Home > data science, math education, news, rant, statistics > Why are the Chicago public school teachers on strike?

Why are the Chicago public school teachers on strike?

September 14, 2012

The issues of pay and testing

My friend and fellow HCSSiM 2012 staff member P.J. Karafiol explains some important issues in a Chicago Sun Times column entitled “Hard facts behind union, board dispute.”

P.J. is a Chicago public school math teacher, he has two kids in the CPS system, and he’s a graduate from that system. So I think he is qualified to speak on the issues.

He first explains that CPS teachers are paid less than those in the suburbs. This means, among other things, that it’s hard to keep good teachers. Next, he explains that, although it is difficult to argue against merit pay, the value-added models that Rahm Emanuel wants to account for half of teachers evaluation, is deeply flawed.

He then points out that, even if you trust the models, the number of teachers the model purports to identify as bad is so high that taking action on that result by firing them all would cause a huge problem – there’s a certain natural rate of finding and hiring good replacement teachers in the best of times, and these are not the best of times.

He concludes with this:

Teachers in Chicago are paid well initially, but face rising financial incentives to move to the suburbs as they gain experience and proficiency. No currently-existing “value added” evaluation system yields consistent, fair, educationally sound results. And firing bad teachers won’t magically create better ones to take their jobs.

To make progress on these issues, we have to figure out a way to make teaching in the city economically viable over the long-term; to evaluate teachers in a way that is consistent and reasonable, and that makes good sense educationally; and to help struggling teachers improve their practice. Because at base, we all want the same thing: classes full of students eager to be learning from their excellent, passionate teachers.

Test anxiety

Ultimately this crappy model, and the power that it yields, creates a culture of text anxiety for teachers and principals as well as for students. As Eric Zorn (grandson of mathematician Max Zorn) writes in the Chicago Tribune (h/t P.J. Karafiol):

The question: But why are so many presumptively good teachers also afraid? Why has the role of testing in teacher evaluations been a major sticking point in the public schools strike in Chicago?

The short answer: Because student test scores provide unreliable and erratic measurements of teacher quality. Because studies show that from subject to subject and from year to year, the same teacher can look alternately like a golden apple and a rotting fig.

Zorn quotes extensively from Math for America President John Ewing’s article in Notices of the American Mathematical Society:

Analyses of (value-added model) results have led researchers to doubt whether the methodology can accurately identify more and less effective teachers. (Value-added model) estimates have proven to be unstable across statistical models, years and classes that teachers teach.

One study found that across five large urban districts, among teachers who were ranked in the top 20 percent of effectiveness in the first year, fewer than a third were in that top group the next year, and another third moved all the way down to the bottom 40 percent.

Another found that teachers’ effectiveness ratings in one year could only predict from 4 percent to 16 percent of the variation in such ratings in the following year.

The politics behind the test

I agree that the value-added model (VAM) is deeply flawed; I’ve blogged about it multiple times, for example here.

The way I see it, VAM is a prime example of the way that mathematics is used as a weapon against normal people – in this case, teachers, principals, and schools. If you don’t see my logic, ask yourself this:

Why would a overly-complex, unproved and very crappy model be so protected by politicians?

There’s really one reason, namely it serves a political function, not a mathematical one. And that political function is to maintain control over the union via a magical box that nobody completely understands (including the politicians, but it serves their purposes in spite of this) and therefore nobody can argue against.

This might seem ridiculous when you have examples like this one from the Washington Post (h/t Chris Wiggins), in which a devoted and beloved math teacher named Ashley received a ludicrously low VAM score.

I really like the article: it was written by Sean C. Feeney, Ashley’s principal at The Wheatley School in New York State and president of the Nassau County High School Principals’ Association. Feeney really tries to understand how the model works and how it uses data.

Feeney uncovers the crucial facts that, on the one hand nobody understands how VAM works at all, and that, on the other, the real reason it’s being used is for the political games being played behind the scenes (emphasis mine):

Officials at our State Education Department have certainly spent countless hours putting together guides explaining the scores. These documents describe what they call an objective teacher evaluation process that is based on student test scores, takes into account students’ prior performance, and arrives at a score that is able to measure teacher effectiveness. Along the way, the guides are careful to walk the reader through their explanations of Student Growth Percentiles (SGPs) and a teacher’s Mean Growth Percentile (MGP), impressing the reader with discussions and charts of confidence ranges and the need to be transparent about the data. It all seems so thoughtful and convincing! After all, how could such numbers fail to paint an accurate picture of a teacher’s effectiveness?

