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Chicago Teachers Strike
September 9, 2012 9:36 PM   Subscribe

For the first time since 1987, Chicago public school teachers will strike. Last year, the city council in Chicago passed a law mandating that 75% of Chicago Teachers Union members would need to vote to authorize a strike. In June, CTU announced that they had met that threshold, and that they would strike if negotiations with Chicago Public Schools over job security, evaluations, and a longer school day with no extra pay for teachers, failed. They did, and tonight Karen Lewis, president of the Chicago Teachers Union, announced that as of midnight tonight, public school teachers in Chicago are on strike.
posted by deliciae (184 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite

 
They're only doing the most important job in the world. No reason we should pay or treat them well.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:42 PM on September 9, 2012 [62 favorites]


It's really important to note that this strike isn't just about raises & benefits. One of the things that is up for debate is the new teacher evaluation system (acronym: REACH.) It's based on a balance of classroom observations by administrators and a section called "student growth," which is basically test scores. Teachers are pulling for less weight to be given to the growth scores (since a lot of things other than teacher skill affect a student's scores.)

But, even if the growth scores weren't involved, the new system would have issues. REACH tries to give principals/administrators a centralized rubric for doing teacher evaluations, but it substitutes this system of rubrics for actual training of administrators who know what to look for in the classroom.

The thing that highlights the absurdity of REACH is that each teacher will be given a score at the end of the year - these scores range from 100 to 400. That is, they seem to think the system is precise enough to differentiate between, say a 299th level teacher and a 301st level teacher.

First they tried to turn the educating of students into a mechanical process via test scores, now they're industrializing the evaluation of teachers in the same way.

I'm not in the CTU, but I'll be wearing my red tomorrow.
posted by Wulfhere at 9:51 PM on September 9, 2012 [32 favorites]


Yes....
posted by HuronBob at 9:54 PM on September 9, 2012


Oh, also note that Mayor Rahm Emanuel's children will be attending school tomorrow, because they go to the private University of Chicago Lab School.

Meanwhile, CPS students will either be staying home, or if that's not a possibility, attending "Children First Centers" staffed by non-teachers. (I guess "Centers to Serve Children" was already taken.)
posted by Wulfhere at 9:54 PM on September 9, 2012 [4 favorites]


Oh to be able to listen in to the phone call between Axelrod and Emanuel tomorrow morning.
posted by R. Schlock at 9:56 PM on September 9, 2012 [6 favorites]


You know, I really don't understand the objections of teachers to being measured by quantifiable measurements. It leaves a really bad taste in my mouth, and makes me wonder just what they expect they're supposed to be doing? If they're not providing value and increasing children's learning, then what are they doing? And if they are, what's the objection to publishing their scores?

Yes, children from terrible economic conditions perform lower, but the scores are generally weighted for how much that child improves from the previous year, not how well they perform overall.
posted by corb at 9:59 PM on September 9, 2012 [7 favorites]


The point is that education doesn't quantify particularly well. Evaluation by the numbers is a poor assessment metric.
posted by hank_14 at 10:08 PM on September 9, 2012 [37 favorites]


Yes, children from terrible economic conditions perform lower, but the scores are generally weighted for how much that child improves from the previous year, not how well they perform overall.

Many students from terrible economic conditions do not improve from year to year. Many never improve. And on the other side of that coin, the positive effects a good teacher has are often not quantifiable until years, even decades, later, when any given "student" is no longer in any kind of learning institution.

Sometimes a teacher's skill is not quantifiable (i.e. cannot be placed against any kind of metric) at all, because it is not a direct line from "wrote an essay about the symbolism of the color white in The Great Gatsby" to "was able to employ an obscure rule of law in an unusual situation, and thereby save a municipality hundreds of thousands of dollars, thanks to a finely honed critical-thinking ability that was built by years of doing things like writing essays about the symbolism of the color white in The Great Gatsby."
posted by tzikeh at 10:08 PM on September 9, 2012 [66 favorites]


You know, I really don't understand the objections of teachers to being measured by quantifiable measurements. It leaves a really bad taste in my mouth.

Because it's not objective. It's psuedo-objective, and that's terrible because the fake numbers are going to be used to determine how good the teachers are.

Imagine for a moment that the quality of your posting on Metafilter, and whether or not your ability to continue posting here, was measured by how many favorites you get. That's about how accurate or useful those numbers are going to be.

Pretend objectivity is bullshit.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:10 PM on September 9, 2012 [93 favorites]


There are tons of problems with standardized testing though corb. Basing teacher and school accountability numbers on student performance on standardized testing can definitely be seen as unfair as schools with high levels of disadvantaged children (Chicago has been very segregated based upon socio-economic and hence racial lines historically) typically are going to struggle with standardized testing, often have much higher levels of teacher and administrative turnover, etc. When you link teacher pay to student performance or teacher retention to student performance it also creates perverse incentives on the part of the teachers to focus exclusively on teaching to the test and in many cases has led to cases of cheating or other sorts of gamesmanship such as placing at-risk children in special education classes because typically special education students aren't factored into accountability scores.

I'm not saying that quantifiable results concerning student preparedness aren't valuable but by linking so much to standardized test scores we seem to be losing track of what's really important.
posted by vuron at 10:14 PM on September 9, 2012 [6 favorites]


Oh, also note that Mayor Rahm Emanuel's children will be attending school tomorrow, because they go to the private University of Chicago Lab School.

And this is supposed to imply what exactly? If Emanuel doesn't negotiate a quick end to this strike, his political future in Chicago will be short-lived. As an outsider, I'm not sure what to make of a Democrat taking his position against the CTU.
posted by phaedon at 10:15 PM on September 9, 2012


For anyone in the Chicago area that wants to get involved in this, check out Teachers for Social Justice
posted by HuronBob at 10:30 PM on September 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


I salute the CTU for its bravery — and for standing up to Rahm Emanuel, Arne Duncan, and the covert war that both of the major US parties are now waging against public schools and teachers' jobs. Whether the war is waged in the name of "education reform" or "assessment" or charter schools or just plain cost-cutting makes little difference in the end, besides as an ideological smokescreen masking its real, intended effects on teachers' jobs and lives.
posted by RogerB at 10:31 PM on September 9, 2012 [5 favorites]


What you use to measure performance is a statement of what you value. What you value drives what your employees do.

Basing a teacher's performance on how well they made the numbers go up and how well they ticked the boxes, means that you will get teachers whose only goal is to tick the boxes and make the numbers go up. Which is fine, but it's not the same thing as education.
posted by Grimgrin at 10:39 PM on September 9, 2012 [27 favorites]


My experience as a teacher in Seattle leaves me deeply suspicious of mass media reporting on teachers' strikes. Modern media is lazy as fuck. The last two teachers' strikes in my state have repeatedly been framed as teachers striking over wage issues, when those issues weren't remotely what the teachers were concerned about. Usually it was about class size (news flash: the desire for smaller class sizes isn't about teachers being lazy, it's about teachers wanting to be more effective). But the media always threw in "teacher pay" as if that were even on the table, and with the economy as bad as it had been that instantly set much of the public reaction against the teachers (who apparently should've just been grateful to have jobs at all).

I dunno. I've seen a lot of bad PR by the teachers' unions in WA. I hope Chicago's union has better luck, and I hope their real issues get out. If it really is about pay, so be it; but I suspect that's a minimal side issue. These evaluations sound like a much bigger deal.

I'm leery of teachers' unions. Yes, there is corruption, there is bad management and there are union bureaucrats trying desperately to demonstrate their relevance. Conversely -- I really did need mine to step in when the district tried to rob me to the tune of $500 a month during the toughest assignment of my career. They came to my rescue.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 10:40 PM on September 9, 2012 [10 favorites]


. . . bad PR . . . I hope Chicago's union has better luck, and I hope their real issues get out.

Not really. Every time I've ever seen Karen Lewis she seems thoroughly unlikable. Maybe she's a good advocate in the closed-door negotiations, but she's a bad public face for the union. And the press coverage doesn't seem to focus on things like teacher assessments; I've seen more about demands for air-conditioned classrooms.
posted by stopgap at 10:48 PM on September 9, 2012


I know I've said this before on the blue, but:

When we talk about schools, we never hold the kids accountable, because they're just kids and they're faced with a wide variety of circumstances beyond their control. We never hold the parents accountable, because there's no way to legislate parents into being good parents. (And we never hold any political leaders accountable at all, 'cause that's just unAmerican.)

But the teachers? Somebody pays their salaries. And they have to report to people. So we scream at them and we hold them to ever-increasing standards, because they make up the sole factor in this whole aspect of society that can be controlled and litigated.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 11:00 PM on September 9, 2012 [30 favorites]


No one ever invented a new technology or wrote a great novel because they were good at standardized testing. I used to teach for a major standardized testing preparation company, and if that's the model we're going to use for our educational system at large then we're imbeciles and deserve what we're going to get.
posted by 1adam12 at 11:01 PM on September 9, 2012 [9 favorites]


scaryblackdeath has it right in the first comment: re media coverage. I thought that local Chicago news, with its constant lowering the bar with "if it bleeds, it leads, especially if it's white people bleeding" coverage, couldn't sink any lower in my esteem. Then I saw their strike coverage tonight.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 11:03 PM on September 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


"Officials said that program would also include meals — no small concern since 84 percent of the city’s public school students qualify for the free and reduced meals program."

Holy shit. That metric -- and what it means for every other metric used to measure the performances of schools and teachers -- has my jaw on the floor. Wow. I don't even know where to begin with how relevant that is.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 11:05 PM on September 9, 2012 [10 favorites]


You know, I really don't understand the objections of teachers to being measured by quantifiable measurements.

As a one-time would-be Math teacher who bailed on the system before I could really get started, it seemed to me at the time that our metrics for whether students were educated mathematical thinkers (rather than trained executors of algorithms) were iffy. That's math, a subject known for having relatively well-defined problems and right/wrong answers. If good yardsticks aren't trivial to come up with there, what have they got to be like for fuzzier fields? Can you come up with an objective criteria for what makes a good essay? If so, I see in your future a fortune in automated assessment, and better your quality solution than the inevitable raft of poor ones already leaned on in some places.

But measuring *outcomes* might be a relatively easy problem compared to isolating factors involved in student performance. The assumption is that the teacher is the main input into student/class/school outcomes, or the most important one. Is it? Or how much do wealth and poverty, environment and social narrative affect student engagement and performance? Parental attitude/involvement? Or -- on a grosser level as it directly relates to assessment -- which class a student is assigned to when they take the test? True story: I have a friend who's a middle school English teacher, and she's had students added to her class (and therefore her assessment) within weeks of an assessment.

But wait! That's not all. Great teachers probably do have a significant impact, so it might even be worth it to gloss over the other issues I've mentioned so far if we just knew how to systematically identify them or improve poor/adequate ones into great ones. Do we know that? If we don't know that what are we going to do with our iffy assessments once we get them?

Maybe there's some answers. I've seen a few good things in systemic teacher education/assessment. But overall, I think the narrative of teachers resisting "quantifiable measurements" for reasons usually not engaged (let alone articulated) but sortof assumed to be laziness or recalcitrance or desire to coast deserves less attention and credit than it gets. Quantifiable measurement in a field like this is hard. Yet it seems like it's more or less assumed as a starting point that we know how to do it fairly and well. Maybe you can tell me what makes you (among other people) confident that's the case.

Also:
Everything You've Heard About Failing Schools Is Wrong

Attendance: up. Dropout rates: plummeting. College acceptance: through the roof. My mind-blowing year inside a "low-performing" school.
posted by weston at 11:20 PM on September 9, 2012 [24 favorites]


Measuring teachers performance is really complicated and fraught with difficulty, and I seriously doubt that perfection can be achieved. However, in my State at least, the alternative, of rewarding teachers basically according to years of service, is not acceptable to me.

Everybody knows that there are great teachers out there, that encourage learning and push their charges, no matter what socio-economic status. We also all know that there are crap lazy teachers that are complete time servers. There's a reason that private schools often have better teachers, it's because the truly poor ones can be weeded out. Teaching is not completely an art, it is reducible to elements to some extent. We can measure and manage performance in equally difficult areas of human endeavour, the main reason we can't seem to do it here is due to union intransigence.

Unless we can manage teacher performance better, we can't really reward them better. These are flip sides of the same bargain with society. No government will agree to unilaterally increase all teachers wages. If all teachers are kept to the standard of the lowest, then all teachers will continue to be paid against the lowest.
posted by wilful at 11:29 PM on September 9, 2012 [7 favorites]


Measuring teacher quality by student test results is somewhat akin to performance related pay for nurses and doctors based on how many of their patients didn't die that year.

Within a given class, there is so much variability between student performace, let alone comparing classes in the same year against each other (which is what you're effective doing), or a given class against a class with the same teacher the previous year.

Sometimes you'll get the short stick, and get a class with a higher proportion of disruptive pupils, and it's less about teaching than riot control. Other classes in the same year can be right little angels. You've got the mixture of bright kids, slow kids, and they all perform differently in different subjects, and its completely random as to when one will 'get it' and suddenly zoom ahead. They're kids for gods sake, they don't develop physically on anything like a predicable scale even on a yearly basis, and now we're supposed to use the abstracted measurement of a given group's mental development, and then retroactively use that to measure how good their teacher was? As opposed to their home life, how much their parents were involved, whether they got divorced that year, did one lose their job...
In engineering terms, there's far too much noise to extract a usable signal at that resolution.

You might as well use birthrates as a proxy for economic wellbeing, and use that to set politician pay rates when compared to national averages.

That's not to say teachers cannot be examined for quality. You can do semi-regular inspections to examine classroom technique, written prep, classroom management, homework marking/feedback, look for very statistically unusual results over a period of years; but that is mainly of use for advising teachers on their career development, to pick up areas where they could use further training to improve particular areas of skill. Or rarely, if a teacher is so truly awful with no improvement, they should go.

But that means you need schools with sufficient time on their hands to give department and school heads time to evaluate their staff more closely and fairly. It means you need enough manpower to be able to rotate teachers out for career development and training. It means you need to have enough physical space and manpower to have small enough class sizes to make them mangeable and give teachers room to teach instead of just riot control. All of which costs money, of course. But then, this isn't about improving the quality of education is it. It's about cutting spending. Especially for the wealthiest.

But teaching is just like making widgets in a factory. And we need to cut costs, cut costs, cos the boss wants a bigger bonus this year. So lets start measuring how those widgets perform in end-user satisfaction surveys, and use that to cut the pay of the widget factory workers who don't make enough customers happy.

Teaching is just like that, so we'll use that method. What could possibly go wrong?
posted by ArkhanJG at 11:45 PM on September 9, 2012 [22 favorites]


If Emanuel doesn't negotiate a quick end to this strike, his political future in Chicago will be short-lived. As an outsider, I'm not sure what to make of a Democrat taking his position against the CTU.

Well, Chicago is a one-party entity, so all politics takes place pretty much between Democrats -- with the occasional city/state or city/county fight with a Republican thrown in. This is not a case where if he goes against the CTU the entire city rises up and suddenly elects a Republican -- there hasn't been a GOP mayor of Chicago since 1931.

I haven't lived there immediately recently, so I can't say for sure what today's parents think, but there is a deep memory in Chicago of the Chicago Public Schools before Mayor Daley (Richard M., not Richard J.) took control. At that point the schools had become a shambolic mess exemplifying the gritty, hopeless view of urban cores from 70s movies. The teachers struck nearly every year, or if they didn't, the janitors or somebody else would. Mirroring stopgap above, the then-head of the union was a horrible public image, or at least was unable to prevent or counter the image the media created of her. Every parent in the city felt powerless to improve their child's education. There wasn't any cozy, warm feeling that teachers were really trying to improve things for the kids. The entire system appeared to be a money pit, with sky-high dropout rates, textbooks from decades earlier, janitors earning more than most educators, and crumbling, nightmarish buildings. This may not be a completely fair assessment -- I wasn't and never was a parent with a kid in the system -- but it was certainly how people felt about the problem.

Daley and the state worked together to craft a new arrangement giving him the power to appoint the "Schools CEO". Frankly, I didn't think it could be done, but he managed. There was a fractious period of creation of local school councils (who were frequently unable to get custodians to open the schools for their meetings), a gradual introduction of LSC control of principals and in turn principals of their own schools' faculty, and eventually a system of reconstituting failing schools by essentially firing everyone and starting fresh. This all took the better part of 15-20 years, so it's not really in the distant past yet.

Yes, there has been some relative labor peace in the city, but mainly because conflicts have been tempered and localized rather than system-wide. While a lot of individual schools have gotten notably better, there is still a great deal of worry about overall performance and, of course, money. I don't think I'm alone in wondering whether the greater political risk rests on the teachers, as this is going to make Emanuel the champion of the taxpayer and the regular guy -- the formula that helped Scott Walker win the Wisconsin recall.

Sure, it's disturbing to think of the same political forces and massive private monies coming to bear on behalf of Emanuel, but this isn't a case of happy, well-performing suburban schools where everyone agrees the teachers are doing a great job. This is a system that has gone to the brink and parents will be worried if it starts to slide back that way, especially with the huge decline in Catholic schools as an option.
posted by dhartung at 12:07 AM on September 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


I have a friend who taught 7th grade English in a very poor American school district. He was criticized for not teaching state-mandated skills for that school level, such as "similes and metaphors". Why didn't he teach them? Because more than a third of his students couldn't speak the whole alphabet, and most of his kids couldn't read this sentence. He spent every day in vain trying to get those kids to reach a basic level of English where they *might* one day comprehend the idea of metaphor. His work wasn't rated on the fairly incredible strides he made in getting those kids to reach a second- or third-grade level itheir native language, but solely on their readiness with concepts utterly beyond their understanding. At one point, the principal (illegally) forced him to teach math instead of English, because the students' math scores were even worse than their English scores. So for three months, they didn't even have English class beyond what my friend could squeeze into math lessons.

So when I read this . . .

You know, I really don't understand the objections of teachers to being measured by quantifiable measurements. It leaves a really bad taste in my mouth, and makes me wonder just what they expect they're supposed to be doing? If they're not providing value and increasing children's learning, then what are they doing? And if they are, what's the objection to publishing their scores?

. . . I can only dream about how fantastic it would be to be so far removed from reality that that statement makes any logical sense.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 12:13 AM on September 10, 2012 [54 favorites]


Measuring teacher quality by student test results is somewhat akin to performance related pay for nurses and doctors based on how many of their patients didn't die that year.

Assuming what you were really measuring was the extent to which a patient was more or less likely to die during the time the patient spent with that particular doctor, and those scores were handicapped based on the relative severity of the person's illness, and that assessment still only counted for 25-30% of an evaluation whose consequence is firing a relatively small number of doctors, giving a slightly larger number of doctors a little extra money, and leaving the vast majority of things basically the same.
posted by Apropos of Something at 12:14 AM on September 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


We've had this discussion here at Metafilter many times and it always depresses me. Listening to non-educators explain how educators should be evaluated makes me nuts. I wouldn't go in and tell a doctor or lawyer how to do her job because I haven't had the experience or the training. Yet, it seems that a huge number of people who've never taught, never been involved with education and never even taken education classes believe they know best when it comes to how a teacher should be evaluated.

So let's start immediately by dismantling the idea that numerical metrics of evaluating students are the best way of evaluating students. If you really want a student to learn something, just slapping a "B-" on a paper is useless. What does that B- mean? It means a different thing in every class and with every teacher and with every project.

This is not limited to America. I have students in the IB system. Students at our school can submit work of comparable quality over a couple of years and get wildly different grades based on who is evaluating the work.

If a grade is primarily based on who does the evaluation, then the grade is probably a poor indicator of student progress.

Standardized grades are even worse. If you have a student who is absolutely brilliant in your history class - recognize complex trends, pieces together how one event effects another - that is no guarantee that they'll do well on the weighted-to-math-and-English standardized exams. Being able to memorize dates isn't "doing history." Your phone can memorize dates but it can't come up with intuitive leaps about how one event might impact another event.

There's also the problem that most standardized tests can be games. SAT courses focus in part on how you can increase your score via how you take the test. If you can afford an SAT course. Which, of course, means that those who can pay for the SAT course will do a little better on the SATs. Advantage: wealth.

Does the skill you learn about how to improve your score on the SAT give you any long term benefit?

What I think we want our students to be are critical thinkers, creative problem solvers (in both an art sense and in A Beautiful Mind sense), excellent communicators, and effective collaborators. It would be great if they could also be moral people (putting aside religious belief, let's just assume this means "not assholes") and good, informed citizens. I'd like them to be able to see through B.S. and live a healthy life.

There are useful ways of evaluating students, but the most useful ways require a certain amount of individual attention per student. So, yeah, if the state makes us slap a grade on them (much like one would slap a grab on a piece of meat), so be it, but give us time to sit down with them individually and help them when they need help, encourage them when they need encouragement, and give them a narrative picture of how they can improve and how they're succeeding.

So how, then, do you evaluate the job a teacher is doing? Well, this sucks for administrators, but you get to know your teachers, your students and your community. You work with each teacher and department head or whatever to design individualized plans that encourage growth and improvement. When a teacher is failing, you create an action plan detailing how they need to improve if they're going to continue working with students. We also need a system where administrators can be effectively evaluated as individuals because, shit, a bad principal or headmaster or head of the school board can fuck a place up. Not to mention that we need to stop electing people to our board of education and find another way of dealing with that because the people who run for those positions tend to be religious nut-jobs, literally old school educators who believe in outmoded systems, and other people who have no business making decisions for schools.

