Tuesday, September 11, 2012

What goes on in Chicago doesn’t stay in Chicago: Teachers Strike Against Obama Education Policies

My first column of the school year for The Wave (www.rockawave.com), the weekly community newspaper of Rockaway, now 119 years old. I was going to do "What I Did on My Summer Vacation" by recycling something I wrote in the 5th grade but this little Chicago thingie got in the way. One thing about writing for a different audience than reads this blog is that they are probably not really in touch with the Chicago story other than what they hear in a biased press. So I had to rethink the Chicago story from a different perspective. It will appear in this Friday's print edition.

What goes on in Chicago doesn’t stay in Chicago: Teachers Strike Against Obama Education Policies

Updated: Sept. 11, 4PM

By Norm Scott
September 11, 2012

The Chicago teachers strike has national implications, many of them not good for President Obama in terms of getting teachers, a major area of support in 2008, to support him.

Richard Kahlenberg, author of the favorable bio of Albert Shanker, said in a NY Times interview that teacher unions are “getting very little support from some Democrats. The Obama administration has adopted a center-right position on issues like nonunion charter schools and performance pay. The places where teachers’ unions used to look for support are no longer coming through for them.”

Mitt Romney showed how unqualified he was to be president when he jumped into the fray by trying to claim the strike was supported by Obama. Let’s see now, Mitt. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, known by the cuddly name of Rahmbo by Chicago teachers, just happened to be Obama’s chief of staff. And Obama’s educational secretary, Arne Duncan, a non-educator nincompoop who ran the Chicago schools into the ground for 7 years as the Joel Klein of Chicago, but even more clueless, is as much a focus of the strike as Emanuel.

Duncan has taken the Chicago model that began in 1995 when Mayor Richard Daley took control of the schools – adopted here in NYC by Mayor Bloomberg in 2002 – and developed it into a national model by offering monetary incentives to school systems that adopt pay scales for teachers based on standardized test scores using what is known as a value-added model (VAM) that rates teachers based on student growth (not height but might as well be). While the union and Rahmbo are in basic agreement on a pay raise rumored to be 16%, the union has turned that down the money, not asking for more money but contending that Rahm’s call for teachers to be evaluated 60% based on student test scores, a basic tenet of Obama’s Race to the Top (or bottom), is unacceptable. They are also asking for more social workers and other wrap-around services. Giving up guaranteed money to fight for bigger issues.

Let me point out that the UFT here in NYC would have grabbed that money in a NY minute even if in the long road the result was selling teachers down the river. The UFT has defended using VAM for 20% of a teacher rating which many contend can grow into 40% or more. Governor Cuomo has placed a January, 2013 deadline for Bloomberg and the UFT to come to agreement on how to implement this or lose significant state funding. Movement of Rank and File Educators (MORE), the new UFT caucus challenging Mulgrew that models itself on the group running the Chicago union, is calling for a referendum of the membership on any agreement reached.

Unlike the UFT in New York, Chicago teachers point out that value-added is notoriously unreliable by a factor of 60-80% where the same teacher giving the test to two different classes or the same class two different times can end up being rated the worst or the best of teachers.

Diane Ravitch, Under Secretary of Education under George Bush 1, has written extensively on the failures of VAM. In a blog this morning she said:
“If you add the scores on standardized tests for five years in a row, can you tell who the best and worst teachers are? No. But that's the theory behind value-added assessment. The idea is that an ‘effective’ teacher raises test scores every year. The computer predicts what the test scores are supposed to be, and the teacher who meets the target is great, while the one who doesn't is ineffective and should be shunned or banished. But study after study shows that value-added assessment is rife with error. VAM is junk science. Bunk science. Just another club with which to knock teachers, wielded by those who could never last five minutes in a classroom.”
Obama’s education policies call for tying pay scales to the junk-science VAM results in addition to other merit pay schemes, all of which have a history of decades of failure. Rahmbo wants to implement these policies and in fact unilaterally cancelled the step increases for each year of teaching Chicago teachers have enjoyed for decades, as have NY teachers. There is a national move to eliminate the so-called seniority advantage using the excuse of paying “effective teachers” (based on faulty VAM) with the real intent of lowering the national wage scale for teachers. That would allow privately managed, profit-driven charter schools, also an Obama initiative, to avoid having to pay their teachers the prevailing public school wage scale and maximize their profits.

