Take 5: ‘Fixing’ CPS, strike vote, over-testing myth

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The Chicago Teachers Union financial secretary, Kristine Mayle, tells reporters on Wednesday that a group of clergy members will be monitoring the strike vote count.

Photo by Stephanie Choporis

The Chicago Teachers Union financial secretary, Kristine Mayle, tells reporters on Wednesday that a group of clergy members will be monitoring the strike vote count.

Crain’s Chicago Business is running a five-day series that identifies what it considers game changers for major improvement in the Chicago Public Schools. So far its recommendations have ranged from getting rid of the networks to letting principals control a larger share of the district’s money.

Crain’s also looks at what it would take to start an independent principal-development institute to address a key problem that was aggravated by the SUPES Academy scandal: Chicago principals “are disappearing, and the pipeline to replace them is virtually nonexistent.”

One suggested model is the 12-year-old New York City Leadership Academy, a private-public partnership that runs a 15-month training program “rooted in role-playing in a simulated school environment.” And the Gwinnett County Public Schools in suburban Atlanta runs a 90-day, residency training program for selected assistant principals.

Today the publication tackles selective-enrollment high schools, declaring that “for the greater good, CPS should declare a moratorium on test-in campuses.” Crain’s says CPS should develop clear and consistent guidelines for improving current schools and opening new ones, calling the current strategy “ad hoc and opaque.” With that, it added, Chicago could become a testing  ground for innovative ways to improve high schools. Tomorrow, the final installment will make recommendations on data management.

2. CTU strike vote this week … Chicago Teachers Union members are voting this week on whether to authorize their leaders to call a strike. The earliest a strike could happen would be mid-March. At a press conference on Wednesday, CTU officials did not say how many of their 27,000 members have voted so far but noted that a group of clergy is monitoring the counting each night. Voting is taking place on three days, Wednesday through Friday.

The vote comes just days after CPS leadership rejected the union’s request to launch a “fact-finding” process, which is one of the last steps in the runup to a strike. To speed up the process, the union filed an unfair labor practice complaint on Monday with the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board. Now it’s up to the labor board to decide what happens next.

“We’re taking [the] strike vote today because negotiations have been stuck in neutral and going nowhere,” said CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey “And when you talk in circles for long enough and don’t make progress, it’s time to put pressure on those negotiations.”

CPS officials say that it’s too early to go to fact-finding, as an appointed mediator has not finished listening to reviewing each side’s proposals. In addition, CPS leaders say the union’s proposals are financially unrealistic in a time of fiscal crisis. District officials shared a list of some of the union’s demands, including additional teachers to reduce class sizes and more nurses, psychologists, social workers and case managers. The total  cost, CPS officials say, is  $1.5 billion.

Meanwhile, the union says CPS is asking workers for a pay freeze and a reduction in benefits that would cost teachers on average about $653 million over three years.

Greg Hinz of Crain’s has a good analysis of the two sides’ economic demands.

3. On the topic of finances … WBEZ had a thoughtful story on the budget options that CPS CEO Forrest Claypool is considering as the district grapples with a $500 million, mid-year budget gap. There’s Plan A, in which the state Legislature would overhaul its school funding formula to provide an equitable level of funding to the district.

“We’re not asking for a bailout,” Claypool says. “We’re talking about a dramatic inequality in funding. “We get $3 for every $4 dollars [the state gives] the suburbs and downstate. You can’t ignore that.”

Then there’s Plan B, a scary combination of layoffs and unsustainable borrowing. Already the Sun-Times is reporting that Claypool is considering cutting 450 positions in Central Office. And Claypool admits the district’s capacity to borrow won’t last long, considering its bond rating is at junk status. He told Catalyst in an interview earlier this week that he doesn’t see that as a viable option after this year.

There is no Plan C in Claypool’s book. WBEZ says the district should strongly reconsider how many schools it has in its portfolio, as enrollment continues to shrink. Claypool has said he’s not breaking the five-year moratorium on school closures that ends in 2018 (even though CPS is moving to shutter two schools it’s already effectively closed). As Catalyst has reported, the number of schools in CPS has grown from just over 500 in 1990 to 660 today, even as enrollment has fallen.

4. Teacher policy slightly better than average … Illinois gets a C+ from the National Council on Teacher Quality for its policies to promote  teacher effectiveness. Across all 50 states and the District of Columbia the average score was C-, a grade the report’s authors cautioned “is still far too low to ensure teacher effectiveness nationwide.” The council, which receives money from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, supports issues such as merit pay and more frequent teacher evaluations.

Illinois is one of 23 states that improved its score by at least a full letter grade since the council began issuing letter grades six years ago. But the report notes that the state still needs to improve on developing well-prepared teachers, expanding the teacher pool, identifying and retaining effective teachers and dismissing ineffective instructors.

