teachers’ contract – Chicago Newstips by Community Media Workshop http://www.newstips.org Chicago Community Stories Mon, 14 Jul 2014 17:31:05 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.4.11 About that injunction http://www.newstips.org/2012/09/about-that-injunction/ http://www.newstips.org/2012/09/about-that-injunction/#comments Tue, 18 Sep 2012 00:15:18 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=6650 By angering teachers with a motion for an injunction declaring the teachers’ strike illegal, Mayor Emanuel may have made passage of the proposed teachers’ contract even more difficult, said Rod Estvan, education policy analyst with Access Living.

If so, it would be just the latest in a series of mayoral moves that have backfired.

Teachers on the picket line are talking to parents about how you’d want to read a contract for a new home before you signed it – and about how the City Council failed to read the contract that privatized Chicago’s parking meters.

They also recall their experience with SB 7, the bill designed to make school strikes in Chicago impossible.  According to a union attorney at the time, language that “satobtages union bargaining rights” was slipped into the bill at the last minute, after negotiations had been concluded.

And of course they recall the 4 percent raise rescinded based on an obscure contract provision last year – while CPS voluntarily stepped up payments to city agencies by tens of millions of dollars.

“CPS’s spur-of-the-moment decision to seek injunctive relief … appears to be a vindictive act instigated by the mayor,” reads a statement from the union.  “This attempt to thwart our democratic process is consistent with Mayor Emanuel’s bullying behavior toward public school educators.”

From the Chicago Teachers Solidarity Campaign: “The delegates and members of the CTU have a democratic right and a civic responsibility to review the terms of the tentative contract agreement thoroughly before signing it.”

The Chicago Tribune argues that teachers aren’t going to get a better contract.  But that’s impossible to say. They’re not going to get a worse one, though the Trib may wish for it. There could be technical glitches that need to be corrected.  And there could be matters where union leaders have to go back and try for more.

Given reported problems with implementing the interim agreement to staff the longer day in Track E schools – not to mention reports of 100 or more school closings in the works – teachers certainly want to take a hard look at the specific language of job security provisions.  (The Emanuel administration’s taunts about school closings – a gratuitous act of one-upmanship – also helped bring these concerns to the fore, Fred Klonsky suggests.)

Emanuel’s move confirms the Tribune’s recent analysis – the mayor’s approach to the teachers’ contract has suffered from the fact that his tactical repertoire is limited to attack mode, and also from his and his advisers’ lack of experience with collective bargaining.

To me it seems more like a p.r. tactic than a legal strategy – does he really want to put Karen Lewis in jail?  (During the Pullman strike in 1894, Grover Cleveland put Eugene Debs in jail – and John Peter Altgeld made sure Cleveland was never nominated for president again.)

For many teachers it boils down once again to respect – respect for the negotiating process, respect for the democratic processes of the union, respect for the legitimate concerns of teachers – respect they have found consistently lacking from the mayor.

It’s also about trust:  Teachers don’t trust CPS, a sentiment they share with many parents.  Indeed, CPS doesn’t seem to be an institution that fosters trust within itself, starting at the top: Emanuel clearly doesn’t trust his schools chief.

It seems clear that teachers trust CTU leadership including Karen Lewis.  Part of the reason is that the leadership trusts its members, and when they say they want to look the contract over before agreeing to it, they have a right to do that.

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Teachers demand respect http://www.newstips.org/2012/09/teachers-demand-respect/ http://www.newstips.org/2012/09/teachers-demand-respect/#comments Mon, 17 Sep 2012 23:54:57 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=6647 Entirely aside from what the school strike has revealed about Mayor Emanuel’s executive incompetence – or how he intends to spin the eventual outcome – and far more important, there are several layers of historic significance to the teachers’ fight.

Here are three:  it’s marshalled broad popular support in a period when public-sector unions are under assault on many fronts; it’s dramatized and exposed the costs and compromises of the corporate school reform agenda; and – particularly going forward, as the outcome unfolds – it represents a signal battle in the fight against the austerity agenda of the world’s elites.

They’re also teaching us about an old-fashioned value that we may hope is not yet out of date: respect.

The Chicago Tribune actually editorialized that the teachers were on the wrong side of history, fighting the inevitability of corporate reform.  On any given day, the editors could have looked out their window and seen the streets filled with multitudes of red-shirted teachers who were actually making history.

Unhinged

The paper seemed to become unhinged after its pet cause of merit pay was abandoned as Emanuel sought to avoid a strike.  (That may have been the most startling revelation in the paper’s behind-the-scenes report – that the mayor actually feared a strike.  For a whole year it had seemed clear that he was actively courting one.)

First the Trib came out for vouchers.  That’s the reformer’s nuclear option: if they can’t run schools without interference from anyone else, they’ll blow up the public education system.  Then, as negotiations began to progress, they actually called on Emanuel to withdraw the latest CPS salary proposal and go back to merit pay – no matter how long it took.  All that concern for children out of school was apparently just for show.

Then they ran an utterly insulting op-ed by Bruce Rauner, Emanuel’s billionaire buddy who dabbles in school reform.  While negotiators were trying to find common ground, Rauner and the Tribune was busy pouring gasoline on the flames.

