On being a CPS parent & siding with the striking teachers

On being a CPS parent & siding with the striking teachers

I’m a graduate of Chicago public schools. So is my husband. We’re old enough to remember the last time there was a strike. Here’s the thing about all the “Kids won’t learn as much” rhetoric. It’s only the second week of school. They aren’t missing a year at this point. It’s one day. And even if this strike lasts a few weeks, guess what? Kids miss school for holidays, illness, & natural disasters. They catch up. Hell, if parents have the time & access a strike can be a learning opportunity. Hell any break is a good time for some one on one propping up of skills in areas where your child struggles. Kid #1 and I are discussing politics & current events a lot. There’ll be some in depth discussion of history while we’re at it so he can understand how things got to this point. Kid #2 is working on his handwriting & we’ll talk about being flexible when it comes to new experiences & there’ll be reading practice with picket signs. Because that’s how we roll. And I get that there are real concerns about safety & meals for a lot of kids. That my husband & I are fortunate to have family support that makes it easier for us to get through this strike.

Do I wish that things could have been resolved without a strike? Sure. But I am well aware that teachers are looking down the barrel of long days with huge class sizes & requirements to teach to a goal of higher scores on standardized test instead of to student needs and abilities. I am aware that promised raises didn’t happen, and that teachers are spending significant amounts of money out of their own pockets every year. So are parents. And still our kids aren’t getting art, music, library, or computer classes in a lot of these neighborhoods. I am aware that my kids aren’t getting the same amount of time or attention that I got as a Chicago student. In the 80’s & 90’s we thought classrooms with 30 kids was a lot. Some schools are now looking at classes approaching 40 kids to one teacher. I can’t fault the teachers for being less successful when they’re trying to wrangle 35+ 5th graders (all at different levels of ability) into listening to a 50 minute lesson from a workbook that might or might not be recent. That might or might not be effective at teaching the skills the kids will need after testing.

Mind you, I don’t deny that there are problem teachers. My aunt was a turn around principal with CPS for years & the stories she told us about some of the teachers under her would curl your hair. But, tying pay and employment to test scores doesn’t address that problem at all. It’s telling that the board isn’t concerned with ways to get rid of abusive teachers, only with ways to punish teachers for not producing standardized outputs from individuals. The rhetoric around all of this has been about what’s best for the kids. I don’t believe that longer school days and higher test scores are all it takes for my child to have a quality education. I want my sons to have recess, art, music, & a curriculum that gives them room to develop their individual talents. Only one side of this discussion has ever said anything about kids being people with needs & that side is not the board or the mayor. I hear teachers talking about kids as people with needs & so I side with them. For the sake of kids like me, kids like my sons, and for the future.

On being a CPS parent & siding with the striking teachers — Originally posted at The Angry Black Woman

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58 Responses to On being a CPS parent & siding with the striking teachers

  1. 1
    Robert says:

    A lot of recitations of issues which the strike has no impact on; the teachers are not striking because there is a teach-to-the-test trend in US education, so the fact that the teacher’s union has an opinion on that issue which aligns with yours is irrelevant. It’s like rooting for Payton Manning to be named MVP because both you and Payton Manning like donuts.

    And then a lot of tap-dancing around the raw data which make the rest of America stare slack-jawed and agape in the direction of Chicago. CPS teachers are the highest-paid in the nation with an average salary in the mid-$70k range for teachers, $120k for administrators. The student:teacher ratios is not 40:1, or anything close to it; it’s 20:1 for the elementary schools and 25:1 for the high schools. And, economics point – you think the way to improve those numbers is to make teachers MORE expensive?

    I’m sorry, but this kind of monumental tin-earedness on the part of the unions is a huge factor in why they’re despised element in the workforce and an ever-shrinking portion of the employment base, and “I like donuts too therefore unions yay” cheerleading like this post doesn’t defend the union position, it makes it even clearer that there is no rational justification for their demands. It’s thuggery pure and simple, made possible by the one-party state that is Chicago.

  2. 2
    KellyK says:

    25-1 in high school is still not a great student-teacher ratio. Particularly depending on how it’s counted. Is it a ratio of core subject teachers to students, or do the gym and music teachers figure into that ratio? (Nothing against gym and music, but 30 kids in a gym is different than 30 kids in a classroom is different than 30 kids in a chem lab.) How close are most actual classes to that ratio? A 25-1 ratio means there may still be plenty of 30 or 35-student classes, depending on scheduling and other considerations, and that’s a *lot* of kids to try to teach.

    To me, *average class size* and *maximum* class size would be the most useful measures. (Measuring the average of required subjects, because an elective with six kids in it will bring the average down.) If you have a teacher for every 25 students, but you routinely have classes of 30-35 kids, and occasionally have classes of 40, that’s still a problem. If your ratio was 25-1 and most core classes were within a couple students of that number, that would be less of an issue.

    Additionally, when you say Chicago teachers are the highest paid, does that account for cost of living in that area? How does the cost of living in Chicago compare to other areas where teacher salaries are lower?

    Personal anecdote – I made about 30k as a starting teacher in rural PA, and it was an *extremely good* salary for that area. I was broke, because who’s *not* broke when they start out, and because a long-distance relationship was eating huge chunks of gas money, but I could rent a *house* on that salary. Okay, it was a trailer, but it was still an actual building all to myself, with two bedrooms, a real kitchen, and a yard. Here in Southern Maryland, teachers start around 40k, but rent is at least 2-3x as high. If I’d started as a teacher here instead, I’d have been sharing a trailer or a little apartment with a couple other people.

    I don’t know that teachers in Chicago are overpaid or underpaid, but anyone arguing that they’re overpaid needs to not just compare their salaries to teachers elsewhere but to factor in cost of living.

    Hours worked is another point of comparison. One of the union’s concerns was the lengthening of the school day. Teaching a six-hour day (where teachers might finish all their grading and planning in a total of eight most days) isn’t necessarily comparable to teaching seven or seven and a half (so probably at least a nine-hour day for the teacher).

    I can say that you probably couldn’t pay me enough to go back to teaching, unless the class size was maxed at 20, I was allowed to fail kids for completely refusing to do their work, and I didn’t have to teach to the test. So, you know, when pigs fly. And based on my own experience, I have a lot of skepticism toward the idea that teachers, as a group, are overpaid, particularly when the people arguing that don’t seem to want to go into teaching themselves, if it’s such a lucrative profession.

  3. 3
    Ampersand says:

    A lot of recitations of issues which the strike has no impact on; the teachers are not striking because there is a teach-to-the-test trend in US education, so the fact that the teacher’s union has an opinion on that issue which aligns with yours is irrelevant.

    Contrary to your belief, the use of teach-to-the-test is a major issue in the strike (maybe THE major issue). Class size is also an issue. (This has been widely reported; see this post on Wonkblog, for instance).

    Wages, in contrast, don’t seem to be the thing that is preventing the two sides from reaching an agreement.

    It’s thuggery pure and simple, made possible by the one-party state that is Chicago.

    Yes, because goodness knows the Mayor’s office hasn’t resisted the union at all.

    Also, you’re defining “thuggery” way down.

  4. 4
    Ampersand says:

    By the way, a low (according to the union) or mid (according to the city’s figure) $70000 average salary is pretty similar to what you’d find at comparable cities like NY and LA.

    Moreover, that’s an average, not a median. It’s possible that the typical Chicago teacher makes much less than $70,000. I looked around for the median figure, but couldn’t find it.

  5. 5
    Jake Squid says:

    Fourth, as Doug also points out, BLS statistics indicate that the average pay for Chicago teachers is $55-60 thousand, not $74,000.

    That’s from Corey Robin.

  6. 6
    RonF says:

    Well, I’m of mixed minds on this strike to be sure. As you might imagine it’s on the front page of the Chicago Tribune every day. Various points:

    That my husband & I are fortunate to have family support that makes it easier for us to get through this strike.