This 19th century assembly line system we have for evaluating education, students and educators is destructive. It encourages teaching towards tests (i.e. - drill and kill memorization with minimal critical thinking) and crushes many students abilities to thrive and grow. It encourages us to treat students like a product being grinded out of a factory, each one exactly like the next.

Many of you had shitty experiences as students. In many cases, I bet it was because you were a name and a set of numbers but never a person to your teachers. As long as we increase class sizes, base funding on standardized tests, and make teaching a job that gets so little respect, we're going to ensure that generations of students continue to hear "Another Brick In The Wall Part 2" and nod there heads going "yeah, that's pretty much my life."

And its one of Pink Floyd's shittiest songs.

So, yeah, fuck Emmanuel in Chicago, Walker in Wisconsin, and every other mendacious politician who knows fuck all about anything but works from the assumption that schools are supposed to be shit holes where we send our kids' souls to die.
posted by Joey Michaels at 12:17 AM on September 10, 2012 [23 favorites]


(If my teachers had had time to work with me when I was in school, I'd have learned I was dyslexic before grad school)
posted by Joey Michaels at 12:23 AM on September 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


As a friend in education pointed out, quantifying teacher and school performance is easy, quantifying it in a meaningful way is very, very hard (and as far as I can tell, not done).

Consider the factory model. Factories quantify their processes so that they can make better, let's say iPhones. Line 1 produces 1000 iPhones a day with a QA fail rate of 0.5%, Line 2 produces 1100 iPhones with a fail rate of 2%. The factory can look at their processes to figure out how to optimize and correct for the numbers they want.

Because the inputs to these lines - the materials - are: a) near-uniform, b) rejected if not.

And so we come to schools. A public school takes the kids it gets. Unlike a private school, it cannot screen for uniformity. Some kids come from homes with two PhD parents, three good meals a day, and a livingroom full of books and art supplies. Other kids one adult in the parent role, and move every few years (from Mom, who just went to prison, to shuffling between Grandma and Aunt's house), get one good meal a day and fend for themselves for the other two, have never had an adult read to them, or even read in their presence, etc.

And the incoming mix of students isn't a nice predictable kind of random either.

So, how do you measure whether you're doing well this year? Well, you could measure a teacher's or school's performance at Grade 6 this year and last, by test scores, but that will be determined almost entirely by what kids you had this year and last.

Or you can measure the deltas. Was this year's improvement from Grade 5 to Grade 6 bigger or smaller than last year's. But ... some kids drop out. And also, if you had a bunch of disruptive kids in one of those cohorts but not the other, the entire cohort will have suffered in performance because the teachers had to spend a lot of time on managing the class rather than teaching it (two distracting kids bounce off one another and are 4x the teacher's time and effort of one distracting kid).

I am not enough of a statistician to know how to usefully measure teacher performance on a year to year basis. There are too many variables for my public-school educated mind to handle.
posted by zippy at 12:24 AM on September 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


"You know, I really don't understand the objections of teachers to being measured by quantifiable measurements. It leaves a really bad taste in my mouth, and makes me wonder just what they expect they're supposed to be doing? If they're not providing value and increasing children's learning, then what are they doing? And if they are, what's the objection to publishing their scores?

Yes, children from terrible economic conditions perform lower, but the scores are generally weighted for how much that child improves from the previous year, not how well they perform overall.
"

This is where a focus on hard sciences really does do a disservice to American critical thinking. It's a pretty basic concept in a lot of social science research, the discipline that pedagogy falls under. The basic problem is that for a lot of things, there's no good way to either define outcomes or measurement without tautology. We want our kids to learn more, better, etc. How do we do that? With a set of metrics. Do those set of metrics actually reflect learning? Well, they abstract it, and have a correlation, but causative data in a morass of variables is nigh impossible to glean for any important question about policy. And to make it worse, we attach incentives to the system.

There's another term for this that I'm totally spacing on, but basically any time that you want to measure something that you can only get at indirectly through proxy metrics, if you add incentives to that as a feedback loop, you will destroy the reliability of your metrics because the incentive will be to maximize the proxy at the expense of the unmeasured factors.

The easiest example of this is the simplified "teach to the test." If your pay is based purely on what scores kids get on tests, you'll jettison everything that's not related to the test. Unfortunately, while test taking teaches some valuable skills, it's not a good solitary proxy for education as a whole. But in a system where that's the incentivized metric, you guarantee that people will distort their teaching to that metric.

It's something that can be easily explained through libertarian principles, which I hope helps you think it through.
posted by klangklangston at 12:27 AM on September 10, 2012 [8 favorites]


Pope Guilty: Imagine for a moment that the quality of your posting on Metafilter, and whether or not your ability to continue posting here, was measured by how many favorites you get. That's about how accurate or useful those numbers are going to be.

That's a surprisingly apt comparison, perhaps even more than it appears on first glance. Obviously, rating people on favorites is lame; we know that. But one of the major ways to get lots of favorites is to tell people what they want to hear, which is not necessarily the truth. So, say Metafilter paid cash bonuses for the number of favorites you accumulated. We'd see a gradual, but eventually massive skew into self-confirming chuckleheadery. If folks were rewarded for garnering favorites, then they'd do whatever it took to get favorites, not whatever it took to make the site better.

Likewise, in these kinds of pseudo-objective evaluations, which have nothing to do with objectively measuring actual talent or performance, teachers are going to do better if they are popular with kids, and if they suck up (perhaps absolutely literally) to the school administration. Those will become the primary measurement tools for teachers -- popularity, not skill. Good teachers are only popular with kids that want to learn, and many many children in public school view it as prison and/or daycare. And many many parents think that their children should get As no matter what, and they'll fight genuinely good teachers tooth and nail. Further, good teachers tend to be UNpopular with the administration, because they will tend to do their own thing and not toe the line.

Likely result: good teachers will be driven out of teaching. Bland, untalented conformists will replace them.

Rating teachers on popularity is pretty much a recipe for disaster, and that's precisely what this sounds like. It wouldn't happen immediately, but it would happen.

We DO need some better ways of measuring teacher skill and drive. But if we're going to measure teachers, let's actually measure the teachers, not the students, and do it in an objective way, not one colored by interpretation. And, I would argue, we probably need to be measuring the school as a unit, rather than individuals. That old thing about it taking a village to raise a child is very true. Perhaps we need to rate the communities the schools are in. If a community is full of apathetic parents who don't care what Johnny learned today, teachers that get those students up even to 'average' are probably freaking brilliant. In a district with active and engaged parents (and not the entitled, whiny, A-demanding kind).... well, if teachers only managed an 'average' score in that kind of environment, they're probably terrible.

We do need a way to measure, but simple regurgitation of facts by students is ABSOLUTELY NOT the proper metric.

I've often said that No Child Left Behind really means No Child Gets Ahead, and I'm more and more firmly of that opinion as the years pass. The whole framework is broken.
posted by Malor at 12:59 AM on September 10, 2012 [6 favorites]


Union leaders expressed disappointment in the District’s refusal to concede on issues involving compensation, job security and resources for their students.

So, from reading a few articles that all basically have the same buzzwords in them, as near as I can tell, the issues are:
1) Health care, the city wants to cut it, the union wants to keep it.
2) A 19 percent pay raise?
3) Teacher evaluations based 25% on test scores, which is mandated by law?
4) Air Conditioning.

For those of us not in Chicago, is there non-rhetoric filled guide to this mess?
posted by madajb at 1:09 AM on September 10, 2012


At my school we take a pretty radically different approach to junior high EFL, focusing on using the language as much as possible. This, unfortunately, leaves our students at a kind of disadvantage. Our students are focusing on making sentences, speaking to each other, and writing. Other schools have a Japanese teacher, speaking in Japanese, drilling students on grammar and vocabulary. Consequently, our students score lower on the standardized tests, and we are constantly asked why our test scores are so low. Meanwhile, we have students in first and second year writing basic paragraphs, and in the third year they are writing essays. They write their own skits and perform them. They make speeches. They can communicate. They can actually use the language. But still, people want to know why their TOEIC Bridge score (which is a test based on grammar and vocabulary) isn't higher.

Not only that, but when our students go on to the high school (same building, different teachers), they are taught in the standard lecture style of Japan, with rote grammar and vocabulary lists. Recently, we've been hearing about how the sixth year students' speaking and writing abilities aren't considered good enough. The junior high is being blamed, and the high school's complete lack of communicative teaching style is ignored. Obviously, to them, the problem lies in how the students were taught three years ago, not at all how they were taught for the last three.

And this? This is all coming from people who are supposed to be involved in education. Who are supposed to know something about teaching. These are the people we have to fight to keep our program running. We have an incredibly successful program, with students that go on to not only keep up with their English, but live overseas as well. By the acceptable metrics, though, we are a horrible, horrible failure. Acceptable metrics require that everyone take the same route to the same goal. No matter how awful or wrong the goal is, as long as it is reached, the people reaching it rank high, and all is considered to have worked out in the end. Take all of that, and think about the attacks that come from people with no actual contact with education, who think that teachers are paid too much, who think they are spoiled.

I cringe any time I hear people talking about education and they hold Japan up as an example of how to do it right. All this talk of standardization, of scoring teachers based on testing results, it's pretty much exactly what is done here. You hold the test results above other things, and teachers will teach to the test in order to keep their job. When teachers teach to the test, students learn to study for the test, which is not learning.

Education should be about helping children become adults, with adult abilities to encounter and learn about the world. It should not just be about teaching children to fill in the correct circle with the correct pencil.

apologies for the derail. this shit pisses me off.
posted by Ghidorah at 1:40 AM on September 10, 2012 [13 favorites]


The issues are, according to the Union website:

Recognizing the Board’s fiscal woes, we are not far apart on compensation. However, we are apart on benefits. We want to maintain the existing health benefits.

“Another concern is evaluation procedures. After the initial phase-in of the new evaluation system it could result in 6,000 teachers (or nearly 30 percent of our members) being discharged within one or two years. This is unacceptable. We are also concerned that too much of the new evaluations will be based on students’ standardized test scores. This is no way to measure the effectiveness of an educator. Further there are too many factors beyond our control which impact how well some students perform on standardized tests such as poverty, exposure to violence, homelessness, hunger and other social issues beyond our control.

“We want job security. Despite a new curriculum and new, stringent evaluation system, CPS proposes no increase (or even decreases) in teacher training. This is notable because our Union through our Quest Center is at the forefront teacher professional development in Illinois. We have been lauded by the District and our colleagues across the country for our extensive teacher training programs that helped emerging teachers strengthen their craft and increased the number of nationally board certified educators.

“We are demanding a reasonable timetable for the installation of air-conditioning in student classrooms--a sweltering, 98-degree classroom is not a productive learning environment for children. This type of environment is unacceptable for our members and all school personnel. A lack of climate control is unacceptable to our parents.



So, no, compensation is not the main thing, as they are quite close.
posted by angrycat at 2:30 AM on September 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Education should be about helping children become adults, with adult abilities to encounter and learn about the world.

Of course it should be.

Rahm Emmanuel: "Here's a blank check, just fill in the amount you need. And when that runs out, the taxpayers will be more than happy to give you another."

Chicago Teacher's Union: *Takes check*

Rahm Emmanuel: "Now about some accountability?"

Chicago Teacher's Union: *Gives evil glare*

Rahm Emmanuel: "Oh gee, sorry. How offensive that must sound to you. Everyone knows that there is no way to measure the effectiveness of an educator. Just use it however you think best. You're the education experts. Who are we to ask questions about what you do or what it costs?"
posted by three blind mice at 3:34 AM on September 10, 2012 [7 favorites]


You know, I really don't understand the objections of teachers to being measured by quantifiable measurements. If they're not providing value and increasing children's learning, then what are they doing? And if they are, what's the objection to publishing their scores?

I've got this one. First of all, variation in student performance might be due to the taught material. If a student has a knack for algebra but not for geometry or if they have a greater interest in a historical era and thus better performance, their grades from Maths I to Maths II and History I to History II will fluctuate even if their teacher performs the same, yet the metric will evaluate their teacher.

I have a personal example where such a metric would have failed. During one of my final years in school, I had to learn geometry from scratch because it was tangential (heh) to the algebra/calculus/analysis we were doing at the time. I had private tutoring and I was dedicated, so I ended up with a better grade compared to the year before. My teacher at school would have been rated well, but he was no better or worse the preceding teacher. In contrast, a friend had a teacher who taught her a basic understanding of maths in her last school years. He helped her in the long term, but that wasn't reflected in her grade, as the final tests involved more advanced concepts. That teacher who made up for the shortcomings of past teachers would have received a mediocre evaluation.

I find the argument for the evaluation of uni professors more convincing, but I can see how trying to quantify educational attainment is not as easy as it sounds.
posted by ersatz at 3:54 AM on September 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Not really. Every time I've ever seen Karen Lewis she seems thoroughly unlikable. Maybe she's a good advocate in the closed-door negotiations, but she's a bad public face for the union. And the press coverage doesn't seem to focus on things like teacher assessments; I've seen more about demands for air-conditioned classrooms.

I agree. The membership seems to like her, however.
posted by gjc at 4:01 AM on September 10, 2012


I teach at a jc, adjunct, so there are a bunch of bad things associated with that (zero job security, no health care or other benefits aside from a small 401(k).) I am pretty amazed that as of yet I haven't been evaluated by a supervisor. That's bad.

That being sad, for the love of God, I would really like somebody to articulate an evaluation system that doesn't involve personal supervision that makes a spot of sense.

At my jc in a hardscrabble urban area, I could go on for paragraphs about the things I have no control over that impact my students' ability to learn. Poverty and lack of English skills, because the students are ESL or ELL, violence at home and in the neighborhood, no role models.

I mean, it is not rocket science that evaluation is tricky and that evaluation via testing is highly problematic. I mean, what the hell? Nobody's seen Season 4 of The Wire? Is the GOP really that effective in demonizing teachers?
posted by angrycat at 4:02 AM on September 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Fuck you, Rahm.
Shouldn't he be in jail or at least barred from running for public office?
posted by b1tr0t at 4:02 AM on September 10, 2012


We've had this discussion here at Metafilter many times and it always depresses me. Listening to non-educators explain how educators should be evaluated makes me nuts. I wouldn't go in and tell a doctor or lawyer how to do her job because I haven't had the experience or the training. Yet, it seems that a huge number of people who've never taught, never been involved with education and never even taken education classes believe they know best when it comes to how a teacher should be evaluated.

The problem with that is that we have all learned. We have all been in school. And we don't have to be teachers, lawyers or doctors to know when one is good or bad.

Educating children is important. More important than the egos of teachers. There are problems with any system of evaluation. I don't think there is a job that exists where the evaluation system is perfect or complete. You have to start somewhere and continually improve on the system. You'd think that's a concept that teachers would understand.

The future of our children is the most important thing here. And based on the things I'm hearing Karen Lewis and the striking teachers saying on Channel 9 right now, they do not seem to share that idea.
posted by gjc at 4:14 AM on September 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


Someone once commented about how parents think that parenting is the hardest job in the world, but that teaching is easy.

This seems like a *Great* time for a teacher strike to begin. Parents have felt the relief of having their children back in school for a couple weeks, relieving stay at home parents of taking care of their kids during the day, and relieving working parents of child care during school hours. Then BAM--teacher strike.

Good luck to the teachers on strike, and here's hoping for a swift resolution and improvements for Chicago's teachers.
posted by shortyJBot at 4:17 AM on September 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


Recognizing the Board’s fiscal woes, we are not far apart on compensation. However, we are apart on benefits. We want to maintain the existing health benefits.

They currently contribute 1.7% of their pay for health insurance. The board wants to raise that to 7%. (I am repeating these numbers from someone who works for the CPS.)

We are demanding a reasonable timetable for the installation of air-conditioning in student classrooms--a sweltering, 98-degree classroom is not a productive learning environment for children. This type of environment is unacceptable for our members and all school personnel. A lack of climate control is unacceptable to our parents.

I can't believe they have the temerity to make this a strike issue. Do they have any idea how this looks? Especially to a city full of adults who sat through those conditions when they were students in the CPS??
posted by gjc at 4:21 AM on September 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


The problem with that is that we have all learned. We have all been in school. And we don't have to be teachers, lawyers or doctors to know when one is good or bad.

Of course, incompetent people are too incompetent to know they are incompetent. You might think you know what makes a good teacher, doctor or lawyer because you've gone to school, been sick, or had legal issues. Maybe they were incompetent or maybe you just didn't like them.

Who is more qualified to create a system for evaluating educators? Politicians or educators?

I got A's in Physics. My ability to learn physics did not translate into an ability to teach physics or know how to evaluate a physics teacher.

Educating children is important. More important than the egos of teachers. There are problems with any system of evaluation. I don't think there is a job that exists where the evaluation system is perfect or complete. You have to start somewhere and continually improve on the system. You'd think that's a concept that teachers would understand.

If the evaluation system ends of doing the opposite of what its supposed to do, I'd say that's much more than just a problem. The underlying assumptions at the heart of the evaluation system are incorrect and our students are suffering.

Yes, educating children is important and the systems you're tacitly endorsing here are not helping accomplish that goal.

I guess that's just a concept that a non-teacher can't understand, if I can point your incredibly condescending and insulting phrase back at you.
posted by Joey Michaels at 4:33 AM on September 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


It's like no one has ever heard of Hayek. (In Chicago!) You will never be able to use standardized tests , or anything else, accurately to assess teachers on a gross basis, but you don't need to! Empower heads of schools to choose their faculty and empower parents to choose the heads of schools, and to change schools if dissatisfied, and very quickly the good teachers will be retained and promoted and the bad shown the door. That's how every private school and every good suburban school district works.
posted by MattD at 4:40 AM on September 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


Air conditioning should be freaking mandatory in schools. Ther same bullshit got brought up here when they started talking about having it in public schools (it's pretty much standard in private schools, but hey, poor folk should learn to suffer, right? To get them ready for later in life, of course). It was bitter old man after bitter old man saying 'I had to suffer, why shouldn't they?"

It's different when you take the camera into a south facing classroom in early July or early September, where they have to keep the windows closed because of the elevated highway and the wind blowing silt everywhere. One week fan in a classroom full of students, and the temp over 100F. Elementary students nearly comatose on their desks, but too bad, that's how we did it when we were kids, right?

At what point do we realize that making things better and easier for those who come after us is actually something we should strive for? 'I had to suffer, you should too" should never be a reason for action or inaction.

As for the evaluations, obviously, three blind mice, some kind of evaluation is necessary, in any work environment. However, resorting to broken methods isn't the answer. If we're going to evaluate teachers, the criteria should be created by people who have actually studied education. The problem then is that people who actually 'get' education aren't likely to put together a system of evaluation that ends with a tidy number ranking. Education isn't an objective undertaking, and it's evaluation shouldn't be either. To base everything on tests is to say that the teacher in the wealthy school district with a support system that highly values education is good because test scores are high is somehow better than a teacher who manages to teach a fourteen year old how to read at the second grade level.

If anything, the teacher that gets a kid who has largely been abandoned and manages to help them is the one that should be most highly rewarded, but their students are the most likely to test poorly. Their school is the most likely to be ranked lowly, to be threatened with loss of funding. But sure, let's let politicians and people who think teachers are only in it because of the vacation make the evaluations. That'd be keen.
posted by Ghidorah at 4:52 AM on September 10, 2012 [11 favorites]


Of course, incompetent people are too incompetent to know they are incompetent.

That is an argument FOR external evaluation of teachers.


I guess that's just a concept that a non-teacher can't understand, if I can point your incredibly condescending and insulting phrase back at you.

It was meant to be insulting, because it is insulting that highly paid professionals (average pay at CPS is $71,000) in the field of education, who assess the performance of their students every day, insist that it is not possible to devise a system for their own performance to be evaluated. It's also insulting (and telling) that a teacher would make the assumption that certain people are incapable of understanding something. Like non-teachers, or students whose parents aren't as involved as the teachers would prefer.
posted by gjc at 4:55 AM on September 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


Who is more qualified to create a system for evaluating educators? Politicians or educators?

Was there no system for evaluating educators in place before NCLB? If so, are you willing to say that education was great then? If not, isn't that a pretty serious indictment of the educators who were running the system?
posted by Etrigan at 5:08 AM on September 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


Air conditioning should be freaking mandatory in schools. Ther same bullshit got brought up here when they started talking about having it in public schools (it's pretty much standard in private schools, but hey, poor folk should learn to suffer, right? To get them ready for later in life, of course). It was bitter old man after bitter old man saying 'I had to suffer, why shouldn't they?"

No, just that it isn't something they should be striking over. It looks bad, especially to poor people who probably don't have air conditioning themselves. (And I do say this somewhat selfishly, as a student who had to sit in west facing CPS classrooms baking my ass off nearly into July making up school days after the various strikes in the 1980s...)

To base everything on tests is to say that the teacher in the wealthy school district with a support system that highly values education is good because test scores are high is somehow better than a teacher who manages to teach a fourteen year old how to read at the second grade level.

