A Chicago Teacher: Why I Am Striking
Diante Ravitz's Blog
Sept. 11, 2012
I am one of the teachers in Chicago who is on strike.
Education is one of those topics on which very few
people actually have knowledge, and those who are least
knowledgable seem to have the most say (or yell). The
number of people with first-hand knowledge who are
engaged in the public discourse is depressingly low.
Teaching in an urban school district is not like what
most people think. (It certainly is not like the movies
-- even the documentaries.) Chicago in particular is
the most segregated school district in the nation and
we have schools in the middle of deeply impoverished
neighborhoods. I teach at a high school which is 100%
(maybe 99.9%) African-American. Some of our students
have very difficult lives.
As teachers, we notice signs when a student is homeless
-- and we buy clothes for the student. We see students
who are pregnant from rape (typically a mother's
boyfriend). For many students, the school lunch is the
only meal of the day. And we have a lot of students who
aren't officially homeless, but are bouncing between
the couches of relatives and friends and during the
school day are worrying about where they are going to
sleep that night. I have had the student who is
distraught one day in class because a friend was in the
hospital from a shooting or killed.
I can't even remember all the names of students in the
school where I teach who have been murdered. The awful
thing is that I don't even consider the school that I
work at one of the most impoverished in Chicago. At a
school I worked at previously, we would often write
down in our records for some of our students the name
of the students' parole officer (parole officers are
easier to contact -- numbers for parents are frequently
But we teach. We teach our subjects and we teach so
much more. We use expertise from our educations and our
experiences and pour our blood and sweat into the
classroom each day. Unlike most jobs, we don't really
get breaks. Unlike most jobs, we take work home, even
after a full day of work where we have come early and
stayed past quitting time. Unlike most jobs, we buy
many of our own supplies. (This past weekend, I bought
$50 or classroom supplies so that my students could
work on a project. This is on the low end of what many
teachers spend.) And unlike most jobs, the most
important things of the job are not even part of the
job description. We are not rewarded for the true value
that we add to our students' lives.
There are two main issues in our strike. The school
district wants to eradicate the lane and step system.
They want education and experience to count for
nothing. Companies base pay on education and
experience, and traditionally schools districts have as
well -- and for good reason. When you don't teach, you
don't really see all of the things that an experienced
teacher brings to the classroom. Everything looks easy.
You don't see the fight that didn't occur at all
because the experience teacher could see it before it
happened and preempt it. You don't see the student who
didn't misbehave due to subtle nonverbal cues from the
teacher. You don't see how the lesson completely
changed from the lesson plan due to a student's
question and the "teachable moment" that arose (the
outside observer would hardly be able to tell that the
lesson was actually being extemporaneously created --
it would look completely planned). Teachers with
experience are the pillars of our school community and
our neighborhoods. The board of Chicago Public Schools
wants to throw away that experience. And somehow, they
think educational achievement and degrees are worth
nothing in education. I think that this is crazy.
The school board also wants to institute "merit" pay
and use "merit" in our evaluations based on test
scores. But how do you really measure "merit"? Do
rising student test scores measure "merit"? Does this
even work for the music teacher of the foreign language
teachers whose subject does not even appear on
standardized tests? Perhaps. But teachers receive
different students every year. How do you account for
differences in the students taught from year to year?
How do account for students' home life? The district
has some complicated statistical model which supposedly
measures the "value added" by a teacher.
But is this valid? In New York, they are trying to do
this. But under this model, there have been teachers
receiving wildly different numbers in the same year and
wildly different numbers from year to year. If the
masters of the universe cannot even properly
mathematically model the value of a credit default swap
on Wall Street, how can they measure the infinitely
more complicated contribution that a teacher makes for
her/his students in a year? This is not "merit" pay.
This is random pay.
I do not want my career based on random numbers and
made-up statistical models, and neither do my
colleagues. If I wanted a career based on random
chance, I would have never entered teaching and have
instead played the lottery every day. We have seen too
many times numerically illiterate administrators drive
education off the rails with "data."
