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The Chicago Strike: Competing Viewpoints

Arguing that the average Chicago teacher makes three times as much money as many of the families of the students they serve, Washington Post editorial writer Charles Lane says he "cannot describe the moral repugnance of this strike by aggrieved middle-class 'professionals' against the aspiring poor." He also characterizes the district's plan to tie teacher evaluations to student test scores—a central sticking point in the negotiations—as a virtual no-brainer. He writes:

Common sense says there should be some link between compensation and job performance. But the very idea tends to make teachers unions recoil like Dracula confronted with a garlic clove. And so the Chicago Teachers Union is picketing schools that graduate only 60 percent of their students and where fewer than 8 percent of 11th-graders met all four college readiness benchmarks on 2011 state tests, according to the school system.

Lane adds that the union's statements about student test scores being influenced by social issues beyond teachers' control are prime examples of what President George W. Bush called "the soft bigotry of low expectations."

Blogger NYC Educator, on the other hand, says that the city essentially pushed the teachers' hand by dealing with them dismissively. Among the examples he cites:

Remember that Mayor Rahm Emanuel reneged on a negotiated 4% raise. He then offered a 2% raise, with undetermined merit pay to follow as he saw fit and demanded, for this, that teachers work a 20% longer school day.

On the crucial evaluation issue, he implies that the teachers have the research on their side:

Rahm is insisting on VAM [value-added measures] junk science, while CTU insists they stick to reality. Personally, I'm pro-reality.

Salon.com columnist Sally Kohn, after pointing out that teaching is one of Chicago's lowest-paid professions, elaborates:

In March, education researchers from 16 universities sent a letter to Emanuel and the head of the Chicago Public Schools warning against [tying teacher performance to student test scores], pointing out among other things that such test-based teacher evaluations have been shown to be highly unreliable measures of teacher quality. Moreover, standardized test results are often influenced by poverty, homelessness, crime and other social issues beyond the influence of teachers. And we know this type of teacher evaluation risks creating teachers who "teach to the test" instead of the creative, dynamic teachers we need.

Both NYC Educator and Kohn would like agree with the Post's Lane, however, when he notes that, on the evaluation issue in particular, the stakes are high:

If Emanuel can open a pay-for-performance beachhead in the nation's third-largest school district, it would send a message across the country. If not, the setback would reverberate well beyond Chicago, too.
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