Chicago teachers have tied the fight against VAM to the impact on students and teachers of a high stakes test driven teaching where teachers whose job is in danger will teach to narrow-based tests, often a mind-numbing drill and kill exercise. This is a working and learning condition. The MORE caucus here in NYC has adopted the slogan: our working conditions are our students’ learning conditions.

And there you have one of the basic stumbling blocks that led to the strike. Another is class size. Chicago has no class size limits written into the contract like we have had here since 1969. One Chicago kindergarten teacher talked about her kids to the NY Times, “They are 5 years old,” she said. “They want their teacher’s attention, and there is one of me and 43 of them.”

Naturally, the anti-teacher, anti-union public and press have ignored the abuse of children by the people running the Chicago schools. Obama, Duncan and Emanuel all sent their kids to the top-notch schools where 43 in a class would be considered child abuse.

Obama is between a rock and a hard place. He can’t support the teachers, not only because the Republicans will jump on him but because the teachers are striking against his own education policies. On the other hand he can’t condemn them for the strike and turn off many teachers around the nation who not only vote but are activists in elections.

Obama will straddle the line as long as he can with statements from the White House press secretary:
“His principal concern is for the students and families who are affected by the situation. And we hope that both sides are able to come together to settle this quickly and in the best interest of Chicago’s students.” 
Sure, both Mitt and Barack are for the children.

One reason the Chicago teachers union had the audacity to hope a strike would hold the line against the Obama/Duncan/Emanuel onslaught is the amazing support they have had from parents, community and other unions, support they built over two years of outreach.

Naturally you don’t see those parents interviewed on TV, only the ones who shout, “How dare you strike?” The same ones never shout at Rahmbo, “How dare you send your children to schools with 15 children in a class while our kids are on overload?”

The union shocked the world when it got 98% of the teachers who voted (92% of all teachers) to say “Yes” to a strike. And you hear nothing at this point about teachers crossing the line. We never had that level of support here in NYC in any of the strikes. Really remarkable leadership by President Karen Lewis who until her CORE caucus took over the union 2 years ago, was teaching chemistry for over 20 years. Out of the classroom into the fire, unlike our union leaders here.

You don’t read stories like this tweet with the hashtag #FairContractNow for all city workers!
“Teachers went into 63rd street police station to use bathroom and got a standing ovation from police.” 
Wow, teachers as heroes instead of villains. Ooooh, is this a sign that Rambo and his pals Duncan and Obama are in hot water? As things play out, next time we’ll examine the similarities and differences between the union in Chicago and NYC.

Norm is back from his summer vacation and ready to rail at the ed deformers. Read him daily at ednotesonline.org

The opinions expressed on EdNotesOnline are solely those of Norm Scott and are not to be taken as official positions (though Unity Caucus/New Action slugs will try to paint them that way) of any of the groups or organizations Norm works with: ICE, GEM, MORE, Change the Stakes, NYCORE, FIRST Lego League NYC, Rockaway Theatre Co., Active Aging, The Wave, Aliens on Earth, etc.


Anonymous said...

Your description of the CPS teacher evaluation proposal is flatly wrong. Only 25% of teacher evaluations for Elementary schools use value added scores, the rest come from live, in classroom teacher evaluations. The high school evaluations don't use value added at all, they use EPAS, and even in that case the majority of the evaluation is based on classroom observation.

The CTU continues to lie about this and conveniently glosses over the fact that they helped design this new system. So get your facts straight before you start making Chicago a guinea pig for NYC, fight your own fight.

Jane Maisel said...

Brilliant, Norm. Thank you for articulating the difference between the Chicago and the NYC teacher unions.
Jane Maisel
Member of Change the Stakes, http://changethestakes.wordpress.com/

ed notes online said...