(One of the more audacious claims of this document is that the development of this evaluative model is the result of the collaborative efforts of the Regents Task Force on Teacher and Principal Effectiveness. Those of us who know people who served on this committee are well aware that the recommendations of the committee were either rejected or ignored by State Education officials.)

Feeney wasn’t supposed to do this. He wasn’t supposed to assume he was smart enough to understand the math behind the model. He wasn’t supposed to realize that these so-called “guides to explain the scores” actually represent the smoke being blown into the eyes of educators for the purposes of dismembering what’s left of the power of teachers’ unions in this country.

If he were better behaved, he would have bowed to the authority of the inscrutable, i.e. mathematics, and assume that his prize math teacher must have had flaws he, as her principal, just hadn’t seen before.

Weapons of Math Destruction

Politicans have created a WMD (Weapon of Math Destruction) in VAM; it’s the equivalent of owning an uzi factory when you’re fighting a war against people with pointy sticks.

It’s not the only WMD out there, but it’s a pretty powerful one, and it’s doing outrageous damage to our educational system.

If you don’t know what I mean by WMD, let me help out: one way to spot a WMD is to look at the name versus the underlying model and take note of discrepancies. VAM is a great example of this:

  • The name “Value-Added Model” makes us think we might learn how much a teacher brings to the class above and beyond, say, rote memorization.
  • In fact, if you look carefully you will see that the model is measuring exactly that: teaching to the test, but with errorbars so enormous that the noise almost completely obliterates any “teaching to the test” signal.

Nobody wants crappy teachers in the system, but vilifying well-meaning and hard-working professionals and subjecting them to random but high-stakes testing is not the solution, it’s pure old-fashioned scapegoating.

The political goal of the national VAM movement is clear: take control of education and make sure teachers know their place as the servants of the system, with no job security and no respect.

No wonder the Chicago public school teachers are on strike. I would be too.
  1. Jonathan
    September 14, 2012 at 9:35 am

    Great column. I was looking for a good analysis of the issues in this strike.This is perfect.


  2. September 14, 2012 at 10:13 am

    Cathy, the situation as you lay it out here seems to be the essence of unfairness – assuming the strike is broken. The key stakeholders (students, teachers) will both lose, and the only winners will be the corporate educational system, and the politicians (and pundits) it supports.


  3. Horst Lehrheuer
    September 14, 2012 at 11:05 am

    You wrote: “The way I see it, VAM is a prime example of the way that mathematics is used as a weapon against normal people – in this case, teachers, principals, and schools.” – Well, that’s possible. However, more likely, the kind of thinking you describe that leads to this is deeply grounded in an observer-independent view of the world (or reality) that drives people into using a ‘theory of knowing’ (epistemology), mostly without ever being aware of it, that makes them want to be “in control,” to predict the unpredictable – e.g. us humans. If we see ourselves as “non-trivial,” non-linear, complex systems, and therefore very likely never fully analyzable, then we start changing our way of thinking and deciding about these issues. Let’s not forget, as the physicist and cybernetician Heinz von Foerster put it: “Tests test tests” and not much more. The mathematization of social sciences (btw, including economics, a social science discipline after all), especially over the last thirty years or so, is trying to make us humans behave according to mathematical formulas, like in our “natural” sciences, instead of changing the models we fallible humans (i.e. not God or nature) have invented to better meet the complex world we live in. From an observer-dependent view of the world and reality, this is a cognitive cul-de-sac and should be resisted for the sake of all parties involved. Even though I am not against some testing, we must not loose sight of the fact that we humans are predictably unpredictable and hence that there is very likely no test that is ever fully “fair.”


  4. Jon
    September 14, 2012 at 12:59 pm

    Click to access value_added.pdf

    “Are teachers’ impacts on students’ test scores (“value-added”) a good measure of their quality? This question has sparked debate largely because of disagreement about (1) whether value-added (VA) provides unbiased estimates of teachers’ impacts on student achievement and (2) whether high-VA teachers improve students’ long-term outcomes. We address these two issues by analyzing school district data from grades 3-8 for 2.5 million children linked to tax records on parent characteristics and adult outcomes. We find no evidence of bias in VA estimates using previously unobserved parent characteristics and a quasi-experimental research design based on changes in teaching staff. Students assigned to high-VA teachers are more likely to attend college, attend higher-ranked colleges, earn higher salaries, live in higher SES neighborhoods, and save more for retirement. They are also less likely to have children as teenagers. Teachers have large impacts in all grades from 4 to 8. On average, a one standard deviation improvement in teacher VA in a single grade raises earnings by about 1% at age 28. Replacing a teacher whose VA is in the bottom 5% with an average teacher would increase the present value of students’ lifetime income by more than $250,000 for the average classroom in our sample. We conclude that good teachers create substantial economic value and that test score impacts are helpful in identifying such teachers.”

