Friday, September 14, 2012


Teacher evaluations at center of Chicago strike

By SOPHIA TAREEN Associated Press/Seattle Times |

Thursday, September 13, 2012 at 8:04 AM (AP) CHICAGO  :: Educators in Los Angeles just signed a new deal with the city's school district. So, too, did teachers in Boston. Both require performance evaluations based in part on how well students succeed, a system that's making its debut in Cleveland.

Educators in Los Angeles just signed a new deal with the city's school district. So, too, did teachers in Boston. Both require performance evaluations based in part on how well students succeed, a system that's making its debut in Cleveland.

So what's the problem in Chicago, where 25,000 teachers in the nation's third-largest district have responded to an impatient mayor's demand that teacher evaluations be tied to student performance by walking off the job for the first time in 25 years?

To start, contract agreements in other cities have hardly come quickly or with ease. They were often signed grudgingly, at the direction of a court or following negotiations that took years. And mayors and school officials have also won over reluctant teachers by promising to first launch pilot projects aimed at proving a concept many believe is inherently unfair.

"It has been a very tough issue across the country," said Rob Weil, a director at the American Federation of Teachers, one of the nation's two largest teachers' unions. "Teachers in many places believe that they see administrations and state legislatures creating language and policies that's nothing more than a mousetrap."

Chicago's teachers have drawn the hardest line in recent memory against using student test scores to rate teacher performance. And Mayor Rahm Emanuel is pushing hard to implement the new evaluations. That clash is one of the main points of contention in a nasty contract dispute between Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Teachers Union, which President Karen Lewis has called "a fight for the very soul of public education."

The strike, which has left approximately 350,000 students out of class as the city and the union also fight over pay and job security, entered its fourth day Thursday. After late-night talks Wednesday, both sides expressed optimism that students could be back in class as soon as Friday.

The Chicago Teachers Union had argued that a proposed evaluation system could cost some 6,000 teachers their jobs within two years. The school board made a new proposal Wednesday that would scale back potential penalties for teachers, including protecting tenured teachers from being dismissed in the first year for a bad evaluation, alterations in rating categories and an appeals process.

The push to judge teachers in part by their student's work stems from the reform efforts of the Obama administration, which has used its $4 billion Race to the Top competition and waivers to the federal No Child Left Behind law to encourage states to change how teachers are assessed.

Teachers unions argue that doing so ignores too many things that can affect a student's performance, such as poverty, the ability to speak English or even a school's lack of air conditioning. Or as said by an incredulous Dean Refakes, a physical education teacher in Chicago, "You are going to judge me on the results of the tests where there could be some extenuating circumstances that are beyond my control?"

Yet, tempted by the money offered by the federal government, lawmakers have made that directive in several states. In Florida, 50 percent of teacher appraisals must be based on student scores on standardized tests. In California, after the state legislature mandated the use of student progress benchmarks to rate teachers, an education reform group sued the Los Angeles Unified School District to force the issue.

The nation's second-largest school system eventually found itself under a court order to come up with a plan to start using such evaluations by this December. Superintendent John Deasy announced this week the district had reached a one-year agreement to do so with the union that represents the district's 2,000 principal and assistant principals.

"It's a remarkable breakthrough," Deasy said.

But it's also a limited one, said Judith Perez, the president of Associated Administrators of Los Angeles. Student test scores won't be used to judge individual performance, but will rather be reviewed at the beginning and end of each school year - along with additional measures, such as attendance and graduation rates - to give principals feedback on how to improve a school's results. It's a one-year deal designed simply to comply with the court order, she said.

Meanwhile, the district faces thornier negotiations with the union representing its 36,000 teachers, which has already objected to a voluntary pilot project in 100 schools that uses test scores in evaluations.

Illinois lawmakers voted in 2010 to require that all public schools use student achievement as a component of teacher evaluations by the 2016-17 school year. In Chicago, Emanuel is living up to a promise made during his inauguration speech by demanding the Chicago union agree to make the change years ahead of that schedule.

"As some have noted, including (his wife) Amy, I am not a patient man," Emanuel said after he was sworn in as mayor a year ago. "When it comes to improving our schools, I will not be a patient mayor."

The issue of teacher evaluations has only been on the table in Chicago for a few months, and Emanuel acknowledged this week that his swift push for change could be a factor in why his relationship with the union has been so contentious. In other big cities, a more patient approach has led to success in finding agreement with reluctant teachers.