As if that wasn’t enough, the paper then gave us an endorsement of Emanuel and denunciation of the union by none other than Jeb Bush, a major proponent of charters and of online learning – which, as Mother Jones notes, “siphons money from public institutions into for-profit companies” while it “undercuts public employees [and] their unions.”  Like charters.  (Problem is, also like charters, “many online schools simply aren’t very good.”)

Maybe they thought this demonstrated “bipartisan” support for their agenda, but for a mayor forced to shrug off a full-throated endorsement by Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan, a shout-out by the brother of America’s worst president had to be a major embarrassment.

Who needs unions?

There is indeed history being made here, but its final chapter is yet to be written.

Over the past generation, private-sector unionism has been decimated, starting with the Reagan administration’s approval for replacement workers in strikes, and especially with the passage of NAFTA, one of Mayor Emanuel’s signal achievements. (And much as he likes to brag about saving the auto industry, he helped destroy hundreds of thousands of American manufacturing jobs by pushing NAFTA through a reluctant Congress.)

That’s led to an economy where corporate profits soar and the middle class sinks; de-unionization is a key factor in the dramatic growth of inequality since 1980 and the economic stagnation that’s caused.

Public employee unions were only organized in the 1960s (with support from people like Martin Luther King), at a time when public workers made much less than private-sector workers.  Now the situation is reversed, and business leaders see a chance to destroy collective bargaining – and unions as a political counterweight to corporate dominance — once and for all.

Teachers and other public workers are under the gun across the country.  Last year they made a heroic stand in Wisconsin but were unable to overcome the influence of big money, which sought to stir up resentment among regular folks who’ve seen their standard of living tumble.

Democrats against unions

In Chicago teachers confronted an all-out attack by Emanuel, who has campaigned against them since returning here.  His stated goals of closing neighborhood schools and opening charters are clearly aimed at reducing the number of unionized teachers.  And teachers saw a similar motivation behind CPS’s evaluation proposals.

The anti-union animus is clear in some of Emanuel’s major supporters.  Take Democrats For Education Reform, founded by billionaire hedge-fund traders.

“The financial titans, who tend to send their children to private schools, would not seem to be a natural champion of charter schools, which are principally aimed at poor, minority students,” notes the New York Times in an article on DEFR.

“But the money managers are drawn to the businesslike way in which many charter schools are run; their focus on results, primarily measured by test scores; and, not least, their union-free work environments.”

Then there’s Penny Pritzker, the billionaire heiress appointed to the school board by Emanuel, whose family’s Hyatt Hotels face a worldwide boycott due to anti-union practices — among them, replacing union members with minimum-wage temps.

In the face of all this, the Chicago Teachers Union have given the nation a remarkable display of unity, solidarity, and militancy.  They gave Emanuel a very public drubbing. And they’ve brought a new level of unity for all city workers, whose unions have been nibbled away bit by bit by Emanuel for the past year.

Two visions of school reform

The strike also puts two visions of school reform in sharp relief.  As Diane Ravitch delineates, on one side are the billionaires pushing for school closings, charters, and cracking down on teachers.  On the other are teachers and parents opposing the disinvest-and-close approach and demanding investments in smaller classes, social workers, and air conditioning (which Emanuel, in attack mode, ridiculed).

There’s history here too:  as CTU points out, the so-called “accountability” movement (driven as Mark Naison demonstrates by an entirely irrelevant business ethos) superceded an earlier era of reform based on the values of the civil rights movement – equality, inclusiveness, democracy, and public services to alleviate the impact of poverty.

Throughout the 1970s and ’80s, the black-white achievement gap shrank.   As Jitu Brown of KOCO pointed out at Saturday’s rally, that progress has been reversed under mayoral control, under which that gap has steadily grown.

One accomplishment of the strike was to bring parents and community groups out to support teachers around a common agenda.  Not only on the picket lines and in the mass demonstrations, but in the opinion polls too.   As Emanuel moves next to close neighborhood schools and open charters, will that unity and energy keep pace?

Respect

At Saturday’s rally (which was amazing), I was struck by the deeper significance of a few of teachers’ slogans.  Especially the demand for “respect.”  You heard it again and again.  And yes, it refers to the way Emanuel and the Tribune and Bruce Rauner and Jeb Bush talk about teachers.

But it’s also about how teachers are treated, and how teaching is treated as a profession.  I ran into an old friend, Josh, who’s spent years in classrooms, most recently teaching social studies, first in a selective enrollment high school, then in an inner-city neighborhood high school.

The contrast was striking, he said.  The first school had plenty of everything – including basic things like books, enough textbooks for every student.  At the second school, kids had to share textbooks or teachers had to prepare their own materials.

The first school’s building was well-maintained and fully air-conditioned; the second school was run down, and only the principal’s office was air-conditioned.  (That’s how it is in many schools listed as air-conditioned by CPS.)

“That’s something that’ll piss a kid off – that’ll piss anybody off,” said Josh.  “The principal’s all comfy and the rest of the school is a heatbox.”

At the second school, kids were dealing with all kinds of issues, every day – getting arrested, getting pregnant, the gamut.  In one section something like 14 out of 18 girls were expecting or new mothers.

The reformers view students more or less like sliders at a fast-food joint, he said – how many can you flip and how fast can you flip them.  But each one is completely different from the next one.  Not only that, each one is different from how they were three months ago.