    Lots of single parents in the CPS. Lots of single parents who need support to get through their own day, never mind their kid’s day. There’s a lot of kids in Chicago today who are not in a good environment right now.

    And even if this strike lasts a few weeks, guess what? Kids miss school for holidays, illness, & natural disasters.

    IIRC the amount of Federal money a school system gets is in part a function of how many (student * school days) you have. If they start missing so many days that they don’t make them up the Federal checks start shrinking. And there’s no City $$ to make that up, especially since Daley II sold off income-generating capital assets to make up short-term expense shortfalls. So there’s a cash squeeze, big time. There’s a reason why Daley retired ….

    requirements to teach to a goal of higher scores on standardized test instead of to student needs and abilities. … I don’t believe that longer school days and higher test scores are all it takes for my child to have a quality education. I want my sons to have recess, art, music, & a curriculum that gives them room to develop their individual talents

    People like me are thinking that what students need is to master the skills that are covered by the standardized tests. Hey, I was in both the band and the chorus in school – and in the chorus in college and I sing in two choirs now. I’m all for art and music and such in the schools. And I figure that boys especially will benefit if they get to run around outside and pummel each other a bit for a half-hour or so halfway through the day (a.k.a. “recess”). But even then they were secondary to English and math and science and history. Explain to me what the conflict is between “teaching to the test” and “student needs”.

    But, tying pay and employment to test scores doesn’t address [problem teachers] at all.

    A kid who comes to school with no food in their stomach, inadequate or indecent clothing, who didn’t do their homework and who spent most of the night watching TV/playing video games/playing ball and who in some neighborhoods has to worry about whether the current state of gang politics will leave him or a classmate bleeding to death in the street probably isn’t going to have his or her academic achievement levels as heavily influenced by his or her teacher’s abilities as some kid in the suburbs whose mommy won’t let him walk 4 blocks to school without driving him because he’ll whine/she thinks he’ll be assaulted by perverts/he might break a bead of sweat. I get that.

    But what I also see is a group of people who seem to think that, alone among any working person I know, their performance can’t be evaluated, the barriers to firing them should jump exponentially after they’ve managed to get through 3 years of employment, they should be completely insulated against the preferences or attitudes of their boss, and they should get automatic raises for both tenure – that it’s unbelievably difficult to cut short – and for getting an advanced degree regardless of whether their boss thinks it’s particularly germane to their job role or whether it shows up in any actual improvement in how they do their jobs.

    I don’t see any good reason why teachers deserve that deal when neither I nor anyone I know gets anything like that. Something’s gotta give. Should teachers get raises? Sure. The ones who work harder and are more productive should get better ones and the ones who don’t should get lower ones or not at all. Can that be completely quantitated? No. Will a good chunk of that be subjective and subject to their immediate supervisor (a.k.a. the principal)? Sure. Is that fair or completely just? No. Tough $h!t. Welcome to the world of just about everyone who pays your salary. Teachers are great, and they’re necessary, and there are some fantastic ones out there, but as a whole they are NOT THAT SPECIAL.

    The CTU reportedly asked for a 30% raise for next year and came down to 19%. That’s unbelievably greedy. What I’ve seen in the papers lately looks like around 4% or so a year for 4 years. Who’s getting that now? No one. And they’ll have to work, what, another hour total a day? So they have to work a 9 hour day? Oh, my heart bleeds. It’s a profession! Professionals don’t work an 8 hour day, it’s not an assembly line. Most people I know have seen hours go up a lot faster than their paycheck – if they’ve got a job at all.

    And let’s not forget why – the money’s not there. Chicago and Illinois are DEEP in the red. They’ve both been spending money on social programs and public worker union contracts (especially pensions) that they just can’t afford – and you can’t blame the wars or the military for that. The clowns in Springfield, dominated by Democrats for 24 of the last 26 years, have simply been buying votes from special interest groups with no concern about where the money is going to come from. Meanwhile the State’s vendors are owed billions and are going bankrupt because the State is months and years behind in paying it’s bills. Big corporations can float this, but the small businessmen and social service groups are going bankrupt and out of business. Which favors the major corporations. They don’t have to drive their competitors out of business, the State is doing it for them.

  7. 7
    Robert says:

    Responding randomly to various random points:

    I’ve looked in vain for an actual link to any actual BLS statistics that show that mid-50s number. Casually Googling around on their site, I don’t find anything along those lines. People keep saying it, but nobody links to data, so my presumption is that the BLS number exists, but is talking about something different (probably averaging substitute teachers into the mix) than what most of us mean when we say “teacher pay”.

    My figure of $74K comes from the Chicago Public Schools website. (http://www.cps.edu/about_cps/at-a-glance/pages/stats_and_facts.aspx)

    Yes, it’s true that median and average pay are different, but I’d wager that the numbers are quite close for teacher pay. There’s not some Bill Gates teacher squirreling away thirty million a year and skyrocketing the average; they all get paid about the same according to tenure and credentials.

    No, a 25:1 ratio is not great. But that isn’t at issue. What’s at issue is numbers like 30:1 and 40:1 being tossed around as though they are typical, when they simply are not.

    Yes, Chicago teachers are being asked to work longer hours and more days…from a baseline where Chicago schools had among the shortest days and shortest years in the profession. While their system is running a >10% structural deficit. I don’t think “you’re going to have to work a little harder, stay a little longer, for only slightly more pay” is monstrous. Or even particularly objectionable.

    As Ron points out, there are tens of millions of people who would be abjectly grateful to have a job – any job at all – on those conditions.

    Average teacher salary in LA is $58,000. LA has a considerably higher cost of living than Chicago. I couldn’t find an average figure for NYC with a casual look.

  8. 8
    Ruchama says:

    People like me are thinking that what students need is to master the skills that are covered by the standardized tests.

    If that’s so, then the tests need to get a LOT better at testing what the students actually need to know. I’ve seen a ton of students in my college calculus classes who are great at taking tests because they’re pretty good at memorizing things, but they don’t actually understand any of the material. They can tell you that, if you see a question that asks, “Find the roots of this quadratic equation,” then you’re supposed to factor it and set each factor equal to 0 and solve, but they can’t tell you what “root” means in any context other than that problem. They’d be very surprised to learn that those roots that they just found are the x-intercepts, or that there could be 0, 1, or 2 roots, or that if there’s only one root, then that root is the vertex of the graph. None of that stuff is on the test.

    Also, several students have told me that their high schools didn’t cover trigonometry beyond SOHCAHTOA, because trig isn’t on the math tests, and SOHCAHTOA is all that they need to know for physics.

  9. 9
    Ruchama says:

    Yes, it’s true that median and average pay are different, but I’d wager that the numbers are quite close for teacher pay. There’s not some Bill Gates teacher squirreling away thirty million a year and skyrocketing the average; they all get paid about the same according to tenure and credentials.

    I don’t have the numbers at hand right now, but I definitely recall reading that a pretty big portion of teachers end up quitting teaching within the first few years. Since those first few years are when teachers make the least money, it’s likely that there are a lot of those newer teachers making less, and not so many experienced teachers who make more.

  10. 10
    Elusis says:

    Bah, can’t post an image I guess so I’ll have to link.

  11. 11
    CaitieCat says:

    I’m with the OP (and a few commenters) on this one. People are whingeing incessantly here in Ontario (Canada) about the high-and-mighty teachers and their “over-powerful” union, but oddly enough, none of the people doing the complaining are people who’ve faced a class full of students before, nor are any of them willing to take up this supposedly “overpaid and underworked” profession.

    But come on. If it were such a plum job, wouldn’t we be having to beat applicants away with sticks? I know you’d have to go a LONG way past what they’re paid to get me up in front of a class, and I’ve done it some (an undergrad TA teaching languages and linguistics, back in the day) for next to nothing.