If anything, the teacher that gets a kid who has largely been abandoned and manages to help them is the one that should be most highly rewarded, but their students are the most likely to test poorly. Their school is the most likely to be ranked lowly, to be threatened with loss of funding.


I always see that, but I have never seen where teacher evaluation pits the raw scores of students in one district to those of another. Every system I see involves relative scoring. Improvement and maintaining improvement.

And the argument isn't about basing everything on this. If I remember correctly, the CTU is objecting to 25% of their evaluation being based on student performance. That number does not seem unfair.
posted by gjc at 5:11 AM on September 10, 2012


Quantifiable measurement in a field like this is hard. Yet it seems like it's more or less assumed as a starting point that we know how to do it fairly and well. Maybe you can tell me what makes you (among other people) confident that's the case.

I am in no way suggesting that we know how to do it fairly and well. What I'm suggesting is that it needs to be done. And I think the first step is for teacher's unions to accept that maybe there will begin to be objective measures that factor into their evaluations - and then maybe argue that there are better ways. Educators, go ahead and make suggestions of quantifiable measurements that might work. But there have to be some, rather than a kind of "everyone succeeds, even when they truly suck." Because, for better or worse, there ARE bad educators, and sadly they tend to have ridiculous job security, which only increases the problem.

Sometimes you'll get the short stick, and get a class with a higher proportion of disruptive pupils, and it's less about teaching than riot control. Other classes in the same year can be right little angels. You've got the mixture of bright kids, slow kids, and they all perform differently in different subjects, and its completely random as to when one will 'get it' and suddenly zoom ahead.

The thing is, these are solvable issues - and worse yet, some of them used to be solved. We've actually gone backwards on these issues.

If your class is about disruptive pupils more than teaching, then that is a disciplinary angle rather than your teaching, and there should be measures in place for that. I am not opposed to things like suspensions, or even special schools if it gets severe where they have more measures in place to deal with disciplinary problems. And in terms of the mixture of bright kids, slow kids, that is a NEW development. When I was going to school, at least, the classes were divided in terms of their ability, so you'd have a "Bright" class, a "slow" class, a "low middle" and a "high middle" class. It seemed to work well in terms of being able to teach the entire class roughly the same material, at roughly the same speed. Why did we stop that, anyway? It seems just because we objected to labeling kids as "slow."
posted by corb at 5:18 AM on September 10, 2012


You know, I really don't understand the objections of teachers to being measured by quantifiable measurements. It leaves a really bad taste in my mouth, and makes me wonder just what they expect they're supposed to be doing? If they're not providing value and increasing children's learning, then what are they doing? And if they are, what's the objection to publishing their scores?

Yes, children from terrible economic conditions perform lower, but the scores are generally weighted for how much that child improves from the previous year, not how well they perform overall.


I think you might be misunderstanding why students from lower economic classes for worse. It's not that they're just "behind" and you can make the same amount of progress with them only at a lower level; they got behind because they learn more slowly (on average for reasons having to do with nutrition, lead paint, parental involvement, etc.). Schools that are struggling are full of students who were one grade level behind in first grade, then 1.5 in second, then 3 in third, and so on. You can't just hand a teacher a room full of kids that are way behind and say " make one year's worth of progress" they got behind because making one year's worth of progress in a one year with these kids is really, really hard.

It's also worth considering who will replace teachers fired under a system like this. (that's the point of these systems, obviously, to fire teachers.) The answer is largely teachers with less experience. A few people just out of education school, a lot of Teach for America people who will teach for three years and then bolt for law school, but they're not replacing these ineffective teachers with highly effective excellent teachers; those people already have jobs. This is great for school systems, by the way, because those teachers are cheaper.

A system that actually cared about producing quality teachers would be about training and assistance, and not throwing people into impossible situations, giving them no support, and then firing them for not doing well.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 5:20 AM on September 10, 2012 [6 favorites]


It was meant to be insulting, because it is insulting that highly paid professionals (average pay at CPS is $71,000) in the field of education, who assess the performance of their students every day, insist that it is not possible to devise a system for their own performance to be evaluated.

Insisting that the so-called assessment measures currently in vogue are not effective is not the same as saying assessment is impossible.
posted by audi alteram partem at 5:26 AM on September 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


(that's the point of these systems, obviously, to fire teachers.)

Obvious only to a cynic, and only if they ignore all the steps that come before firing. But even if you accept that the goal is to fire teachers, that's still not a bad thing: that's one fewer bad teacher infecting students with apathy.
posted by gjc at 5:27 AM on September 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


You might think you know what makes a good teacher, doctor or lawyer because you've gone to school, been sick, or had legal issues. Maybe they were incompetent or maybe you just didn't like them.

Who is more qualified to create a system for evaluating educators? Politicians or educators?


I agree. We should also apply this to corporations and Wall Street. Who is more qualified to create a system for regulating Wall Street? Politicians, or businessmen?

Which is to say, I have serious problems with "the fox should evaluate his performance at watching the chicken house" type scenarios, even if the fox is the only one who knows what he's doing.

A system that actually cared about producing quality teachers would be about training and assistance, and not throwing people into impossible situations, giving them no support, and then firing them for not doing well.

You're absolutely right. Which is why I think we also need to really re-evaluate how we staff problem schools as well. Currently, public school teachers are assigned - you don't really get a choice. They tend to throw new teachers into the shittiest schools, and then they're evaluated on that basis, which sucks.

But what about a more voluntary system? Offer to pay teachers more, or maybe give them more paid sabbatical, if they voluntarily take on a bad school, and then evaluate them using a metric of how much those students should likely be expected to increase? So teachers do their time in hell, and then they get a longer vacation, or more benefits or money, in exchange. It would have the benefit of incentivizing better teachers to come to those schools, because currently, there is no reason for anyone to voluntarily set foot inside them. People are forced into them and then burn out.

I have a family member who decided to go into education. This person is a brilliant tutor who has significantly improved kids' scores and taught them to love math and science. Unfortunately, she was unable to obtain a teaching license, as they threw her into a school where kids were physically assaulting other kids and flipping desks, and she was unable to maintain control of that classroom - a situation she should never have been in in the first place. As that was her only experience with teaching, she now vows never to go back and try, because teaching is more about riot control than teaching.

That's a net loss for the system.
posted by corb at 5:28 AM on September 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


Insisting that the so-called assessment measures currently in vogue are not effective is not the same as saying assessment is impossible.

That's not the message that's coming across. The message is that they will accept less money for less assessment. They aren't arguing for better methods, or against bad methods. They just don't want it.
posted by gjc at 5:32 AM on September 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Yes, children from terrible economic conditions perform lower, but the scores are generally weighted for how much that child improves from the previous year, not how well they perform overall.

One of the most pernicious parts about using test scores (and then scoring teachers based on their first derivative of that graph) is that test scores are also measuring the state of the student on the day the test is administered. And, as with so much else in life, this burden falls especially hard on lower-SES students. Kept up late because of gunshots outside your window the night before? Feeling like hell on test day because your parents couldn't afford milk for breakfast that day? Even though your performance at school has noticeably improved since September, your test scores are going to plummet, and that's the only thing that matters.

My wife taught at a charter school for many years, and discovered this fact in her second year. The single biggest jump her school ever made in testing was the year the teachers threw in their own money to buy their kids breakfast on test day. You can't seriously tell me that a muffin and a glass of juice would make that kind of difference in a wealthy suburban school.
posted by Mayor West at 5:40 AM on September 10, 2012 [10 favorites]


Currently, public school teachers are assigned - you don't really get a choice. They tend to throw new teachers into the shittiest schools, and then they're evaluated on that basis, which sucks.

In Chicago, it's worse than that. There isn't even the illusion that the union or the administration are assigning teachers to schools according to talent or need. Teachers apply for jobs at the individual schools. The "good" schools get the most applications from the highest qualified teachers, and the not as good schools have to pick from the leftovers.
posted by gjc at 5:41 AM on September 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


About schools offering different levels of classes, that depends almost entirely on the school district and the money available to it. I started high school at one school where the average dollars per student per year were below the national average. The second school was, at the time, second only to Beverly Hills in money spent per student. The first school had two tracks available in English: College Prep or 'Writing,' which was the course for students not expected to go to college. The other school had, let's see, College Prep, Literature, Honors English, AP English, and several other electives (a humanities class, creative writing/poetry, and even invitation only discussion classes).

Even in the honors class, there were fast students and slow students. There were students who needed (or wanted) a lot of help and attention from the teacher, and others who were more independent. In any class I teach, there will be a group of advanced students, a group of slower students, and the rest of the class will be pretty average, and that's because I'm lucky to teach where I do. Even in an ideal system, I have to teach to the middle while trying to keep the high level kids interested, yet at the same time keep the low level kids from tuning out and getting further behind. Any one of these students dislikes the class, or complains to their parent, and I'm stuck dealing with hours of conferences and meetings trying to fix the problem.

When you're dealing with a group where the top students are functionally a grade behind, and the lowest students are actively disruptive because they don't have another way to function, what kind of metric is going to evaluate that teacher fairly? If a good day is when you don't have to stop a fight, yet you're expected to get your kids up to level, or at the very least, to get them a year ahead of where they came in, what the hell kind of evaluation matches that situation? How thrilled would you be, when that's your daily reality, and someone who's never shared that decides that you should be evaluated by some metric that bears no resemblance to what goes on in your classroom?

Before you jump in to say that this would all be taken into account, when is the last time you felt confident that management had your best interests at heart, or that any politician demanding some new regulation was doing so for any reason other than pandering for votes?
posted by Ghidorah at 5:48 AM on September 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Suppose the Chicago public schools were turning out tens of thousands of poor black and latino kids, self-disciplined, skilled, aware of their place in history, primed for success and ready for meaningful work and social power in the city of Chicago... such a thing would be indistinguishable from a social revolution.

Now turn that around and ask yourself why the school system is doing so badly.
posted by ennui.bz at 6:01 AM on September 10, 2012 [7 favorites]


I know a public teacher in the area (for a school where many of my students come from) who regularly has 'regular' students, ESL students, and ELL students, or English Language Learners. On top of that, she has students with learning disabilities in the same class.

The notion that this could all be accounted for with a rubric is just crazy talk.

But I have never heard, not once, the idea from teachers that they should be immune from evaluation. Maybe I'm running in the wrong crowds, I don't know. It's objections to nonsensical evaluations that will hurt teachers, schools, and kids that I hear.
posted by angrycat at 6:02 AM on September 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm really curious to see how this turns out. The teachers union in Illinois is the single largest donor to Illinois statehouse races and is an extremely powerful union. There are definitely distortions, particularly in urban districts, that have been introduced by having highly-organized and politically-connected unionized teachers making and average $70,000/year while students come from disenfranchised communities with sky-high poverty (85% in CPS) and few jobs. One reason for the evaluations is that it historically became very, very difficult to fire teachers in Illinois, even for pretty serious misconduct, and these evaluation instruments are an indirect and politically acceptable way to take on the unions and give more power to administrations (and indirectly, parents) in the firing of teachers.

If they can't come to some kind of face-saving compromise and the union goes on a longish strike, I think this will either break the back of the union, or break the back of the forces demanding evaluations (state, feds, administrators). I'm honestly not sure which.

The other problem is that a lot of these terrifically shitty ideas about measurement and evaluation are federal mandates (or state laws put in place as a requirement for receiving federal money); the local school board has only limited power to deal with these huge, systemic problems. But I can't imagine a large, multi-state strike, and I can't think of a federal education law that's been struck down or removed just for "being an incredibly stupid idea that doesn't work" or "introducing absurd distortions that negatively impact students." I mean, I'm frankly shocked NCLB is still in place; I thought by now the fact that the law is insane on its face would have had SOME impact.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:08 AM on September 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


So how, then, do you evaluate the job a teacher is doing? Well, this sucks for administrators, but you get to know your teachers, your students and your community. You work with each teacher and department head or whatever to design individualized plans that encourage growth and improvement. When a teacher is failing, you create an action plan detailing how they need to improve if they're going to continue working with students.

First off, kudos for proposing something directly. Usually when people object to measuring teacher performance with quantifiable metrics, they point out all the flaws and then either (1) propose no alternative whatsoever, or else (2) subtly shift the topic from measuring teacher performance to measuring student performance, which is related but not the same.

However, I think the problem with your proposal as I understand it is that it ignores the reality of unions. I agree with you that individualized, subjective attention can be an effective way to evaluate and improve professionals, especially in this field. But it can also result in the types of discrimination and corruption that unions are at least ostensibly designed to prevent.

Using standardized metrics may come with all kinds of flaws, but it is at least in part a direct result of the reality of teachers unions.
posted by cribcage at 6:10 AM on September 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


That's not the message that's coming across.

That's not the narrative some are choosing to impart on their reading of the situation.

They aren't arguing for better methods, or against bad methods. They just don't want it.


Yet question #39, "What are CTU’s main disagreements with the CPS plan?" in their FAQ on evaluation raises a number of specific disagreements beyond "[teachers] just don't want [evaluation.]"
posted by audi alteram partem at 6:15 AM on September 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


You know, I really don't understand the objections of teachers to being measured by quantifiable measurements.

Just as an example, one of the standardized tests I used to give had a question about measurement:

When baking a cake, to measure the flour you use a ________.

a. scale
b. measuring cup
c. ruler

And the correct answer was b, measuring cup, which is definitely not how I measure flour, especially for a cake. So the kid who can actually bake a cake will get the question wrong, and now I'm an ineffective teacher.

The best idea for evaluations I've heard is to train veteran teachers to go into the classroom and observe a few times a year. I'd have no problem with that.
posted by Huck500 at 6:17 AM on September 10, 2012 [7 favorites]


Yet question #39, "What are CTU’s main disagreements with the CPS plan?" in their FAQ on evaluation raises a number of specific disagreements beyond "[teachers] just don't want [evaluation.]"

Good link. Everyone should read #39. Scary.
posted by gjc at 6:31 AM on September 10, 2012


I'd teach a. too, and my student would suffer for it.

I get evaluated at my job. My supervisor comes into my classes and watches, unannounced, because he knows if I have time to prepare, he won't see what my classes are usually like. We sit down after and he tells me what I need to improve. The thing is, he has been teaching nearly twice as long as I have, and has pretty much run into all of the situations I have, and he wants me to figure my way around thm like he did. I'm being evaluated by someone who knows exactly how it feels to be standing where I do, and while it's not any kind of fun, it is useful, and made me a better teacher.

Last year, my school initiated an exchange program with a school in Ohio. One of their teachers comes here for two weeks and works with the (Japanese) language arts teachers. They also come and watch some of our EFL classes. The first person to here on the program, after maybe watching three lessons, utterly ignorant of the conditions we teach under, or the pressures we face in needing to get our students ready for tests that have no relation to real-world English, asked me how I felt about teaching what she considered to be 'bad' English.

She had no idea about Japanese education, no understanding of the testing culture. How can I be sure my evaluation will come from someone who knows the particulars of the situation? Why are the chances I'll get evaluated by someone utterly unfamiliar with the reality of my classroom?
posted by Ghidorah at 6:35 AM on September 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'd teach a. too, and my student would suffer for it.

Despite a curriculum that shows a measuring cup as the right answer?
posted by gjc at 6:39 AM on September 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


You want to see the economy and future prospects of this country improve? I have an easy solution:

Step 1: Take 2% of Defense spending each year for the next 5 years and subsidize teacher pay and new teacher recruitment with it. Triple the average salary for a teacher.

Step 2: Double NASA's budget every 2 years starting today for the next 200 years. We get somewhere between7 and 22 dollars back for each dollar invested in NASA, so in 200 years we can reevaluate that policy from a board room on Titan.

Step 3: Sit back and watch STEM disciplines grow like never before, modernizing the American economy and helping everyone have a better chance at moving up.

Step 4: Profit.
posted by lazaruslong at 6:50 AM on September 10, 2012 [7 favorites]


Despite a curriculum that shows a measuring cup as the right answer?

Should teachers just teach the standard curriculum? What about when it's wrong? Or only partly right, some of the time? Do we really want to "educate" students in the assumption that there is always only on right answer, which will fit neatly on a multiple choice test?

As others have said, the whole culture of standardized testing is a problem, and one that arises out of the old truism that not all administrators can think, but they can all count.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:52 AM on September 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


If reality has shown that baking requires precise measurements, and that a scale is much more accurate than a measuring cup? Yes I would. What, you never found out that some of what they teach in school is outmoded? Even wrong? What would you do? Teach something you know to be wrong so your students get a point on an absurd test, or teach them something that will actually help them?

salt, for example, can have a very, very different volume, depending on the kind you use. Measure by weight, and it's not a problem.
posted by Ghidorah at 6:52 AM on September 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


That flour question would drive me up a wall. One of the practice questions on my kid's math standardized test last year was:

At what temperature Fahrenheit would you wear a sweatshirt outside?
a. 80 degrees
b. 60 degrees
c. 40 degrees
d. 20 degrees

He answered 40, which seems eminently sensible to me, but the "right answer" was 60. How can there even be a right answer to that question?
posted by Daily Alice at 6:58 AM on September 10, 2012 [12 favorites]


100 degree classrooms? I'm sympathetic to some of what Rahm is trying to do, but 100 degree classrooms? How can any learning take place in a classroom like that? I hope they have fans at least.
posted by nolnacs at 6:58 AM on September 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Despite a curriculum that shows a measuring cup as the right answer?

(note -- not railing at gjc, but at the question.)

Well, when the curriculum states something incorrect -- like, for example, that volume is a good proxy for mass in dry goods, who's density changes based on the environment, what should you do? There's a very real reason that, by law, dry goods are sold by weight.*

What's the goal? Passing the test? Or teaching children how to measure things like mass correctly -- and knowing the difference between mass and volume (which implicitly teaches you what, kids?**)

And, yes, in certain cases (water, forex) you can use volume as a proxy for mass. But, as written, that question's answer is *wrong*. Indeed, if you have a standard sized vessel, you could use a ruler just as accurately as a measuring cup. Which is to say, not very, but it would be just as precise to say "1" of flour in the standard sized vessel" as it would be to use multiple sized vessel.

Indeed, it's almost as if we could put, say, a ruler on the side of a vessel and use different marks to measure different amounts. We could call that, hmm, what would one call it?

So, how is "ruler" any more less or more wrong, given that it's basically how many measuring cups work?


* and not by volume. Some settling may have occurred during shipping.

** Density. And to those of you griping at weight, in a 1g field, mass and weight line up. In any constant acceleration, weight is a direct proxy to mass.
posted by eriko at 7:03 AM on September 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


Obvious only to a cynic, and only if they ignore all the steps that come before firing. But even if you accept that the goal is to fire teachers, that's still not a bad thing: that's one fewer bad teacher infecting students with apathy.

Call it cynicism if you want, but given the political climate in the US and the behavior of most major urban school districts, the point of evaluations is quite obviously to fire more teachers. Fewer bad teachers would be fine if we replaced them with good teachers, but I don't think there's any evidence that we're doing that. In urban areas, where getting good teachers to work voluntarily is hard, we're replacing them with new teachers (frequently from TFA/similar programs). Those teachers might be good, might be bad, but at a minimum they're inexperienced (and in the case of TFA type programs not completely trained). Of course, we then hit those teachers with high stakes evaluations, so we can fire them before they have a chance to learn what they're doing, and replace them with people with less experience! The schools in my large city are filled with first year teachers because the firings/burn out/crummy support drive experienced teachers out. Simply put, if bad teachers are the problem, increased teacher turnover is not the solution.

I'd also add that this push toward "accountability" is always focused on the bottom of the ladder (the teachers) and never at the top. The teacher in a classroom with 30 kids, ten of whom should be getting special ed services, but aren't, and no support in terms of assistance with curriculum and lax or inconsistent discipline from administration, gets held accountable, not the people responsible for setting up that classroom, providing those services, and giving the teacher assistance.

posted by Bulgaroktonos at 7:06 AM on September 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


As a teacher, I have longed for consistent observation and evaluation by my administrators (at least the ones who weren't dirtbags, and most of them weren't). By and large, most administrators don't have time to be in a given teacher's classroom more than once or twice (at most) in a semester -- and that's a matter of one period at the most. They get a snapshot of that one class. They don't usually have time to develop any sense of context. At best, they'll identify who the smarty-smart kids are and who the problem behavior kids are, because those are the kids the administrators get to know anyway.

On the air conditioning issue: take a wild guess how easy it is to maintain a classroom's energy and focus when the classroom is over 90 degrees. Or if there's a bad smell. Seriously, just put yourself in that teacher's shoes for a second and face their class. I lived in Phoenix until I was 12 and never fully adjusted to being anything other than a desert rat, so heat doesn't bother me at all. But that scenario isn't about me; it's about the 30-35 other faces in the room.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 7:11 AM on September 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


100 degree classrooms? I'm sympathetic to some of what Rahm is trying to do, but 100 degree classrooms?

Yes. And as to "well, we had to deal with it...."

1) No, you didn't. In many systems, school starts much earlier than it used to. Day after Labor Day used to be the canonical start day, now, the few systems that wait that long are outliers. For the record, CPS is one of them -- but they run much longer than they used to. School in June isn't unheard of -- and it gets hot in May. Add in very large stone buildings, and they turn into ovens.

2) Global Warming.

3) Security, health and distraction concerns mandating closed windows in classrooms.

