Chicago Teachers Strike Roundup, Pt. 5

The end is nigh, but not soon enough to have class this week; how far and which way each side has moved during the negotiations; the specter of vouchers; the balance of teacher negotiations; and more

CTU strike march


(Previously: parts one, two, three, and four, plus CPS salaries in context.)

* The big news is that it’s almost over. No class tomorrow, but deal today?

* Eric Zorn has a PDF of the outstanding issues as of Tuesday. Some of it’s a bit mind-numbing to read, but you can tell that going into yesterday things had quickly moved to being entirely surmountable.

* Greg Hinz has an excellent piece on what’s actually been accomplished in the negotiations: where each side has moved on what topic. Reading between the lines, you can really see the part of the negotiations that narrows down from the larger issues and becomes a tug-of-war over concrete numbers.

The growth measure would start at 25 percent in the first year of the contract, and move to 35 percent by Year 4. That’s less than the 40 percent the school board originally wanted, but more than the 30 percent mandated by state law.

Hinz has more on how the growth measure breaks down into its component parts.

* In November, Catalyst’s Sarah Karp wrote an in-depth piece on teacher evaluation and the early dialogue between CPS and the CTU on it, which gets into the complexities of designing a system that combines both testing and subjective evaluation:

Across almost all of the Danielson Framework components, teachers with the lowest ratings had the lowest value-added test scores and those scores increased as the teacher’s rating increased, according to the report.

But this pattern didn’t hold true in all instances. For reading and math scores, the pattern did not hold in the areas of “creating an environment of respect and rapport.” For math scores, the patten did not hold true for “managing classroom procedures” and “organizing physical space.” (Researchers note that few principals gave teachers low marks in these areas.)

The report that inspired Karp’s piece is here, and it explains a lot about why virtually every teacher in the city was given a satisfactory or higher rating:

The traditional teacher evaluation system has been used by CPS for 30 years. Using an observation checklist, principals rate teacher performance in a number of areas as a strength, a weakness, or does not apply. The checklist does not include a definition of a strength or weakness…. At the end of each school year, principals provide teachers with a final performance evaluation rating—though there was no official guidance on how the observation checklist, or other evidence about teacher practice, related to that final rating.

An example of the Danielson Framework shows how it brings necessary context to the evaluations:

Charlotte Danielson framework

It’s an interesting system: teachers are evaluated by both the principal and an outside observer, i.e. a knowledgeable one and an independent one. But it is just a tool, so its effectiveness is still based on the experience and quality of personnel. One case study failed:

Teachers perceived that the principal’s leadership capacity and knowledge of instructional practice was limited. The principal herself admitted that this kept her from being able to deeply understand and use the Danielson Framework. Teachers became disenchanted and frustrated as they realized the Framework would not be used in a deep way.

PERA (the law which requires Chicago, and subsequently other Illinois districts, to implement student-growth evaluations) also requires principals to be evaluated by similar standards, including the growth of ISAT scores, ISAT attainment measures, and attendance.

* John Kass visits Leo, a South Side all-boys Catholic school that graduates all its students and sends them all to college:

At Leo there are 15 students in a classroom. There are only 160 students in all. Tuition is set at $7,500, but that’s just a number. The unofficial motto is that everybody gets something, but nobody gets everything.

(FWIW, one thing the union wants is smaller class sizes.) Kass suggests implementing vouchers to get kids out of CPS and into schools like Leo. But there’s an issue he elides: students whose parents send them to Leo are making a choice, and with choice comes engagement—a desire for their children to succeed.

Rajashri Chakrabarti, an economist at the New York Fed, looked at a voucher program in Milwaukee and asked an intuitive question: what sort of parents take advantage of vouchers? Are they rich? Are they educated? What he found was a common conclusion (emphasis mine):

The Milwaukee voucher program is characterized by both random private school selection and the absence of topping up of vouchers. In the context of an equilibrium model of household behavior, the paper argues that random private school selection alone cannot preclude sorting by income and ability. However, random private school selection coupled with the absence of topping up can obviate sorting by income, but not sorting by ability.

What does he mean by ability?

Mother’s education of the choice applicants is considerably higher than that of the non-applicants and the difference is statistically significant. Consistent with this, the proportion of mothers in the lower levels of education is much lower and the proportion in the higher levels much higher for the applicants and these differences are statistically significant. The picture is similar for the other ability measures. In terms of the number of times the parents contact the child’s school on a variety of issues, time spent with the child in different activities (like reading, math, writing, sports etc.), educational expectations for the child, proportion of parents participating in various parent-teacher activities, the applicants score considerably higher than the non-applicants and these differences are always statistically significant.

This doesn’t obviate all arguments for vouchers—one could argue that the children of parents who care, and who are thus more likely to succeed, should have the option of going to a school surrounded by kids like them (there are already magnet schools, but not many). One could argue that a diversity of pedagogical models (like all-male and/or Catholic) betters serves students who may learn better outside the public-school model, though these have to be balanced with the effect of a brain-drain from CPS. But it doesn’t solve the toughest dilemma of universal education: how to educate students of low ability and low parental engagement. Leo may guide its students well, but it also serves students who are much more likely to accept that guidance.


Photograph: Chicago Tribune



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