    It’s a very, very tough job, brutally undersupported both professionally and by parents, and it’s not a surprise to me that the good teachers burn out and leave early. Ask yourself: how much would they have to pay you to do the job? The real job, I mean, with 30-35 kids in your class, and six teaching hours a day (and who knows how many unpaid hours of marking and setting tests and supervising clubs and activities et c.), with real teenagers with real anger and pain and loneliness and hormones and violence and attitude and even the ones who are trying hard…Seriously. How much would they have to pay you? Would you do it for an average of even $74000, in a major urban centre (with all that implies for cost of living)?

    I know I sure as hell wouldn’t.

    Which is why, when our teachers go on strike, I always make a point of going out to my kids’ schools and bringing tea and coffee and sandwiches and stuff to the picketers, because people being supportive to teachers striking are all too rare.

    Well, and because I’m an aging commie dyke and that’s just how I roll, too.

  12. 12
    Ampersand says:

    Jake, Corey is mistaken about that figure. The $56,000 figure covers not just Chicago, but also a lot of the surrounding districts. See Dylan Matthews for a more detailed discussion of that.

    Robert, it would be helpful if when you said “average teacher salary in LA is $58,000,” you provided a link. That figure seems very unlikely; the school district pay database published by the Sacramento Bee shows that the lowest-paid district in LA has an average teacher salary of $63,379, and the highest $87,841. Given that, I just don’t see how the average teacher salary you claim is mathematically possible.

    My guess is that you grabbed that $58,000 number from this website. But that doesn’t show average teacher pay at all; it shows the average pay of positions open to new hires.

    About a zillion sources are claiming that in NYC the average teacher salary is $73,751, but I wasn’t able to find where that figure comes from.

    From what I can tell (and maybe that will change), it seems that Chicago teachers are highly paid compared to teachers in general, but not wildly out of line what teachers in some other expensive cities make.

    Yes, it’s true that median and average pay are different, but I’d wager that the numbers are quite close for teacher pay.

    Median teacher pay in Chicago is $67,974 (per Dylan Matthews again). $7000 a year is a significant difference to the person getting paid, but I agree that it’s not a night-and-day difference.

    In any case — as I said in my earlier post — the main dispute here isn’t over teacher pay. Both sides seem to be saying that they are close to an agreement on salary.

    As far as I can make out, the two big sticking points seem to be “teaching to the test” – that is, how much teachers will be evaluated based on tests — and technical questions about layoffs and rehires.

  13. 13
    KellyK says:

    Explain to me what the conflict is between “teaching to the test” and “student needs”.

    Scoring well on multiple choice tests is not a life skill. It’s useful for getting into college (SAT) or getting the job you want in the military (ASVAB), but after that, it’s useless. Time spent teaching kids short-term memorization and strategies for standardized tests is time not spent teaching critical thinking, application, or other things that are harder to measure.

  14. 14
    KellyK says:

    No one. And they’ll have to work, what, another hour total a day? So they have to work a 9 hour day? Oh, my heart bleeds. It’s a profession! Professionals don’t work an 8 hour day, it’s not an assembly line.

    Again, since it’s such a cake-walk job that anyone would be grateful to have, you’re going to change careers and take advantage of the short hours, high pay, and fantastic working conditions, right?

  15. 15
    Robert says:

    Amp – yes, you’re right about the LA figure’s source, sorry for the sloppiness. I was (and am) in a hurry. ;)

    Yes, they are close on salary; by bringing up salary I was not intending so much to say “its all about the Benjamins” as I was intending to underscore the tone-deafness of the strike.

    Kelly – I have done teaching (homeschool) for a few years and it is challenging; I would not work as a public or private school teacher simply because I do not have the proper credentials, and because I think much of the current pedagogical orthodoxy is just so stupidly wrong that I would spend my life in conflict with the establishment. Screw that.

    But the question isn’t whether I would jump on that sweet Chicago gravy train; the question is whether the people who are on it could do any better, or roughly as well, or anywhere near as well, if they didn’t have a unionized school system running on credentialism as an option. I suspect that no, no they would not be doing nearly so well, and so they should be happy to have the salary and conditions – which are pretty decent by modern US standards and spectacularly wonderful by historical world standards – that they have now.

  16. 16
    RonF says:

    Again, since it’s such a cake-walk job that anyone would be grateful to have, you’re going to change careers and take advantage of the short hours, high pay, and fantastic working conditions, right?

    KellyK, when you’re involved in a discussion do you usually put words in someone’s mouth that they didn’t say as a substitute to addressing their arguments, or have you saved that just for me?

  17. 17
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    KellyK says:
    September 11, 2012 at 4:40 pm
    Again, since it’s such a cake-walk job that anyone would be grateful to have, you’re going to change careers and take advantage of the short hours, high pay, and fantastic working conditions, right?

    You realize–I hope–that that a lot of the disincentive to take those jobs comes from the union?

    Personally I’m not usually interested in a job where I’ll start at a low salary AND where I can’t get more money by excelling AND where my “length of service” status is, in the vast majority of cases, much more relevant than my skills. That is not a scenario which encourages unusual work ethics, to put it mildly.

    This is an excellent reminder that unions are there to get benefits and protections for the union members. They’re NOT there to help the kids, help the state, or help society. They’re NOT there to promote efficiency or excellence.

    Nonetheless, union teacher jobs are still highly sought-after in most cases.

  18. 18
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    http://www.suntimes.com/news/otherviews/15068666-452/hard-facts-behind-union-board-dispute.html

    An interesting article written by a former teacher.

    He’s not so great at consistency, though.

    First he asks ” Will firing bad teachers produce better educational results?” and answers it by saying, in essence, “no: we can’t find 2,000 competent new teachers.” Therefore, you see, we can’t lay off the bad ones.

    In the VERY NEXT SECTION OF THE SAME ARTICLE he notes that CPS is planning to lay off 5,000 teachers in the next several years by school closings.

    Intelligent minds might ask “why not use the top half of the the to-be-laid-off ones to replace the bad ones?” I’m unsurprised that the question doesn’t get asked, though I am surprised that it gets ignored quite so blatantly.

  19. 19
    RonF says:

    Understand that about 1 out of 3 or 4 K – 12 students in Chicago are unaffected by this strike. That’s because at least 1/4 to 1/3 of all K – 12 students in Chicago attend a school with non-union teachers. Most of those are kids whose parents are so disenchanted with CTU schools that they pay private school tuition to the Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago as well as their property taxes. Another 52,000 are parents who have put their kids into charter schools, which are funded by tax money but are not staffed by CTU teachers. I say “at least” because I can find no figures for how many kids are in non-Catholic private schools in Chicago.

    Given that there are about 2 applicants for every spot in charter schools, I propose that Springfield give the public what it apparently wants by removing the entirely artificial limit on how many charter schools are allowed to open in Chicago. There’s no practical reason for such a limit – other than to placate the CTU, a major campaign contributor for Democratic politicians (not that, in Chicago, there’s any other kind).

  20. 20
    RonF says:

    Here’s an extract from a Chicago Tribune editorial on teacher evaluation. Apparently it’s not based just on standardized test scores.

    Lewis was complaining about teacher evaluations that for the first time will be tied to student academic growth. That issue — considering a teacher’s effectiveness at helping students progress — is at the heart of this strike. Teachers are fighting to water down those evaluations. The union wants to lower how much student performance contributes to a teacher’s rating. It wants to protect teachers’ jobs — all teachers, whether they be effective or ineffective at helping children achieve better outcomes.

    Are the social factors Lewis named beyond a teacher’s control? Sure.

    But do any of those mean kids can’t learn, can’t excel at school? Absolutely not. A 2011 federal study showed impoverished inner-city kids in Boston, New York, Houston and other metro areas outperforming Chicago elementary students in math and science. The kids all shared similar backgrounds. Teachers in those other cities’ classrooms obviously didn’t think their students couldn’t learn.

    Who are the best teachers in Chicago? CPS and CTU don’t know. They don’t know because for decades the evaluation system gave almost every teacher a passing grade, deserved or not.

    That is supposed to change this year. CPS is rolling out a strong evaluation system tied to student academic growth and other factors. It will bring intense scrutiny to a teacher’s classroom performance. It will help teachers improve.