When I was in school -- in Chicago and Chicagoland, no less -- this is how we dealt with it. When the temp was forecast to be over 90F, they closed the schools as not being safe for kids to be cooped up in. It may be that this now happens enough that they cannot do so and maintain the educational year. I suspect, however, what we're doing is swapping snow days for heat days.
posted by eriko at 7:13 AM on September 10, 2012


“Another concern is evaluation procedures. After the initial phase-in of the new evaluation system it could result in 6,000 teachers (or nearly 30 percent of our members) being discharged within one or two years."

So they the Union Leaders) admit that fully 1/3rd of their members are under-performing, and should never have to face any consequences?
posted by Gungho at 7:13 AM on September 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


cribcage: "First off, kudos for proposing something directly. Usually when people object to measuring teacher performance with quantifiable metrics, they point out all the flaws and then either (1) propose no alternative whatsoever, or else (2) subtly shift the topic from measuring teacher performance to measuring student performance, which is related but not the same."

If you think what Joey Michaels proposes is a new "alternative," you're wrong. It's how things are actually done now. Many people seem to think that teachers are just floating around out there, and no one has any idea what's happening in their classroom. Administrators are already observing and evaluating teachers, all the time. When I had a regular teaching job, my principal officially observed and evaluated 3 times that year, and worked with me periodically to check my progress on a plan that we made together. The thing was, it was based on my performance, not all the kids'. She looked to make sure I was doing the things that worked best (based on her experience, my experience, district standards, best practices, etc.) for my kids. I was doing my part, to the best of my ability, and my job didn't depend on whether that was enough to counteract the abuse, poverty, violence, and hunger my kids were dealing with.
posted by that's how you get ants at 7:14 AM on September 10, 2012 [6 favorites]


The thing to remember is that the elite have always and will always find a way to reproduce privilege...in the modern era this means (generally) academic success and entry into elite professions. In areas with good public schools, they may choose to use them, but it is essentially an elective choice. The project of educating the lower and middle classes has always been a separate issue. The current compromise, which is essentially bipartisan, is a tradeoff between maintaining some local control over education while also reducing inequality through redistribution of tax dollars, local and federal. It is ridiculous to imagine this redistributive effort should happen without any accountability. Current methods of accountability (standardized testing), are dubious, but a better system would likely cost more money, or run the risk of failing to provide actual accountability if it were subject to purely local standards (cronyism). What moderates like me hear from the teachers unions are that they want the tax dollars without accountability, which is frustrating. Again, speaking as a moderate, I think we should be spending a lot more on public education if we truly want to improve educational outcomes and reduce inequality, because is obvious that it simply costs a lot more to produce good outcomes when children are mired in intergenerational poverty, but spending more would imply an ever greater demand for accountability. That's one perspective at least. On the other hand, I find myself wondering if our methods of accountability are so poor that it might be better just to increase public school funding and in addition save time and money by not teaching to the test, and let parents and local school boards judge the outcomes of schools and decide how to run them. It probably couldn't make education any worse than it already is. The risk of course is that the money would go to waste to some extent, but again, what's the alternative? Hey, we all want job security, and why shouldn't teachers have it? And remember, the elites will always feather their nests by supporting private schools or simply moving to a different city, so we don't have to worry about them. They know that aside from themselves, the biggest boon they can provide for their children is exposing them to other elites and limiting their exposure to the poor. I honestly think that public education being so reliant on local property taxes is the biggest fundamental problem with the system, but shifting to a more redistributive, federal-level system that provided greater funds to areas that needed them more would be frankly revolutionary. I just don't see another solution.
posted by fraxil at 7:16 AM on September 10, 2012


As a Chicagoan my feelings on the strike are greatly divided. This has been a long time coming, and the teacher's union has been threatening to strike for the better part of a decade. We've been having the arguments in this thread for years. None of this is a shock to people here. "Oh, great, here we go again" is the typical response.

First of all, the fact that things had to come to this point is a sad commentary on how this city operates when it comes to education. When there's a fifty percent graduation rate in public schools, in my opinion, everyone involved in the public schools is failing. And yes, I include the public at large in that category because, by not solving the multifarious problems that plague inner-city kids, the people of Chicago have failed the most disadvantaged among them. Gang violence, drug addiction, illiteracy, poor nutrition, "food deserts" – all of these things are a big signal to the kids of CPS that their city doesn't care about them and they might as well drop out. When everyone points a finger at someone else, the problem is sure to not be solved.

On the other hand, I care about workers and their right to organize and negotiate for higher pay and job security. I hate Scott Walker and would never want what happened in Wisconsin to spread into Illinois. But the CTU is also a monster that does nothing for many teachers. When budget cuts need to happen, and laying off teachers is on the table, the CTU decides that the younger teachers get cut. The firing is made entirely on the basis of seniority, not performance, because performance is hardly measured. Oh, and teacher have no choice but to join the union, so as a young teacher just starting out in your field at CPS over the last five years, you've been paying dues to an organization that is perfectly happy to throw you under the bus. The union exists to serve a category of tenured, senior members, not the teachers at large. This never gets covered in the media, of course, because it doesn't play into the "them versus us" narrative that makes this story hot. The reality is that there are plenty of teachers unhappy with the union and how it has represented them, and the 75% number sounds very suspicious to me.

In the end, there's very little public support for the teacher's strike because the CPS teachers are not succeeding in their mission to educate. Chicago public schools consistently rank among the worst in the nation, yet the teacher's union thinks teachers should be paid more. Almost nobody agrees with them. The system is clearly sick and quality of instruction has to be considered a component of that, along with a complex tangle of issues affecting these low-income children whose sole hope of improving their lot in life is our underfunded, inept, ineffective school system. The CTU of course will tell you that a 50% dropout rate has absolutely nothing to do with the teachers, but I don't buy it.

The most troubling to me is that we can't have a discussion about this labor dispute in this specific situation without it devolving into "unions are bad!" or "unions are good!" I don't think that unions qua unions are a problem – I think this union is part of this problem. But nuance doesn't make for great bumper sticker slogans, which is what every public debate turns into in America.
posted by deathpanels at 7:17 AM on September 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


If reality has shown that baking requires precise measurements, and that a scale is much more accurate than a measuring cup? Yes I would. What, you never found out that some of what they teach in school is outmoded? Even wrong? What would you do? Teach something you know to be wrong so your students get a point on an absurd test, or teach them something that will actually help them?

If you buy a bag of flour or a packet of yeast and read the recipe for bread printed on them, it specifies the ingredients by volume. Which is how the vast majority of bakers measure their ingredients. But more importantly, you teach both if you feel like you must teach second graders the finer points of baking rather than the difference between volume, weight and length. It's not either or. (And it's also a separate, but equally important, lesson to learn the difference between absolute correctness and the answer someone is looking for.)

And then you write a letter to the people who make the test and show them the error of their ways. Like the awful sweater/temperature question, not all test questions are good. But the goal should be to refine the questions (and curriculum) to teach and measure the right things. Not just pointing out the edge cases where standardized testing doesn't work.
posted by gjc at 7:17 AM on September 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


One of the things that makes these kinds of public debates confusing is that there isn't a single magical reason that standards-based assessment can be called "bad." Performance metrics are a huge part of almost every modern endeavor now, and there's a cultural and institutional aversion to doing anything without measuring it. The tech industry and business world show no signs of changing course; the idea that everything should be measured, and that complex metrics can lead us to a promised land of productivity and success, is now deeply ingrained. You often hear people, when confronted wit a complex problem domain, announce that "measuring something is better than measuring nothing," even if the thing being measured is an uncomfortable fit for long-term goals.

The problem is that metrics-based decision making is basically a tarpit for basic human cognitive biases. We are, as a species, super bad at this kind of stuff. Three particular examples have always stood out to me as a nasty self-reinforcing cycle.
  1. The Hawthorne Effect refers to a 1924 productivity study in which an electric company (Hawthorne Works) measured the efficiency of its workers with bright lighting. They They turned the lights up for a couple weeks, and lo! Productivity jumped! Then they turned the lights back down for a few weeks, and hurrah! Productivity stayed the high! Eventually it was determined that productivity responded to the knowledge that they were being measured, not the actual thing that they were testing. The effect also dwindled over time: instituting a policy of "ceaseless measurement," for example, didn't ensure skyrocketing productivity: people just got used to it and things returned to normal. In a nutshell, humans behave differently when they know that someone is measuring them, regardless of what's being measured.
  2. The availability heuristic is a pretty well-documented gonitive bias that causes us to assume that information we can find easily -- stuff that's available -- is more relevant than information we'd have to work really, really hard to find. The tendency to favor isolated personal experiences and anecdotes over large-scale surveys and investigation is an example of this: think "nobody I know voted for Nixon." Downplaying the importance of things we don't yet know is one side of this coin, but the other is just as dangerous: we tend to assume that information we HAVE is meaningful, and relevant even if it's not.
  3. Goodhart's Law, coined by a British economist in the 1970s, ties it all up into a depressing little bow. He observed that when the government tried to regulate particular economic activities, they became useless as a measure of general economic trends. It was later generalized: "When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure." Colloquially, metrics will get gamed.
These kinds of things form a self-reinforcing system very easily. We decide to measure something, because "measuring something is better than measuring nothing!" Peoples' behavior changes because they're under the microscope, even when they're not explicitly trying to game the system. Then, once we've started measuring the thing in question, we begin to assume that the metric is important and relevant -- and we start making decisions based on it. Suddenly, the thing we're measuring morphs into the thing people are working towards, because their pay or their respect or the perceived health of their work environment is on the line.

The biggest problem comes when there is not an obvious, strongly correlated thing to be measured. For a business, basic metrics like "How much are we making" and "How much are we spending" are no-brainers. More complex stuff like "how long does it take us to get paid" and "how much non-billable time do we spend on various activities" are also extremely useful. But in fuzzier areas, like teaching, it leads to the ugly "teaching to the test" scenarios everyone hates.

Reading over the actual Teachers' Union discussion of the evaluation metrics causing the controversy, I have to say I'm on their side. They're not simply objecting to being measured. They're objecting to being measured infrequently, which means one bad day in a classroom could ruin their numbers for an entire year; they're objecting to subjective evaluations from untrained observes that are used as quantitative data in later reports; they're objecting to a lack of professional development time so they can actually invest in learning new techniques and approaches; the list goes on and on.

The unions may not be perfect, but in this case they appear to be fighting the good fight. Bad metrics, no matter what the MBA tells you, are worse than no metrics. They shape behavior, whether we want them to or not, and we have a moral and ethical responsibility to society to measure what matters, not just what is easy to measure.
posted by verb at 7:19 AM on September 10, 2012 [34 favorites]


Unrelated: my kingdom for a spellchecker.
posted by verb at 7:28 AM on September 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Every argument against evaluation testing is really just an argument against the way the results are (or are imagined to be) currently used. I haven't seen a valid argument against the concept of testing itself.
The way the results should be used is to evaluate results over several years, to filter out the class-to-class fluctuations and capture the consistent trends, and to make sure other factors are taken into account. If one teacher is consistently behind others in the same school, or one school is consistently behind others in the same district, then it's important to know and investigate possible causes. This evaluation should be done with an understanding of contributing factors like the socioeconomic makeup of the school, etc. The goal should be to improve the education system in a measurable way.
Teacher testing doesn't need to be for purely punitive reasons.
posted by rocket88 at 7:30 AM on September 10, 2012


Another thing, people keep bringing up that the students' progress is measured relative to the previous year. Kids don't just start on a trajectory in kindergarten and stay there. They go up and down.

So, imagine Jayden. When he enters school, he lives with his aunt and his mom. Aunt stays home on disability, and cares for her kids and Jayden.

Kindergarten: Jayden has behavior problems, and enters school with zero academic or social skills. He gets free lunch. Progress this year is basically learning how to go to school.

First grade: Jayden makes a little progress in school this year. No where near what the kid next to him makes, but that kid is much better off, so we don't compare them.

Second grade: Woah, dad's out of jail, and he's mean. Jayden leaves his aunt and his cousins, and lives with his mom and his dad. He goes to a chaotic after school program instead of going home to his aunt. Jayden makes less progress this year compared to kindergarten and first grade. Is this his teacher's fault?

Third grade: Same home situation, but after a rough second grade year, Jayden enters third grade below his reading level. Still, all external factors the same. In third grade, though, Jayden is expected to read to learn, not learn to read. He begins to fall behind in science and social studies because he can't read the content texts. Is this his teacher's fault? Same home life as last year, after all, but he's falling further behind. Or is is still the second grade teacher's fault?

Et fucking cetera.
posted by that's how you get ants at 7:31 AM on September 10, 2012 [7 favorites]


They're not simply objecting to being measured. They're objecting to being measured infrequently, which means one bad day in a classroom could ruin their numbers for an entire year; they're objecting to subjective evaluations from untrained observes that are used as quantitative data in later reports; they're objecting to a lack of professional development time so they can actually invest in learning new techniques and approaches; the list goes on and on.

That is not true. They are pushing for less frequent evaluation. (#s 10, 38 and 39). And they are asking for untrained (peer) observers, versus the trained observers the CPS wants to use.

And #6 is a doosey too.
posted by gjc at 7:32 AM on September 10, 2012


That is not true. They are pushing for less frequent evaluation. (#s 10, 38 and 39). And they are asking for untrained (peer) observers, versus the trained observers the CPS wants to use.

And #6 is a doosey too.


You have my apologies -- I literally misread both of those points, completely inverting them. Forehead-slapping ensues.

I'd be curious about the distinction of "peer" and "trained" observers, since "teachers evaluating other teachers" seems like a reasonable approach, but your corrections are definitely appreciated. My points on the general problems with metrics-based decision making stand, however.
posted by verb at 7:36 AM on September 10, 2012


They're not simply objecting to being measured. They're objecting to being measured infrequently, which means one bad day in a classroom could ruin their numbers for an entire year;

It also looks like there's no appeals process, which makes this even worse. There's a bunch of issue in teacher evaluation; using standardized test scores is one of them, but so is the kind of high stakes formal observation process that is a huge part of most of these systems.

The evaluation process I know the most about is DC's IMPACT process (which I know about because it effects my wife's paycheck/employment status). IMPACT has changed recently (largely for the better), including allowing you to drop your lowest observation score if it's a full point below your other lowest score (it's, I think, a 4 point scale). Teaching is not a job, like some, where every day is effectively the same. The difference between a good day and a bad day are huge. To take an example drawn from my wife's life, she had an evaluation last year on a day where a student who was being evaluated to see if he needed a full time SpEd placement was brought (by the evaluators) into her room in order to try and calm him down while he was having a fit. Her grade that day was terrible, and it had basically nothing to do with how she was teaching; most teachers would have had a terrible day that day. Unfortunately, under last year's system that grade was one of 5 days that counted; if it had happened the day before, she quite possibly would have had a higher rating. Objecting to effect is way off objecting to be evaluated.

And they are asking for untrained (peer) observers, versus the trained observers the CPS wants to use.

Peer observers would, at a minimum, be trained in education. There's also nothing in the CTU plan that would require peer observers to be untrained. They want peer observers because they're worried about overly harsh grades from principals that have issues with particular staff and want to get them fired. A peer observer (at least one who didn't know the teacher) would arguably be more objective.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 7:38 AM on September 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Jayden makes less progress this year compared to kindergarten and first grade. Is this his teacher's fault?

No. But it is the teacher's job to overcome these obstacles as best they can. There *are* teachers who are more effective at overcoming these obstacles than others, and the goal is to encourage more teachers to learn those skills.

My points on the general problems with metrics-based decision making stand, however.

Agreed. But my interpretation is to use that knowledge to continually improve the measurement systems so that there is at least a trajectory toward perfection. Rather than not doing anything because it's hard.
posted by gjc at 7:41 AM on September 10, 2012


Peer observers would, at a minimum, be trained in education. There's also nothing in the CTU plan that would require peer observers to be untrained. They want peer observers because they're worried about overly harsh grades from principals that have issues with particular staff and want to get them fired. A peer observer (at least one who didn't know the teacher) would arguably be more objective.

I agree, mostly. that's a tough nut to crack. Which leads people to conclude that it's better to measure results rather than potentially biased snapshots. It starts to get circular.

The problem with principals is that they are hired by the local school councils rather than something like a merit based promotion. They lose their jobs if they don't kow-tow to the local busybodies running the LSC, regardless of school performance.
posted by gjc at 7:46 AM on September 10, 2012


That is not true. They are pushing for less frequent evaluation. (#s 10, 38 and 39). And they are asking for untrained (peer) observers, versus the trained observers the CPS wants to use.

Wait a minute.

I think I apologized too quickly; can you point out specifically where you find those statements?

The only place I can see them pushing for "less frequent" evaluations are in the case of tenured teachers who have already received a year of positive evaluations. (See point #38). The 'untrained' versus 'peer' distinction is rather weighted, too. One of the primary concerns is that the ratings system was extremely subjective ('Students seem engaged' rather than any particularly meaningful description of classroom activity or behavior, for example.)

I'm not saying that I understand the issue perfectly, but points #10, #38, and #39 in the linked document certainly don't seem to paint the picture you're describing.
posted by verb at 7:46 AM on September 10, 2012


Agreed. But my interpretation is to use that knowledge to continually improve the measurement systems so that there is at least a trajectory toward perfection. Rather than not doing anything because it's hard.

If you look at the document that you linked to, this seems to be what CTU is talking about. Many of their objections revolve around new testing and evaluation metrics being used to weigh teacher performance (ie, make decisions about pay and firings) the very first year the data is gathered.

I don't think that the CTU is unbiased in this matter, but it's worth pointing out the full picture of what they're pushing for, rather than isolated pieces. They're lobbying for metrics-based evaluation of the administration and the Chicago Public School System in addition to the teachers themselves, so that things that are explicitly outside of the teachers' control (classroom size and conditions, for example) will be evaluated on an ongoing basis, and someone will be explicitly responsible for them.
posted by verb at 7:49 AM on September 10, 2012


However you feel about standardized testing, it makes billions of dollars for the same companies that create our textbooks, which teach the things that the students need to know to do well on the tests (and make the companies billions more, btw).

Convincing the states to spend that money where it would actually do some good seems unlikely.
posted by Huck500 at 7:59 AM on September 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's also worth reading this letter concerning the evaluation plan by Chicago area education researchers. The value added testing metrics seem like a good idea, but apparently they do not produce reliable and consistent evaluations of teachers. Different reasonable statistical models produce wildly different assessments of teachers and teacher's scores are very different from year to year, casting doubt on the assessment's ability to identify the "good" teachers.

Is one thing not to make the perfect the enemy of the good, it's another to fire people based on terrible metrics because those metrics fall somewhere on the continuum of "good."
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 8:06 AM on September 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


I am in no way suggesting that we know how to do it fairly and well. What I'm suggesting is that it needs to be done. And I think the first step is for teacher's unions to accept that maybe there will begin to be objective measures that factor into their evaluations - and then maybe argue that there are better ways.

Your argument cannot possibly be that teachers should accept their being judged, paid and fired by a lottery today because... tomorrow ponies?
posted by Isn't in each artist (7) at 8:45 AM on September 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


I am in no way suggesting that we know how to do it fairly and well. What I'm suggesting is that it needs to be done. And I think the first step is for teacher's unions to accept that maybe there will begin to be objective measures that factor into their evaluations - and then maybe argue that there are better ways.

If you pay attention to the specific points they're objecting to, no complaints are being made about measurement. No complaints are even being made about personnel decisions being based on measurement and metrics.

As best as I can tell, the concrete objections revolve around metrics they believe are too subjective (based on the emotional state of the observer) to be useful, metrics being used as part of a teacher's personnel evaluation before sufficient data history has been accumulated, and ignored metrics that should be the responsibility of the administration and the CPS rather than the teachers themselves.

There's some obvious tug of war that comes when one pool of people looks out for their interests and another pool looks out for theirs, but the actual concrete items that the union is talking about can be examined and discussed. It's not just a matter of "We don't like being measured."
posted by verb at 8:53 AM on September 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


"The problem with principals is that they are hired by the local school councils rather than something like a merit based promotion. They lose their jobs if they don't kow-tow to the local busybodies running the LSC, regardless of school performance."

Hello, local busybody running the "LSC" here, in Illinois. (And in Chicago, the school board is appointed, not elected, so it's more like "local cronies of powerful politicians.") We don't hire principals. We hire a superintendent. The superintendent hires principals. Like everybody else involved in schools, we go through training, and one of the things they emphasize over and over in school board trainings is that school boards don't make personnel decisions except for the superintendent. Our principals are evaluated, just like our teachers, using a fairly similar instrument, and decisions on retention are based on their evaluations.

"I'd be curious about the distinction of "peer" and "trained" observers, since "teachers evaluating other teachers" seems like a reasonable approach, but your corrections are definitely appreciated."

My district was one of the districts to pilot universal teacher evaluations in Illinois, so we have a couple years more experience than most districts in the state. We use "peer" evaluations as one component, and our peer evaluators receive training on how to be a peer evaluator. ALL of our teachers (and principals, and administrators, and school board) received training on the evaluation instrument, which was built as a joint project between the local teachers' union and the administration, working with various experts from the state and from academia. So it's a consensus evaluation tool with broad "buy-in," that people receive a LOT of training on; you're not being evaluated with a tool you don't understand. I don't know if CPS trains its peer evaluators but I'd be surprised if they didn't.