Say you are right. Only 25% of faulty data? How convenient. When they hang you they only use 25% of the noose and you can pray the rope breaks.

Ken Hirsh said...

Hey Norm,

You write: "While the union and Rahmbo are in basic agreement on a pay raise rumored to be 16%, the union has turned that down, not asking for more money...".

How do you know that the union is not asking for more money?

Anonymous said...

Oh really? Are you a fly on the wall in Rahm's office and in contract negotiations? Why else would you think you know what the Board's demands are? According to CPS documents, "the weighting for student growth will increase by 5 percentage points each year, until reaching our ideal end state, which will be 50 percent teacher practice, 40 percent student growth and 10 percent student feedback."

Who knows whether or not Rahm upped the ante, since contract negotions are targeting "student growth neasures"? He's just that kind of guy.

CPS will be using "EPAS and Expected Gains Measures" for high schools. According to CPS, "Like value-added, this methodology takes into account where students start-- not just where they end up at the end of the year-- but not the other demographic factors used in value-added." i.e. no control for poverty, etc.

EPAS was developed by ACT and while they mention that evaluating instruction is one possiblw use, it does not say it was developed with the intent of evaluating TEACHERS. (Not to mention the lack of validity and reliability of student feedback from kids as young as age 5.)

ANY percentage of junk science is still junk science. If my cookie fell on a pile of poop, I would throw it away and not even consider applying the 3 second rule and I think most others would as well, because even a fraction of 1% is unacceptable. No percentage of "student growth measures" should be applied to teacher pay, any more than crime reduction measures should be applied to police pay. No one has that kind of control over the behaviors of other people in a free democratic society.

NYC's fight is the same fight as Chicago's fight, as well as the rest of the nation's fight against the witch hunt on teachers. Scape-goating educators for not being able to fix poverty all by themselves, bashing unions and privatizing schools are diversions from our country's failure to acknowlede and address the socio-economic inequities of our society. Both political parties, and their corporate backers, whole heartedly support these strategies. That needs to stop before it's too late to wrestle public education back from the hands of corporate profiteers and corrupt politicians.


Anonymous said...

According to what CPS Board president David Vitale said on TV, what was offered was 3% the first year and 2% each successive contract year. In Chicago, where prices and taxes have been skyrocketing, that does not even cover cost of living increases each year, let alone the added extended school day, as well as more planning and grading work that teachers must do at home resulting from that.

Wayne Gersen said...

I'm not sure that Obama and Duncan are holding the line on their VAM emphasis. I've posted excerpts from the RTTT-D application that suggest a softening of their insistence on VAM . (See "Are Obama and Duncan Wavering?" on my blog: http://waynegersen.com/) This shift in thinking has not received much media coverage--- but it APPEARS to be a substantial change of heart... unless my optimistic nature is getting the best of me.

ed notes online said...

Hey Ken. I probably wasn't clear. I said they were not asking for more than that. They turned down the 16% in their pocket to fight for stuff outside the money, like class size, social workers, etc. That was 100% of the house of delegates didn't opt to be bought off like we would see in NYC --- I'll add a note about that to the post.

John said...

Thanks for sharing! Good points on Obama's position. On VAM not only are increases in students' scores demanded but the average of the increases for a particular teacher has to beat other teachers' averages. The students could "grow" by leaps and bounds but a large portion of teachers is guaranteed to fall below the rest. I hope that with the CTU confronting this poison the UFT becomes less obliging.


ed notes online said...

Maybe change of heart until Nov. 8.

Stephen Downes said...

Teachers may not like Obama's positions, but the strike is not really bad news for Obama, because I'm sure teachers and parents recognize that these issues will be dealt with even more poorly under a Romney administration.

ed notes online said...

But not that much poorly. Death by slow hanging or quick bullet? The case can be made that Romney will lead to a rallying of the troops with his attacks and a real fightback instead of the collaborationist polices. Vouchers are a threat even to the charter schools which glom on public funds and school buildings handed to them by politicians. I bet even a portion of the deformer community is sweating this. What excuse will they have after they wipe out unions? Will it be Rahm or Mitt?