday night press conference timed to go live for the 10 o'clock news. And I have no illusions about union leadership, though I generally support their cause. Here is some background on Lewis from the Trib:

Lewis, the child of Chicago public school teachers and a South Side product of Chicago's public school system, grew up in Hyde Park. Street-smart and witty, Lewis attended Dartmouth College in the Ivy League, where she has said she was the only African-American female in her 1974 graduating class.

She eventually became a substitute teacher in chemistry and became enthralled with education.

Lewis, 59, taught chemistry and Advanced Placement chemistry for almost 20 years at Sullivan High School and later Lane Tech College Prep before returning to King College Prep High School, blocks from where she grew up.

At King, Wright said, Lewis was known for building strong relationships with parents, giving them her cellphone number and sending e-mails every week detailing her classroom agenda.

Maybe she should have Brizard's job.

Empermanuel
Barbara Radner, the respected director of the Center for Urban Education at DePaul University, tells the Washington Post that "This is about anger. There is great, great hostility about the mayor right now among the teaching population. They call him 'Empermanuel.' He triggered that by saying, 'I don't need you. We're going to have a longer school day.'"

Kennedy Mystery
On August 31, I wrote this item:

The Tribune reaches all the way out to Maryland to find a commentator asking that Rahm Emanuel crush the teachers union like a bug.

But just who is Sean Kennedy and what is the Maryland Public Policy Institute where he is a visiting fellow?

Kennedy is a bit of a mystery, but the institute claims on one hand to be non-partisan but on the other "the state's leading conservative free-market policy organization."

Really, Tribune? Is this the best you can do?

Kennedy has since sent me an e-mail stating "The Trib piece was actually written under the aegis of the Lexington Institute, which is a non-partisan think tank in Arlington which has been active in the Ed Reform business for quite a while."

Got it.

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See also:
* Teachers Strike Notebook 1: Textbooks and A/C.

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Comments welcome.



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Posted on September 11, 2012


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