The deal reached Wednesday in Boston will allow administrators to rely more heavily on student achievement in teacher evaluations and remove from the classroom those receiving poor evaluations within 30 days. That contract came after 400 hours of contract negotiations that spanned more than 50 separate sessions over two years.

"Change is hard and is often hard-fought. But we should make special note that through all the tough negotiations, neither side let their frustrations spill onto the students of the Boston Public Schools," said Mayor Thomas Menino. "I tell you, this is a contract that's great for our students, works for our teachers and it's fair to our taxpayers."

Slowing down the timeline for implementing the evaluations has also led to success elsewhere.

In Cleveland, the city's school district made its deal with teachers by agreeing to a loose framework for the new evaluations that would take four years to implement. The school system and the union spent a year constructing the evaluations, and then began a two-year pilot process that will not incorporate student test scores. That will come for the first time in the 2013-14 school year.

"This is complex work and it takes time to build it thoughtfully and carefully," said Cleveland schools CEO Eric Gordon. "It really has been a joint commitment in the beginning. We all believe that this is the right (approach)."


Associated Press writers Christina Hoag in Los Angeles and Rodrique Ngowi in Boston contributed to this report.


Who Will Win Chicago Teachers Strike? Charter Schools

Editorial By Tobin Harshaw, Bloomberg News* |

 Sep 10, 2012 1:20 PM PT   ::  Chicago public teachers walked out on 350,000 students today, the first strike in a quarter-century at the nation's third-largest school system.

It's hard to have much sympathy for the strikers: At an average of $76,000 per year before benefits, they are the highest-paid big-city teachers in the nation. (Paradoxically, Chicago's per-student education expense is relatively low.) Union leaders initially asked for an increase of nearly 30 percent over two years; Mayor Rahm Emanuel offered a 16 percent pay raise over four years, which doesn't seem too shabby amid a high unemployment and a sluggish economy. The union points out that Emanuel rescinded 4 percent raises over the summer and is lengthening of the school day and year (Chicago teachers now spend less time in the classroom than their counterparts in any other large city.)

Not all Chicago pupils will be enjoying this Indian-summer break, however. For the 52,000 who attend public charter schools, it will be business as usual -- and business is pretty good. Chicago has roughly 100 charters. Such schools are publicly funded but usually non-union and mostly autonomous in terms of curriculum and finances. Chicago plans to create 60 more within five years. The windy city ranks behind only New York City in the Brookings Institution's most recent Education Choice and Competition Index.

Academic success, as with most charter programs, has been mixed. A 2009 Rand Corporation study found that students who attended Chicago's "multi-grade" charters (including middle- and high-school grades) were more likely to graduate and go to college than their peers. In a September 2011 study of ACT results by the Illinois Policy Institute, 14 of the top 25 performing open-enrollment high schools, and 9 of the top 10, were charters.

Most of these high-achievers are run by the Noble Charter Network, including Pritzker College Prep, which was founded by Hyatt-hotel heiress Penny Pritzker, a longtime supporter of Emanuel and President Barack Obama. Several other operators have struggled. This is typical: a major variable in charter success is oversight of the school operators and especially the school "authorizers," groups that get state permission to create the schools, draw up their founding contracts -- the “charter” -- and oversee their boards. (A Bloomberg View editorial today has specific recommendations for regulating authorizers.)

The charter schools are at the heart of the Chicago strike. For the union, a big sticking point has been the school board's insistence that teacher assessments be used for merit pay and to make it easier to fire bad teachers. (This summer the city had to return a $35 million federal teacher-incentive grant because union officials wouldn't agree on an evaluation system.)

Rewarding good teachers with financial bonuses and increased freedom in the classroom is a central tenet of the charter movement. It's a concept that will likely have new appeal to Chicago parents missing work today and sitting at home with idle children.

Tobin Harshaw writes editorials for Bloomberg View on education and national security.   * smf: consider the source - Bloomberg is owned by NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Mr. Mayoral Control and Optimus Prime of Charter School Transformers


End Of Chicago Strike Near, But Questions Remain

by Sonari Glinton, NPR Morning Edition |

Audio: Listen to the Story  [3 min 57 sec]

September 14, 2012  ::  As the teachers' strike in Chicago enters its fifth day, a resolution now appears to be close. Nearly 350,000 students could be heading back to class as early as Monday. Even with an end possibly in sight, teachers still remain skeptical about changes coming to Chicago Public Schools.