    via Matthew Yglesias


  5. JurisV
    September 14, 2012 at 7:37 pm

    I can hardly wait for your comments on the Chetty study Working Paper. In the meantime Moshe Adler has a scorching article in this weekend’s Counterpunch blog on that study:


    Here’s the intro paragraph —
    “What would children gain from teachers who have the highest evaluations as measured by the metric that Mayor Rahm Emanuel wants to implement for Chicago’s public school (but not charter school) teachers? This is precisely what three Columbia and Harvard economists researched in a study that has received wide attention from the media and politicians. According to the authors’ own interpretation—the sky. But if you read the study itself—nothing at all.”


  6. September 15, 2012 at 7:50 am

    VAM got traction because it provides a seemingly precise basis for ranking…. and we LOVE to rank things. What many critics of VAM fail to acknowledge is that the standardized tests that are the basis for VAM are imprecise themselves. One look at how cut scores are derived will give any mathematician acid indigestion.


  7. Badmommy
    September 15, 2012 at 9:50 am

    To me, it goes even deeper: if everything you are supposed to know is on the test, the people who make the test decide everything an educated citizen (at least the ones that get a “free public education”) will know.

    If teachers care at all about being educators as opposed to just administering premade tests, then this is a fairly awful development. Because at this point, I’m watching the tests crowd out any other kind of learning, including the type that helps inspire kids to take a real interest in their education and enjoy school. Including any interesting projects that help the kids learn how to actually think. And I’m pretty sure that’s not a bug, it’s a feature.

    So all that the “value added” method really measures, as far as I’m concerned, is who has best caved to a system that considers kids and their educations nothing but inputs into a machine at best – and a danger to be contained at worst.


    • September 15, 2012 at 2:05 pm



    • September 28, 2012 at 11:02 am

      There is another factor at work here too. That is the memory of a child. The results of these mandated tests do not prove that the teacher did not teach what was on the test.

      The standardized mandated tests do not take into account that the average child in America eats a horrible diet that does not support a good memory or mental functions.

      These tests do not take into account that the average child in America is not getting the nine to ten hour of sleep he or she needs each night as the brain develops. Recent research using brain scans has proven that our brains only develop as children sleep and will not finish developing and growing until age 25. However, the average child in America sleeps far less than the number of required hours for this brain development to take place.

      In fact studies have linked sugar consumption to memory loss. The mandated standardized tests do not take into account that short term memory is short circuited by sugar consumption and that when a child sleeps, short term memories from the day are sorted and some are selected to be moved to long term memory. What the child considers is important will move to long term memory. The rest is deleted.

      Usually, the last hour or two of a child’s daily activities before bed have a vital impact on what is moved from short term memory to long term memory. If the child is reading, doing homework and studying before bed, then the odds favor he or she will remember what was taught. But if those hours are spent watching TV, listening to music, social networking on the Internet, talking on the phone, playing video games, etc. then other factors determine what the mind will do while the child sleeps.

      However, studies show that the average child spends about a half hour reading and maybe doing some school work outside of school while spending about 10 hours a day watching TV, playing video games, etc.

      Nutrition plays a vital role in education and the most important meal is a nutritious breakfast and yet again studies show that the average child in America did not sleep enough and did not eat breakfast before going to school.

      A simple nutritious breakfast could be a banana, an apple, a slice of whole wheat toast and a handful of almonds.

      But in most cases, the average child has a soda, candy, a pizza slice or bag of french fries if they eat anything before lunch at school.

      All of this impacts test results because standardized tests rely on the faulty memory of a child. Who is responsible? the parent — not the teacher.


  8. September 15, 2012 at 12:09 pm

    I think that Thurston’s analogy is apt here:
    “We don’t diagnose pneumonia with only a thermometer, and we don’t attempt to
    cure it by putting ice in a patient’s mouth.”

    If we were administering comprehensive tests of intellectual and academic health, then teaching to them would just be effective teaching and using them to evaluate teachers would be quite reasonable.

    My question is: Are we really too dumb devise such a system or are we just too cheap to pay for it?


  9. Michael
    September 15, 2012 at 2:35 pm

    Cathy – Thank you for the post!

    The range of externalities that influence testing results are simply too great for grading to be reasonable in this circumstance: the actual school’s environment and the student’s home life to name only two. Regardless, the quality of the education is paramount. To improve the quality – at least of what’s delivered – the teachers need to bring a minimum level of both skill and will to the classroom. The real question is about how to test (incent) those.

