As most of you have heard, 350,000 children enrolled in Chicago Public Schools are not in school today. Talks broke down between the Chicago Teachers Union and Chicago Public Schools over the weekend and Chicago Teachers Union officials made the decision to go on strike. It does not appear that the major points of difference between the Union and the school district are salary or working conditions. Instead, the major sticking points seem to surround issues of maintaining current health benefits, teacher evaluation, teacher performance, and teacher accountability.
Obviously, the finer details of negotiations are not widely known at this point, but aside from negotiations over health benefits, it seems that the movement to have teachers held directly accountable for students’ performance is at the center of this strike. Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis has said that the school district’s proposed changes to teacher evaluation rely much too heavily on students’ standardized test scores, and the changes would likely result in 6,000 teachers (30% of the Union’s membership) being dismissed from their jobs within the next two years.
What educators and observers should take note of here, and from similar though less widely publicized debates across the country, is that teachers WILL be held directly accountable for students’ performance on standardized examinations. It would be unrealistic and unfair to have the results of standardized exams be the sole measure of teacher effectiveness, but it is equally unrealistic and unfair to move forward without students’ performance on those exams factor into teacher evaluations in some significant way. Our challenge is to use those data in an appropriate manner for evaluating teachers, but the performance data must be used. No longer will teachers’ evaluations be completely subjective without student performance data factoring into how administrators rate their performance.
So while I do not know the details of Chicago Public Schools’ proposed changes to their teacher evaluation system, I believe it would be best if conversations between unions and school districts across the country centered on how to most appropriately use standardized test data as a part of teacher evaluation systems and not whether these data will be used at all. If standardized test data are used appropriately to evaluate teachers, the number of ineffective teachers that lose their jobs should be a secondary concern. Our primary concern in this matter should be whether there are effective teachers in our children’s classrooms.