(Being a consensus evaluation following best practices doesn't mean it's useful or measuring the right things, but it's not like a random thing dropped from on high.)

Someone asked upthread, I can't find it now, if any teachers are asking not to be evaluated at all. Yes, a few. For the most part, in our district, the union knew the evaluations were coming with or without them, and they definitely wanted input into the process, and it's been a reasonably cooperative process. But we've had teachers say in public, and I've had teachers call me privately, who say, "There's no reason for me to be evaluated, I'm a professional! It's intrusive! It demeans me as a professional!" To which I say, "You are high, madam." I have also talked to a small subset of teachers who object to principals coming by their classroom unannounced, even just to drop off some kid's lunch or something, and feel that ANYONE observing their classroom at any time for any reason is an infringement on their rights as a teacher and disruptive to the class (the latter may be true). To which I say, "YOU. WORK. WITH. CHILDREN. If you think you're getting left alone in a closed room with someone else's minor children without any supervision ever, you are dangerously insane." I truly do not understand how someone in the teaching profession in the year 2012 thinks that's possible, let alone a good idea.

"Call it cynicism if you want, but given the political climate in the US and the behavior of most major urban school districts, the point of evaluations is quite obviously to fire more teachers. Fewer bad teachers would be fine if we replaced them with good teachers, but I don't think there's any evidence that we're doing that."

Yeah; I mean, in Illinois, until recently, RIFs (layoffs to reduce staff size) had to go by seniority. It was impossible to retain a young, talented teacher by laying off someone tenured who'd retired on the job and didn't give a shit. You had to lay off the one-years, then the two-years, then the three-years, and so on, regardless of teaching specialty in many cases. And then of course you had to re-staff those positions later because you'd laid off all your Spanish teachers, but still. (Some of this is that layoff notices have to be done by April 1, and the state budget doesn't come out until at least July, so we don't know how many teachers we can afford to hire until usually late July. So districts lay off a whole bunch more teachers than necessary, manty years.) One of the purposes of the evaluations, which come along with a change in law in Illinois generally called "Senate Bill 7," is that you can now lay off teachers rated unsatisfactory regardless of their seniority and retain teachers rated "excellent." There are now complex rules about seniority, tenure, and rating and in what order you can lay people off, but we're no longer required to keep bad teachers just because they have a lot of seniority.

One reason these new laws, which are clearly to help fire teachers faster and more easily, have been put in place and supported over the objections of the very powerful teachers union is that it has been ridiculously hard to fire bad teachers in Illinois. When I first came on the board a few years ago, we had a teacher who never came to work on Monday or Friday, at all, ever. When he did come to work, he just sat there and didn't teach his third graders. Didn't even bother to turn in lesson plans. Just sat there and read a book and let the kids do whatever. In order to fire him, we had to put him on a two-school-year remediation plan. If he could manage to get his shit together for a semester, the remediation plan was "fulfilled" and if he then let his shit fall apart again, we had to restart the two-year clock. So that's basically what he did, over and over: didn't show up for work and didn't teach for a year, then would do the minimum possible for a semester to fulfill the remediation plan, then as soon as the remediation was removed, stop working again. This guy was in a classroom for YEARS after his principal first started trying to fire him. For YEARS after he was known to be completely and totally ineffective. Years and years and years of students had to go through that guy's class.

The union would defend him every time, which to some extent is a pro-forma thing unions "have" to do, but on the other hand, there has to be a point at which the union polices its own members and says, "Look, we are not going to defend a teacher who is doing X." Teacher misconduct I have seen teachers unions (not necessarily my union) in Illinois defend, in most cases vigorously: A teacher who was "indicated" (found guilty) by DCFS for assaulting a student (they were losing their teaching license! There was no way to put them in a classroom no matter what!); a teacher who used racial slurs in the classroom with 2nd graders; a teacher in a majority black school who refused to work with black teachers because they "weren't competent" and said black students "couldn't learn"; a teacher who called female students "cunts" repeatedly, including to the students' parents(!!!); a teacher who was dealing drugs on school grounds to students; a teacher who "supervised" the elementary school computer lab by surfing porn non-stop (school computers are FOIA-able! It was in the newspaper!). These are notably outlying cases of outrageous behavior -- that's why they stick in my mind -- but what's astonishing is that various unions defended each and every one of these, and in a couple of cases, the teachers did not lose their jobs (primarily the teachers using various slurs and name-calling).

There's a sort of sense in a lot of these unions where they have always defended teachers against capricious administrators, which is a real problem that unions really do help with, so they're going to defend every teacher against every charge no matter how absurd; it's as if they think that by saying, "No, look, you are seriously imcompetent and never show up for work, we're not going to defend you," or "Dude, you assaulted a child, we're not going to defend you," they are being just as capricious as administrators who fired pregnant teachers or refused to promote women or whatever. And I think it dilutes the unions' moral authority and ability to persuade; when they say, "This principal is being capricious and mistreating their staff," or "This teacher should not be fired," it's not terribly meaningful because they say that about EVERY situation.

That's one reason the union doesn't have a great public image in Chicago; parents know these stories, they hear the outrageous stories, some of them make the news, and they don't feel that the unions are on their kids' side. They feel that the unions are on the side of teacher jobs, even at the expense of children. That puts the union in a really different position than in the past, where parents often felt the union was their ally.

"However you feel about standardized testing, it makes billions of dollars for the same companies that create our textbooks, which teach the things that the students need to know to do well on the tests (and make the companies billions more, btw)."

This is one aspect I feel increasingly uneasy about; we buy most of our curriculum, we buy our tests ... we funnel huge quantities of taxpayer money to these private companies that have every incentive to come up with ways for us to pay them more. I'm really unclear on why at least some of this can't be or isn't done in-house. There are definitely economies of scale, no reason to reinvent the wheel at each local district, but surely a state the size of Illinois is a large enough scale that at least some of this could be done in-house.

"No complaints are even being made about personnel decisions being based on measurement and metrics."

This may not be their specific published complaint, but this is definitely the reason the unions, statewide, have been fighting Senate Bill 7, agitating for repeal, and starting to bring lawsuits about it. "These evaluations are intended as a tool to help teachers improve, not to make personnel decisions!" is one thing you hear a lot. Or, "We entered into this evaluation plan with the understanding we would be helping teachers improve, and then Senate Bill 7 was passed in bad faith to allow for firing decisions based on evaluation tools that were not intended to be used for personnel decisions!"

They're not wrong; the original evaluation tools were generally developed in academia for simply measuring teachers, not deciding whether to hire or fire them. But I think it was pretty clear to everyone from the start that when they were implemented, that's what they'd be used for. I know of a couple of pending lawsuits from unions elsewhere in the state that basically exactly say, "Using evaluations to make personnel decisions is illegal" and/or "Current implementation of Senate Bill 7 w/r/t firing teachers for poor evaluations violates [various other laws]." It'll be interesting to see which, if any, go forward.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:05 AM on September 10, 2012 [34 favorites]


Step 1: Take 2% of Defense spending each year for the next 5 years and subsidize teacher pay and new teacher recruitment with it. Triple the average salary for a teacher.

This kind of proposal, that teacher pay be raised without any other factors being changed, make no sense at all. Teaching in the US already doesn't attract the strongest students. "Earn a relatively easy BA and make $120,000 out the door!" would seem to me to attract more weak students looking for easy money and long summer vacations.

Couple it with raising the standards for entering the profession, and I think higher salaries could be a great idea. I'm doing undergraduate prereqs to apply to grad school in speech language pathology right now; I have 2 master's degrees already and I'm finding the introductory phonetics class challenging. Competition for spots in grad programs in SLP around here is tough--my first choice school gets 80 applicants a year for the program and takes 20. People who earn the master's degree also have to take a licensing exam to practice. But licensed graduates have a 100% in-field employment rate, and salaries start in the mid-50s. Median income is in the 70s.

Why does teaching not have a model like that? Teachers often have master's degrees because their income goes up if they do, but their pay scale is set up so that it doesn't even matter what degree they get. Last year, I was seriously considering attending seminary, and one of the other people at the explorer's weekend was a teacher who was going for an MA to get the salary bump, and thought she might as well pursue her personal interest in seminary education because it made no difference whether her degree was relevant to the work she was doing. The salary bump was the same.

Why not demand that teachers get the master's up front, make it rigorous, make it mean something, make it relevant to the work they'll do, and then pay them accordingly? When people talk about looking to countries like Finland for school improvement ideas, I'd rather they stop looking at what happens in the classroom and look a little more at the process by which teachers get into the classroom.
posted by not that girl at 9:17 AM on September 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Thanks for a really solid, informative post from a position of knowledge, Eyebrows McGee. That sheds a lot of light on the discussion.
posted by verb at 9:31 AM on September 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Couple it with raising the standards for entering the profession, and I think higher salaries could be a great idea.

I think the idea is that the additional pay would, in effect, raise the standards for entering the profession (by drawing a better applicant pool).
posted by downing street memo at 9:42 AM on September 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Fabulous comment Eyebrows McGee.

I'm strongly pro-union, but I can't help agree with you that many teacher's unions in the US have badly mishandled the PR side of this whole evaluation thing. They should have seen this coming down the track and got out in front of it; instead it's just been complete head-in-the-sand obstructionism for the most part. The argument is not, in fact, over what is or is not a useful form of evaluation; it's an argument against any kind of evaluation whatsoever. Which leaves us simply with the same ridiculous system of "seniority"--as if that was a meaningful metric of anything at all.

There's no doubt that the union has to stay strong against capricious dismissals. And no doubt that it has to be super vigilant about administrations simply seeking high salaries to get rid of in order to balance their budgets. But the pretense that it is simply impossible to find any useful measure whatsoever of teacher effectiveness (when we all know from our own experience of school that there were highly effective teachers and highly ineffective teachers and that the differences were often extremely stark) is simply silly.
posted by yoink at 9:45 AM on September 10, 2012


I think the idea is that the additional pay would, in effect, raise the standards for entering the profession (by drawing a better applicant pool).

I know that's the idea. I just really question whether that would be the effect. There are a number of professions that qualified people can go into now that pay well and have high job satisfaction. My partner, for instance, is a software engineer and that describes his work. My future career (knock wood) in speech language pathology also has high job satisfaction. My partner's company has trouble finding qualified people; computer programming isn't easy to learn or do well. The high pay and high job satisfaction is coupled with a fairly high bar for admisison. Same with speech pathology.

Motivated people who do not mind a challenge and who are capable already have options.

What I imagine happening in a situation where there is high pay and a low bar for admisstion is that a profession would then attract people who couldn't cut it in the high pay/high bar professions.

Also, talking about job satisfaction brings in another factor: Teaching is an appealing profession in the abstract, but the reality of it is very frustrating. I'm not fan of the teacher's unions, but the frustrations that teachers deal with from many directions drive people out of the profession and burn out many who stay. One of the worst jobs I ever had coupled high responsibility with low power; I also taught for 13 years, and that's a pattern in teaching, too. I'd love for teachers to be more effectively evaluated, and yet as a former teacher the idea of being held accountable for outcomes makes me want to spit. There are so many factors, from administrators, bureaucracy, the students themselves, badly-written textbooks that get adopted because of state-wide deals, facilities and supplies that are inadequate, the usual litany. These are real factors that pile stress on teachers. No wonder they fight against the idea of evaluations.

So I think another factor that needs to happen to attract good people to teaching--and keep the good people who are already attracted to it--is about job satisfaction. I liked Pre-Turnaround Diane Ravitch's argument in favor of increased autonomy for schools and teachers, for at least recognizing that people who have great responsibility need to have at least some measure of power over how they meet that responsibility. If job satisfaction is low, even money is not going to attract talented people who have other options. I know that by the time I left teaching, while low pay had always been a frustration to me, I had reached the point where no amount of money would have been sufficient to draw me back into that mess of a system. Sure there may talented people who would go into education if the pay was comparable to their other options, but would higher pay be enough to attract and keep them if other options offered better quality of life?

[Special clarification: I didn't teach in public K-12 schools, but I taught a required class to community college freshmen, and it has always seemed pretty analogous to me.]
posted by not that girl at 10:06 AM on September 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


Many people wearing red on the streets of Chicago today. I dropped by my neighborhood elementary school for a bit, and there were lots of teachers on the corner and lots of cars honking in support. For those of you in the city, there's a rally for teachers, students, and community members at CPS headquarters downtown (125 S Clark St.) at 3:30 pm. Anyone else planning on going?

(For more on-the-ground news, check in on Teachers for Social Justice (linked earlier) and @WBEZeducation on Twitter.)
posted by Wulfhere at 10:09 AM on September 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


1) No, you didn't. In many systems, school starts much earlier than it used to. Day after Labor Day used to be the canonical start day, now, the few systems that wait that long are outliers. For the record, CPS is one of them -- but they run much longer than they used to. School in June isn't unheard of -- and it gets hot in May. Add in very large stone buildings, and they turn into ovens.

Sure, I did, right through the end of June my entire school career without an air conditioner in sight.

I find the idea that school in June is unusual so foreign to my experience, does anyone have a reference as the the average start and end date of public schools in the U.S.?
Are most kids done by Labor Day?
posted by madajb at 10:24 AM on September 10, 2012


DNC disses teachers: Democrats' week in Charlotte began with the screening of an anti-teachers union movie and never got much friendlier
posted by homunculus at 10:33 AM on September 10, 2012


Striking Teachers, Parents Join Forces to Oppose "Corporate" Education Model in Chicago

Chicago Teachers Strike Could Portend Referendum on Obama Admin’s Approach to Education Reform
posted by homunculus at 10:40 AM on September 10, 2012


While increasing pay probably wouldn't hurt especially in regards to getting teachers qualified to teach STEM subjects, I'm not sure that there has been enough conclusive evidence that shows that teacher pay is a statistically significant factor in student outcomes. Teachers should definitely be paid a good wage but I'm not sure that a 5% increase in base pay would for example dramatically increase student test scores or the % of students that are graduating college ready. Increasing base wages might increase teacher retention which is generally a very significant problem in most locales but there needs to concrete information of whether teacher pay translates to teacher performance before limited resources are dedicated to that expenditure.

The truth of the matter is that teachers almost by necessity need to be highly intrinsically motivated rather than motivated largely by extrinsic motivations (performance based pay, etc). Most of what teachers actually do can't be easily measured in quantifiable ways and it's almost impossible to show direct causal relationship between specific teacher qualities and student performance. There are just so many variables at work in a field like education that eliminating all the confounding variables is ridiculously difficult and to be honest we can't even really settle on what is a "good" outcome.

I think most people would agree that poor teachers should be given the opportunity to improve their craft and if they continue to underperform they should be removed from service but there doesn't seem to be a consensus on how to measure teacher performance that doesn't ultimately undermine the basic structure of public education.
posted by vuron at 10:57 AM on September 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Which leaves us simply with the same ridiculous system of "seniority"--as if that was a meaningful metric of anything at all."

And you know, I think there's an argument to be made for seniority-based pay increases in a collegial profession where experience does matter. And I think there's an argument to be made against merit pay (which is basically that people who don't think they'll qualify for merit pay work less hard once merit pay is available, taking the merit pay for full effort as permission to give only 80% effort and get regular pay; and merit pay can be hell on morale). The teachers in my district generally support the seniority system for pay increases and I don't see anything particularly wrong with that system, and it's what their bargaining unit bargains for because it's what they want. That's cool. But seniority doesn't in and of itself translate to competency, and making employment decisions based on seniority (whether to release the lowest-seniority, as has been done until recently, or to release the most senior teachers because it saves the most money) is relatively crazy.

"Sure, I did, right through the end of June my entire school career without an air conditioner in sight."

Yeah, that's great, you probably had windows. Windows that opened were progressively removed starting in the 70s, to save energy, and after the Laurie Dann shootings in 1988, school access was seriously restricted -- doors locked during the day, windows closed, no cross-ventilation. I was in elementary school in the Chicago suburbs at the time of the Dann shooting, and they passed the bond issue for classroom air conditioning in my district a year or two after that shooting, because before that the schools were hot but manageable in the heat; after that, when all the doors were closed and cross-ventilation was restricted, it became really unbearable in the heat. Students faint. In my current district, we run a "heat schedule" (where school starts early and dismisses early) in our old, un-air-conditioned buildings during the heat of late summer, and even so, every year, students pass out from the heat in those buildings.

If you've got a building from 1900 that was renovated in 1970 to seal the windows to save energy, and then in the 80s to restrict access, and has no air conditioning, it's hot as hell in there when it's hot out. Buildings we're building NOW take advantage of what we know about light, temperature, and air quality affecting student learning and our modern challenges with respect to energy savings, limiting access, and so forth, and can use far more modern solutions (those miniblinds that are BETWEEN panes of glass are great, you can open the window and still close the blinds! And students can't get at the blinds to damage them! Teachers LOOOOOOOVE them). We can also use older solutions, too: we've been reinstating transoms over doors and building new schools with transoms, which were mostly removed in the 60s to "reduce noise from the hallway" and to prevent students from breaking them or crawling up there to get into locked classrooms and sometimes getting stuck (really!) and to reduce building costs. But they're awesome for ventilation, especially if you want the door shut to reduce noise or for crowd control.

But we have plenty of older buildings that aren't very functional in the heat, and we can't use them for year-round school or summer school, and teachers hate working in them when it's hot, and students don't learn well in the high heat, but the very predictable response from a certain sector of the community is, "When I was your age, we air conditioned our buildings with FIRE and we LIKED IT and I don't even know why these 8 year olds are fainting and having to be transported to the hospital, the wusses!"
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:05 AM on September 10, 2012 [6 favorites]


He answered 40, which seems eminently sensible to me, but the "right answer" was 60. How can there even be a right answer to that question?

I think standardized tests of that sort become easier when you recognize that you aren't trying to select the correct answer, you are trying to select the answer the test makers want you to select.
posted by Justinian at 11:11 AM on September 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


For those who would like to have a metric of student improvement for measuring teachers, how the hell do you propose measuring teachers licensed for severe special needs?

How the hell do you measure a teacher of a non-verbal, non-communicative student who stims by pinching and grasping? A student who loses his shit if one minute of his routine is disrupted?

There is no improving for these students. So how the hell do you then measure these teachers dealing with students who, maybe, at most someday could get the student to make eye contact? How do you measure that teacher's performance? How long it takes for them to get a student who can't make eye contact to make eye contact?

'Cause that's bullshit right there.
posted by zizzle at 11:17 AM on September 10, 2012


The irony about teacher assessment is that the tools we currently use to quantify educators is equally useful as our tools to quantify politicians.
posted by Blue_Villain at 11:22 AM on September 10, 2012


Also: ARE as equally useful (as our editing tools, FML)
posted by Blue_Villain at 11:22 AM on September 10, 2012


Yeah, that's great, you probably had windows. Windows that opened were progressively removed starting in the 70s, to save energy, and after the Laurie Dann shootings in 1988, school access was seriously restricted -- doors locked during the day, windows closed, no cross-ventilation.

Doors were always closed, probably to stop distractions from the hallways.
Most of the windows I remember were the large 4x8 type, with a smaller 4x1 pop-out at the bottom or top.
I've no idea of they were original to the school or not.
The "blinds" were the big sliding kind (basically, a big sheet of drywall on a track) that would cover the entire window.
Pretty sure the transoms were solid glass, at least, I don't recall one ever being open.
posted by madajb at 11:26 AM on September 10, 2012


The reality is that there are plenty of teachers unhappy with the union and how it has represented them, and the 75% number sounds very suspicious to me.

The 75% number is just the legal requirement (from a recently-passed state law) to vote to authorize a strike. The actual results of the vote were 89% in favor of strike authorization—that's 89% of all CTU members, not just those who voted. Around 8.5% of members didn't vote. Less than 2% of members voted against strike authorization. To say that this is just a cabal of senior teachers who do not have a mandate from the broader pool of Chicago teachers is just not true.
posted by enn at 11:31 AM on September 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure that there has been enough conclusive evidence that shows that teacher pay is a statistically significant factor in student outcomes. Teachers should definitely be paid a good wage but I'm not sure that a 5% increase in base pay would for example dramatically increase student test scores or the % of students that are graduating college ready.

The truth of the matter is that teachers almost by necessity need to be highly intrinsically motivated rather than motivated largely by extrinsic motivations (performance based pay, etc).
Well, that's sorta how recursive logic works, isn't it? I mean, you take an entire class of the workforce, pay them miserably low wages because the people attracted to these jobs are intrinsically geared towards helping people out of the kindness of their hearts, and then you tell them that they can't get a raise because their job necessitates that they have the intrinsic kindness that requires they be paid less than what they're worth in the first place.
posted by Blue_Villain at 11:32 AM on September 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


Why does teaching not have a model like that? Teachers often have master's degrees because their income goes up if they do, but their pay scale is set up so that it doesn't even matter what degree they get.

Mainly because the issue is more of quality teacher distribution than training. The best teachers have very strong incentives to get hired by affluent, safe suburban districts that pay fat salaries. Local control of education also means largely local funding. Local funding tends to come from property taxes, which are driven by property values....property values that go up if the schools are good.

This isn't a moral failing of the teachers at all, who could blame them? Why suffer for less pay?