    Might compensation be re-worked to be a productive incentive? What if each school gave their teachers 100 points to confidentially allocate (in increments from 1 to 10) among the other teachers in their school. At the end of the annual award period, the points received by any teacher would dictate their pay on a forced ranking scale such as 70-130% of their pay grade. In addition, have a policy to dismiss the three-year rolling sub-90%ers… who don’t leave on their own.

    While I am not claiming to know what specific stats would be best to plug-in above, I believe that teachers being held accountable to each other is “more fair” due to their common environment and ability to witness the impacts on student. I can’t help but think this would incent the will for those with enough skill.

    Feedback please… because we all need ideas to improve this reality. Thank you.


  10. One of those bad people
    September 15, 2012 at 9:19 pm

    VAM is another stick, and sticks are not particularly effective way of incentivizing people to perform well. “Accountability” is generally overrated and generally just brings down morale and gets people looking over their shoulders. We need a lot more carrots to reward high performance. Of course, carrots nearly always cost money, whatever form they take. People will only work so much for an additional plaque, especially if the stick for poor performance can be as dire as termination of employment.


  11. Michael
    September 16, 2012 at 11:52 am

    Comp is a surrogate for some workers and worthless for others. For the “others” and really all knowledge-based workers, motivation must come from within. This is why my approach was for the teachers and by the teachers… being recognized/appreciated by one’s peers can be very motivational.

    If you have a more functional idea, then please share it. We all benefit from good teachers. Good teachers should be rewarded. And, those without either the skill or the will should be dismiss-able by the “wisdom of the crowd” that knows them.


    • One of those bad people
      September 16, 2012 at 2:10 pm

      The problem with your scheme is that would institute an additional level of politics. It would be institutionalized gamification. I work with internet communities, and I can tell you from first hand experience, that any type of “rep” system is universally detrimental to the community. It’s much worse when things are done anonymously. Essentially, what you are proposing is a scheme that is deliberately set up in “reality” game shows to create as much tension as possible between players.

      There are 3 factors that make people motivated:
      1) Complexity – the job involves tasks that address different issues and require use of a brand range of problem solving skills and continual learning.
      2) Autonomy.
      3) Reward – the closer the reward is to a successful task, the better. There is a reason that entrepeneurialship is emotionally rewarding. You make a good decision, you see growth in your company, in your revenues, etc…

      Oh, right, I left out an important point, which is that you need all three to get people motivated. You can pay a guy $1B/y to screw widget X onto widget Y all day long, day in and day out, and he may love the money, but he will still hate the job and put as little into it as possible. The problem with the public sector, even in academia, is that the powers that be are taking away as much autonomy as possible, from pretty much anyone. VAM is bad for teachers, and it’s bad for principals. (Incidentally, I feel that teachers unions can be bad for autonomy as well, bu that’s a discussion for another day). And for some reason, politicians seem to think that if you beat the horse enough, it will race. Stupid.

      My solution? I’d take away power from both the teachers unions and from the politicians, and put that power into the hands of local management, specifically into the hands of principals. People can generally agree who is a good teacher. You don’t need a test to tell who has been working the extra hours to make a better curriculum, to coach students for academic contests, who takes that extra step. And peers know as well, though there may not be good ways to measure it. Principals should be able to reward those high performers. I think that you are underestimating the positive effects of merit based compensation. Basing pay on seniority is, imo, silly. There is no positive effect that I can see. If the argument is that senior faculty are a positive influence on schools, then those senior faculty who take on leadership roles, formal and informal, should and could be rewarded accordingly. This would also act to discourage practices like letting teachers go, and hiring cheaper junior faculty. Let’s face it. There are plenty of good teachers, but there is plenty of deadweight as well. There is a dearth of talent in every “knowledge based” industry, and the top players would not suffer from this scheme.

      fwiw, I work in both academia and the private sector.


  12. mac
    September 16, 2012 at 5:28 pm

    I feel like we are chipping at the edges of a thorny question that no one wants to ask (or ,perhaps, answer): what is the purpose of public education as currently constructed?

    The answer to this question may solve all other questions.


  13. Michael
    September 17, 2012 at 10:51 am

    I appreciate your listed three factors… I know the three as Mastery (sharpening the saw), Autonomy (“cutting” the way you want) & Purpose (why cut, in the first place.) [Mac – this goes to your good question… I believe answers would range from political to philosophical, but unless the “structure” is going to be torn down… we have to support it.]

    We don’t seem to agree regarding the advantages of anonymity. And, reality shows stoke (or incent) the contestants first so I do not feel that is a good example.

