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Teachers Strike Notebook 5

"The Chicago teachers strike and its focus on new ways to assess teachers remind me of a brilliant 2002 book, Children As Pawns: The Politics of Educational Reform, by Timothy A. Hacsi," Jay Mathews writes in the Washington Post. "It argued convincingly that politicians and others with the power to make education policy rarely read education research, and if they do, they only accept conclusions that confirm their biases.

"Chicago teachers don't like the hot new trend of rating teachers by how much their students improve on standardized tests. They cite research showing the tests are unreliable indicators of what is happening in classrooms, particularly when based on just a year of data. They are right.

"Test score improvement, if assessed over a few years, can identify those at the very top and bottom of the teacher effectiveness scale. But the data gets really mushy in the middle. We don't have nearly enough experience with student performance measures to put as much weight on them as we are doing in the District and several other school districts.

"Why is that? Education policymakers - including big city mayors such as Chicago's Rahm Emanuel (D) - see rating teachers by student test scores as reasonable and know voters and big foundations feel the same way. Common sense is occasionally wrong in assessing schools, but it trumps research every time, as Hacsi's book proves. Big-city leaders even overlook the fact that the successful charter schools they admire don't assess their teachers that way."

That last link is particularly fascinating and relevant given its headline/thesis: "Let Principals, Not Tests, Rate Teachers."

Rahm and his team seem hell-bent on giving principals the power to hire their own teachers - and the teachers union equally hell-bent on not allowing that to happen - but not to evaluate teachers on their own.

The reason is likely the same as an increasing reliance on quantitive teacher evaluation: Politicians who aren't experts in the subject matter and can't be bothered to educate themselves find it easier to believe that their inherently superior viewpoint represents both something smarter than the practitioners of the trade have ever accrued as well as "common sense" that just happens to appeal to a wide swath of a equally ignorant public. It's anti-intellectualism wearing a data-based mask. Just give me numbers I can work with!

Rahm has shown himself to be perhaps the best exemplar of this approach in all of politics; he doesn't care for what the research really shows about, say, red light cameras but he cloaks his argument in statistical jujitsu. This has become a pattern of his short reign; he recently went so far as to state that when it comes to the city's troubled worker's compensation program, "We're aggressively pursuing $15 million in savings from worker's comp. I don't need a report to do that. I know that it needs reform."

He's pursuing savings and knows that the program needs reform, but he's not interested in an inspector general's report that would actually examine what must be an incredibly convoluted system. Rahm just knows what needs to be done to fix it because, well, he's Rahm.

Rahm never seems to be in need of actual facts - sources tell me that instead everything coming out of City Hall is political not policy - and we're seeing how dramatic the consequences of that mode of governing can be; the mayor continues to insist, for example, on the efficacy of charter schools despite being corrected by students.

Is it any wonder that the mayor has a credibility issue with not just the CTU but anyone who has been paying attention?

Rahm is classic in the sense that he goes for the quick fix - under the guise of "urgency" and "impatience." The only urgency and impatiency he feels is to score political points. A prime example of that is trotting out his police chief pet Garry McCarthy to tout year-over-year monthly crime stats that are all but irrelevant.

Speaking of the police department, commanders are now held to account for weekly crime stats under the CompStat system installed by Rahm and McCarthy. But do they have the freedom to hire their own cops? I could be wrong, but I think the answer to that is no.

I'm not saying principals shouldn't have a role in hiring; they should. But what many folks around the country who are suddenly experts on the Chicago public school system surely don't understand is that a fair share of principals in this town have historically had their own self-interest in mind and/or participated in a patronage system in which certain loyalties are rewarded - both their loyalty to central office poohbahs and teacher loyalties to them. That's part of the culture that has riven the schools and contributed to their failures.

When it comes to assigning teachers to schools, only the central office has the big picture in mind. Someone has to balance the interests of all the schools instead of allowing principals - by themselves, anyway - to just go poaching (or seek to manage their budgets by hiring teachers with the lowest salaries instead of teachers who are the best).

