2012-09-14 / Columnists

School Scope

What Goes On In Chicago Doesn’t Stay In Chicago
By Norman Scott


Norman Scott Norman Scott 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 seven 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 percent, the union has turned that down, not asking for more money but contending that Rahm’s call for teachers to be evaluated 60 percent 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.)

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 percent of a teacher rating which many contend can grow into 40 percent 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 percent 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 valueadded 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, antiunion 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 percent 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 two years ago, was teaching chemistry for more than 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

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