    We agree on getting the Union and politicians out. Your Principal/leader should be capable of making these decisions, but how can we be confident that these individuals are capable? Schools are not for profit orgs and talent is not promoted/recruited like in the private sector? My goal was simply to diffuse such a centralization of power and promote a market-based feedback mechanism among those in the know. This was completely about merit, comp only adjusts as a result.


    • mac
      September 18, 2012 at 4:57 am

      Why (do we have to support it)?
      Why support something with no defined purpose?
      Is it because the purpose is politically unpalatable?
      Perhaps public education serves the purpose it was designed for?


    • One of those bad people
      September 18, 2012 at 11:31 am

      Good non-profits can promote and recruit talent as well. Maybe the principal should be accountable to a board of trustees. I trust the judgement of people more than I do that of some souped up metric.


  14. jeremiah757
    September 17, 2012 at 6:02 pm

    The form of this argument is that one model for teacher evaluation is flawed, and so there should be no teacher evaluation. An alternative model is not proposed, nor is the objective validated. Meanwhile, America spends more on education than any other OECD country, and achieves only mediocre results. Please browse the OECD statistics here: http://www.oecd.org/edu/educationataglanceindicatorsrawdata.htm.

    So, if evaluating teacher performance is too mechanistic, or too authoritarian, it would be nice to read what measures – other than throwing money – can be taken to bring our schools’ performance into line with the rest of the world.


    • One of those bad people
      September 18, 2012 at 11:26 am

      I only took a cursory glance at those numbers, and have done absolutely no analysis, but my first reaction is that I’d like to see those stats broken down a little more. Anecdotally, I’ve heard of wonderful opportunities at good secondary schools. I grew up and went to school in Canada, and I’d never even heard of some of the AP and other programs open to to good American students until I moved here.

      I don’t know for sure, but I’ll put this $20 I have in my pocket that the American public school system is a microcosm of American society – that is, extremely segregated along class lines, especially in large cities. Having now lived in a huge Western megalopolis, a bastion of Eastern power, and now in flyover country, I have to say that the class differences are much less pronounced out in the boonies.

      I think that the point made earlier by mac that we need to decide what is the purpose of public education is a good one, and the answer may be one that many will not like – which is that public education should serve different purposes for different students. For some, public education should be to foster leaders and give them as many opportunities as possible to become the spearhead of American industry, academia, and politics, and that for many others, public education should be a place to teach basic life skills; and that we ought to identify the students with the most potential from those schools and place them into magnet schools, where that talent can be nourished. Right now, there seems to be just too much pressure on the poorer school districts, where teachers try to give a liberal arts education to students from a backgrounds with no preparation for this type of education, and not societal or home support, in many cases. Incidentally, some talent does escape these conditions, but there is no formal mechanism that allows this to happen. Incidentally, Prop 31 in California might be a step away from this direction.


      • jeremiah757
        September 18, 2012 at 11:54 am

        Parents and students could have a free choice of educational offerings, using a voucher system. The Economist, not exactly a Republican paper, supports vouchers and opposes the strike. Please read: http://www.economist.com/node/21562977.

        We may want our taxes, progressive or otherwise, to fund education – but that does not mean the government needs to administer the education. That’s a little Orwellian, if you think about it.


  15. Pete
    September 19, 2012 at 5:13 am

    Plain and simple, all of this is about privatizing schools. It will happen one way or another inevitably. The “market opportunity” is too huge to let k-12 education stay in govt hands. Private enterprise will play the long game on this and will not give up.


  16. September 27, 2012 at 10:14 pm

    Wonderfully said. Thank you.


  17. September 27, 2012 at 10:26 pm

    I was browsing Freshly Pressed, and read http://maasmith.com/2012/09/25/plain-writing/, which the author of #4 is badly in need of. Please help this person come to terms with his addiction to jargon; he must feel horribly misunderstood. Thanks for your interesting explanation of teacher testing models. We’ll end up with hedge schools by the time politicians are done flogging teachers, and probably be better off.


  18. September 27, 2012 at 10:40 pm

    Outstanding exegesis of a complex issue; thank you.


  19. September 28, 2012 at 5:34 am

    Phenomenal post. Thank you for digging so deeply. I moved from southern California to central Missouri and the school systems are so much better. California is very much like the Chicago school system and it’s broken. Period.


  20. September 28, 2012 at 9:11 am

    I know what it’s like to feel underpaid and taken advantage of at work. But at the same time I have trouble understanding why we are up in arms over this when some people are sleeping in tents and starving…



    • Jeff Nguyen
      September 29, 2012 at 11:58 pm

      Historically, it is the educated class which is the last line of defense against the commodization of the working class. In other words, education enables social mobility and true education leads to critical thinking. Good literature teaches us to see the world through different lenses, which is a prerequisite for compassion and social justice. The civil rights movement learned to keep their eyes on the prize, that justice delayed is justice denied.