Since social studies isn’t a tested subject, he was told to work on their reading, an area in which he has no background; he split the difference, teaching them how to examine a primary document – often going over it word by word – and how to think about those kinds of things more deeply.

He worked hard with them and was gratified every time a kid got something.  It wasn’t easy.  The small victories come one student at a time, with hard work.

Then enrollment dropped and his position was terminated.  He spent a year as a cadre sub.  Now he’s day-to-day, with no benefits.  He was really interested in the proposed contract’s job security provisions.

High schools aren’t hiring middle-aged teachers, he said.  Principals want young teachers.  It’s basically because they’re cheaper, Josh says, but it’s also because they’re easier to shape.

The schools don’t want teachers who came up with those civil rights values.  If they get teachers young, the new way of doing things, with its focus on test scores, will be the only framework they know.

And I look at this guy, who’s so sharp, so dedicated, who is exactly the kind of person you would want teaching your child.  And there’s no place for him, because some politicians and business people have decided that the thing to do is destroy the teaching profession.

That’s disrespect on a level far more profound than the kind of language that’s used.

I hope the new contract provides real hope for this kind of teacher.

At the rally, Che “Rhymefest” Smith recalled a science teacher who tried to convince him to buckle down and graduate (while the principal discouraged him) — who signed him up for an alternative school when he dropped out, who later helped him fill out college applications.  “I’ll never forget Ms. Harris,” he said.

“I realized that the system had failed me and the only person trying to get me back in the game was this teacher,” he said.  “Truly I see a system that’s not only failing the children but failing the teachers too.”

Let’s remember Ms. Harris.  And please, let’s give her some respect.

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On teacher evaluation, a teacher’s perspective http://www.newstips.org/2012/09/on-teacher-evaluation-a-teachers-perspective/ http://www.newstips.org/2012/09/on-teacher-evaluation-a-teachers-perspective/#comments Thu, 13 Sep 2012 22:09:50 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=6630 Teacher evaluation — based partly on students’ standardized test scores — has emerged as one of the key issues in the school strike, a “dramatic illustration of the national debate on how public school districts should rate teachers,” according to the New York Times.

But teacher voices and teacher perspectives have been largely missing from the public debate.  You may have gotten the impression that teachers oppose being evaluated altogether.

That’s not the case, said Bill Lamme, a social studies teacher at Kelly High School and part of a CPS-CTU committee that negotiated over a new evaluation system earlier this year.

“I’m an advocate for the idea that teachers unions need to protect teaching,” he said.  He wants an evaluation system “that helps teachers identify deficiences in their teaching and helps them improve.”

He just doesn’t think that’s the purpose – or the motive – behind the system proposed by CPS.

New system

Two years ago a state law mandated new teacher evaluation systems throughout the state.  CPS pushed hard for separate provisions for Chicago:  instead of launching a new system by 2016, as other districts are required to do, CPS must — under provisions it advocated — do so this year.

And while other districts are mandated to negotiate with teachers representations for 180 days – and to use a state-designed evaluation template if they fail to reach an agreement – CPS was required to negotiate for only 90 days. And if no agreement was reached, CPS was entitled to implement its own proposal.

“That doesn’t set the stage for serious negotiations,” Lamme said.  Still, teachers met with representatives of the administration, and won some minor adjustments, he said.  “Basically they had their plan, and they weren’t very receptive to our larger, more substantive objections.”

Those center in particular on the use of statistical programs to measure “value added” based the scores a teacher’s students get on a standardized test.

Bogus

Those tests “are not designed for that purpose,” Lamme said.  “They do not have statistical reliability.  Teachers can be at the top one year and the bottom the next year.  They’re methodologically bogus.  They’re not defended by serious scholars in the field.”

They can’t account for the multitude of factors that go into teaching and learning.  “They do not have a good system to compensate for teaching in a difficult school, with high mobility, transient students, poor attendance.  A teacher can be teaching at their best every day, but the kids aren’t there every day.”

The Washington Post’s Answer Sheet spells out some of these issues, as does the local network of education researchers, CReATE.  As they show, researchers say that while value-added can account for the effectiveness of larger groups, they are ureliable at measuring individual teachers’ performances.  And research has proven that value-added measurements penalize teachers in low-income communities, teachers with special ed or English-learning students.

That will drive better teachers out of challenging schools in high-poverty communities, where scores are lower.  “That’s not what we need to improve education in this city,” Lamme comments.

(CReATE also points out that, with all the new initiatives taking place in CPS this year, including a new curriculum and a longer day, it makes sense to pilot a new evaluation program rather than rolling it out full-blown — particularly since it will require training administrators and testing them to make sure they know what they’re doing.)

Higher-order

For teachers in non-tested subjects, their “student performance” measure will be based on a school-wide literacy score.  “That’s an even less fair measure,” said Lamme.

The state law requires a range of measures for evaluating teachers, and the proper mix – and their proper weighting – is also a concern.  While the law requires 30 percent of a teacher’s evaluation be based on student performance, CPS is pushing for more.  (Another major part of the evaluation system uses classroom observers to rate teacher practice and performance under a model Lamme said “is valid and a useful tool.”)

The CPS proposal to measure student growth also includes a component of what’s called “performance tasks” – more complex measures of higher-order learning.