    How does the CTU’s opposition to this system — not unlike evaluations of effectiveness that professionals in virtually every other field receive — benefit students in classrooms? Easy: It doesn’t.

    This isn’t just a Chicago fight. Setting high standards tied to student growth is a flash point in districts across the U.S. It was a centerpiece of education reforms set in motion by the Obama administration’s Race to the Top challenge.

    Teachers, school officials, parents and school reformers nationwide are watching what happens here. CPS can’t give on this. Parents and principals need to know which teachers excel and which take up space. Teachers need feedback about how well they’re doing and where they can improve.

    This system wasn’t foisted on CTU. Chicago’s teachers had a huge role in creating it. The district and CTU had 35 meetings and 90 hours of negotiations over these evaluations. CPS officials project that about 70 percent of Chicago’s 25,000 teachers will be rated as proficient or excellent. About 3 percent will be deemed unsatisfactory — 10 times the current share. About 27 percent will fall into the “needs improvement” category.

    Under CPS rules, those teachers will need to improve significantly every year or face possible dismissal.

    The University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research says the new protocol will be effective in identifying the best teachers. That process won’t merely reflect students’ standardized test scores, as critics would have you believe: Turns out teachers who measurably spur student growth also are rated highly by principals in most other areas, too.

  21. 21
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    The general principles aren’t subject to debate, because the public has been really clear:
    1) We want to keep good teachers which is (for the purposes of this post) most of them;
    2) We want to fire bad teachers, who can (for the purposes of this post) be assumed to be “the bottom 5%”;
    3) We need information to distinguish between the good ones and the bad ones; and
    4) We need the ability to rapidly fire the ones we don’t like.

    Lord knows that there are millions of ways to evaluate teachers. Some are surely better than others. The administration may not be choosing the best method.

    But the unions are not saying “hey, that’s a fine idea but a bad execution. We agree you have the right to fire the bottom 5% but we have an alternate plan for how to do it, and this is why we think it is better at distinguishing between good and bad.”

    Instead, they’re saying “don’t distinguish,” or “don’t fire anyone except the bottom 0.5%,” or “there are no bad teachers, which we know even though we say it’s impossible to distinguish,” or “nobody but us can know how to deal with what we do,” or “even if we’re bad it’s not our fault,” or whatever the word-of-the-moment is to desperately throw a wrench in the wheels of what the public wants.

    That sort of stalling is why people are getting more anti-union. Seriously: if you want a seat at the table, you have to bargain in good faith.

  22. 22
    Ruchama says:

    How often do you want to keep firing the bottom 5% of teachers? No matter what you do, 5% of teachers will be in the bottom 5%. Are there other industries that have that kind of standard — whoever is in the lowest x% is automatically fired? And 5% is a lot. You really think that one out of every 20 teachers is so completely horrible at his or her job that the only solution is firing? It would probably make more sense to figure out which of them have the potential to be better, and work with them to get better, rather than to keep replacing them with new teachers who have to be trained from scratch.

  23. 23
    RonF says:

    And all that is because despite their high-minded rhetoric the mission of CTU is to benefit it’s members, not “the children”. I have no problem with the mission; that’s the job of a union (although I do have a problem with the concept of a public employee union, or at least it having the right to strike). But let’s drop the nonsense that the CTU somehow a) has the children’s interests at heart and b) is the only actor in this situation that does.

    I’ll tell you who has the children’s interests at heart indisputably; the parents. And they have been real clear about one other principle: “We want to be able to choose among various taxpayer funded alternatives for educating our children outside of schools staffed by the CTU”. CTU is fighting that with desperation. They have no one to blame but themselves. The legislators in Springfield should revoke the law limiting the number of charter schools that can be opened up in the State of Illinois immediately. A measure that required anyone applying for a charter to give evidence that there’s reason they will succeed in creating a school meeting the average achievements of what are currently CTU-staffed schools would be appropriate, but there’s already 6 or 8 companies that can do so based on the charter schools they are already running so far.

    I keep saying – I favor public education. I think that the taxpayers, through the government, should fund it. I just don’t see why its necessary or even advisable that the government should be in the business of operating those schools directly.

  24. 24
    Ruchama says:

    Lord knows that there are millions of ways to evaluate teachers. Some are surely better than others. The administration may not be choosing the best method.

    What incentive does the administration have to choose a good method? Good methods are expensive and time-consuming, and most of the public doesn’t know a good method from a bad one. What are the consequences for the administration if they choose a bad method? And any good method will be something that takes several years worth of data into account, so there couldn’t be the sort of quick school closings and resortings that NYC has been doing for a while.

  25. 25
    RonF says:

    You really think that one out of every 20 teachers is so completely horrible at his or her job that the only solution is firing?

    First – I think that 5% GiW is talking about is meant to describe the present state of affairs, not a permanent “Fire the bottom 5% every year.”

    Second – my standard for whether or not a teacher should keep their job is higher than not being “completely horrible”. You can be better than that and still not be a candidate for continued employment.

    Third – two years ago Illinois had a) 7500 teaching jobs open up across the State and b) 15,000 people graduate with a B.A. in Education from it’s colleges and universities. So while I wouldn’t set a numerical threshold for firing x% of teachers a year, I’d have no compunction with setting the bar for continued employment reasonably high after a teacher has been around a year or two.

    nd any good method will be something that takes several years worth of data into account,

    Sorry, I disagree. You can figure out in a year whether someone’s got the makings of a good teacher. Heck, in most jobs I know of you get a 90 day probationary period after you’ve been hired. It’s something you want to be fair and careful with, but it’s not rocket science.

    What incentive does the administration have to choose a good method? … What are the consequences for the administration if they choose a bad method?

    The kids get a bad education, which is against the public interest (please don’t pretend that only teachers care about kids’ education) AND gets their voting parents angry. Go ask any suburban school board what happens if someone tries to fire a popular teacher. Parents write letters, make phone calls and storm school board meetings. Elected officials try to avoid that.

    Plus, re-read my clip above. The system that the CTU is trying to avoid is one that they had a hand in creating. As GiW said, it’s not an issue of creating a better or worse evaluation system – it’s avoiding one at all. Note that among all the stories on this strike what you don’t see is a counter-proposal from the CTU for a teacher evaluation system.

  26. 26
    Ruchama says:

    Sorry, I disagree. You can figure out in a year whether someone’s got the makings of a good teacher.

    You can figure it out if you’ve got an evaluation system that uses at least several days of classroom visits and other sorts of evaluations like that, as well as quite a few evaluations where the teacher is given feedback and you look to see how they use it. You absolutely cannot figure it out based on test scores. One year worth of test scores, in fact, is utterly useless for anything other than weeding out the teachers who aren’t teaching anything at all.

    Heck, in most jobs I know of you get a 90 day probationary period after you’ve been hired.

    In most jobs, you do the same thing every day, or every week. In teaching, you don’t repeat stuff until a year later. Lesson plans have to be written, quizzes and tests written, you have to read through new textbooks to find out how they present the material, and so on. The second year of teaching is immensely easier than the first because you’ve already got a lot of things planned, so you can focus more on the students. I know that, this year, I can spend a lot more time working one-on-one with students and giving them detailed feedback and thinking more specifically about exactly how I want to do things, because I don’t need to spend an hour and a half each afternoon planning the next day’s classes — I just take out the notes I made in the past two years and revise them, and it takes 15 minutes. I know where the pitfalls are because I’ve gone over them before.

  27. 27
    KellyK says:

    KellyK, when you’re involved in a discussion do you usually put words in someone’s mouth that they didn’t say as a substitute to addressing their arguments, or have you saved that just for me?

    “Oh, no, they have to work nine hours. My heart bleeds for them,” *wasn’t* meant to imply that their job is easy, they’re overpaid, and they should shut up and be grateful? Because that’s how it came across to me.