  21. September 28, 2012 at 10:44 am

    I hear you!

    I taught for thirty years (1975 – 2005) in the public schools in a tough high school in Southern California (It was in a barrio and there were violent street gangs). There were a 100 teachers on the staff and we knew how many were incompetent or burned out and the number was maybe three and these teachers did not start out as bad teachers. They burned out due to the pressure. Studies now show that the stress of teaching causes teachers to have PTSD, the same disorder that many combat veterans come home with from wars such as Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.

    I am a product of the public schools and I cannot remember one bad teacher from my thirteen years in the system. Our daughter, who is now starting her third year at Stanford, attended the public schools. After she graduated from high school, I asked her how many incompetent teachers she had K – 12. She thought about it and then said “two”. In those thirteen years as a student in public schools in four school districts, she probably had 40 to 50 teachers total and the two (probably burned out) incompetent teachers she remembers did not stop her from graduating from high school with a 4.65 GPA and being accepted to Stanford.

    The reason is simple: her parents (me and her mother) both told her that there was no excuse not to learn even if a teacher was incompetent or burned out. The responsibility was ours, as her parents, to make sure the TV was turned off, that she read books instead of played video games, studied, did her homework, etc. We also made sure she ate a nutritious breakfast and had at least eight to ten hours of sleep a night. In addition, we ate dinner as a family and this time was also family time to touch bases. There was no TV turned on at dinner. In fact, the TV was turned off 24/7, six days a week and on the seventh day it was on for one to two hours and that was it.

    Studies also show that the average American spends about 10 hours a day either watching TV, playing video games, listening to music, social networking on sites such as Facebook, sending text messages, hanging out with friends after school, etc.

    At the high school where I taught, we had six campus police officers on patrol at all times. Twice, there were drive by shootings outside one of the classrooms I taught out of. Once, a gang climbed the fence to pound on the walls of the classroom when I was working late with the editors of the high school newspaper. (I was the journalism adviser for seven of the thirty years I was a public school teacher).

    When I retired from teaching, that high school was on probation because it wasn’t meeting its Washington DC mandates and every teacher on the staff was in danger of being declared incompetent and fired from his or her job.

    I am angry at Washington DC and the morally corrupt and ignorant politicians that will not support teachers as they should be supported. No matter what mandates the government demands of teachers, we cannot be the parents of all the children we teach. My average student load was 175 – 200. The literacy rate among my students ranged from GRADE TWO to college level readers in each class that I taught and every student had to work out of a grade level textbook. This was the literacy level that walked in the door each year and every year a new crop of students appeared in my classroom. I taught English, reading and journalism.

    I had my students for almost an hour each class. I taught five and sometimes six classes a day and due to the work I took home, worked not the thirty-five to forty hours I spent in class with students but often sixty to one-hundred hours a week correcting what work was turned in (about half of what it should have been because many students did not do the work).

    Teachers cannot turn off the TVs and make our students read at home. We cannot make sure that the children we teach eat dinner as families. We cannot supervise children in their homes to see that they study and do homework. That is the parent’s job but the average American parent is not doing his or her job and the blame is being heaped on the nations teachers.

    It is time to change that perception and put the blame where it belongs.


  22. September 28, 2012 at 10:45 am
  23. Daniel Abram
    September 28, 2012 at 12:04 pm

    Too bad the strike happened so close to the national election!


  24. September 28, 2012 at 1:13 pm

    A strike is just another breach of contract. Like not paying a phone bill. Or like cheating on your husband.


  25. September 28, 2012 at 1:48 pm

    Very well written! As a recently retired teacher who began teaching in 1971, a big part of the problem IS the testing. We were doing fine in the 70’s and 80’s. We taught, children learned. We turned out some darn good students ready to face the world and be a part of the work force. And they didn’t have to pass a proficiency test or a state/federal mandated test which is deeply flawed in what is tested…..
    Gradually things began to change. Both parents needed to work full time to support families, less time was available for them to parent. Values changed. Colleges and universities began to allow EVERYONE into their institution because they needed the revenue. I taught in a small rural district. I look around at today’s current crop of teachers (some of which are my former students) Some of those teachers should never have been admitted to the College of Education. They cannot read, they cannot spell, they cannot write. How CAN they become effective teachers?
    I know the solution to this problem is overwhelming. The things I mention are just part of the problem. I also don’t have a good solution. We cannot go back to the good old days. There were problems then, too. Education has not kept up with all the changes and has gone awry… in the wrong direction. Parenting has also gone awry. I hope someone can fix this but I don’t really have any good suggestions.