“In Social Studies, you’d have them read some primary documents and write a paragraph,” said Lamme.  “This is a fair test of the kind of teaching we ought to be doing and we are doing.”

If it were up to him, he’d use these kinds of measures for student growth.  The union is pushing to maximize their weight in the overall evaluation.

CPS agenda

Another concern was CPS’s method for ranking teachers.  Instead of splitting up the possible 300 points into four equal groups – from “excellent” to “unsatisfactory” – the administration “made the lower categories much larger than the higher categories,” Lamme said.  Teachers showed CPS that teachers with “proficient” ratings across the board would end up with an “unsatisfactory” rating under this approach.

For Lamme, “that’s a strong indicator of what CPS’s agenda has been through different mayors and administrators over the past decade and what it continues to be – and that is to get rid of experienced teachers, in spite of the fact that they may be effective teachers.”  He’s afraid that’s what CPS hopes to accomplish with this new system.

He points to the district’s “turnarounds,” where all teachers (and all personnel) in a school building are fired and allowed to reapply, with few if any rehired, regardless of their record and qualifications.  “That simply is not fair.”

Many of his colleagues think this agenda is driven by economics, since new teachers cost less than veterans.  Lamme thinks it’s something else: that new teachers could be more pliable than experienced ones, who’ve been through a series of the “very questionable and faddish” curricular and instructional programs constantly being introduced by CPS.

Other issues Lamme raises are a fair appeals process and effective professional development and mentoring for teachers with low ratings.

What about student surveys of teachers?  CPS is proposing using these for 10 percent of a teacher’s rating.  CTU is meeting with the district to devise and pilot student surveys this year, Lamme said.

“There’s a mixed attitude among teachers,” he said.  “Some think it’s not a good idea, that it will turn teaching into a popularity contest. that teachers will be nicer to students in order to get better results.  Some teachers believe good teaching calls for more strictness, and some students don’t appreciate that.”

Lamme supports the idea.  “I think it encourages students to be less passive about their education and helps them own their education in a significant way.”

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Perspectives on the teachers contract talks http://www.newstips.org/2012/08/perspectives-on-the-teachers-contract-talks/ http://www.newstips.org/2012/08/perspectives-on-the-teachers-contract-talks/#comments Wed, 22 Aug 2012 21:20:12 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=6571 As everyone gears up for a new school year (or maybe not), here are a few extra-credit readings that illuminate issues in Chicago’s drive for school reform – and in contract talks under way with Chicago’s teachers.

In the Sun-Times, Lauren Fitzpatrick looks in depth at the success of Spencer Elementary Technology Academy, a high-poverty, neighborhood school in Austin, a community beset by unemployment and violence.

The school is trending up under the inspiring leadership of a home-grown principal, Shawn Jackson, who’s focused on involving parents with his own version of a community school: “parent scholars” who volunteer in classes along with a parent center featuring GED and computer classes and job search help for parents.  There’s a strong sense of teamwork here, and “teachers are trusted” and given autonomy to find the best ways to get material across.

While it has a ways to go, the school fits the profile of 33 high-poverty elementary schools performing above the citywide average identified in a report by Designs for Change earlier this year (more here).

High-poverty, high-achieving

These schools have school-based democracy – local school councils selecting principals and approving school plans and budgets – and supportive teamwork involving parents, teachers, and the community.  They out-perform all of the city’s “turnaround” schools, even those in place now for four and five years – and they do so without the millions of extra dollars each turnaround gets.  (Spencer, which lacks an art program and a decent gym, does better than all but three turnarounds.)

While turnarounds have gotten extensive media coverage,  high-poverty, high-achieving schools have been largely ignored, according to Designs; thus the Sun-Times is due special commendation for this report.

Designs proposes the extra money now going to turnarounds be shifted to allow these high-performing neighborhood schools become resources for other schools.

There’s the hypocrisy of the claim by Mayor Emanuel and his CPS minions that they have to close neighborhood schools and open charters because “we can’t wait” to offer a high-quality education to every child in the district.

It’s a non sequitur: they’re opening twenty charters and ten turnarounds a year, and diverting resources from the neighborhood schools that the vast majority of students actually attend in order to do so.   These students’ education is being sacrificed to fund experiments which increasingly appear to be unsuccessful.

According to the New York Times Magazine‘s look at extreme poverty this weekend, Austin is the kind of neighborhood where repeated school reform initiatives have utterly failed.  (The article looks at the work in Roseland of Youth Advocate Programs, which CPS is now defunding, another turn in the administration’s revolving door of new strategies.)

A kindergarten teacher knows

The number of children living in extreme poverty has grown dramatically in recent decades, and children in areas where it’s concentrated face major challenges, often including community and family dysfunction.  Neuroscientists and developmental psychologists study the way early stress and trauma and family difficulties inhibit brain development and cognitive skills.

But “you don’t need a neuroscientist to explain the effects of a childhood spent in deep poverty,” writes Paul Tough. “Your average kindergarten teacher in a high-poverty neighborhood can tell you: children who grow up in especially difficult circumstances are much more likely to have trouble controlling their impulses in school, getting along with classmates and following instructions.