Rahm's Wrong Again
Speaking of Rahm getting it wrong:

"If only Chicago teachers could be more like those enlightened educators in Boston," writes the Sun-Times editorial page - which opposes the strike.

"They settled their thorny conflicts over teacher recall, teacher evaluations and pay without a strike, Mayor Rahm Emanuel told reporters at City Hall on Wednesday.

"And Boston teachers agreed to only a 12 percent raise over six years (take that CTU, which is thumbing its nose at a 16 percent average raise over four years!)

"Or so Emanuel would like us all to believe.

Without flinching, Emanuel on Wednesday misrepresented the Boston teachers settlement, contorting the facts to help advance his cause as he battles the union. And we pause here, because we support his cause.

But the facts, they're so pesky!

Let's start with the raise: Chicago's 16 percent includes a cost-of-living pay raise plus annual increases for each extra year of service and more education. The COLA raise is only half of the 16 percent.

Shockingly, Boston's announced raise only includes the COLA. But the district, like nearly every one in the country, also offers raises for experience and education. This omission makes comparison impossible and unfair - but so hard to resist!

Those extra raises in Boston amount to an additional 2 to 3 percent a year, the school system tells us.

Boston teachers, it follows, will get raises that range from roughly 24 to 30 percent on average over six years.

Not 12 percent.

Next up is teacher recall. The Chicago Teachers Union wants teachers displaced from closed schools to get first crack at job openings, something Chicago has never had.

Boston has always had recall, always and forever guaranteeing laid-off teachers a job. Seniority trumps all else. That remains in the new contract for teachers displaced from closed schools, even though Emanuel said principals in Boston "will have the ability to hire who they want to hire." What's new in Boston is that principals will have greater flexibility in hiring when a candidate isn't from a closed school, the schools spokesman said.

Finally, there's teacher evaluations. Here, Emanuel was closest to the truth. Boston teachers agreed to evaluations based in part on student performance. Boston doesn't have a set percentage like Chicago - 40 percent of the total evaluation - and their union president tells us it will never get that high in Boston. Still, the union agreed to the new evaluation, which is more than we can say for Chicago.

Emanuel was right to praise Boston for inking a deal without dragging kids out of school, a key point as the Chicago strike heads into its fourth day.

Emanuel would have done us all a favor, himself included, if he had left it at that.

Rahm needs a full-time fact-checker because he's a royal fibber.

There's also this, from the letter Karen Lewis sent out to the media on Thursday:

The mayor loves to tout unsubstantiated statistics about how popular charter schools are among Chicago parents. Today he used a new number: now apparently the waiting list is whopping 19,000 students. Wow - that's a lot of children who were 'so unfortunate' to not get a seat at a coveted charter school.

Really? Then why did only a few hundred families show up at last year's New School Expo, even though Chicago's corporate elite spent so much money on promotional advertisements and even provided a free shuttle bus to Soldiers Field. Why did the UNO Charter School Network admit at the press conference at St. Scholastica last month that its organizers were going to go door-knocking in the neighborhood to try to recruit a couple hundred families to open the school this fall? Why did Andrew Broy of the Illinois Charter School Network say this week that there are 3,000 - 4,000 slots still available at Chicago charter schools for parents who didn't want to wait out the strike?

Now, I haven't found the information put out by the CTU to be totally reliable. But I have found Rahm's "misstatements" more willful. These claims too, then, need to be vetted. Just like everything that comes out of our mayor's mouth.

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One More Time: And the baloney about Urban Prep is worse than Lewis says; the 100 percent graduation rate is an illusion.

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See also:
* Teachers Strike Notebook 1: Textbooks and A/C.
* Teachers Strike Notebook 2: Obama vs. Sveum.
* Teachers Strike Notebook 3: Nickelback and Numerology.
* Teachers Strike Notebook 4: Astroturf and Optics.

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Comments welcome.



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Posted on September 14, 2012


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