Blog Credo

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.

H.L. Mencken

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Sweet Home Chicago

I haven't commented on the Chicago teacher's strike, because I've been insanely busy and didn't know enough to really comment on it.

But I've caught the gloss of events and - while I don't usually finish reading his posts - Freddie de Boer captures I think the real problem at the root of the dispute:

Here's the problem broken down:

A) We need good teachers at all levels to maximize student learning.
B) Students from weak and impoverished backgrounds are difficult to teach because they often lag behind in the skills they need to succeed.  Screw up first grade and third grade becomes pretty durn hard.
C) We need to evaluate who the good teachers are, and improve or replace the bad ones.

These are mutually exclusive, in some ways.  Do you want more good teachers?  OK, but you can't treat the profession poorly - as is generally done by reformers, who treat teachers as over privileged whiners.  Do you want to evaluate teachers?  OK, how?  We do it at our school by peer mentoring followed by departmental evaluations with opportunities for more training.

What we don't use is standardized testing.  Because of (B), you can't be entirely sure why a student might not improve under a particular teacher.  Which makes (C) hard.  And if you screw up (C), (A) becomes impossible.

Ideally, teacher's unions would come up with a way to evaluate teachers that doesn't rely on standardized testing.  But that commitment would also come up against resistance.  "Reformers" would distrust the source.  Privatization advocates would dismiss it out of hand, because it interferes with their business model.  And any evaluation system based on review of actual classroom behavior becomes subjective, and therefore fails the test of "rigor".

The American model of labor-management relations is predicated on conflict.  Other countries - Germany most notably - don't approach their labor relations that way.  As long as teacher's unions and city governments see each other as enemies, then reform is unlikely to succeed, no matter how well-designed the reform is.

And, to paraphrase Clinton, there is the math. You can't fire the bad teachers until you have new ones to replace them.

Where are they going to come from?

UPDATE: The union DOES have a plan.  It's pretty good.  And pretty expensive.  And doesn't touch teacher evaluation.

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