“Intensive early interventions can make a big difference, but without that extra help, students from the poorest homes usually fall behind in school early on, and they rarely catch up. When you cluster lots of children with impulse-control issues together in a single classroom, it becomes harder for teachers to teach and for students to learn.

“And when these same children reach adolescence — unless someone like [YAP’s] Steve Gates has managed to intervene — they are more likely to become a danger to themselves, to each other and to their community.”

Here’s where the CTU’s contract demands for expanded social services and smaller classes  – detailed in a report issued as negotiations were getting under way (more here) – come into play.

CTU proposed bringing the woefully inadequate number of social workers, counselors, and psychologists up to national standards, starting with schools on probation.  Noting research showing that smaller classes are particularly important for low-income children in the earliest grades, the union proposed reducing K-3 class size from 28 to 20.

That would cost a lot – about equal to what CPS spends on developing new charters and turnarounds.  But it would be a real step to helping every student succeed.

We may know more soon, but we can infer from the lack of progress in contract talks – including the large gap in salary proposals, where compromise might be possible if other issues were negotiated — that CPS isn’t moving much in these areas.

We do know that in his previous position heading Rochester’s schools, CPS chief Jean-Claude Brizard increased class sizes; fired hundreds of art, music, gym and language teachers; eliminated art, music, or library programs in many schools; and heavily cut counselors and special ed teachers.  Rochester’s new superintendent has begun restoring the positions, so more students can have access to electives.

Brizard and Broad

Of course, Brizard is a graduate of the Broad Superintendent Academy, which promotes larger class sizes along with school closings, high-stakes testing, merit pay, and charter schools.

In Detroit, a Broad academy alumnus successfully proposed raising class sizes to 61 in high schools.  (It turned out that the Broadie, Robert Bobb, the city’s emergency manager for the past two years, received a $145,000 bonus from the Broad Foundation on top of his $280,000 salary.)

But as PURE and Parents Across America note, in his latest weekly address President Obama decried the loss of 300,000 education jobs in the U.S. since 2009, cuts which “force our kids into crowded classrooms.”

“While average class size has decreased statewide over the last ten years, it has increased in [Chicago’s] public schools,” commented Becky Malone of the 19th Ward parents. “This is simply unacceptable if we are going to provide equitable learning conditions to all children, but especially our most at-risk students who need small classes the most.”

In Mother Jones this month, Krintina Rizga “embeds” in a “failing school” in San Francisco and offers a fascinating account of the growth of standardized testing and its impact on struggling students.

Maria is a Salvadoran immigrant who’s escaped the violence she grew up with, and at Mission High School, finds dedicated and creative teachers under whom she blossoms.  She’s done research papers ranging from the popularity of Latin dance in the U.S. in the 1920s to the defeat of Reconstruction to equal access to education (she discovers a 1946 case brought by Latino parents that laid the groundwork for Brown v. Board of Education); she talks with her favorite teacher every day about her work.

And we sit with her as she struggles through a practice state exam – the test that will help decide whether her school is sanctioned as “failing” – and see how she gets nearly every answer wrong.  I don’t know the right answer to the question she ponders in the article.  Do you?

Here we come to another big issue in the contract talks: CPS’s plan to base teacher pay on student performance on standardized tests.  CTU is strenuously opposed to this idea; this could be one of the big issues.  (Under a new law, CPS can unilaterally implement its plan, but if the administration wants a contract, it will negotiate on this issue.)

As the Tribune reported in March, 88 education professors at 15 local universities associated with CReATE wrote Brizard warning him that methods of measuring teacher performance based on standardized tests are statistically unreliable and will have a detrimental impact on classroom instruction.

Schools Matter has pointed out that, since standardized tests now measure only reading and math, the new evaluation system will require a whole series of new tests – as many as eight more a year, probably costing tens of millions of dollars, not to mention class time and an increased focus on test preparation.

Punishing success

Last year Colorlines looked at standardized testing, telling the story of a high school student in East LA whose grades dropped when he went into depression amid a family crisis.  Teachers rallied to support him and got him through the year; he didn’t drop out, he passed his tests, barely.

But his scores went down – and under the proposed system, they would be penalized for all that work, for that heroic success of saving a student from the streets.  Indeed, they would be incentivized to let him go.

Fordham professor Mark Naison explained the thinking of the business leaders –like his tennis partners — who are pushing school reform in an opinion piece in the Sun Times last month (it’s available here).  “The only things they take seriously as motivation are material rewards and fear of losing one’s job or business.

“They are convinced that schools in the U.S. can be improved only if a business-style reward-and-punishment system is given primacy.  They love the idea of performance evaluation based on hard data (with student test scores being the equivalent of sales figures and/or profits), of merit increments for those who succeed and the removal of those who fail.”

They don’t understand teaching or learning, he explains.  And their approach is demoralizing teachers and driving the better ones out of high-poverty schools, where scores are lower.

“The Great Recession should have shattered once and for all the idea that the measurement and motivation systems of American business are superior to those in the public sector,” he argues.

“Do we really want the same quality of teacher ratings as Moody’s and Standard and Poor’s applied to mortgage-based derivatives?”

“I have seen about twenty rounds of classroom reform in my teaching career,” Maria’s history teacher, Robert Roth, tells Mother Jones.  “You know what I haven’t seen?  Serious dialogue with teachers, students, and parents.  They can identify successful teaching, but they are rarely a part of the discussion.”