Ultimately, we teachers want to be treated with dignity
and respect. Chicago Public Schools is paying us for
our knowledge, our skills, and our expertise. And yet
they will hire outside consultants at great cost --
consultants who do not know the subjects we teach and
who have never set foot in a classroom. These
consultants ignore what we teachers say and give great
pronouncements and edicts which are expected to follow.
I have a doctorate in my subject and almost two decades
of teaching experience.
Why is someone who does not know my subject and who has
never set foot in a classroom being allowed to dictate
what I should or should not teach? The consultants and
busybodies on the school board (there is not a single
educator in Chicago Public School's board -- most of
the members are rich multimillionaire hobbyists and
dilettantes and cronies) seem to think that we teachers
are the problem and if only we did exactly what they
order, then the world would be right. We teachers, with
our hard-won educations and our hard-won experiences,
we don't think so.
We teachers are not a monolithic bunch. Our politics
don't agree. We come from a diversity of backgrounds
and hold a diversity of viewpoints. But we are united
by our classroom experiences a
nd our everyday engagement with the community. The fact
that 90% of the teachers in Chicago (98% of those who
voted) authorized the current strike should tell you
something. We are not motivated by ideology or theory.
Sometimes we are motivated by pay. But really, it is
the students with whom we share our lives that really
Question at heart of Chicago strike: How do you measure
By Sevil Omer
Sept. 11, 2012
With negotiators trying to hammer out an agreement that
would end Chicago's teachers strike, one of the key
sticking points is how to evaluate whether a teacher is
doing a good job, an issue that has riled school boards
across the U.S. in recent years.
Chicago's school leaders are proposing that student
performance on standardized tests count toward 25
percent of a teacher's assessment, growing to 40
percent in five years, according to NBCChicago.com.
But Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis is
critical of Mayor Rahm Emanuel's push to make great use
of standardized tests in teacher reviews, calling the
process flawed. Union officials say the system wouldn't
do enough to take into account outside factors such as
poverty, crime and homelessness.
"Evaluate us on what we do, not the lives of our
children we do not control," Lewis said in announcing
the strike. It was unclear what union officials
The battle in Chicago over using student test scores to
judge teachers is just one front in a nationwide battle
over how to make sure teachers are doing a good job,
and that taxpayer dollars and student time aren't going
"This is going to become a long-term battle that
everyone's watching very closely," said Eric Hanushek,
a senior fellow in education at the Stanford
University's Hoover Institution, a conservative
research center. "Teacher unions are at a crossroads:
Are they going to participate in designing better
teacher evaluations or resist and not change anything.
The Chicago union seems to be taking the resist option,
drawing their line in the sand."
The Obama administration, through its $4 billion Race
to the Top competition and waivers from the Bush-era No
Child Left Behind, has urged states to change teacher
assessments to make use of test data as a key component
to set a teacher's pay or end their employment. The
administration granted waivers to states that promised
to show improvements in student and school performance
and link teacher evaluations to student test scores.
Supporters say current review tools fail to give
administrators a reliable assessment of a teacher's
effectiveness, while critics argue there's no evidence
linking student performance to a teacher's worth.
"Teacher evaluations should be based on multiple
measures," said Marcus Mrowka, a spokesman for the
American Federation of Teachers, which has 1.5 million
members. "Testing has a role but should not sanction
teachers but inform instruction."
Twenty-four states now require teacher evaluations
based on some measure of student growth, according to
an analysis by the National Council on Teacher Quality,
a research and policy group. Public school districts in
Tennessee and Washington, D.C., recently implemented
new teacher evaluations tying outcomes to merit raises,
while Colorado and New York are deep in the process of
developing an evaluation system, the council noted.
(For the entire article, go to http://usnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2012/09/11/13808109-question-at-heart-of-chicago-strike-how-do-you-measure-teacher-performance?lite.)
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