The students that need the best teachers (the disadvantaged) fill school districts unable to hire them. Theoretically, if there was central control of school funding and bonus pay for tough districts and schools, the best teachers would teach the most difficult students, but that's a total fantasy.
posted by Hollywood Upstairs Medical College at 11:39 AM on September 10, 2012


I'm not suggesting that teachers don't merit better pay but that it might be a better use of limited funds to cover students needs in other ways that have shown significant impact of student outcomes.

For instance there is some evidence that providing additional calories during the testing period for disadvantaged students results in improved student concentration and better test scores. Additionally there are a large number of students in this country that have very limited food security outside of school breakfasts and lunches. The result is that a large number of kids go to school hungry on monday mornings and have a harder time learning on that day. Would it be worthwhile to expand operations of school lunches to service disadvantaged students on the weekend? Would it make sense to spend money sending food home with them on the weekends like some teachers already do?

While year round schooling shows only slightly differences form traditional 9 month schooling I believe there have been studies that indicate increased numbers of school days + year round reduces the inevitable educational backslide over the summer break. More school means more opportunities to engage students and teach required subjects.

The truth of the matter is that we have limited resources in education and the likelihood of significantly increased resources coming from state or federal sources seem pretty slim so it's important that the resources spent on students provide the maximum return on investment and while higher teacher pay, smaller class sizes, and increased technology in the classroom have been extremely popular ideas for improving student performance they don't always seem to provide the outcomes that educators are looking for and seem to be swallowed up by the vast differences that student socio-economic status has on student outcomes.
posted by vuron at 11:48 AM on September 10, 2012


A lot of the complaints about teacher evaluation boil down to districts using an indirect measure of teaching effectiveness. Test scores are influenced by many factors, and the quality of the teacher isn't even the largest one.

But let's imagine the districts tried to implement a direct measure of teaching effectiveness. They'd put a camera and microphone in every classroom, with the feed piped back to District Central where they'd be randomly observed by independent evaluators.

What would they look for? Would they have a checklist of facts that teachers would have to mention in each lecture? A quota of homework? Would they try to judge how much time the teacher spent on individual student questions, or instead value how much material could be covered for the rest of the class? Would they take points off for each gap in the lecture, or each failure to explain a concept to a student one-on-one? The evidence just doesn't exist to indicate what teaching methods work and what don't.

The core of the problem is that no one knows what good teaching is. So we say to teachers, "We don't know how to teach kids, but we'd like you to figure it out -- and you'll be judged on how much they learn."

I think the test system might be sufficient to weed out the bottom 5-10% of teachers who really just don't teach at all, but it's not sophisticated enough to figure out who's in the middle or at the top.
posted by miyabo at 11:52 AM on September 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


I am in no way suggesting that we know how to do it fairly and well. What I'm suggesting is that it needs to be done.

Wow.

So you're pretty sure we need to collect data you have no reason to believe we can use to accurately guide us.

I guess the next step in the chain is that we then need to take actions based on this data that we have no reason to believe will make any particular positive difference?

I agree. We should also apply this to corporations and Wall Street. Who is more qualified to create a system for regulating Wall Street? Politicians, or businessmen?

Qualified? Almost certainly the participants. Where might we encounter problems here? Not qualifications; incentives.

I guess if you assume that the incentives driving someone to be a teacher are the same as those driving people to work on the Street, your point makes sense. And also, if you assume that the reason people buck systemic quantitative assessment in education is because they want no oversight at all.
posted by weston at 11:54 AM on September 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Why not demand that teachers get the master's up front, make it rigorous, make it mean something, make it relevant to the work they'll do, and then pay them accordingly? When people talk about looking to countries like Finland for school improvement ideas, I'd rather they stop looking at what happens in the classroom and look a little more at the process by which teachers get into the classroom.

I'd agree that looking at which teachers get into the classroom is a fine idea, but I'm not actually sure that demanding licensure and rigorous masters is the best way to do that. Teaching is a hard job, but it's not one that rewards the kind of skills that enable you to succeed in a rigorous graduate program. A lot of teachers, even good teachers, aren't good students. The complaint that "teachers are dumb," is one that a lot of teachers make, and it makes sense; you don't need to be bright in the way that makes you good in grad school in order to be good at teaching math to second graders. You do, however, need to be good at the skill of teaching, a skill that (like pretty much all skills) you need to practice to be good at.

To me, that means that you need incoming teachers to get tons of classroom experience before they're "on their own." A model more like the last two or three years of medical school would seem to be better at producing quality teachers.* Focus on practical, hands-on experience, in a variety of classrooms and with slowly increasing responsibility. We do student teaching, but that's usually pretty limited in terms of time. A set up where you're in the classroom one day a week for a semester and then support a teacher for a semester, and only run the classroom for a few weeks is pretty common. More time into that end of things would produce better results, I think, than focusing on the "rigor" of the degree.

*My wife has talked about wanting to start a "teaching school" like a teaching hospital, where new teachers would spend two or three first observing, and slowly taking over responsibility for classes. I think it's a good idea, even if I don't see it happening on a large scale anytime soon.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 11:58 AM on September 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


*My wife has talked about wanting to start a "teaching school" like a teaching hospital, where new teachers would spend two or three first observing, and slowly taking over responsibility for classes. I think it's a good idea, even if I don't see it happening on a large scale anytime soon.

There is the Urban Teacher Education Program at the University of Chicago:

"UChicago UTEP is a two-year graduate program accredited by the Illinois State Board of Education that awards a Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) degree. Alumni then receive up to three years of post-graduation supports, making UChicago UTEP a unique five-year experience."

I saw story about it on WTTW. It was probably this one. There seems to be a similar program at Tufts:.

"Instead of completing a typical ten-week school internship after a semester of university courses, Tufts Urban Scholars serve as student teachers, or interns, and work at their assigned schools full-time under the guidance of mentor teachers and university professors, starting on the first day of school and ending in May.

Intern/Scholars start out assisting their mentor teacher and participate in all the usual activities of teachers, including staff meetings and special programs. To fulfill their degree requirements, three of their graduate courses are taught at the school site. In addition, interns attend seven half-day site-based seminars in the fall, co-taught by a Tufts University professor and a Fenway High School teacher who is also the intern coordinator.

The Urban Education Scholars program plays an essential role in probing the issues and impact of race, class, and gender in teacher training and student achievement. This innovative program continues to sustain a strong partnership between Tufts and local progressive urban schools."

posted by nooneyouknow at 12:25 PM on September 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


One of the most pernicious parts about using test scores (and then scoring teachers based on their first derivative of that graph) is that test scores are also measuring the state of the student on the day the test is administered.

Couldn't this be alleviated by testing them multiple times throughout the year and dropping the lowest score?

In Chicago, it's worse than that. There isn't even the illusion that the union or the administration are assigning teachers to schools according to talent or need. Teachers apply for jobs at the individual schools. The "good" schools get the most applications from the highest qualified teachers, and the not as good schools have to pick from the leftovers.

Well, right, but why do they do this? Because when you effectively get paid the same whether you work at a school with metal detectors or one where the PTA is paying for student dance lessons, it's a lot easier to work at one than the other. And one of them provides the experience that most people probably went into teaching for - young minds ready, willing, and able to learn.

Asking people to want to teach at the bad schools - and yes, they are objectively bad, for a lot of reasons - without offering them compensation is like asking them to shoot themselves in the foot just for the challenge of seeing if they can still walk afterwards.

I think the test system might be sufficient to weed out the bottom 5-10% of teachers who really just don't teach at all, but it's not sophisticated enough to figure out who's in the middle or at the top.

Yeah - but even that is a huge improvement.
posted by corb at 1:13 PM on September 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


"Well, that's sorta how recursive logic works, isn't it? I mean, you take an entire class of the workforce, pay them miserably low wages because the people attracted to these jobs are intrinsically geared towards helping people out of the kindness of their hearts, and then you tell them that they can't get a raise because their job necessitates that they have the intrinsic kindness that requires they be paid less than what they're worth in the first place."

See also: Institutional sexism and the gender gap in teaching. Theory being that "helping" is a feminine trait and that women teachers aren't breadwinners, so their salaries don't need to support a family.
posted by klangklangston at 1:15 PM on September 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Well, right, but why do they do this? Because when you effectively get paid the same whether you work at a school with metal detectors or one where the PTA is paying for student dance lessons, it's a lot easier to work at one than the other. And one of them provides the experience that most people probably went into teaching for - young minds ready, willing, and able to learn.

The better environment of better schools will lead teachers there even if the pay is lower. Like I said, my wife works in DC Public Schools, where the starting salary for a first year teacher with a BA is $51,539, which isn't fantastic pay, but isn't bad. Pay is lower if you work in surrounding Montgomery County, Maryland($46,410), which has generally better schools. DCPS has high turnover, 55 percent of new teachers leave in their first two years,eighty percent are gone by the end of their sixth year. Montgomery County has 11.5 percent leave by the end of their second year, and 30 percent by the end of year five.

There's a point below which salary matters, but in a lot of school districts(especially large urban districts), they're paying enough to keep good teachers. The teachers just don't want to stay because the schools are badly run, for which I can't really blame them.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 1:41 PM on September 10, 2012


Couldn't this be alleviated by testing them multiple times throughout the year and dropping the lowest score?

I suspect multiple tests a year would be enormously expensive (to purchase, proctor, score, and analyze) as well as disruptive. And you'd still have a high number of kids not present at all tests or who enter in and vacate the district on a schedule not parallel to the educational calendar. The problems are manifold, but the terrible structure of badly-written tests that take up a substantial amount of time to teach to and to actually implement is not an easy one to shake. Even in a private elementary school, we still wasted a week or so every year learning how to actually take multiple choice tests and then actually taking them. Those scores weren't even tied to our ability to reapply to the school or anything, but it was still somewhat stressful.

It's interesting to me that in areas where the student's own outcomes really matter, like college admission or even private school admission, something like Terra Nova scores or the PSAT are never the only criteria. You get reference letters, observation days, GPA submissions, portfolios, etc., even for nursery school or elementary classes. They consider learning disabilities and family hardships, and apply that matrix against their high school or middle school's individual record. But those kinds of outcomes are much harder to grapple with across the wider, ever-shifting population of students enrolled in public school, and impossible to produce on the statewide scale. And how could you expand the teacher's own portfolio? Do you have them submit evidence of extracurricular time, of lesson planning, of contacting families? A school could maybe know that, if they had enough staff and trained observers. But nothing I've seen indicates that the contemporary standardized testing regime produces a really useful metric.
posted by jetlagaddict at 1:45 PM on September 10, 2012


This comment makes me want to scream and throttle someone, but I have to grant that it may not be in the same context that I live in as a teacher:

Teaching in the US already doesn't attract the strongest students. "Earn a relatively easy BA and make $120,000 out the door!" would seem to me to attract more weak students looking for easy money and long summer vacations.
Couple it with raising the standards for entering the profession, and I think higher salaries could be a great idea.


In both CA and WA, becoming a teacher is ridiculously tough -- and that would be reasonable if the payoff was there at the end of it. You get your BA (and we all know that paying for that isn't getting any easier), and then you get into a teacher credentialing program... and then you do your student teaching time, which involves either a semester or a whole year of paying even more college tuition for the privilege to work for free just so you can get your teaching credentials. And then you get to look for a job. Contrary to conventional wisdom (which seems to refuse to die), it's a shitty job market, it has been a shitty job market for years, and I see no signs of it getting better. And once you do get that job, you very quickly need to go back to school to get further credential work done -- more tuition, more school work, all on top of trying to manage that actual class load of students that you're trying to teach.

I'm sorry if this doesn't line up with experience outside the two states I've taught in, but most folks who want to "raise teacher standards" is usually talking out their ass. I got my credential in 2003, I worked for a year in a SoCal charter school drowning in gang kids and teen moms, trying all the while to get a job at a regular school... with no dice. And yes, I'm good at my job, I'm personable and I have a "real" degree with honors, thank you very much. But I've been a sub since 2004, no matter how many times I've swooped in like a goddamn superhero and saved the day in month-long, semester-long and year-long "long term sub" assignments. I literally cannot improve my credentials without having a permanent job now; the teaching programs in WA won't let me in until I'm a regular teacher, even if I could somehow pay for it while working as a sub, which I cannot.

As a substitute teacher, I make $179 a day in Seattle and $155 a day in a neighboring district. I don't get paid on days that don't have school. I don't get benefits. If I were to get hired on tomorrow, I'd get... oh, about $38k per year when it's all said and done. That's with a BA, a credential, and a total of 8 years in a profession that requires me to be smart, personable and squeaky-clean. I'm 37 and I'd be thrilled to pull in $38k with benefits at this point. Only, again, then I'd have to immediately cough up more tuition money and go back to school.

Sounds like a great deal, don't it?
posted by scaryblackdeath at 2:34 PM on September 10, 2012 [8 favorites]


BTW, last teaching job interview I had? .8 FTE (meaning one less class per day, and therefore paying 80% of regular salary), but extra prep-time because the class load had multiple subjects... oh, and benefits are similarly reduced, AND I wouldn't have gotten a classroom of my own. I'd have been teaching high school social studies and English while pushing a cart of class materials from room to room. Oh, but as a teacher at the school, I'd still be required to be involved in multiple after-school committees, student clubs, activities, and... well, don't expect to go home an hour earlier than everyone else even though you're being paid for an hour's less work.

Didn't get the job. Don't feel bad about it, either.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 2:37 PM on September 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


*most folks ARE. Sorry. Rage overpowers proofreading skills sometimes. Stoopid interwebs.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 2:39 PM on September 10, 2012


They're only doing the most important job in the world.

Yes - just like parenting.

That's right up there with being willing to kill others - "Thank you for your service" to veterans.

No reason we should pay or treat them well.

Yup - just like parenting.
posted by rough ashlar at 3:46 PM on September 10, 2012


Theory being that "helping" is a feminine trait and that women teachers aren't breadwinners, so their salaries don't need to support a family.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but do anyone's salaries, solo, support a family these days?
posted by corb at 3:47 PM on September 10, 2012


Her grade that day was terrible, and it had basically nothing to do with how she was teaching; most teachers would have had a terrible day that day

See, that's the kind of thing that makes teachers nervous about evaluation. If the person evaluating the teacher has no idea of how the classes usually go, or is so divorced from what normal vs. exceptional circumstances are, they should not be evaluating. Hell, in a situation like that, I'd argue that the evaluation should be called off, or not entered at all (even with the ability to drop drastically low scores, which not every district allows).

Ideally, something like that is an amazing teaching/learning/discussion opportunity. It's a great chance for the observer to sit down with the teacher after the day to go over what happened, then discuss strategies for dealing with that in the future.

Observations in any field are stressful for the person being evaluated. In a field where you're hoping that the thirty children in your care can manage to focus well enough to get through the lesson, it can be a total nightmare.
posted by Ghidorah at 4:06 PM on September 10, 2012


"Correct me if I'm wrong, but do anyone's salaries, solo, support a family these days?"

While there's been a shift toward dual-income families over the last two decades, jobs seen as traditionally female still earn less than comparable industries in terms of training and responsibility.

Further, and this is important to understand: Institutional discrimination becomes normative and takes a lot of time and effort to correct. It's a similar problem to the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow, where because the discrimination was so deep, you see the legacy even after ostensibly removing the discrimination. An analogy is the effects of unemployment on young workers: A year of unemployment translates to much more in lost wages than simply the amount the worker would have earned that year, because it does lasting damage to earnings potential.
posted by klangklangston at 4:32 PM on September 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


Eyebrows, you made a nice comment, but you started it out ignorant of how the Local School Councils work in Chicago. It is not like the rest of the state, and while it seems like it's a great and empowering thing for the schools, the result is that principals are beholden to just six or seven local busybodies.
posted by gjc at 4:54 PM on September 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Correct me if I'm wrong, but do anyone's salaries, solo, support a family these days?

Only for people who choose to live beyond their means.
posted by gjc at 4:55 PM on September 10, 2012


scaryblackdeath, just FYI here are the salary rates for teachers in Victoria. That doesn't include 9% super, which is additional.
posted by wilful at 5:27 PM on September 10, 2012


Wilful- that's about what Chicago Public School teachers make. Roughly those numbers, but in USD.
posted by gjc at 5:33 PM on September 10, 2012


For a graduate straight out of Uni, I think that's a very healthy starting salary. I accept though that for a dedicated high quality teacher of 20 years service, it's not a pittance, it's a living wage, but I don't think it's entirely socially fair.

But a top Principal can earn pretty well, I couldn't see much to complain about there.
posted by wilful at 5:38 PM on September 10, 2012


The comments on basically every newspaper and TV news website do not make me hopeful for the optics of this strike.
posted by absalom at 6:04 PM on September 10, 2012


PDF of all the CPS employees and their salaries. Interesting reading.
posted by IndigoJones at 6:12 PM on September 10, 2012


PDF of all the CPS employees and their salaries. Interesting reading.

Would it kill them to provide a .cvs file?

Man. Acrobat.
posted by verb at 6:48 PM on September 10, 2012


You know, I don't think that $50k-$80k+ for a teacher is unreasonable at all. In fact, I think that $50k is the bare minimum about any adult professional should make. Pay always comes up when we're talking about unions and it's always people saying that workers make so much money or too much money. Obviously the reason union workers might make more than the private sector is because they can look out for their interests as a collective, unlike the private sector, where each person is on their own to fight the powerful corporations for a decent wage. But instead of demanding that private workers make better wages with stronger benefits, we try to pull the union members down to our level. Wtf?

So why do we continue to vilify the union workers rather than vilify the private employers who have made us all believe that people should not make enough to live a comfortable middle class lifestyle? In a day and age where the CEO of a large company making $10,000,000 is 500x the wages of his lowest paid employees and when corporations are sitting on records amounts of cash and have been for years, that any employees should struggle to get by with full-time work is criminal.

Clearly, more funding for schools would go a long way in solving the problems with our education system, and I have to believe that we are placing unrealistic expectations on teachers within a broken system instead of making a meaningful monetary investment in educating our children (as much as our society likes to give lip service to it). If that's the case, then why do so many people continue to blame teachers for such a dysfunctional system? It seems to me that the teachers, for the most part, are the most dedicated and probably, most highly functioning part of the thing, I just....wtf, it just seems so mean-spirited.
posted by triggerfinger at 7:09 PM on September 10, 2012 [6 favorites]


The gloves are off
posted by the duck by the oboe at 7:11 PM on September 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


So why do we continue to vilify the union workers rather than vilify the private employers who have made us all believe that people should not make enough to live a comfortable middle class lifestyle? In a day and age where the CEO of a large company making $10,000,000 is 500x the wages of his lowest paid employees and when corporations are sitting on records amounts of cash and have been for years, that any employees should struggle to get by with full-time work is criminal.

This is such a strawman that I have to jump on it.

First, nobody, but nobody, is vilifying the union workers for wanting 50K-80K. Even for those of us that think they may be asking for a pony that they are unlikely to get, they are not bad people because they want either that salary or a pony. What some people are saying is that they, as taxpayers, and thus in some ways as the boss, do not want to give those salaries, or do not want to give the pony.

Secondly, it is not the evil private employers that have somehow pulled the wool over our eyes to believe that people should not make enough to live a comfortable middle class lifestyle. The plain and honest fact is that not everybody can be in the middle - that's why it's called the middle to begin with. The concept of middle class has no value without a class system. If everyone's comfort level was shifted up - like has happened several times over the past century - it just means that everyone's expectations shift.

That any employee should "struggle to get by" on full time work is not somehow criminal, either. Just because someone wants a decent living doesn't mean they're owed one, and certainly not owed one to maintain someone in the style to which they would like to become accustomed. In times of high unemployment, wages drop. This is just how it is - not because the employers necessarily can only afford to pay that, but because there are two ways to be chosen as part of a really selective process when there's a glut of workers. One is by being better than everyone else, and the other is by being willing to take less salary than everyone else. Either way, there's a lot of people who won't be able to get plum jobs. So they take less-than-plum jobs that no one wants, and so they don't have to be paid competitively. It's not some grand moral crusade.

Also, I would defy you to find a full time job in the United States at which a single person cannot manage to live. Seriously, go at it. I will accept any serious job within the continental United States that you can possibly find on the internet.
posted by corb at 7:22 PM on September 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


That pdf is interesting. There are a lot of folks named "vacant" on the payroll.

I looked up my old grade school. There are probably twice as many personnel there now as there used to be. And 100 fewer students. Silliness.
posted by gjc at 7:58 PM on September 10, 2012


First, nobody, but nobody, is vilifying the union workers for wanting 50K-80K.

OH HA HA HA HA

Just because someone wants a decent living doesn't mean they're owed one

Except when companies are making record profits and CEOs are enjoying handsome pay rises while middle class wages have been stagnating for decades despite increased productivity. People are working harder at their jobs, helping their companies to grow exponentially while not seeing any reward for their hard work? Fuck those guys and their entitlement issues!

Also, I would defy you to find a full time job in the United States at which a single person cannot manage to live. Seriously, go at it. I will accept any serious job within the continental United States that you can possibly find on the internet.