Let’s hope there’s some serious discussion about these issues in Chicago this week.

 

An earlier version had an incorrect identification of Mark Naison.

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It’s Rahm’s strike http://www.newstips.org/2012/07/its-rahms-strike/ http://www.newstips.org/2012/07/its-rahms-strike/#comments Sun, 22 Jul 2012 23:03:11 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=6473 If there’s a teacher’s strike in Chicago this fall, it will be the result of Rahm Emanuel’s approach to implementing the longer school day.

And the simplest – and perhaps only – way to avert a strike will require Emanuel to take another look at the plan.

That’s the clear implication of the fact-finder’s report issued last week by mediator Edwin Benn (and rejected by CPS and the CTU).

Emanuel isn’t mentioned by name in Benn’s report, but since he controls the school board, every option Benn outlines for the board is one that will ultimately be decided by Emanuel.

In comments on the report, the mayor did not seem inclined to consider its suggestions for settling the dispute.

According to Benn, the board “has a very straightforward option” to reduce the monetary impact of recommendations to pay teachers for the longer day and year, which he calls “the major flashpoint” of the dispute: it “can simply reduce the length of the school day and/or the school year from its stated expansion.”

Although the media has downplayed this dynamic – and the Chicago Tribune has editorialized against compromising on the longer day (or on charter expansion) — parent groups involved in the issue are picking up on it.

Can we afford it?

In an analysis of the fact-finding report, Raise Your Hand points to the longstanding failure to address school funding issues and says, “RYH does not believe we can afford a seven-hour day that comes with a 14.5 percent raise at this time.

“A 6.5-hour day that works by moving the teacher lunch [break] to the middle of the day would be affordable,” RYH argues.  “If you can’t afford something, don’t do it.”

A 6.5-hour day “is a ‘full day'” and is in fact the national average, RYH adds.  And “longer or shorter, CPS has still not sufficiently addressed the issues of quality in the school day – class size, fine and performing arts, violence prevention, foreign language, physical education, etc.”

Finally, “until we get real about the state of education funding and do something to change it, we won’t make real improvements in the school day.”

Before this, RYH has called for including parents in planning and for focusing on the quality of schooling, but hasn’t taken a position on the optimal length of the day.  Other groups including 6.5 To Thrive and the 19th Ward Parents have called for expanding the school day to 6.5 hours in elementary schools.

(In high schools – despite Emanuel’s announcement that he would scale back the longer day to seven hours — he’s still planning to expand the day from 6 hours and 45 minutes to 7.5 hours.  He’s also adding ten days to the school year.)

Expanding the day to 6.5 hours is essentially a no-cost option, since it involves shifting teachers’ lunch break and adding recess for students.  Staffing lunch and recess would still be an issue – an issue CPS has yet to seriously address – and the extra days would still be a factor.

6.5 To Thrive argues that a seven-hour day is too much for kids – “children need school-life balance” – and that the quality and content of learning is at least as important.

“It’s really about resources and quality,” said Tracy Baldwin of 6.5.  “It’s about quality, not quantity.”

Top scores at 6.5-hour schools

While CPS (along with the Tribune) touts the marginally-higher gains of Pioneer Schools that adopted the 7.5-hour day last year – despite highly mixed results; half of the 12 schools actually performed worse than the CPS average – Baldwin shared data showing that last year, 12 CPS neighborhood schools with 6.5-hour days far outperformed 24 charter schools with days ranging from 7 to 9 hours long.

The 12 schools with 6.5-hour days averaged 90.47 on the ISAT composite – nearly 15 percent higher than the CPS average.  The 24 charters averaged 75.8 percent – just 0.2 points above the average. And again, half of the longer-day schools scored below the CPS average.

KIPP Ascend, with a nine-hour day (from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.) scored nearly 5 points below the CPS average.  The school has a level 3 performance rating – not making adequate progress.  If it weren’t a charter school, it would be on probation.

[Now KIPP is getting a second campus — with a $13 million renovation — while better-performing schools in the area crumble.]

That backs up national studies that show the content and quality of schooling has much more impact than the length of the day, Baldwin said.  She says she’s heard from Pioneer School parents that “children can’t handle all that time in school – there were a lot of behavior issues.”

Pointing to statements by CPS officials about the need to focus on new common core standards, Baldwin worries that the additional time will be spent on test preparation – the opposite direction from the richer curriculum desired by parents.

The 19th Ward Parents share that concern, said Maureen Cullnan.  She’s especially concerned the longer day will open the door to for-profit companies selling computerized test prep programs to school districts.

She’s heard from school administrators that CPS plans to use the longer day for computerized test prep.  She stresses support for what’s called “blended learning” by the Gates Foundation, always a weathervane for the flavor of the month in the corporate reform movement.

Two months on test prep

If CPS wants more instructional time, one place to start would be reducing standardized testing and time spent on test prep, Cullnan said.  She said in her daughter’s 8th grade class, “when they got back from winter break they started doing test prep instead of language arts” and continued until the ISATs in March – more than two full months.

But with common core standards and a new teacher evaluation system based on student scores, CPS continues to increase standardized tests.

CPS could also save some of the millions of dollars spent on standardized tests, Cullnan said.