  26. September 28, 2012 at 10:19 pm

    Thank you, thank you, thank you…it’s been a rough week and speaking for teachers makes a huge difference. You probably know how many times I had to stop myself from saying, “I’m not your servant,” this week. And, frankly, I did say it a couple of times or I just couldn’t have come to school next week.


  27. September 28, 2012 at 11:12 pm

    Reblogged this on KRAUS CHRONICLES.


  28. September 29, 2012 at 7:49 am

    Thanks for this. It floors me that more people don’t notice how fundamentally flawed these systems–for rating teachers, schools, students–are. While the state proudly claims that it is making high stakes tests more “rigorous,” they fail to acknowledge that this creates a moving target that cannot be used to measure growth or performance of students or teachers.


  29. September 29, 2012 at 12:22 pm

    I’m just happy knowing that my children will be taught by intelligent private school teachers, not corrupt government union teachers, or teachers involved with the corrupt teachers union who could care less about the children. Chicago students are victims of government education and incompetent teachers. It’s just that simple. They don’t give a damn about the kids. It’s all about them.


    • September 29, 2012 at 8:12 pm

      J Roycroft,

      It is always interesting to run into one of the people that are so totally ignorant of the facts and brainwashed by the critics of public education that he or she believes all the lies and propaganda.

      J, prove that the teachers’ union in Chicago is corrupt. Not alleged, but guilty as charged because a jury and judge found the union guilty of your alleged accusations of not caring about children.

      Prove that the teachers do not care about the children.

      Don’t just make accusations—prove it and not with the opinions of other people.

      Provide hard facts from reputable sources and if you cannot do that, then your opinion is worthless, about as valuable as what runs through sewer pipes.

      The Chicago public school district manages about 600 public and elementary and high schools with more than 400,000 students and 21,000 teachers. It is the third largest in the nation.

      Chicago has a population of about 2.7 million people—36.8% are Black and 26% are Latino. That adds up to almost 63% of the population. However, the student racial breakdown is much higher: 41.6% are black and 44.1% are Latino representing 85.7% of the student population or 342,800 students.

      In addition, 87% of its students come from low-income families. Since students from low-income families are in a higher risk group for dropping out and being functionally illiterate no matter which city they live in, this causes the challenge to be HUGE!

      For a comparison with the largest and second largest school districts in the nation, we learn that New York has 1.1 million students and 38.4% are Hispanics and Latino with 32.2% black students (a ratio that is 16.4% lower than Chicago’s public schools). The white ratio is 14.2% and the Asian American ratio is 13.7%. Since Whites and Asians do better and graduated in higher numbers across the nation even when they are taught by the same teachers, that means New York’s public schools may perform better on average than Chicago. When I was teaching in Southern California, the high school where I taught was 70% Latino 8% black, 8% white and 8% Asian-American. All of the Asians I taught graduated and most went on to college. I cannot say that for most of the Latinos, many of them members of local street gangs.

      The next example is Los Angeles, the second largest school district in America with 694,288 students. 73% of those students are of Hispanic/Latino heritage and 11% are Black. White equals 9% and Asian-American is 6%. Every time the ratio for Whites and Asian Americans is higher, then the school district will have a higher success rate on average.

      Nationally, in 2009, the dropout rate for students from high income families was less than 2% and less than 4% for middle income families but was almost 8% for low income families (DOUBLE the middle class and FOUR TIMES high income).

      What this tells us is that most of the teachers in Chicago’s public schools have SERIOUS challenges to overcome that are unique to the country. Worse than New York and Worse than Los Angeles.

      In 2010, the national dropout rate was 15.1% for Hispanic/Latino and 8% for Black students. That is the average for the entire country meaning that some areas will be higher and others lower. Since Chicago has such a high rate of Blacks and Latinos we learn that the environment for education is toxic and a huge challenge that few other cities in the US have solved. The national dropout rate for whites was 5.1% and Asian/Pacific Islander was 4.2%.

      Race and income is a BIG factor in teaching students.

      In Chicago’s schools there are only 8.8% of the students that are White and 3.4% that are Asian/Pacific Islander.

      Instead of shutting down the teachers union and the public schools, it might work better to break the school district up into twenty different school districts each with its own school board elected from a smaller area that represents the students in the schools.


  30. September 29, 2012 at 10:19 pm

    Nice article. Of course, being a somewhat odd duckling, my objection to the VAM is primarily theological. It assumes that students don’t have free will, and will in fact respond like machines.


