As a member of the Chicago Teachers Union and a staunch union supporter, I have serious misgivings concerning the CTU Principal Performance Survey, since it represents such a poor vehicle for transmitting the views of teachers and paraprofessionals toward their educational leaders.
Knowing firsthand the conditions at my school, it was obvious that some of the responses were without foundation and totally ridiculous. Also, considering the fact that 66 percent of teachers and paraprofessionals system-wide did not even bother to fill it out, it speaks volumes about how unreliable this survey was, even though supporters of it maintain that a response rate of 34 percent is valid.
Many of my colleagues in the union probably did not respond because they were either too busy doing their jobs or were relatively satisfied with the conditions in their schools. On the other hand, those dissatisfied will tend to be the most vocal, and such surveys represent an opportune time for them to take anonymous potshots at the principal.
One of the major problems is that principals are forced to make many unpopular decisions in order to implement many of the mandates issued by the Chicago Board of Education, the Illinois State Board of Education and the federal government as a result of the No Child Left Behind Act. As a result, there is probably an inclination to shoot the messenger. Ironically, there is also the possibility that the least-demanding principals might have received the best ratings.
Indeed, just like the teachers, principals are under the gun. Faced with pressure from all sides regarding test scores and standards; charged with running their schools, supporting teachers and paraprofessionals, monitoring the budget; and engaged in all sorts of mundane and important managerial tasks, a union survey, including a grade ranging from an A to an F, is unquestionably seen as a threat by principals. Since the union, by its very nature, is an adversary to management, anything that is emitted from it is going to be suspect.
This is not to say that principals should not be held accountable or evaluated. The question is whether the union should be perceived as playing a role. In a system composed of over 600 schools, the union, like the board, is a distant bureaucracy, and because there are other avenues that are open for teachers and paraprofessionals, it is probably better for the union to forego these controversial surveys and stay out of the principal evaluating business. At the local level, school personnel can make their opinions known through their union delegate, and a strong delegate can be very effective in communicating concerns and alleviating problems as long as the principal is willing to listen. For those not willing to listen, grievances can be filed and they will eventually come to the attention of the union leadership and the principal’s boss, the area instructional officer.
Teachers can also voice their opinions through the teacher-dominated Professional Problems Committee and the Professional Personal Leadership Committee, which are committed to improving schools.
Most important to advocates of school reform are the local school councils. LSCs represent the ideal forum for evaluating a principal’s performance.
Currently, there are two teachers who have permanent seats on the LSC. Through them, the joys and frustrations of teachers and paraprofessionals can be heard. There is also nothing preventing school personnel from contacting members of the LSC on their own or coming to the LSC meetings to voice their opinions. Finally, just before renewing a principal’s contract there is nothing to stop an LSC from conducting its own tailor-made survey.
Indeed, mechanisms are already in place to keep principals accountable and it is important for all the parties at the local level to utilize the powers that they have at their fingertips to address the issues at hand. Evaluation of principals should be a local responsibility, which means that the union’s role in such matters is not only superfluous, but a waste of valuable time and resources.
Union delegate, LSC teacher representative
Von Steuben High School