Some of the council’s recommendations, such as testing teacher candidates on reading, math and writing skills before admission into teacher preparation program, seem a little redundant. Illinois already has the Test of Academic Proficiency for students who want to enter education programs. The council says Illinois should test all teachers yearly, even those with good evaluations. In addition, it says the state needs to do a better job of helping existing elementary school teachers to incorporate literacy skills in each subject area.

5. Is over-testing a myth? …  Compared to some 70 other countries, the United States is “just below average” in its frequency of administering standardized tests, reports Jill Barshay, a contributing editor at The Hechinger Report.

The data came from student and teacher surveys given in 2009 through the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA).

More than a third of 15-year-olds in the Netherlands said they took a standardized test at least once a month, Barshay writes. In Israel, more than a fifth said they took a monthly standardized test. In the United States, only 2 percent of students said they took standardized tests this frequently, well below the 8 percent average for countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

However, the picture changes dramatically when students and teachers report on the amount of testing over the course of a year.

“For example, across all the OECD countries, 17 percent of students said they took a standardized test at least three to five times a year,” Barshay writes. “For this particular interval, the United States was well above the average, with 40 percent of American students saying that they took a standardized test this often.”

New survey data are being collected right now and will be available next year — though a researcher studying data doesn’t expect to see marked changes.

A few last notes … Official PARCC scores and opt-out rates for schools and districts in Illinois were supposed to come out Friday. However, yesterday afternoon,the Illinois State Board of Education lifted an embargo on the data early, but failed to inform every news outlet that had agreed to the embargo, including Catalyst. We’re working to publish our analysis today.

Sylvia Puente of the Latino Policy Forum is calling on Mayor Rahm Emanuel and CPS to “publicly establish diversity goals” to address the fact that now there are no Latinos on the School Board. This comes after Emanuel moved CPS board member Jesse Ruiz to the Park District. “Racial and ethnic parity on the Board of Education would require the immediate appointment of three Latinos,” Puente wrote in Crain’s. Not doing so “alienates students and their families and further diminishes public faith in the mayor’s abilities to respond to all communities.”

Today President Obama signed into law the sweeping overhaul of No Child Left Behind that passed the U.S. Senate on Wednesday. The new federal law preserves annual testing requirements in math and reading, but gives more control to states to set goals and rank schools.

The action comes just as outgoing Secretary of Education Arne Duncan heads back to Chicago. “Whether the new law is a parting gift for the secretary or a kick on the way out the door, however, is a matter of some debate,” the Atlantic writes.

And finally, WTTW had a nice story this week that looked at the turnaround of Phillips Academy, which recently became the first ever CPS school to win a state football championship. Under the management of the nonprofit Academy of Urban School Leadership, the Bronzeville high school improved its college-going culture and moved up from the district’s lowest rating.

  • Theodore Konshak

    The Chicago Teachers’ Union may preach against discrimination on the basis of race or gender but they will tolerate discrimination on the basis of hire date. Tier 2 teachers are being discriminated against both in terms of their pension benefits and what they will receive in future salaries. The Chicago Public Schools won’t have any money for them in the future because they will be spending all that money on the Tier 1 teachers’ pension benefits. Tier 2 teachers should express their dissatisfaction with the failure of their union to represent their interests by crossing the picket lines.

    I have been involved with many unions. A true union would continue to fight tooth and nail against a tier system.

    • Concerned Parent

      Those hire date teachers get job protections that CTU fought for, even if they are tire 2.

      • Theodore Konshak

        If I implied that Tier 2 teachers got nothing for their union dues, I stand corrected.
        Rosa Parks could ride the bus. But like Rosa Parks, Tier 2 teachers have to sit in the back of the pension school bus. That is why they are Tier 2.

        • xian

          How does destroying the union by scabbing out help on this issue? The union didn’t agree to the two-tiered pension system. That was passed in state law against the union’s strong lobbying.

          • Theodore Konshak

            A tiered system will eventually destroy the union. What has the union done for the Tier 2 teachers lately? The union is representing the Tier 1 teacher. It is not representing Tier 2 teachers. Tier 2 teachers should cross the picket lines until such time as the union represents them too.

  • Concerned Parent

    Claypool is right in making cuts of people around him. He should start with D. Little as he gave her a $5,000 raise. He should have started fresh, not with a same person who protects her friends. How does he expect change?

  • Concerned Parent

    This is what a CPS principal should do to get promoted to a high-paid CPS downtown job. Maybe CPS wanted this school to have the LOWEST test %: Lindblom Math and Science Academy High School tested just 8.5 percent of eligible students in English — the lowest citywide. Shame!

  • Theodore Konshak

    For the real story about the Chicago Teachers’ Pension Fund, google my name ‘Theodore Konshak’ and read the article on True News USA