  31. October 1, 2012 at 2:46 am

    The same thing is happening here in Australia. Why are politicians so obsessed with performance pay and test scores? It goes against teaching principles – we teach students how to achieve their best regardless of their final grade.

    The problem is that politicians do exactly the opposite – they’re always striving for more marks, greater popularity, a higher rating in the poles. It’s all that matters to them. And they’re the ones ultimately in control of our school funding.

    Solution: sack the lowest performing politicians. Oh, wait. Then we wouldn’t have a government.


    • October 1, 2012 at 11:28 am

      A perfect example of what happens when the politicians remove themselves from running a country’s public education system happened in Finland. This process has been ongoing since the 1970s when 79% of is population completed a basic education, 14% a secondary education and 7% a higher education (college).

      Today 33% complete a basic education, 39 percent secondary and 28% a higher education. Functional illiteracy is less than 8%. For a comparison, functional illiteracy in the US is 20%.

      Educational reform in Finland has been built upon ideas of good leadership that place an emphasis on teaching and learning, encouraging schools to craft optimal learning environments and implement educational content that best helps their students reach the general goals of schooling, and professional leadership of schools. In Finland, the political driven standardized test culture does not exist.

      As for parents, in Finland support for education is strong and most parents start teaching their children to read as young as age three. This means that by age seven when the children start school for the first time, they are already literate and enjoy reading because they have been doing it as a family for several years.

      In Finland, learning to read is not left up to teachers in the classroom as it is in the US and most other Western countries where watching TV’s and social networking on the Internet, playing video games, etc. dominate life at home as it does in the US. Studies show that the average American child spend more than 10 hours a day on these activities while only studying/reading outside of school an average of 30 minutes.

      In addition, in Finland almost 100% of the teachers belong to a very strong teachers’ union that protects the rights of teachers to teach without interference from politicians.

      If interested, you may want to read this report on educational reform in Finland (warning: its a long report. I read the abstract near the beginning, then jumped to the conclusion near the end:

      Click to access A%20short%20history%20of%20educational%20reform%20in%20Finland%20FINAL.pdf


      • October 1, 2012 at 9:03 pm

        Finland is often held up as the model system, as it should because it’s been proven to work. It would be difficult to implement in Australia and the US, though, because we have a private/public school divide. For a start, we’d have to merge the public and private sectors – which are already highly differentiated based on demographics and wealth. And I can’t see everyone being too happy about that merger. Only after that upheaval would we be able to introduce an egalitarian system comparable to Finland’s.

        I’m not saying it can’t be done. But I think the greatest hurdle for education reform on this scale wouldn’t be with government policy – it’d be convincing the public that it’s worth the effort.


        • October 1, 2012 at 10:48 pm

          There are a few private schools in Finland (most of those are usually faith based) but the public sector educates most of the students and private schools cannot turn away students. Private schools must accept students on the same basis the public schools do.

          In the US, most private schools screen applicants. So do public charter schools.

          Then there are other differences between the US and Finland. Finland has few minorities. The majority of citizens are of one race with one common cultural heritage and that culture values education in addition to almost universal support and trust of teachers–something missing in the United States where people are hammered on an annual basis by politicians and the media with the message that teachers’ unions are bad and if your kid is not doing well in school (no matter what the home environment is or the education level of the parents), all blame goes to incompetent teachers even though there have been no studies or data gathered to prove how many incompetent teachers there are.

          The US, on the other hand, is multicultural and more complex. The sub cultures of the majority and each ethnic minority cause complex challenges for teachers to overcome. Then there is the great divide economically from the low, middle, high and wealthy. The US also has regional cultures: the South, East, West, Bible Belt, New England states, Northwest, etc.

          In other words, in the US, a culture of blame the teacher has been growing for decades while students and parents have almost no cultural responsibility for learning or supporting education. Instead it is all a blame game aimed at teachers and teacher unions. Since average parents and students seem unwilling for accepting responsibility for their part in education, I think the US will never have a meaningful national education system that works similar to Finland.

          In comparison, Finland is small without regional cultures. In the US, there are several thousand religions (about three thousand are Christian) but in Finland 77.3% of the people are Lutheran and 20.1% have no religious affiliation.

          Still, I think that the US could improve public education system by turning the schools over to the teachers to decide what is best for the students. That would mean getting politics out of the schools and changing the job of the elected school boards.

          National curriculum requirements would still exist. But each school would focus and organize based on the needs of its unique combination of students and their needs with a focus on ecucation and take the focus off social and inflating self-esteem. Get back to a system where students compete for grades and rank advancement and what track to be placed in.


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