Emanuel responded to Benn’s report saying it wasn’t “tethered to reality.”  What he meant was that it proposed a salary increase – between 14 and 18 percent in the first year, largely to compensate for the longer work schedule – that CPS can’t afford.

In fact the report is firmly anchored in a complex reality. It explicitly acknowledges that CPS can’t afford the raises to pay for the longer school day and year, and points out that the school board has the option of adjusting the proposed schedule.

Under state labor law the mediator must consider a range of factors “as applicable,” including the district’s financial situation, prior collective bargaining agreements, and the cost of living.

Benn accepts the board’s budget projections, and he takes into account the board’s argument that it’s already paid for the additional hours and days with 4 percent annual raises in the previous contract.  He reduces the salary recommendation by the amount teachers gained over the cost of living in the previous contract, which went into effect just before the economy tanked.

Something for nothing

But the board can’t extend working hours by 20 percent and expect teachers “to effectively work the additional hours for free or without fair compensation,” he said, noting the long hours teachers work outside of class time.

It turns out that, according to Benn, it is Emanuel who is not tethered to reality, thinking he could extend the school day without paying for it.  “The board cannot expect much weight, if any, to be given to a budget deficit argument to defeat the recommendation for additional compensation…when the board created the problem by unilaterally implementing the longer school day and year to the extent it has.”

This makes sense to parents.  “We believe teachers should be compensated for their time,” said Christine McGovern of 19th Ward Parents.

“Our state doesn’t have the money and our city certainly doesn’t have the money,” said Baldwin.  “We can’t do something that we can’t afford.  I want a bigger house, but I can’t afford it.  Does that mean I’m entitled to it?

“In our state and in our city we are in debt because of decisions like this, adding on programs that we can’t afford,” she said.  “It’s so irresponsible.  As a parent, as a taxpayer, it makes me mad.”

[From Catalyst:  “(CPS) chief administrative officer Tim Cawley gave an overview of the budget and was asked if the district would be willing to scale back the longer, seven-houur day given its fiscal crisis.  Cawley said no, saying district officials believe that the longer day is the ‘right thing’ to do for students….(Board president David) Vitale said CPS revenue is down this year and will decrease again next year.”]

For its part, CTU has indicated flexibility on economic issues if it can get some consideration on classroom issues.  With school closings and turnarounds costing hundreds of experienced teachers their jobs every year, job security is also a key issue.  CTU wants laid-off teachers to have first crack at new positions.

If CPS wants to avoid a strike, it will offer something on this.  So far it hasn’t.

“At this point it’s not clear what we’re negotiating with,” said Xian Barrett, a teacher who’s active with the Caucus of Rank and File Educators.  “[CPS doesn’t] want to give up anything, they don’t want to pay for anything.”

The parents’ experience with this issue – in which their concerns about the quality of the school day and about resources to back it up have been roundly ignored – have led them all to take up the current campaign for an elected school board.

Raise Your Hand, 19th Ward Parents, and 6.5 To Thrive are all working with Communities Organized for Democracy in Education on petition drives to get an advisory referendum calling for an elected board on the ballot in precincts across the city in November.  They’ve also won support for the referendum from several aldermen.

McGovern said they’re finding support for the campaign among neighborhood residents – particularly since CPS released a budget that drained its reserve fund.  “So many people are just shocked at that budget,” she said.

“Parents are not at the table on decisions,” said Baldwin.  “We have all these rich corporate people coming in saying we want to make changes, and they just bulldoze things through.”

She adds: “I don’t want to be protesting and petitioning, but they don’t give us any other option.”

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In contract talks, teachers challenge CPS priorities http://www.newstips.org/2012/07/in-contract-talks-teachers-challenge-cps-priorities/ http://www.newstips.org/2012/07/in-contract-talks-teachers-challenge-cps-priorities/#comments Sun, 08 Jul 2012 21:05:29 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=6416 Since Chicago teachers voted to authorize a strike last month, contract negotiations “appear to have broadened to include items once thought off the table, possibly including class size,” the Tribune reported recently.

That’s a significant development.  Prior to the strike vote, CPS had reportedly refused to entertain CTU proposals on class size and other issues, including appropriate staffing levels.  The union has proposed providing art, music, and world language teachers for every school, in addition to badly needed counselors, social workers, nurses, and psychologists.

Those are among the key issues that grassroots parent groups have raised, too.  Raise Your Hand has called on CPS to negotiate over class size and other issues, and Chicago Parents for Quality Education petitioned Mayor Emanuel to address issues like a fuller curriculum and more social supports in planning the longer school day.

By law, CPS is only required to negotiate over economic issues.  In the past the district has agreed to consider these optional classroom topics; this year, it took a strike authorization vote to force them to do so.

It’s a setback for the agenda of corporate reform groups like Stand For Children and Democrats For Education Reform, which as Ramsin Canon points out have no real popular base here but outsized influence due to huge bankrolls.  They opposed the strike vote.

Smaller class sizes: for and against

Classroom issues do not appear to be on the agenda of these groups.  As Erica Clark of Parents For Teachers pointed out here in February, they never talk about the issues that matter to parents – class size, curriculum, less standardized testing – but focus solely on trimming collective bargaining rights and increasing testing in the name of “accountability.”  If you want a better curriculum or better facilities, you can try to send your kid to a charter school.

