On the Chicago Teacher Strike

I just stumbled into an article about the teachers’ strike in Chicago. It seems like there is disagreement between the people who actually know about education (teachers) and those who don’t (the administration) regarding the future of the school. Some of the minor scuffles that have already been theoretically resolved include work hours and compensation (teachers will work slightly longer hours but get an increase of 16% in salary over the next four years). The two main points of tension currently are whether public schools should be turned into charter schools and because of teacher evaluation concerns.

My opinions on charter schools are already known – they don’t work. Charter schools don’t focus on students or on teacher well-being. They focus on creating revenue. They hire inexperienced and under-qualified teachers and fire them as soon as they come up for a raise, regardless of efficiency. Good teacher with 90% passing rate on standard tests? Fired after three years. Horrible teacher with 20% passing rate on standardized tests and consistent failing rates in the school? Hired for three years and fired when they come up for a raise. They exploit teachers with overloaded classes, give them courses in excess, don’t offer them benefits, belittle them, and then complain because they’re not performing up to par. Of course, this does not mean that all charter schools are bad. I have been to several charter schools where the administrators and teachers work as a team for the benefit of the students. However, I’ve been to five times as many that more closely resemble the situation I just described.

Now, dear reader, if you’re one of those “teachers are overpaid because they have two months’ paid vacation and they don’t do that much work anyway” types, you try teaching seven groups of 40 – 50 students per day. You’ll find that you have to take 280 to 350 assignments home every day to correct and plan classes for the following day. You’ll be lucky if you only have to teach one preparation seven times – most teachers teach two, three, and even four preparations. But it’s likely that you know what you’re talking about and I don’t and I should shut up and go to school, so if you’re that type you can keep on ignoring reality.

But I digress…

That was one of the two main problems with the negotiations in the Chicago situation. The second problem in these negotiations is that the administration wants to evaluate teachers based on the outcome of standardized testing to the exclusion of other means of evaluation. The administration thinks that standardized testing is an accurate measure of the teaching learning process – it’s not. Teachers know this. There are many other factors to be taken into account, chiefly among them the social and economic situations of students and the school they attend, as well as the parent involvement in the education of their children. The way I, and most people with knowledge of how the learning process works, see it, is that there shouldn’t be any standardized tests at all. They make students focus on mastering test-taking skills and techniques that are completely useless in the real world and diverts them from doing actual learning.

But sadly, we live in a world where those who know little or close to nothing about education run the school system, and as long as that’s the case there will be standardized testing. So, with that in mind, let’s see if we can come up with a system of evaluating teachers that takes into account a wholistic assessment of the teaching situation instead of just some numbers that might or might not have been influenced by everything that has nothing to do with education (can you imagine having to take a standardized exam today, 11 years ago?)

So… teachers should have tenure. It gives them a sense of security which leads to better job performance. Still, this tenure should be tied to performance, just to keep the teachers from slacking off (as I have seen a few do) after they get tenure. Let’s say… teachers get to spend two years on their tenure track (I guess three years works too, but that will drain more resources in the long run). While on the tenure track, teachers will receive at least one classroom visit a month, but no more than two visits per week in order to not disturb students working. These visits should be conducted by a school or district administrator who will focus on the teacher’s paperwork and planning (are they following district and school policies regarding lesson plans and student outcomes? Do the activities line up with the expected objectives?) The administrator will only be able to evaluate the “administrative” aspect of the teacher. A second member of the visiting team will be an expert in education. This expert can work for the ISD or be a private expert hired to make a certain number of visits. This expert should have an Ed.D. or Ph.D. in education and some years of successful teaching. This expert will only be allowed to comment on the methodology used by the teachers. Is the teaching approach right? Is the teacher engaging students? How confidently is the teacher presenting his or herself? The third member of the evaluation committee will be an expert in the content area – someone with an M.A. / M.Sc. or higher. This person will look at what the teacher is saying and determine if they actually know the topic.

*NOTE: Looking at the book to give students assignments or remind them the page in which content is located should not detract points for “not knowing the content”, but looking at the book for an answer certainly should. Teachers looking at their own notes should also not be held against them.*

Teachers who get poor evaluations will have one school year to improve. Because these visits will take place regularly, they will be formative in the teacher’s growth and provide feedback to the teacher about their practice.

End of semester student evaluations on their teachers is encouraged, though not entirely necessary.

At the end of the year, all the scores from all the visits are averaged to 90% of the total evaluation. If student evaluations were used, those can count as 5 – 10%.  Student performance on the standardized tests can count for up to 10%. If a teacher has a passing overall evaluation score – say 85% – they are able to stay another year. Teachers will be evaluated this way for as long as they don’t have tenure.

So teachers will be evaluated as follows:

Classroom visits: 80%

Student surveys: 10%

Standardized Test numbers: 10%

Once a teacher gets tenure (eligible after two years of working in the tenure track), they will only be visited between once and twice per semester. A teacher who has already proven their worth should be given some leeway to work with their students and take the art of teaching to the next level. However, they should still be held accountable. For tenured teachers, I would recommend that standardized test numbers count for a bit more, as the classroom visits will be less frequent. Let’s say classroom visits should be worth 75%, student evaluations worth 10%, and standardized tests worth 15%.  If a tenured teacher receives poor evaluations on one semester, then they will get additional visits on the following semester by a group of experts to recommend modifications to the teaching strategies. A second poor evaluation in a row will result in result in a mentor being assigned to help the teacher improve, and a third poor evaluation results on the teacher being suspended or fired until they update their methodologies by attending workshops or attending a university program related to their area (teaching or the core subject) at the graduate level.

So there you have it. A solution that I feel is sensible and could be agreed upon by both the administration, who want to hold teachers accountable (and good for them), and teachers who actually know that it’s not all about some number created outside of any context.


About Quijano

Johansen Quijano is a professor of English in The University of Texas at Arlington, where he is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in English. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in the Teaching of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL), a Master’s Degree in Curriculum and Development focusing on TESOL, and a Master’s Degree in English Literature. He has published and presented on a variety of topics including video game studies, popular culture studies, education, teaching methodology, language acquisition, romantic poetry, and victorian literature. His research interests include the above-mentioned topics, narrative, interactivity, simulation, new media in general, and 18th century literature. He also enjoys creative writing (fiction, historical fiction, and poetry), and reading all kinds of epic literary works - from the Epic Poem of Gilgamesh to Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series.

Posted on September 11, 2012, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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