Chicago teachers strike


Lots of good things being written about the teachers strike, which quickly made national news—not just because of the size of the district, the third-largest in the country, but because of its broader significance with regards to unions, how local governments are dealing with costs in an age of austerity, and other issues.

* Two good posts by "unprofesora," a charter-school teacher who nevertheless is sympathetic to the Chicago Teachers Union. They're interesting because they bring some personal experience to something I noted last week, and that opponents of the CTU should recognize as a point of tension with regard to teacher hiring and firing:

There were some awful teachers at the only  public school I’ve worked at. (One that comes to mind quickly was a special education teacher who spent most of the period she was supposed to be in class reading magazines in the teachers lounge.) I thought the union protected them. Now I think that the principal allowed them to be awful. That’s not a union issue, that’s a leadership issue.


A fellow teacher once told me something that shifted how I thought about unions. She said that the union is the only support most teachers get. Many don’t feel supported by administrators, parents or students, and certainly not by the public these days. The union is the only thing in a teacher’s corner.

She left CPS for a charter school (and a substantial pay cut), and it's worth reading why. She also touches on another aspect of the teacher-principal relationship: between 2010 and 2012, there was 44 percent turnover among CPS principals.

* The Washington Post's Valerie Strauss takes a long look into the history of and research into the reforms being proposed by CPS, which are—more than pay—at the heart of the conflict with CTU (emphasis hers):

This is not about whether or not you think the union should have called a strike as it did on Monday, but rather about the central problem with the reforms that Emanuel has been advocating: There’s no real proof that they systemically work, and in some cases, there is strong evidence that they may be harmful.

Strauss urges caution on using standarized testing as part of teacher evaluations:

Reformers like Emanuel want to use as a key measure of principal and teacher evaluation the standardized test scores of students, but assessment experts across the country say these tests aren’t designed for this purpose and that it is an invalid evaluation tool.

More skepticism here on standardized testing and teacher evaluations, from Linda Darling-Hammond.

* Tim Furman, a veteran Chicago teacher, points out that low-income fourth-grade students in Chicago did worse on the 2011 NAEP (a well-regarded longitudinal assessment) than their big-city peers, but are average within a few years:

When you look at the 8th-grade scores, our low-income students have caught up with the average score for large cities in general. There  is no significant difference in the reading scores of Chicago 8th-graders at any income level with the scores of 8th-graders in large cities in general.

So the teachers are doing something right, if you asked me. The younger kids come in at a disadvantage for sure, but then, with four more years of school, they're caught up to the average scores of kids in large cities in general. At least according to NAEP.

That same report card suggests Chicago has made substantial gains since 2002 in grade-four education, but only modest ones in the eighth grade. Overall, Chicago lags behind large cities by almost every NAEP metric.


Photograph: Chicago Tribune