I'm not even sure what to say to this. Enjoy your life totally ignorant of the poverty all around you I guess? I have to think that by "live" you meant "not die" because obviously a person working full time on minimum wage could manage to feed themselves enough and find adequate shelter to not die. Millions of Americans do it every year after all. Of course, I said "struggle to get by" which is very different from "not die" which I have to assume you meant. I would defy you to find a full time minimum wage job in the United States at which a single person does not struggle to get by. Seriously, go at it. Of course it's well documented that living on minimum wage ($14,500 a year) is really fucking hard. You go ahead and tell me how easy it's going to be for a single person to live their life on $14,500. In reality, people living on minimum wage often have to support children or other family members. Of course I realize that not everyone can be middle class. What I am saying is that there are people with college degrees working in professional jobs that are making incredibly low wages and there are people in full time working class jobs who fall under the poverty line. Yes, I believe that people working full time jobs should not have to live in utter and abject poverty. Yes, I think that is inhumane. It's not as if companies don't have the money. They do, they're just paying the extra out to the people at the top. Why you would sit here and defend a below poverty level minimum wage in the richest country on earth is beyond me.
posted by triggerfinger at 8:40 PM on September 10, 2012 [13 favorites]


Hard facts behind union and school board dispute.
posted by garlic at 8:59 PM on September 10, 2012


"What some people are saying is that they, as taxpayers, and thus in some ways as the boss, do not want to give those salaries, or do not want to give the pony."

At the same time, those taxpayer "bosses" are demanding performance that they don't understand and undervaluing the investment required for the type of return they want, and then using that to justify paying less for the work.

That's in part because people are notoriously bad at actually assigning value to abstract concepts like education (the payoff is distant, the cost is immediate, the product is famously hard to quantify).

So taking the approach that by simply demanding a low cost, high quality education, you're going to create policies where that's attainable is ignorant at best, idiotic at worst.

"Secondly, it is not the evil private employers that have somehow pulled the wool over our eyes to believe that people should not make enough to live a comfortable middle class lifestyle. The plain and honest fact is that not everybody can be in the middle - that's why it's called the middle to begin with. The concept of middle class has no value without a class system. If everyone's comfort level was shifted up - like has happened several times over the past century - it just means that everyone's expectations shift."

First off, this is sort of an inane class based argument. While people do value their wealth relatively, there are pretty clear distortions on that at both ends. Second off, the thing about the middle is that most people should be there if the system is equitable. That's the outcome we shoot for, knowing that AVERAGE PEOPLE ARE AVERAGE, and AVERAGE SHOULDN'T BE SHITTY, especially because there's so much luck in the system. (And remember, everyone considers themselves above average, even you and me.)

Further, I think it pretty well makes sense to say that the education of children is a place where it makes sense to devote enough resources that you assure that the basic quality of the education is good. While the effects are hard to quantify on the micro scale, they can be reasonably easy to quantify on the macro scale.

"That any employee should "struggle to get by" on full time work is not somehow criminal, either."

Are you intentionally conflating "not somehow criminal" with "desirable"? Because it sure seems like it.

"Just because someone wants a decent living doesn't mean they're owed one, and certainly not owed one to maintain someone in the style to which they would like to become accustomed."

This is muddled bullshit based on bad faith toward people who believe they deserve a middle-class lifestyle.

" In times of high unemployment, wages drop."

Oh man, some CEOs I know are gonna be totally stoked to hear about your special pleading.

"This is just how it is - not because the employers necessarily can only afford to pay that, but because there are two ways to be chosen as part of a really selective process when there's a glut of workers."

Of course, given that there's a significant training and selection process, and an ever-increasing demand, the elasticity would be greatly decreased. I mean, I respect your desire to apply basic economic principles, but if you actually confront the world instead of engaging like a libertarian Hegel, you'll see that there are a lot of confounding factors that undermine your ability to support your argument, and it would be nice if you'd acknowledge them.

"One is by being better than everyone else, and the other is by being willing to take less salary than everyone else. Either way, there's a lot of people who won't be able to get plum jobs. So they take less-than-plum jobs that no one wants, and so they don't have to be paid competitively. It's not some grand moral crusade. "

Right, so what you've described with this is called a "race to the bottom." You can google it and maybe think about whether that's a good model to pursue for education, especially given the aforementioned notorious difficulty in quantification. At the very least, it's consistent with your earlier statement that was basically about not wanting to pay for good education (and your earlier statement, where you basically conceded not really knowing what good education metrics would look like).

"Also, I would defy you to find a full time job in the United States at which a single person cannot manage to live. Seriously, go at it. I will accept any serious job within the continental United States that you can possibly find on the internet."

Man, gotta love the qualifications you already hedged in. "Serious job," "cannot manage to live," and ignoring that many people have difficulty finding full time work! (To be fair, we're talking about teachers, but still, way to load the question!)
posted by klangklangston at 9:00 PM on September 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


The plain and honest fact is that not everybody can be in the middle - that's why it's called the middle to begin with.

First off, while this is tautologically true (short of an identical distribution) if you're taking a strict middle=mean situation, you can absolutely have a distribution where most people are clustered close to a mean. You could even argue that a normal distribution is in fact such a setup (almost 70% within one standard deviation of the mean, and another 25% within two).

But perhaps more importantly:

The concept of middle class has no value without a class system.

The term "middle class" stopped simply serving as a stand-in between working class and upper class at least by somewhere not too long after WWII. Since then it's come to mean something like the *end* of a class system -- or at least a social bargain where nearly all skilled labor could expect to attain a reasonably secure living with a few modest luxuries. So, no, it's not just a simple midpoint inextricably located on a class continuum. The plausibility of a large middle class is essentially shorthand for the American Dream.

Or was, for a while there.
posted by weston at 9:18 PM on September 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


Also, I would defy you to find a full time job in the United States at which a single person cannot manage to live.

Why does it have to be single people?

A lot of people working minimum wage jobs have families or are struggling to support theirs --- and it's not just parents. You have kids just out of high school supporting their parents because their parents are in ill-health. You have kids just out of high school supporting younger siblings because their parents can't/won't. You have military spouses who have moved around a lot and not given the opportunity to start a career and then the serviceman/women dies. Sure, there are a lot of benefits to help the families of vets, but it's not enough to live on in a lot of cases.

The idea that every single person living in the US has a college degree and is working an office job for $32k/year is absurd when a ton of people working full-time retail jobs do so at half that.

I would love to live in your world, corb. And I think a lot of other people would, too.
posted by zizzle at 4:01 AM on September 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


You go ahead and tell me how easy it's going to be for a single person to live their life on $14,500. In reality, people living on minimum wage often have to support children or other family members.

Sure. It again goes back to expectations of entitlement. People believe that they are entitled to live alone, in their own apartment. This did not use to be the expectation. People lived at home until they were married, and more importantly, they did not marry (or certainly tried not to) unless they had the money to do so. Your article shows that someone working a 40 hour week at minimum wage can't afford a two bedroom apartment. Sure, and why should they? The article notes someone would have to work a 70 hour work week at minimum wage, which could be a 40 hour a week and a 30 hour a week person - you know, two people to fill two bedrooms. It suggests people with kids, but again, someone working 40 hours a week on minimum wage simply can't afford kids. That's the long and the short of it.

Further, I think it pretty well makes sense to say that the education of children is a place where it makes sense to devote enough resources that you assure that the basic quality of the education is good. While the effects are hard to quantify on the micro scale, they can be reasonably easy to quantify on the macro scale.

I agree with you that the education of children is a place where it's important to devote resources: but currently, it's tied to property tax, which is different in different areas, so you have wildly differing results. In addition, what kind of resources it's important to devote is a valid question. Is it important to devote resources for a classical liberal education, or is it important to devote resources that will help someone become effective at a trade?

The term "middle class" stopped simply serving as a stand-in between working class and upper class at least by somewhere not too long after WWII. Since then it's come to mean something like the *end* of a class system -- or at least a social bargain where nearly all skilled labor could expect to attain a reasonably secure living with a few modest luxuries.

To who? I believe that it means this to you, but it certainly doesn't mean that to me, or to many other people I know. To me, middle class is exactly that: a stand-in between working class and upper class, which is why you can have "lower middle class" and "upper middle class." It is a stepping stone on the way to class mobility, which is why it has so much variance.

You have military spouses who have moved around a lot and not given the opportunity to start a career and then the serviceman/women dies. Sure, there are a lot of benefits to help the families of vets, but it's not enough to live on in a lot of cases.

How in the world is 400,000$ not enough to live on?
posted by corb at 4:34 AM on September 11, 2012


someone working 40 hours a week on minimum wage simply can't afford kids

Well, now that that's been decided, we can notify poor people that they aren't supposed to have kids because they can't afford it.

And entitlement? The whole of American culture since the second wold war has been about owning our own house. People aren't arrogantly assuming they are due something for nothing, they're wondering what happened to the world they grew up in, which said if you work hard, you can have a car, a house, and 2.3 kids. This isn't ancient history. Now, people are finding it impossible to find work, full stop, let alone a living wage (which minimum wage certainly isn't). According to you, it seems, we should go back to boarding houses. You seem to have a very, very utilitarian view of the world. For my own part, I'd like to know to what end people are to be utilized in your world. Are we supposed to take our minimum wage jobs with no benefits and work until corporations no longer have use for us? Is the concept of eight hours for work, eight hours for rest, eight hours for recreation just socialist nonsense to you?
posted by Ghidorah at 6:01 AM on September 11, 2012


"I agree with you that the education of children is a place where it's important to devote resources: but currently, it's tied to property tax, which is different in different areas, so you have wildly differing results. In addition, what kind of resources it's important to devote is a valid question. Is it important to devote resources for a classical liberal education, or is it important to devote resources that will help someone become effective at a trade? "

Yes, tying it to property taxes is an awful way to get the results we want. And while what kind of resources to devote is a valid question, the assumption that we can somehow get a free lunch by paying less than a middle class wage to people on whom we depend is not a valid premise.

Further, the distinction between trade and liberal education is not necessarily a real one, and I'd note that the classical liberals who founded this country all believed that a liberal education was necessary for the effective function of democracy. While there's been deprecation both from liberals and conservatives on the concept of public education as primarily aimed at creating citizens, it's a valuable and important goal with hard to quantify results.

"To who? I believe that it means this to you, but it certainly doesn't mean that to me, or to many other people I know. To me, middle class is exactly that: a stand-in between working class and upper class, which is why you can have "lower middle class" and "upper middle class." It is a stepping stone on the way to class mobility, which is why it has so much variance. "

Uh, to the majority of both Americans and social scientists of the 20th century, the century marked by the emergence of the middle class. I know Marx can be boring, but you should read him if you want to talk about class.
posted by klangklangston at 8:42 AM on September 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


I hate the framing of teacher pay as teachers "deserving" more. Yes teachers deserve more money, but a lot of people deserve more money. And as someone pointed out, it's possible to live like a monk and survive on very little money at all.

Instead, think of it like any other job. Pay teachers better, and you'll get better candidate teachers. Pay them worse, and you'll get worse candidate teachers. School districts are buyers in a competitive labor market, just like every other employer.

I'd like to know how many qualified applicants Chicago gets for an open teaching position, and how that compares to other districts. If it's a lot less, then they need to offer higher salaries. $70k+ seems like a lot of money, but the cost of living in Chicago is high and it sounds like the job sucks, so it very well might not be enough.
posted by miyabo at 10:32 AM on September 11, 2012


Interesting comparison look at American teacher salaries from the Economix blog of the New York Times.
posted by jetlagaddict at 11:35 AM on September 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


Lake Forest High teachers also poised to strike. That's interesting. Lake Forest is an extremely well-to-do far north shore suburb of Chicago.

In 2005, Lake Forest graduated 98.9% of its senior class. It has been included in the "Top million" and "Most Successful" lists of the National Association of Secondary School Principals, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Parade magazine. The average class size is 19.3.


I remember reading that Lake Forest and other affluent north shore suburbs were built up after the Haymarket riots (which were a cause of the eight hour work day and other labor laws) along with Fort Sheridan and a north-south commuter train, as a means for the upper class to migrate out of urban Chicago. It is possible that part of the planning behind Fort Sheridan (an army base) was to protect people from further potential violence/"class warfare."
posted by Golden Eternity at 11:39 AM on September 11, 2012


Court Rules Chicago Cops Can't Arrest People For Being Annoying
posted by homunculus at 1:50 PM on September 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Golden Eternity, that would be the second school that I went to. In the early 90s, they had something like $13000 allocated to spend per student per year. Olympic size pool, indoor climbing wall, extensive facilities for science classes, small class sizes, counselors who could actually spend time getting to know and help their students. Graduating from that school, compared to the one I started at, more than likely got me into the colleges I applied to, whereas the counselor at my first school, upon seeing me walk into a classroom for an informational meeting for a university said, "What are •you• doing here?"

I benefitted immensely from LFSH, but the whole time I was there, I couldn't stop comparing it to the broken school district I was escaping. Funding through property tax needs to go away. Schools are like roads, police, and firefighters. Maybe, for whatever reason, you don't personally need them, but they are key to a functioning society, and we should be realize that paying for them is part of being a part of a functioning society. Unequal funding leads to radically different levels of opportunity, which leads to massively different outcomes. The expectation at LFHS is that everyone will graduate, and that everyone will go to college, and by and large, that's the result. At my first school, fifty percent of my class wasn't scheduled, when I left, to graduate on time. What expectations led to that?
posted by Ghidorah at 3:34 PM on September 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Well, now that that's been decided, we can notify poor people that they aren't supposed to have kids because they can't afford it.

Good lord. I never proposed dictating other people's behavior - but I will say that choosing to have children without the means to provide for them is a colossally stupid decision. Can we really not agree on that? Or is it just too politically contentious to admit?

And entitlement? The whole of American culture since the second wold war has been about owning our own house. People aren't arrogantly assuming they are due something for nothing, they're wondering what happened to the world they grew up in, which said if you work hard, you can have a car, a house, and 2.3 kids.

Yes. Yes, American culture in many ways since the second world war has been about that. And it was a cheat, a fraud, and a lie. It was a lie built on offering people easy credit, and mortgages for nothing, and don't worry if you might not be able to afford this in the future. It was a lie of entitlement. So yes, Americans didn't get there by themselves, but it doesn't make it any less unrealistic or any less unsustainable. And I think that it's okay for us to bring that into our national conversation: that the nuclear-family experiment we tried does not work, and we need to figure out how to move on from there.

Uh, to the majority of both Americans and social scientists of the 20th century, the century marked by the emergence of the middle class.

Please to link to your sources about these impartial studies which surveyed the American people at large, and more specifically, "social scientists," on your subject. I'm very curious.
posted by corb at 5:46 PM on September 11, 2012


but I will say that choosing to have children without the means to provide for them is a colossally stupid decision. Can we really not agree on that? Or is it just too politically contentious to admit?

Sorry, no, I can't agree on that. Not everyone who gets pregnant makes a conscious decision to do so, for any number of reasons. Trying to regulate decisions based on biology (the biological imperative to procreate, for example) through finance is bound to fail. We do not live in a perfectly utilitarian world. People are not inherently logical. Knowing that, doesn't some burden fall on society, and government, to at least create some sort of safety net? How is it wrong to have a minimum wage that coincides with a living wage? If, as you say, it is collassally stupid to have a child (which is a common and entirely natural urge among living things) while making minimum wage, doesn't it follow that the minimum wage is far, far too low?

Just because the system we are using is broken doesn't mean that we need to conform to its broken-ness. There are other systems, and other ways. The cheat, the fraud, and the lie you speak of is largely based on events that have happened in the last decade, after deregulation and blase attitudes towards openly corrupt practices in banking, and the gutting of the working class by the continued and coordinated weakening of unions. Working class used to mean you could live, decently, and raise a family. It's gone, largely because businesses have abandoned the concept that they, too, belong to a society, and are a part of culture, and as such, have responsibilities.
posted by Ghidorah at 6:15 PM on September 11, 2012 [5 favorites]


"Yes. Yes, American culture in many ways since the second world war has been about that. And it was a cheat, a fraud, and a lie. It was a lie built on offering people easy credit, and mortgages for nothing, and don't worry if you might not be able to afford this in the future."

Actually, no, it was based on some normative political values and the greatest economic expansion in recent history, the post-war boom. Please don't demonstrate the dangers of inadequate education so readily.

Please to link to your sources about these impartial studies which surveyed the American people at large, and more specifically, "social scientists," on your subject. I'm very curious."

My Christ, do you love covering ignorance with special pleading! Like I said, start with Marx. Then we can talk about things like this. (And maybe, if you're lucky, talk about differences between Marx's conception of the bourgeoisie and petit bourgeoise and how they're distinct from American conceptions of the middle class.)

Or do you just think that Romney and Obama are talking about how policies impact the middle class because of superstitious appeals to the median quintile?

But no, there are obviously no normative assumptions based around the middle class and it is purely a stopgap between upper and lower classes.
posted by klangklangston at 7:54 PM on September 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Actually, no, it was based on some normative political values and the greatest economic expansion in recent history, the post-war boom.

Those normative political values happened to involve punitively high levels of theft from a segment of the population in order to artificially inflate the economy. Thus, as I stated, a cheat, a fraud, and a lie.

My Christ, do you love covering ignorance with special pleading! Like I said, start with Marx.

And my god, do you love making unsourced, broad generalizations about what most people do, say, or believe! And what is your obsession with Marx? Marx, by the by, is not most people. Also, I've read him, and I think he's obnoxious and idiotic. I have no need to read him again.

Or do you just think that Romney and Obama are talking about how policies impact the middle class because of superstitious appeals to the median quintile?

I think Romney and Obama are talking about the middle class because they are pandering politicians who are attempting to appeal to people who either believe themselves to be middle class, or who are listening for code words. (I know you love code words!) For Romney, the middle class means "not poor." For Obama, the middle class means "not rich." It is, thus, hilarious to hear them talking about it, but I am very amused that you think they are talking about the same thing.
posted by corb at 8:34 PM on September 11, 2012


This is political malpractice.

Rahm needs to take his divisive, ill-timed strike and get it the hell out of the news cycle already.

An ex-Chief of Staff antagonizing teachers, union members, and sympathizing Democrats for days on end in the run-up to a close presidential election?

In his words, this is fucking stupid.
posted by airing nerdy laundry at 9:33 PM on September 11, 2012


Why is it so necessary for a conversation on MetaFilter to be accompanied by constant personal insult?

I don't see that there is a big miscommunication happening regarding the "middle class." I think what Romney and Obama and most people are referring to by "the middle class" is, just as Ghidora described, the ability to get married, live in a decent home, have 1-3 children, get them through college, and remain out of poverty through retirement, without too much government assistance and working a reasonable amount (40-60 hours a week or whatever). I doubt many people would expect this to be possible with one or even two minimum wage earners; the primary discussion in politics today is are the jobs supposedly being created by one job plan or another "middle class" jobs or lower income jobs? Personally, I think it is reasonable to expect two teacher salaries to support a middle class life (perhaps one working continuously until age 60 or so, and the spouse working on and off during this time).

Golden Eternity, that would be the second school that I went to.

I grew up in the "Ferris Bueller" north shore as well. I think at least 90% of the students in my public high school went on to college, usually with a few going to Harvard or wherever with perfect SAT scores. Just about everyone in my area sent their kids to public high school. This was a big contrast with areas I've lived in in California (lower income and higher living cost) where just about everyone, even relatively poor families, send their kids to private schools, because the public schools are so horrible. And in the Bay Area where I live now I keep hearing how housing prices are so much higher in good school districts - probably the case in the Chicago area as well.

I guess one of the causes of the pension funding problem in Illinois is that teacher salaries come out of property taxes, but teacher pensions come out of state taxes. So local communities can raise teacher salaries without considering the pension costs. The way pensions are designed seems like a big potential problem to me. Doesn't a typical pension plan give a guaranteed life income and count on a pension fund investment return of 7% or something? That seems like a potential disaster if the pension fund doesn't do well.
posted by Golden Eternity at 10:47 PM on September 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Those normative political values happened to involve punitively high levels of theft from a segment of the population in order to artificially inflate the economy. Thus, as I stated, a cheat, a fraud, and a lie. "

Bzzt. It's hard to take you seriously when you beg the question like that. "Punitively high levels of theft"? I assume we're not using Proudhon's definition. Saying "thus" doesn't make it "thus."

"And my god, do you love making unsourced, broad generalizations about what most people do, say, or believe! And what is your obsession with Marx? Marx, by the by, is not most people. Also, I've read him, and I think he's obnoxious and idiotic. I have no need to read him again. "

Yeah, see, whether or not you agree with Marx's predictive power, his descriptive work on class — which animates class discussions — is really strong. If you don't have a good understanding of Marx, none of what anyone says to you about how "class" is used as a political term (or a term of social science) is going to make any sense.

You acted like your definition of "middle class" was the only one, and the only legitimate one. It's not, especially because it's a rather tautological definition. If Marx is too dull for you, feel free to read the other book I linked.

"I think Romney and Obama are talking about the middle class because they are pandering politicians who are attempting to appeal to people who either believe themselves to be middle class, or who are listening for code words. (I know you love code words!) For Romney, the middle class means "not poor." For Obama, the middle class means "not rich." It is, thus, hilarious to hear them talking about it, but I am very amused that you think they are talking about the same thing."

It's not code words that I love, silly, it's dog whistles! But aside from an appeal to cynicism, might it actually make more sense that Obama and Romney are appealing to a set of normative beliefs that are held by a majority of Americans?