    However, I apologize for the excessive snippiness. People bitching about teachers is one of my pet peeves, so I was harsher and more sarcastic than was warranted. I’m sorry.

    It’s been my observation that there are frequent complaints about how teachers have it so easy (whether they come up as the result of a strike or whether it’s random complaining by parents) from people who would never be willing to deal with the level of stress and aggravation that teaching entails.

  28. 28
    KellyK says:

    I keep saying – I favor public education. I think that the taxpayers, through the government, should fund it. I just don’t see why its necessary or even advisable that the government should be in the business of operating those schools directly.

    That’s valid, provided that all charter schools are held to the same standards as public schools (which would have to still exist, because there are places where it wouldn’t be profitable to run a school and no charter schools would exist), and that no taxpayer money goes toward either the teaching of religion or to schools that get to pick and choose students. (It’s really easy to get great test scores if you let in the top students and don’t do special ed or ESL, and look like you’re doing a better job than the public school that’s required to educate everyone.)

  29. 29
    KellyK says:

    Most of those are kids whose parents are so disenchanted with CTU schools that they pay private school tuition to the Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago as well as their property taxes.

    “…so disenchanted…” or they want their kids to have a religious education because they’re Catholic?

  30. 30
    Ruchama says:

    The kids get a bad education, which is against the public interest (please don’t pretend that only teachers care about kids’ education) AND gets their voting parents angry. Go ask any suburban school board what happens if someone tries to fire a popular teacher. Parents write letters, make phone calls and storm school board meetings. Elected officials try to avoid that.

    A popular teacher is not the same things as a good teacher.

  31. 31
    KellyK says:

    No, a 25:1 ratio is not great. But that isn’t at issue. What’s at issue is numbers like 30:1 and 40:1 being tossed around as though they are typical, when they simply are not.

    A comment I meant to respond to previously. No one was throwing around 40:1 as a ratio; what karnythia said was:

    Some schools are now looking at classes approaching 40 kids to one teacher. I can’t fault the teachers for being less successful when they’re trying to wrangle 35+ 5th graders (all at different levels of ability)

    She didn’t claim that was typical, just that it does happen, and that it’s a problem. If 25:1 is the ratio, then there will *definitely* be classes in the 30s. Depending on scheduling logistics, the occasional class in the high 30s at that ratio wouldn’t be at all surprising. Which is why I said previously that the student-teacher ratio might be a less useful measure than the typical class size.

    The middle school where I taught for a couple years has an enviable student-teacher ratio of 12.6:1, but I had class sizes of up to 27. It’s a small school, though, and you’d probably have more scheduling efficiency in a larger school, because more sections of a class means more scheduling options.

  32. 32
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    Ruchama says:
    September 12, 2012 at 1:11 pm

    How often do you want to keep firing the bottom 5% of teachers?
    Once? It was a guess: given that we haven’t fired many/any of them in years, the first time will probably get rid of quite a few. Of course it might be more than 5%: in my local school there are probably 50-60 teachers and certainly more than 2-3 who should be replaced, especially since we have a large group of folks who WANT the job and can’t get it.

    Yearly, I don’t know. Depends on the quality of alternatives. You have to ask the question “if we hire the best available candidate, how good are the chances that they’ll be better than the person who is leaving?” I doubt it’d be 5% leaving every year but who knows.

    Ruchama says:
    September 12, 2012 at 1:19 pm
    What incentive does the administration have to choose a good method? Good methods are expensive and time-consuming, and most of the public doesn’t know a good method from a bad one. What are the consequences for the administration if they choose a bad method?

    Well, it’s their job. Someone has to (1) be looking out for the kids and (2) not be looking out for the teachers and (3) have the institutional knowledge to make what are, in theory, some sort of data-driven choices.

    This is not perfect. We keep trying.

    You really think that one out of every 20 teachers is so completely horrible at his or her job

    Really?
    I don’t want to keep everyone but the ones who are arguably horrible or even CLOSE to horrible. Or who could reasonably be considered really bad. Or even plain old “not so hot.”

    I want the ones who are good, very good, and excellent; ideally I’d only have those who are excellent though that is unlikely. Just like I would want that in any OTHER profession, i.e. one where the workers hadn’t trained folks to believe that “not horrible!” means “shouldn’t be fired.”

    Most teachers are good; many are excellent. But if you’re coming from the position of “not horrible is OK when it comes to students” then I am disinclined to rely on your judgment.

    And I hate to have to point this out–it should be obvious but doesn’t seem to be–but teaching jobs are a zero sum game. It’s not like a big corporation, where you have the option of “do well and raise market share so both people can have jobs.”

    If Mediocre Marvin stays on, Good Grace doesn’t get the job. If Good Grace gets the job, Mediocre Marvin has to leave. The question isn’t “do we feel sorry for Marvin?” The real question is “should we favor Marvin over Grace? And if so, why?” If Marvin is “not horrible,” how much work are we OBLIGED to put into making Marvin OK, before we move on?

    Sure, there are situations where you might want to keep Marvin even if Grace is marginally better. Perhaps you want to reward dedication, or experimentation, so you allow for a bit of leeway. But that’s not a question of feeling sorry for Marvin, it’s a decision–or should be–based solely on ultimate long term student benefit.

    There are some jobs where we can stick people who need to work. We don’t need every marginally competent person to end up on welfare. But jesus, keep them out of my kids classroom. Please.

  33. 33
    Ruchama says:

    I feel like we really need to define “teacher quality” before this discussion can get anywhere.

  34. 34
    Elusis says:

    I’ll tell you who has the children’s interests at heart indisputably; the parents

    Hahhahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha…

    [inhale]

    ahhahahahahahahahahahahahah…..

    [gasp]

    hahahahahahahahhhhhhhhhh….

    oh god

    I usually want my contributions here to be more substantive, but…

    as the child of two public school teachers, and the sister of a third, all I can do in response to that assertion is laugh.

    Because if you don’t laugh, you’ll cry….

    Whoooooooooo I need a rest.

  35. 35
    paul says:

    Another commenter already pointed out that student-teacher ratio has only a limited relationship to class size. But this probably needs more exploring, because it reminds us of the ways that education isn’t an industrial product. First, teachers come in whole-number quantities, so if you need separate teachers for math or science or history or languages, but don’t have enough students scheduled to fill their day, you can’t just hire 2/3 of a teacher. (You can put them to work on other things, but that doesn’t affect the student-teacher ratio.) Second, especially with the public-school mandate to teach everyone, there are going to be special-educators who teach way fewer than the average class size. Third, if the school has pretensions to being anything at all past a factory/warehouse, there are going to be teachers teaching things that not everybody takes, where the class sizes will also be smaller.

  36. 36
    RonF says:

    You can figure it out if you’ve got an evaluation system that uses at least several days of classroom visits and other sorts of evaluations like that, as well as quite a few evaluations where the teacher is given feedback and you look to see how they use it. You absolutely cannot figure it out based on test scores.

    Test scores would be an element of the evaluation, but otherwise I agree with this statement. I don’t think the CPS is talking about evaluating teachers purely on test scores.

    That’s valid, provided that all charter schools are held to the same standards as public schools (which would have to still exist, because there are places where it wouldn’t be profitable to run a school and no charter schools would exist), and that no taxpayer money goes toward either the teaching of religion or to schools that get to pick and choose students.

    Point 1 – agreed. Point 2 – actually there are already several selective-enrollment schools in the Chicago public school system. Competition for places in them is fierce, too, and a lot of kids and their parents are disappointed every year when they fail to get in. We need more of them. If we are going to have schools that concentrate on taking kids with special needs and educating them to their potential, why shouldn’t the concept of “special needs” encompass both ends of the bell curve?

    As far as the need for publicly operated schools as well as what are now currently known as charter schools, let the market sort that out. As charter schools proliferate and more of the available students enter them, you can close publically operated schools. But if there are areas or groups of students that aren’t served or serveable by charter schools, retain publically operated schools to serve them.

    “…so disenchanted…” or they want their kids to have a religious education because they’re Catholic?