Chicago Teachers Strike: Wealthy Base Helps Rahm Emanuel Take On Teachers Union

By Nick Carey, Reuters  |  from Huffington Post | Teachers Strike


* Donors to Emanuel's 2011 campaign included Republicans
* Teachers union was hostile to his run for mayor
* Contributions from Steve Jobs, Donald Trump

CHICAGO, Sept 12 (Reuters) - Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel received far more money in campaign donations from wealthy financiers and entrepreneurs backing school reform than from unions, leaving him freer to confront the city's teachers than some fellow Democrats, an examination of donations to his 2011 campaign shows.

The city's 29,000 teachers have been on strike since Monday, halting classes in the country's third-largest school district, over contract negotiations that are snagged on job security and Emanuel's plan to rate teachers based on students' standardized test scores.

Emanuel, a former congressman and top White House aide to President Barack Obama, raised $14.3 million for his mayoral bid in 2011. He easily fended off five poorly funded candidates for mayor.

Donations to Emanuel from the labor movement, closely allied with Democrats since the National Labor Relations Act was passed in 1935, were few and far between, a review of filings with the Illinois Board of Elections showed.

"Urban Democrats have historically been closely linked with the unions, but Emanuel comes from a different place with a very different base," said Harley Shaiken, University of California, Berkeley, labor professor. "He views the unions through a different lens and is simply not that beholden to them."

Emanuel did not receive any money from the Chicago Teachers Union in his mayoral run, and the union was openly hostile to his bid. Most city unions backed Democratic rivals Gery Chico and Miguel del Valle.

Emanuel in fact has built a strong base of donors outside the labor movement, including corporate and cultural icons and even some prominent Republicans. He received a $50,000 donation from real estate magnate Donald Trump, who flirted with a bid for the Republican presidential nomination, a disclosure to the elections board showed.

He also received a $50,000 donation from deceased Apple founder Steve Jobs, whose widow Laurene Powell Jobs has actively supported education reform.

Emanuel has enjoyed substantial support from wealthy backers of the national education reform movement, which aims to transform public schools -- in part by weakening teacher unions.


The reform movement's agenda includes rating educators in part by their students' test scores and weakening job protections such as tenure and seniority. Those are the very issues that prompted the teacher strike in Chicago now in its fourth day.

Some of Emanuel's major donors also gave generously to Stand for Children IL PAC, the statewide political action committee of the education reform group Stand for Children.

Stand for Children lobbied for an Illinois state law passed in 2011 that overhauled policies on teacher tenure, hiring, the length of the school day and year and teacher evaluations. Mayor Emanuel's allies in the Chicago school district have cited that law in explaining why they feel they must stand their ground against the teachers' union.

According to the regulatory filings, common donors to the Stand for Children PAC -- which raised nearly $4 million in the last four months of 2010 -- and to the Emanuel campaign include Kenneth Griffin, the founder and chief executive of hedge fund Citadel, and Paul Finnegan, a co-chief executive of private equity firm Madison Dearborn Partners.

Other common donors include members of the Pritzker family, one of Chicago's most prominent business families, and the well known Crown family of Chicago, who have a long history of philanthropy.

Some striking teachers have carried signs mocking Penny Pritzker, an executive of the family conglomerate and one of President Barack Obama's biggest Democratic fundraisers.

Stand for Children Chicago director Juan Jose Gonzalez said many of its donors give generously to various groups and not too much should be read into the same names appearing on its PAC filings and those of Emanuel.

"I would say that Emanuel backs our position and is supportive of our agenda," he said.

But the similarities between the donations to Emanuel and Stand for Children were not lost on the Chicago Teachers Union, which highlighted them during the 2011 election campaign and called the group an "out-of-state organization responsible for the latest legislative attacks" on the union.

Other education reform groups have made it their mission to provide financial cover for Democratic politicians willing to buck teachers unions and push big changes to public schools. They include Democrats for Education Reform, a coalition of wealthy financiers and entrepreneurs, and StudentsFirst, which is run by Michelle Rhee, the former chancellor of the Washington D.C. public schools.

The groups have directed donations to, or made independent expenditures to, political candidates in several states, including California, Florida and Michigan.

Rebeca Nieves Huffman, who runs the Illinois branch of Democrats for Education Reform, said donors will "absolutely" be watching to see whether Emanuel can hold his own against the union.

"One of the things that's very attractive for us is here's a Democratic mayor with a very bold education reform agenda," Huffman added.

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