"I don't see that there is a big miscommunication happening regarding the "middle class." I think what Romney and Obama and most people are referring to by "the middle class" is, just as Ghidora described, the ability to get married, live in a decent home, have 1-3 children, get them through college, and remain out of poverty through retirement, without too much government assistance and working a reasonable amount (40-60 hours a week or whatever)."

I'm sorry, but corb is going to have to see a peer-reviewed study published supporting that view of the middle class — while we have to accept the dictum that taxes are theft, she shan't stoop to stipulating that "middle class" is used like that.
posted by klangklangston at 12:03 AM on September 12, 2012


Golden Eternity, yeah, it's bizarre that I can say "I went to Ordinary People" and some people in the north shore will get that.

One of the things that stuck out to me was how much more attention was paid to learning disabilities at Lake Forest. This is mid-nineties, and there were dozens of kids getting tutoring in the special room set aside for them. Students were constantly given positive reinforcement, and there wasn't, in general, any stigma with kids who needed some help. Kids that were getting therapy, who were getting tutored, they graduated, went to college. At my old school, they were the kids acting out, getting suspended, and dropping out. Aside from all of the other opportunities available there to students (I learned how to rock climb, snorkle, kayak, do archery, and cross country ski in a public school gym class), the attention and care they gave to students with dyslexia, ADD and other issues was light years away from anything I'd known until then.
posted by Ghidorah at 12:11 AM on September 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Imagine for a moment that the quality of your posting on Metafilter, and whether or not your ability to continue posting here, was measured by how many favorites you get. That's about how accurate or useful those numbers are going to be.

Maybe a better analogy would be if it were measured by an AI program that checked each post for grammatical correctness, factual accuracy, and originality or something. It would be unavoidable that everyone who wanted to be rated highly would have to conform to the world view and way of thinking of whoever wrote the test, which would probably make metafilter a lot dumber overall.
posted by Golden Eternity at 12:19 AM on September 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Rahm needs to take his divisive, ill-timed strike and get it the hell out of the news cycle already.

You do know Rahm didn't call the strike, right?

I guess one of the causes of the pension funding problem in Illinois is that teacher salaries come out of property taxes, but teacher pensions come out of state taxes. So local communities can raise teacher salaries without considering the pension costs. The way pensions are designed seems like a big potential problem to me. Doesn't a typical pension plan give a guaranteed life income and count on a pension fund investment return of 7% or something? That seems like a potential disaster if the pension fund doesn't do well.

This is the most illuminating thing I have read in this entire thread. That actually makes a lot of sense - local communities with a lot of money from property tax thus raise salaries because they want to keep high quality teachers, but it lowers the pool of overall money. Also, you're correct that pensions are often designed poorly in terms of what is funding them. I am not sure how it's even possible to provide such an income solely off defined contributions of that percentage.

Yeah, see, whether or not you agree with Marx's predictive power, his descriptive work on class — which animates class discussions — is really strong. If you don't have a good understanding of Marx, none of what anyone says to you about how "class" is used as a political term (or a term of social science) is going to make any sense.

I'm sorry, but corb is going to have to see a peer-reviewed study published supporting that view of the middle class — while we have to accept the dictum that taxes are theft, she shan't stoop to stipulating that "middle class" is used like that.


You saying that I can't have an understanding of class unless I read Marx is kind of like if I said you can't possibly understand economics unless you read Hayek. You provided one left-leaning peer-reviewed paper, I could provide an equal number of libertarian or conservative peer-reviewed papers that say opposite things. However, while I think your belief is incorrect, I'm not going to say that you're ignorant or uneducated - I just think that you're translating your information through the lens of your biases.

Your initial statement was that the vast majority of people believed the way that you do, and I asked for some evidence of that statement - an objective study of individual beliefs at large. You have yet to provide that, so I'm going to assume you don't have it - in which case, as previously stated, your opinion was generalizing, and likely incorrect.
posted by corb at 4:45 AM on September 12, 2012


You saying that I can't have an understanding of class unless I read Marx is kind of like if I said you can't possibly understand economics unless you read Hayek.

I wouldn't object to that statement. Even if one disagrees with Hayek, he's enough of an influence on economics that ignorance of his work is ignorance of economics. That seems to be what Klang is getting at.

Your initial statement was that the vast majority of people believed the way that you do, and I asked for some evidence of that statement - an objective study of individual beliefs at large.

So, what you're saying -- specifically -- is that he must produce some sort of peer-reviewed survey or study that demonstrates that a majority of people agree with his definition of "the middle class" before you will accept that basic definition. Is that accurate?
posted by verb at 7:20 AM on September 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Verb, having you in a thread is often like a breath of fresh air.

So, what you're saying -- specifically -- is that he must produce some sort of peer-reviewed survey or study that demonstrates that a majority of people agree with his definition of "the middle class" before you will accept that basic definition. Is that accurate?

I think what I was actually trying to say is that I dislike generalizations and appeals that people make with regards to the mindsets of the majority. It seems to be a thing that some people do in discussions ("Most people agree with me, so I'm right!"), but it seems really intellectually lazy. I don't think that there is any one, coherent definition which is accepted by the majority of Americans. I think in fact, that's part of what the current political disputes are going on over - what does it mean to be middle class? Why is it important? Where does it fit into our American structure? And those are two hotly disputed sides, who each year, consider themselves lucky to have a majority of 1 percent.

And I think Klang and I sit on opposite sides of that divide, in terms of what the middle class is, and who should belong to the middle class, and it's not really The Done Thing to simply declare victory, and that anyone who doesn't agree with you is wrong.

I was calling for a peer reviewed survey or study simply because I don't think one exists, but was willing to give him the chance to prove me wrong. I don't think anyone can quantifiably say what the majority of the enormous American Beast thinks.
posted by corb at 8:41 AM on September 12, 2012


I think in fact, that's part of what the current political disputes are going on over - what does it mean to be middle class? Why is it important? Where does it fit into our American structure?
...
I was calling for a peer reviewed survey or study simply because I don't think one exists, but was willing to give him the chance to prove me wrong. I don't think anyone can quantifiably say what the majority of the enormous American Beast thinks.


I understand the desire to get some of the terminology nailed down, but I think the question of "middle class identity" isn't quite as incomprehensible as you seem to suggest. I don't know of anyone who's doing peer-reviewed study on how people define commonly-used sociological terms, but there is still a lot of raw data on how people see the issue.

Pew Research is always a good starting point, and I wouldn't call them a left-wing organization. About 50% of the country, according to one Pew survey, considers themselves 'middle class,' so it's not just a matter of pointing at quintiles.

Earlier, older research includes White Collar: The American Middle Class, a book from the 50s that explores the social and sociological aspects of the Middle Class and its meaning in America, not just raw measures of group membership.

Neither of those is a "peer reviewed study," though. I'm not really sure that something as basic as defining a term that's commonly used throughout the world of economics and sociology needs that kind of rigor, though. Do you feel like Klang's take on the nature of the middle class in America is being used as some kind of lever to unfairly win an argument through semantics? I'm honestly not really clear on why there's such a strong objection on that particular phrase.

(Also, thanks for the kind words. Clearly you haven't witnessed me being a raging ass enough. TIME WILL TELL!)
posted by verb at 10:51 AM on September 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm not really sure that something as basic as defining a term that's commonly used throughout the world of economics and sociology needs that kind of rigor, though. Do you feel like Klang's take on the nature of the middle class in America is being used as some kind of lever to unfairly win an argument through semantics? I'm honestly not really clear on why there's such a strong objection on that particular phrase.

Yeah, add to it some frustration with feeling personally attacked and that's about the size of it. I had initially made a comment about how the middle class requires a class system to exist for it to have a frame of reference, and it seemed to be sidelined into this argument about what "middle class" actually is, and how it is really meant to symbolize a classless system that I just don't believe exists.

That link, however, is fascinating, particularly in terms of confusion over the middle class - and it actually in some ways explains Klang and my disagreement.
Before summarizing our findings, a note about terminology. Throughout the report, when we refer to the “middle class” we are describing the 53% of adults who identified themselves that way in response to a question in our survey. When we refer to those who are “middle income,” we are describing the 35% of adults who live in a household where the annual income falls within 75% to 150% of the national median (a standard yardstick in economic literature about income dispersion). The disparity in the size of these two “middles” underscores one of the themes of this report: that being middle class is a state of mind as well as a statement of income and wealth.
I think my estimation of middle class tends to fall more into what the Pew Study terms "middle income" - primarily because I think people are not their best reporters of class status and differentiation.
posted by corb at 11:05 AM on September 12, 2012


I think my estimation of middle class tends to fall more into what the Pew Study terms "middle income" - primarily because I think people are not their best reporters of class status and differentiation.

True, but the difference between 'middle income' and 'middle class' is an important one when you talk about opportunities and changes in societal economic structure. Earlier (and I don't want to say this was the core of your argument with Klang, it was just something I saw and remembered), you said that the existence of the middle class relied on theft to artificially inflate the economy. Looking back to the 40s, 50s, and 60s, I don't see the evidence for what you're saying.

Now, as middle income drifted downward in relative terms over the past several decades, but middle class self-identification didn't, we can certainly argue that many people overextended in an attempt to maintain "middle class identity." You can see some of the ripples of that in the Pew study as it talks about all the middle class people talking about how it's getting harder and harder to sustain a middle class life.

It feels like there are a lot of packed-in sub-questions and sub-arguments -- whether or not taxation is morally unacceptable, whether or not personal identification or aspiration in large people-groups has a place in discussions about economics, whether or not shifting relative wages are part of the squeeze on the middle class or just unsustainable economic growth... I do think that Klang has a strong point, though, that the existence of a "middle class" of people who do not want for essentials, live a comfortable working life, but are not necessarily in the upper echelons of society or business... well, that's definitely closely tied with the way that America's economic assumptions and self-image have gone.
posted by verb at 11:20 AM on September 12, 2012


Earlier (and I don't want to say this was the core of your argument with Klang, it was just something I saw and remembered), you said that the existence of the middle class relied on theft to artificially inflate the economy. Looking back to the 40s, 50s, and 60s, I don't see the evidence for what you're saying.

It's tax-based commentary - like you said, there's definitely packed-in sub-questions. 1939 top tax rate was 75%, 1944 top tax rate was a mindblowing 94%, and in 1954, the top tax rate was 91%. These rates, to me, feel like theft- so to me, the boom times of the 1940s, 50s, and 60s, with strong government support programs, all come from taking from one group of people (the wealthy) and giving to another group of people (the less wealthy). I recognize that other people view it differently, but to me, that's the case, and I find it a real problem.

I do think that Klang has a strong point, though, that the existence of a "middle class" of people who do not want for essentials, live a comfortable working life, but are not necessarily in the upper echelons of society or business... well, that's definitely closely tied with the way that America's economic assumptions and self-image have gone.

Oh, I even agree with that! I think most people have in fact thought of that as the way things are going - I just don't think the majority of people have tied it with a classless society - or that they would even want that. I think many people wanted the middle class lifestyle not just because of its comfort, but because it gave them a desirable social status that was ahead of their roots. And so by tying this dream of class mobility to owning things, like cars, or houses, etc, we did a great disservice to the American public, and pressured them into doing things that were against their economic self-interest.
posted by corb at 11:39 AM on September 12, 2012


I posted this comment in an Ask thread on the same topic that corb asked me to link to over here. I talk a little bit more about the issues (school day length, teacher pay, evaluations), the background, the stakes, and what I think the actual problem is, which won't be addressed:
The single largest factor in student success is totally OUTSIDE schools' control: The socioeconomic status of the parents. Poor children are set up to fail by society. Children who are hungry cannot learn. Children who are suffering malnutrition and lead poisoning (from unremediated housing stock) are sustaining brain damage. Children who are sick and have no access to health care cannot learn. Children who are being phyically or sexually abused cannot learn. Children who are working under the table every night for 8 hours are too tired to learn. Children whose parents cannot read have no help with homework. Children who are not SAFE at home because of neighborhood violence have a difficult time learning. 85% of Chicago Public Schools' students are impoverished. The impoverished students who are in a GOOD situation go to school and go home to a badly-maintained slum-lord-owned apartment with lead paint and stay inside and watch TV, because there are no parks, there are no yards, it's not safe to be outside, there are no extracurriculars, and there is nothing else to do. KINDERGARTENERS are truant because they are at home babysitting even younger children while mom works two jobs (or, yes, sometimes while mom does crack).

The strike will settle one way or the other, and I'm following it pretty anxiously because it will have a huge impact on what financial choices my district has going forward. But the truth is that fighting over schools is just moving the deck chairs on the Titanic of totally failed poverty policies. We will have this battle over and over again, but we're offering someone dying of smallpox a little acne cream for those breakouts. The problem isn't the cosmetic impact of the pox, it's THE VIRUS THAT'S KILLING YOU. Fighting over ever-increasing school needs that must come out of an ever-shrinking tax-revenue pie isn't going to stop happening, but it is a distraction from the fact that we're asking schools to solve societal problems that need much broader, more comprehensive solutions that schools can provide.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 12:30 PM on September 12, 2012 [9 favorites]


It's tax-based commentary - like you said, there's definitely packed-in sub-questions. 1939 top tax rate was 75%, 1944 top tax rate was a mindblowing 94%, and in 1954, the top tax rate was 91%. These rates, to me, feel like theft- so to me, the boom times of the 1940s, 50s, and 60s, with strong government support programs, all come from taking from one group of people (the wealthy) and giving to another group of people (the less wealthy).

Yeah, we've gone around this one a couple of times in other threads and I don't think there's going to be much resolution, since "Taxation == Theft" is more of a starting premise than a particular point of argument.

Unless I'm mistaken, there are two separate arguments you're putting forward. One is that taxation (at least, extremely progressive taxation) was morally and ethically wrong. The other is that progressive taxation was a confiscatory shell game that resulted in "mirage growth" in the postwar era. That argument frames the modern collapse of the middle class as an inevitable reckoning. (I don't want to put words in your mouth; if I've misunderstood, feel free to correct me.)
posted by verb at 12:57 PM on September 12, 2012


Eyebrow's full comment is flat out revelatory, particularly in terms of what was different about schools in the past that people are sighing for the bygone days of. I'm still trying to figure out my overall school-based opinion as a result. Trufax.

Unless I'm mistaken, there are two separate arguments you're putting forward. One is that taxation (at least, extremely progressive taxation) was morally and ethically wrong. The other is that progressive taxation was a confiscatory shell game that resulted in "mirage growth" in the postwar era. That argument frames the modern collapse of the middle class as an inevitable reckoning. (I don't want to put words in your mouth; if I've misunderstood, feel free to correct me.)

I think that's relatively accurate to some degree. I do think that extremely high levels of redistributive taxation is and was morally and ethically wrong. I don't think the progressive taxation was purely a confiscatory shell game, but I do think it enabled one, such that people were able to artificially value America, and Americans' standard of living, at a higher position than they would if they were looking at unadulterated raw economics. (I also begin to wonder how much this may have also been in response to Soviet-style communism - the idea that American political philosophy alone would bring about unalloyed prosperity for the vast majority of people.) I think you see this with a lot of subsidy programs in particular.
posted by corb at 1:56 PM on September 12, 2012


I will never understand how progressive taxation is morally and ethically wrong, yet poor people dying of unlivable wages and inadequate health care is just the gritty truth/a quaint hearkening back to sensible times. A middle-class lifestyle in America is about more than a house and 2.5 kids, it's about being able to go to the doctor for what you think might be cancer but have just been living with for the last two years because you're afraid of what the diagnosis will cost your family, being able to afford a safe and working vehicle that is the only way for you to get to work, doing something more with your life than working a full-time job and a part-time job on the side, just to pay bills. It's about getting an adequate public education. It's about life satisfaction in general-- which includes, yes, being able to marry and have children. Not laboring alone all your life in terrible conditions at a job that doesn't pay a livable wage until you die of untreated illness, stress, or violence. Saying that "yes, some people will have to struggle" is ignoring what struggling actually means. It doesn't just mean not getting your own bedroom or two-bedroom apartment or not going to nice restaurants or having cable. Rich people actually do live in a society-- without one, they wouldn't be able to make all their glorious money. The right to make a obscene amount of money without giving anything back to the society which enabled you to do that is just bizarre.

Also, as a "poor" who lives in Chicago without air conditioning, I would definitely want my kids to have air conditioning at school. Because I'd want them to learn at school.

I've been reading a lot about the strike but it's frustrating how common the "Why should they get a raise? Spoiled teachers, I don't have health insurance!" and other allied arguments are. The loathing of public servants in general is depressing, even in light of stories like Eyebrows McGee has shared. Incompetent and abusive teachers should be dismissed and we should find ways of doing this fairly and effectively, but that doesn't mean that teachers in general deserve a pittance or that liberal education is a worthless enterprise.

Growing up in a poor, rural community, my teachers were the only aspirational figures in my life. The best ones shaped my values and vision of success, offered and supported independent study in their subjects for students like me who were disappointed and underserved by the crumbling curriculum (as a result of understaffing and constant firing/hiring), and created an escape route out of the cycle of poverty by urging me to apply to colleges that would challenge me-- and they were heavily involved in their union. It utterly confuses me that people think teachers are only looking out for their own interests. Terrific teachers want job security and adequate salaries too. (And when, as a child and young adult, teachers are the most respectable, educated and professional people you encounter in your day-to-day life and still aren't making enough to live on, that in itself is demoralizing.) One of the best teachers I had in high school was working three jobs (part-time at the school) and had a recurring respiratory infection for nearly the entire 9 months of the school year because she couldn't afford the doctor appointments to keep having it treated. I think it's mindblowing that CPS salaries are so high-- but the mindblowing thing is that they're actually appropriate, not that they make too much.

Debating the specifics is worthwhile and I'm curious to see how negotiations go, but it's disgusting to me to think that politicians get so far on the rhetoric of demonizing workers because it's expedient for them to take an aggressive posture toward unions.
posted by stoneandstar at 3:27 PM on September 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Lake Forest High teachers also poised to strike. That's interesting. Lake Forest is an extremely well-to-do far north shore suburb of Chicago.

So, as it happens, I went to Lake Forest High School as well. Any part of that Tribune article where you think "What horrible person would do/say such a thing?" is pretty much par for the course. So, keeping in mind that I haven't talked to anyone still living in that school district in four or five years and I obviously don't like it very much...

This is not surprising to me. The last contract was a one year contract, which I'd assume was signed to avert a strike and try and hope another year magically solved things. But I remember two rounds of contract negotiations (getting on for ten years ago) that came very close to a strike. One got as far as the teachers picketing in the mornings before school, with a strike date set and a contract being agreed at the last minute. The next was not as fraught, but still fraught. Around then, the district lost a referendum on raising the property tax because, lo and behold, rich people don't think the should spend money on other people. From the sound of Wikipedia, the district has more money now than it did when I was there--I recall a typical class as being 25 by the time I graduated, having crept consistently upwards. I don't know if that's because they raised the property tax or because the school shrunk (which it has).

It's also probably worth noting that LFHS is a one school district for some weird historical reason. Lake Forest and Lake Bluff each have a separate elementary school district. I have a vague memory of this being a source of friction between the elementary school district(s) and the high school. I want to say the story was that somehow the high school had turned what was nominally a temporary tax increase into a permanent one and thus had all the money.

Writing this comment has led me to google the history teacher only to find he died a few years back after a whole six years of retirement. I was thinking about him because the fact he was on the picket line was how we knew the negotiations were going really badly. He was very Republican and far from an enthusiastic union member.
posted by hoyland at 8:18 PM on September 12, 2012


Small damn world, hoyland. I was only there for a year and a half, long enough to develop a strong distaste for the ridiculous contrast from the first decade of my education, not long enough for them to get my name right in the class video.

There are a fair number of residents that resent paying taxes for schools, either they have no children, or their children graduated. Mind you, this is a town that won't allow public bus routes to go through the city limits, and fought a McDonald's because, in part, residents were against people driving through actually stopping. Biggest example of I've got mine-ism I've seen to this day. The students at the school had no concept of the bubble they lived in. The student parking lot was next to the teachers' lot, and starting salaries at LFHS weren't all that high. My lit teachers drove beaters, my classmates drove Explorers and BMWs, and made fun of teachers for the cars they drove.

Wonderful place, really.
posted by Ghidorah at 1:14 AM on September 13, 2012


What the Teachers Are Fighting for at the Chicago Strike
posted by homunculus at 5:22 PM on September 14, 2012


Chicago Teachers’ Union Votes to End Strike
posted by Golden Eternity at 7:35 PM on September 18, 2012


“I think this is the best contract that we could have gotten in this atmosphere,” said Barbara Relerford, a delegate. “I think the power of the union has been amplified all over this nation. And we miss our kids. We’re ready to go back.”
posted by Golden Eternity at 8:10 PM on September 18, 2012


Fox Won't Disclose News Corp. Testing Contracts At Heart Of The Chicago Teachers' Strike
posted by homunculus at 9:04 PM on September 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Map: If You Thought Chicago's Teacher Strike Was a Big Deal…
posted by homunculus at 1:45 PM on September 20, 2012


In other news: Rahm Emanuel Gets the Spanking He Deserves
posted by homunculus at 10:03 AM on September 28, 2012


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