    Elements of both. These folks aren’t hypothetical to me, I work with them, I sing with them and they’re friends of mine. The concept that Catholic schools are academically superior to the CTU-staffed schools is widely held to be beyond dispute. There’s also a much higher level of discipline in the Catholic schools. As far as the small fraction of the school day that encompasses religious instruction goes, yes, the Catholic parents are in favor of it. But it may surprise you to know that there’s plenty of non-Catholics in the Archdiocese’s schools. There are schools in the Archdiocese’s system that have more non-Catholics than Catholics. Their parents send them there because they want their children to get the academic rigor and discipline that the Archdiocese’s schools are known for.

  37. 37
    Ruchama says:

    First, teachers come in whole-number quantities, so if you need separate teachers for math or science or history or languages, but don’t have enough students scheduled to fill their day, you can’t just hire 2/3 of a teacher. (You can put them to work on other things, but that doesn’t affect the student-teacher ratio.)

    Or, you can do what a lot of schools do, which is have them teach the subject they’re actually certified in part of the time, and some other related subject the rest of the time. I don’t remember the exact numbers, but I looked it up last night, and some really high percentage of physics and math teachers don’t even have a college minor in physics, math, or engineering. Biology seemed to be the science that had the most teachers who were teaching the subject they majored in.

    As for Catholic schools, one thing I will say in their favor is that they don’t teach kids to be scared of arithmetic and algebra. I’ve noticed this a whole lot — if I’m working with a student on a problem, and the student gets to a point in the problem where there are a bunch of calculations required, one of two things can happen: the student can take a piece of paper and work out the calculations, or the student can stop, stare at the paper, try to see if there’s some trick or shortcut, and when there isn’t, give up. Whenever one of these things happens, I ask, “Where did you go to high school?” Without fail, the students in the first group went to Catholic schools. Well, there was one who went to a Mennonite school. The students in the second group have included students from public school with excellent reputations and students from some really well-known elite private schools. I don’t know what it is that Catholic schools are so consistently doing and other schools are so consistently not doing, though I suspect it’s that Catholic schools don’t allow the students to rely so much on calculators, and are also a bit better at enforcing the “sit down, shut up, quit whining, and do your work” side of math. I haven’t noticed any major differences in how well the Catholic and public school students actually understand the concepts, but the Catholic ones are much better at doing the tedious stuff.

  38. 38
    RonF says:

    Financials are a central point in this, so here’s a discussion about what kind of money the State and City have to work with:

    The city of Chicago and its school district are in “dire” financial straits. Emanuel had to fill a $635 million budget deficit almost a year ago without hiking taxes any further than Governor Pat Quinn had hiked taxes for the entire state of Illinois – by as much as 67 percent in some cases. The estimated budget deficit for the public school system exceeds even that large gap; it’s expected to grow to $861 million by 2014, thanks in part to contributions to the pension fund for CTU teachers.

    The $400 million increase in the CPS offer over the next four years would have made the situation even worse.

    That 67% tax hike referenced above? The Illinois income tax rate was originally 2.5% of your AGI from your Federal income tax return. A few years ago it was raised to 3%. We were told it was temporary. Last year it was raised to 5.5% of your AGI – and, again, we were told it was “temporary”. Hah. And what has been repeatedly said in numerous news reports is that every dime of it went to public employee pensions, as the State of Illinois has the worst record for funding those of all the states. None of it went to social services, fixing the roads and bridges (which are in terrible shape), etc. So when the teachers ask for a 30% raise as a starting position and then come down to a 19% raise – for the first year of the contract, not spread out over 4 years – they’re looking pretty tone-deaf.

  39. 39
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    Ruchama says:
    September 12, 2012 at 7:24 pm

    I feel like we really need to define “teacher quality” before this discussion can get anywhere.

    Teacher quality needs to be determined. Teacher quality is incredibly subjective and can be defined in about 10000 different ways. The only realistic way to define teacher quality is to say that it means “what someone says it means.” I think that someone is the person in charge of the schools, i.e. the administration. Do you have a better suggestion for who should decide?

    After all, you and I will probably never agree on a definition. We may, however, agree to respect the decision of a third party and go lobby them instead.

    If you want to talk about it anyway, sure:

    Teacher quality is defined by the aggregate (formula to be determined) of a set of measures across different things of varying importance (list to be determined) ranging from “algebra” to “not hating school” to “social skills.” It takes into account (formula to be determined) such things as absolute skills learned by students, and relative advances in learning. It takes into account (formula to be determined) the effect of the teacher on the high, middle, and low students.

    Generally speaking, teacher quality is measured by outputs, not inputs. The proof is in the pudding. To use a fishing analogy: you see the quality of a fisherman by the fish she catches, not by the beauty of her cast.

    However, input testing needs to be correlated to outputs to allow at least some prediction, which should (as usual) be based on data and not a “gut feeling.” People who try to make broad generalizations and do stats in their head to reach conclusions, usually are wrong.

    “formula to be determined” isn’t a cop-out; it’s a time saver. I have no idea what the proper formula should be, but I’ll save the detailed %age issues for the person who has that job. Also, I see no reason to argue about whether “algebra” should be more or less important than something else.

  40. 40
    Ruchama says:

    I think that someone is the person in charge of the schools, i.e. the administration. Do you have a better suggestion for who should decide?

    I don’t know as much about how elementary schools operate, but for high schools, I would say the head of each department would be a much better judge than the administration. The head of the department is totally familiar with what’s supposed to be going on in the classrooms, and probably knows most of the kids, too.

  41. 41
    KellyK says:

    As far as selective-enrollment schools (public or charter), how about this? Schools that can turn away students should be held to a *higher* standard than those who can’t. If a school only accepts the top 10% of students, they need to be producing test scores (or whatever metric of quality–I’d like to see something more realistic than multiple choice tests) in line with that pool. The common argument that charter schools are better than public schools never seems to take that into account.

    Limiting the number of *selective* charter schools in an area might also be appropriate. If the really gifted kids already have three options, and the kids who didn’t make that cut have none of those, then the area doesn’t need another “gifted and talented” charter school even if the market would allow for it. (Charter schools might absolutely find it more lucrative to fight over the top 20% of students than to serve the bottom 20%; that doesn’t mean they should get to if their doing so screws over that bottom 20% or the 60% in the middle.)

    The problem with the “let the market sort it out” idea is that leaving kids who the charter schools in their area don’t want all together in a public school is going to make that public school look worse than it is (in terms of the all-mighty test scores), while funneling money away from it to the “more successful” charter schools. Charter schools get taxpayer funding per student, right? So the more students they pull, the less money a public school has to educate those who are left. But not every cost of education scales on a per student basis. It isn’t fair to kids who are already struggling (or even just average, depending on what becomes available in their area) to take resources *away* from the only school available to them.

    The problem with viewing education as a “product” and parents as consumers is that people make those kinds of decisions purely on the basis of what’s best for their own kids. Obviously, parents have every right to do that, but “let the market sort it out,” seems to mean “If you can’t pay for it, you don’t deserve it.” (In this case “pay for it” may not mean pay directly, but move to a neighborhood with better schools if yours aren’t so hot, get a ton of tutoring for your kid to help them get into the selective school, etc.)

    I’ll be convinced that charter schools are a good solution when a plan to use them (or make their use widespread) includes as much or more accountability for charters than for public schools and addresses the problems that funneling kids and money out of the public schools will leave behind.

  42. 42
    KellyK says:

    Point 1 – agreed. Point 2 – actually there are already several selective-enrollment schools in the Chicago public school system. Competition for places in them is fierce, too, and a lot of kids and their parents are disappointed every year when they fail to get in.

    Also, since point 2 was two separate things (selectivity and religion), I did want to reiterate that, regardless of how funding and ensuring that every student gets an education gets hashed out, paying for religious education with public funds is completely and utterly inappropriate.