The issue of class size is revealing.  In forums earlier this year, SFC said the issue wasn’t a priority for them.  In fact, most corporate reformers follow Bill Gates, who has called for lifting limits on class sizes.

For them the problem isn’t large classes or underresourced schools, it’s bad teachers.  If you could put 60 kids in front of a great teacher, she could work miracles.  Actual teachers, who work with actual students, are skeptical of that view.

In a report issued earlier this year, CTU laid out the choice in clear terms.

The report reviews the research that consistently shows the difference smaller class sizes make in every measure of student achievement, especially for low-income students.  It’s particularly valuable in the early school years.

No limits

Unlike most states, Illinois has no legal limits on class size.  Chicago has had the same guidelines since 1990, ranging from 28 students in lower grades to 31 in high school.  But they are easy to get around, and many CPS classes are actually far larger; class sizes in the upper 30s are common, and there are kindergarten classes with 40 kids.

In contrast, Florida limits range from 18 to 25 students.  Private schools average 18 students in a class, often fewer in high schools.

CTU estimates it would cost $170 million to lower K-3 class sizes from 28 to 20.  But CPS is broke.  Where to get the money?

It turns out that’s just half the amount budgeted for CPS’s Office of New Schools (now the Portfolio Office), which funds charters and turnarounds.

While CPS is broke and classroom spending has been cut every year, that office has seen its budget steadily grow. It’s growing again this year, with charters getting an additional $76 million.

The union asks: why not shift spending away from unproven and all too often unsuccessful experimentation and fund a widely accepted, research-supported solution, aimed not at a select few but at all students, especially those most in need of help?

No art, no playgrounds

The CTU report looks at other classroom issues given short shrift by corporate reformers.  Like smaller classes, the academic and social benefits of art, music, language and physical education are widely documented.  Those subjects are universally available in suburban and private schools.  Yet only 25 percent of CPS neighborhood elementary schools have both music and art teachers; 40 schools have neither.

In addition, over 20 percent of elementary and middle schools have no playground, and CPS annually receives a waiver from a state mandate requiring four years of physical education in high school.  Then there’s the lack of libraries at 140 CPS schools, the sparsity of language programs, and a lack of “functioning, up-to-date” computers at many neighborhood schools.

CTU estimates it would cost $200 million to hire enough new music, art, phys ed, language and technology teachers to allow each CPS student to have two such classes per day.  That’s less than the amount diverted to TIF subsidies each year.

The numbers of social support staff in the district is shockingly low.  Just 202 nurses serve 684 schools; 370 social workers are available to provide 400,000 students with help, working with kids who are abused, neglected, homeless, or involved with gangs or drugs.  In some schools counselors have five times the caseload recommended under national guidelines.

CTU recommends that “bringing the number of social workers, counselors, nurses, and psychologists up to the numbers recommended by professional organizations” in schools that are on probation would be “a logical first step” for CPS.

The report looks at a range of additional issues – racial segregation, standardized testing, punitive discipline, early education, special education, teacher turnover (especially high, and especially harmful, in low-income schools), as well as salaries and facility spending.

No air conditioning

On facilities, one example is timely: previous to the strike vote, CPS reportedly refused to accept union proposals on air conditioning for all schools.  According to CTU, 90 CPS schools don’t have functioning air conditioning. (And, I’m told, in some schools listed as air conditioned, it’s limited to the principal’s office).

Last week CPS was forced to close 18 schools without AC when temperatures soared.  For teachers it’s both a health and safety issue and an educational issue.  They point to a study by the Council of Educational Facility Planners that found students in air-conditioned buildings outscored their peers by 5 to 10 percent.

But CPS has slashed capital spending while funneling millions of dollars into buildings for turnaround and charter schools.  Six turnaround schools being taken over by AUSL next year are getting $25 million in capital improvements.  (Here’s another case.)

So while CPS pleads poverty — with annual Chicken Little budget projections that more often than not end up in year-end surpluses – there is clearly money in the district’s $6 billion budget for politically favored priorities.

Neighborhood schools just aren’t one of them.  Maybe the contract negotiators can talk about that.

One upshot of the classroom cuts reflecting CPS priorities is that the proportion of total operating funds going to teachers’ salaries has steadily declined, from 48 percent in 2004 to 41 percent in 2010, according to a union analysis.  That’s over a period when teachers got healthy raises, too.

This makes it hard to argue that CPS can only afford a 2 percent raise over the next five years.  But CPS’s credibility on salary issues was seriously damaged last summer when it offered teachers a 2 percent raise to teach longer hours, a day after negotiations concluded over its claim that it couldn’t afford a scheduled pay hike [– and now this].

The CTU report includes a series of proposals for “fair school funding” – real TIF reform, progressive taxation, and a novel idea: a flat tax of 15 percent on capital gains for those with incomes over $200,000.  That could generate $367 million for Chicago schools, the union estimates.

Other states do it.  It’s a lot of money.  What would happen if powerful politicians took up such an initiative in Springfield?

But don’t expect the millionaires and billionaires funding SFC and the hedge fund traders behind DFER to stand up and cheer.  “Fair school funding” doesn’t seem to be a priority for these groups either.

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