    It looks like Chicago already has religious groups applying to run charter schools, but requires that religion not be taught. That’s good, though I’d still have some concerns about things like biology or sex ed (or the lack thereof) having religious overtones.

  43. 43
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    Ruchama says:
    September 13, 2012 at 2:45 pm
    I don’t know as much about how elementary schools operate, but for high schools, I would say the head of each department would be a much better judge than the administration. The head of the department is totally familiar with what’s supposed to be going on in the classrooms, and probably knows most of the kids, too.

    A department head would know a lot about the folks in their department. they generally would not know enough to compare them to other teachers outside their department, and (obviously) would have no no knowledge at all w/r/t teachers in other schools.

    That’s a process problem.

  44. 44
    Ruchama says:

    But isn’t that how evaluations in the business world usually work? People are evaluated by their managers, who see them working every day.

  45. 45
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    Ys. That’s more of a necessity when places (as most do) have different departments which are doing different things.

    In this case, you’d have different departmets doing the same thing, and moreover you’d have a desire to compare all departments against each other.

  46. 46
    Emily says:

    The problem with tying teacher pay to test scores is that tests measure student ability on ONE day. As the recent hubbub over releasing NYC teacher ratings showed, the difference in a teacher’s rating can be one or two students who just have an off day. And students who come from poor areas are more likely to have an off day – because their lives are just generally more unpredictable and less stable. One or two kids who got evicted, had a fight with a parent, have a seriously sick sibling, whose dog just disd, etc, and the teacher’s rating drops dramatically. Can poor students learn? Of course. But one test on one day does a pretty shitty job of measuring what’s going on in a classroom over the course of a year.

  47. 47
    Ruchama says:

    In this case, you’d have different departmets doing the same thing, and moreover you’d have a desire to compare all departments against each other.

    In a high school? Different departments are doing really different things. That’s why teacher certification for secondary level is for particular subjects.

  48. 48
    Elusis says:

    But isn’t that how evaluations in the business world usually work? People are evaluated by their managers, who see them working every day.

    Here’s the problem with that.

    My mom’s principal grappled with her for years. She taught Home Ec – a full lab with stoves, sewing machines, knives, needles, you name it.

    Her principal thought Home Ec was a good subject to dump special needs students into, without aides, so he could keep his Special Ed budget down. A full class of 20 (then 25, then 27, then 32) middle school students (read: rowdy), PLUS two or three students with severe behavioral issues or intensive physical assistance needs, without aides, around dangerous lab equipment. Mom fought him with minimal assistance from the union, and always won.

    Mom also refused to play the “pass my kid” game. So several times a year, the principal would ask her to meet with him and some angry parent, furious that Little Johnny or Suzy was getting a poor grade because Johnny sat at the tables the whole period and refused to make muffins with his team in the kitchen lab, or Suzy cut another girl’s hair with the sewing scissors and got in-school detention for a week and didn’t get to finish her stuffed pillow. And the principal always wanted Mom to be the one to solve the Problem of the Angry Parent, and Mom always said “this is not my problem, this is your kid’s problem.”

    Thank god Mom wasn’t evaluated by her principal on her teaching skills because she had earned tenure. Thank god she wasn’t evaluated on the efforts of her immature, largely disinterested students who were getting the message loud and clear from home and the administration that they didn’t need to take her class seriously. As it was, she was pushed into early retirement when another round of budget cuts meant the school corp tried to buy off the oldest and highest-paid teachers because both she and the principal were sick of the wrangling.

  49. 49
    Penelope Ariel Ponyweather says:

    “So several times a year, the principal would ask her to meet with him and some angry parent, furious that Little Johnny or Suzy was getting a poor grade because Johnny sat at the tables the whole period and refused to make muffins with his team in the kitchen lab, or Suzy cut another girl’s hair with the sewing scissors and got in-school detention for a week and didn’t get to finish her stuffed pillow. And the principal always wanted Mom to be the one to solve the Problem of the Angry Parent, and Mom always said “this is not my problem, this is your kid’s problem.”

    So it was never mom’s fault, always somebody else’s?

  50. 50
    KellyK says:

    Penelope @49, it’s a pretty big jump from “Here are kids who blatantly refuse to make the slightest effort, and their parents want the teacher to *give* them a passing grade,” to “nothing is ever her fault.”

    I’m pretty sure every teacher on the planet has stories of kids who simply will not do work, and expect to be handed a passing grade anyway. I certainly had those kids when I taught middle school.

    A good teacher can motivate more kids to put in a good effort than a mediocre teacher can, but kids are actually independent people who make their own choices. And for those kids who know their parents will back them up if they get a bad grade, then it’s no surprise when “slack off” is the choice they make.

  51. 51
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    Elusis:

    Since you just posted about your mom, I assume you’re OK with continuing the discussion about her. That said, it isn’t always pleasant to discuss one’s family; if you’d like to return to hypotheticals, let me know.

    Elusis said:
    So several times a year, the principal would ask [Mom] to meet with him and some angry parent…And the principal always wanted Mom to be the one to solve the Problem of the Angry Parent, and Mom always said “this is not my problem, this is your kid’s problem.”

    You seem to be presenting this as an example of “teacher knows best.”

    But it is ALSO apparently an example of someone (your mother) who had a very limited responsibility (her home ec classroom) and was unwilling to play the role required by her supervisor.

    Assuming that the principal’s job was to manage the school, that’s a problem. Someone who refuses to do what their supervisor asks–so long as it’s within the grounds of legality–should usually be fired. They should not be allowed to hobble the efforts of their boss.

    After all, SOMEONE has to have the job of managing the school and distributing students and keeping parents happy and making all of those “big, on-average” decisions. Right? And that person was the principal, not your mom.

    That someone needs to make hard choices, which can pretty much guarantee that some folks aren’t going to like the result. Allowing individual teachers to assert their whims and suck the choices is entirely contrary to good practice.

    Maybe your mom didn’t like getting certain problem students dumped on her. But it sounds like that wasn’t her decision to make. Maybe it was the best place for them at the time; how would she even know? Unless she was in charge of class assignments and student schedules and lesson plans and all that jazz, she wouldn’t even have had the data. “Tommy won’t do well in my class” or “Tommy has a problem,” may be true… but it STILL may be the best option for Tommy, and the school in general.

    Thank god Mom wasn’t evaluated by her principal on her teaching skills because she had earned tenure.

    Huh?

    There are few good reasons why your mom’s personal preference should be able to override the principal when it comes to policies like “student assignment”. And there are no good reasons why the question of “can she override the principal?” should have anything to do with whether she has been employed long enough to get tenure.

    Teachers should have that power or not.

    As a functional matter, that system would simply let your mother push off the problem onto a younger, non-tenured, teacher. Instead of the problem students getting put with a more experienced and more highly paid teacher who might be able to handle them, they’re all pushed off onto a newbie. Isn’t experience and longevity pay supposed to deliver something in exchange? If not, what’s the point of linking it to salary? Can you explain why that makes sense?

    Moreover, it seems to go against your own morals. Giving one class preferential treatment has a big hand in creating the disparity which underlies the adjunct problem. Don’t you often complain about that? When people use their power to shirk responsibility, it games the system and makes it worse for everyone.

    And of course, this has nothing to do with “educational freedom.” It’s simple disobedience. Is this supposed to be what tenure is for? Why?

    As it was, she was pushed into early retirement when another round of budget cuts meant the school corp tried to buy off the oldest and highest-paid teachers because both she and the principal were sick of the wrangling.

    Um, yeah, that’s not surprising. Can you imagine if your job was “manage a school?” Can you imagine if a certain proportion of your employees were almost impossible to fire? Can you imagine if some of those employees would simply refuse to do a lot of things you asked, knowing that you could neither discipline or fire them?

    I’d be sick of the wrangling, too. Wouldn’t you?

    I also have to say that this:

    Thank god Mom wasn’t evaluated by her principal on her teaching skills because she had earned tenure. Thank god she wasn’t evaluated on the efforts of her immature, largely disinterested students who were getting the message loud and clear from home and the administration that they didn’t need to take her class seriously.

    also appears to ignore a bit of reality.

    The question isn’t “how well would this teacher do with perfect students who happen to be the ones they like?” The question is “How well does this teacher do with the students we have and with the goals of the administration?”

    Some teachers are great at slow students; others with high flyers. Some are good at motivating uninterested ones; others are less so.

    Your mom may have been a great teacher, or not. I have no reason to believe she was less excellent than you think… but if she wasn’t evaluated, then I also have no reason to believe that she was necessarily as good as she believed herself to be. I have yet to meet an experienced teacher who DOESN’T think they do a good job. It should be apparent that such self-assessments are not reliable.

    And when you say “the message loud and clear from home and the administration that they didn’t need to take her class seriously” it sounds to me like maybe your mom was one of those folks who thought that her class was “just as important” as the other things; that Home Ec and the Three R’s were equal.

    If so, I think she’s dead wrong. He class wasn’t entirely unimportant (which is why it existed) but there’s a big difference between “can your child read” and “can your child sew.” Do you disagree?

  52. 52
    KellyK says:

    Maybe your mom didn’t like getting certain problem students dumped on her. But it sounds like that wasn’t her decision to make. Maybe it was the best place for them at the time; how would she even know?

    I think anybody qualified to teach a home ec class can recognize the inherent safety hazard in having “two or three students with severe behavioral issues or intensive physical assistance needs, without aides, around dangerous lab equipment.” You’re really suggesting that “Let’s shove a kid who needs one-on-one assistance in a room with knives and stoves and no aide,” was a decision made in that kid’s best interest?

    And when you say “the message loud and clear from home and the administration that they didn’t need to take her class seriously” it sounds to me like maybe your mom was one of those folks who thought that her class was “just as important” as the other things; that Home Ec and the Three R’s were equal.

    Cooking is a pretty important life skill. No, it’s not as important as reading. But, the average middle schooler, who might do any number of things career-wise when they grow up, is probably more likely to use home ec in their daily life than they are a lot of what they learn in math, science, or English classes. (Not to say that it’s more important, but it’s certainly not useless.)

  53. 53
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    KellyK says:
    September 16, 2012 at 5:06 pm
    You’re really suggesting that “Let’s shove a kid who needs one-on-one assistance in a room with knives and stoves and no aide,” was a decision made in that kid’s best interest?

    I don’t know.
    You don’t know.
    The mom wouldn’t know either, unless she was aware of the alternatives, which probably wasn’t her job.

    “Best interest” is a relative term.

  54. 54
    Sebastian H says:

    “Thank god Mom wasn’t evaluated by her principal on her teaching skills because she had earned tenure. ”

    This is a weird thing to say. You seem to think that your mom was a good teacher, so why would it matter if she was evaluated on her teaching skills? She would have passed that, right? Or maybe you are saying that you don’t want that particular principal evaluating her because he had it out for her. Which leads us back in the direction of standardized tests–a direction very resented in this thread.

  55. 55
    KellyK says:

    I don’t know.
    You don’t know.
    The mom wouldn’t know either, unless she was aware of the alternatives, which probably wasn’t her job.

    “Best interest” is a relative term.

    Sure I do. Exposing a kid to safety hazards that are inappropriate for their level of physical and/or mental ability, without adequate supervision, is a bad idea. Period. It might be a *better* idea than putting them in wood shop or a chemistry lab, but that’s not saying much.

    The only possible points of contention are whether the students were actually equipped to deal with the safety hazards or whether the supervision was in fact appropriate. Teachers who’ve actually interacted with that student would be more qualified to make that judgment than the principal, who may or may not have actually met the kid or read their IEP.

  56. 56
    RonF says:

    Currently in the Chicago strike it is reported that the teachers are being offered standardized testing is offered to be 30% of a teacher’s evaluation process and that they were offered raises over the next 4 years of between 2% and 3% per year. The CTU President took that back to the union’s House of Delegates on Sunday and asked the teachers to go back to work while the rest of the details were hammered out.

    In what is being reported as a surprise to everyone involved the Delegates said “No” and won’t vote again until sometime Tuesday, to give the rank and file a chance to read the 200 page contract. Apparently the huge sticking point now is that in an effort to head off a $1 billion deficit that would result from the contract plus existing debt (in 2001 the Chicago Public Schools had a $1.2 billion surplus) CPS is suspected of looking to close 80 schools. The teachers don’t want that to happen, and they want to force principals that have job openings to hire laid-off CTU teachers by seniority only instead of being able to choose who they want.

    On that basis Mayor Emmanuel went to court to get an injunction to force the teachers to either go back to work or lose their jobs.

    In its complaint seeking the order, CPS argued that the teachers union is prohibited by state law from striking over non-economic issues and that the strike is a clear and present danger to public health and safety.

    It asked that CTU members be immediately ordered off the picket line and back into classrooms.

    “State law expressly prohibits the CTU from striking over non-economic issues, such as layoff and recall policies, teacher evaluations, class sizes and the length of the school day and year,” the motion states. “The CTU’s repeated statements and recent advertising campaign have made clear that these are exactly the subjects over which the CTU is striking.”

    The motion also contends that the strike is “a clear and present danger to public health and safety. It prohibits students from receiving critical educational and social services, including meals for students who otherwise may not receive proper nutrition, a safe environment during school hours and critical services for students who have special needs.”

    The 700-page filing notes that more than 80 percent of the district’s 350,000 students rely on school meals for their basic nutrition, and 50,000 others, including autistic students, depend on special instruction. Out of school, children are more prone to fall victim to violence, it says.

    “At a critical time in their lives, a vulnerable population has been cast adrift by the CTU’s decision to close down the schools, with consequent grave implications for the residents of the city of Chicago,” the court document states.

    The teachers have their side of the story, for which I refer you to the link.

  57. 57
    RonF says:

    The latest report is that the teachers want a cap on the number of charter schools in Chicago (charter school teachers are not CTU members) and on school closings. But increasing charter schools and closing and consolidating schools is the only way that CPS can both balance their budget and pay the money it will take to cover the demanded raises (or any raises, for that matter) and make it’s pension payments.

    No, don’t even think about “They could raise taxes”. That is flat out not going to happen. Property tax rates are already causing people to leave Chicago. Chicago has a net loss of one resident every 10 minutes. And the ones who are leaving are not net tax consumers, they are net tax payers. No politician who votes to raise taxes in the current environment will survive the next election. No one – absolutely no one – is talking about raising taxes.

    I have not seen a refutation of the assertion – by both Mayor Emmanuel and by the Chicago Tribune – that Illinois law forbids a public employee strike on the basis of non-economic issues such as opening up more charter schools and closing schools. And there is also an Illinois State law that requires a teacher evaluation process whereby at least 25% of the evaluation is based on test scores. So this is going to get interesting if the teachers don’t vote today to take the current offer.

  58. 58
    RonF says:

    So the strike is suspended. It’s not over, as the contract still hasn’t been finally negotiated or approved, but the expectation is that it’ll all be worked out. What hasn’t been worked out is where the estimated $300 or $400 million dollars needed to cover it (including additional pension payments) will come from. Rumor has it that the Mayor is considering raising property taxes. I wonder if he’s got enough pull in the City Council to pull that one off. These guys keep it up and parts of Chicago are going to look like Detroit.

    Right now the estimate is that every 10 minutes the city has a net loss of one resident. Jump up property taxes and that’ll do nothing but increase. Rents go up and more people decide it’s cheaper to live in the suburbs. Residential taxes go up and people stop moving in to buy homes from people who move out of them because they can’t live in them anymore for whatever reason. Property tax increases drive the middle class out and make the city divided between the very rich and the very poor. Eventually the system will just run out of money – and the Chicago Teachers Union will look to the residents of the rest of the State outside of Chicago to make their pensions good – people who had no vote in Chicago and no representation among the people who made a promise they didn’t have the money to cover.