Education is in the news

The strikes in Chicago are making a bigger impact than I initially gave them credit for. One way I can tell is that a tech news aggregator I follow (remember, I said tech news) has, not one, not two, but 4 articles talking about Education.

The Pro CPS Strike side

I find it fascinating how Jesse Jackson kinda pops out of the woodwork once in a while. What is most interesting is how the “people” are cast to be on the same side as the Unions, both against the BOE and the City. What they argue is indeed good and worthy – to lift up those schools and districts that are getting the butt-end of the deal in terms of finances. If you take this story as it is, it sounds like the pro-Union crowd is so looking out for kids that they are willing to sacrifice… well, teaching, I guess. I would like to find out what happened after the 19-day strike 25 years ago – was it a good thing overall for the kiddos? Did it help?

The Anti CPS Strike side

Michelle Rhee, the now famous poster child for StudentsFirst, paints a picture of greedy unions and greedy teachers. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel is made out to look like some kind of tree-wielding ogre, reading to smash the impudent unions with the force of Law. No matter who is actually “right”, the Union’s President is quoted as saying “There’s no trust for our members of the board” – a very telling statement if indeed true for most folks. Based on these articles, it seems that the parents (the three or four that were interviewed out of 500,000+ effected parents) are on the same side as the unions.

Is the problem just money?

These kinds of issues can really make one take a step back and contemplate the bigger picture. Another article that was recommended via my tech news aggregator was a piece about Moondoggle:

The amount of money our nation pours into a few things like so-called “Defense” and NASA is mind-blowing. I am not disputing that good things have come out of that investment, but Holy Inequities, Batman! It is hard to argue whether or not if all that money would have been dumped into something, like, say, Education, what would have happened. Would we be writing articles about how Education has gotten us nowhere and we should have spent more on racing to the moon? What are our Education dollars doing anyway? Enter the next article:

This article had me saying to myself “Yeah, duh!” many times. No matter how you slice it, whenever you compare one nation to another you can always find things that are better and things that are worse. And then you add in the subjective and the comparison just goes out the window. Our US Educational System is totally rocking!! At some things. It absolutely sucks at other things. These surveys and reports paint with such a big brush, totally glossing over other significant details.

As our local Unit 4 Board continues to meet with and negotiate with the CFT, I am thoroughly glad that teachers are still working even without a contract. In some ways, I wish the public could play a larger role at these negotiations, because it seems a bit odd that taxpayers and stakeholders don’t have a say about how their money is spent. Don’t throw the straw man at me, I realize tax payers cannot possibly have a say in every single little copper that flows from their wallet – it would be just way too overwhelming. Oh for the days of simplicity….  😉

So here is my take-away. Or take-aways, rather:

  1. Beauty is all around us; we have some awesome teachers, awesome children, even the occasional awesome administrator. 🙂 “Awesome” does not necessarily mean smartest, brightest or best.
  2. We have problems. We must acknowledge both the positive and the negative; don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater.
  3. Do a little bit of good today, do a little bit of good tomorrow.
  4. Don’t give up!

5 Responses to “Education is in the news”

  1. G. David Frye Says:

    The Chicago school system is a mess. Try to imagine an environment where, instead of maybe 15-20% of your kids not wanting to be in school (the percentage I imagine is the case at Central HS), the number is more like 60%. Then picture yourself traveling to work each day as a teacher – on the subway or bus and walking a few blocks through risky neighborhoods – and trying to leave school early enough to not get caught out after dark. Then the kids you’re working with, even when they want to be there, have a ton of baggage – poverty, single-parent or zero-parent homes, drug and alcohol abuse and sex and child abuse and crime all around you, pressure from gangs, and a pop culture that seems to glorify much of it.

    As a teacher, you would certainly want a union to represent a united front in the face of all this. It’s not really all about the money, but paying people a) what they’re worth and b) what will keep them working in your war-zone district, is a big factor.

    Two big issues are looming on the horizon. One is the link between student assessment and teacher performance. It’s a done deal that we’re going to be doing more complete assessments of students’ progress, both to identify individual needs and systemic needs. The way things work now, teacher tenure is the “strong force” and student performance is the “weak force.” There needs to be a movement toward the center. At the same time, it’s reasonable for teachers to be concerned about student evaluatons when so much of the teaching environment (everything described above, plus crumbling infrastructure and zero tech support) works against success.

    The other issue is charter schools. In a nutshell, there’s this notion that we can fix this whole problem by taking money away from school systems and giving it to entities that will “do school differently.” Yes, the charter schools are having a lot of success. But they’re doing it by cherry-picking the students who are most likely to be successful by enforcing family “contracts” to require adequate support at home for the educational process. That’s not sustainable on a large scale. I’m not convinced it’s even workable in a place like Champaign-Urbana – the kids with the most baggage will still be left on the curb. (Hey, nice turn of the phrase there, eh?)

    One of the things that I think came out of the big strike 25 years ago is that the Chicago school district has a number of special waivers to the rules that the rest of Illinois’ districts live with. Don’t quote me, though, it’s been a long time. I’ve only recently become aware in my day job that there are distinctions being made for the state’s largest school district. It would be interesting to dig out the details.

  2. charlesdschultz Says:

    G David, thanks for the comments. Yes, I am quite aware that the Chicago school system is, as you say, quite “a mess”. So with all the rhetorical floating around, I have to wonder what actually does help those students and teachers? We (well, the folks in Chicago) have been talking about that “mess” for how long now? Is it getting better? I would appear not.

    I like how you said we need to find a “center” for assessment. As I mentioned earlier, it is obvious to me that the Gates Foundation and Khan Academy are really big into data-driven assessments. Which sounds logical, it just doesn’t work for every one. Perhaps a hard “center” is not exactly a silver bullet, but maybe a big fat wide center. 🙂 Something we aim at that has enough dynamic range built-in that we can alter the assessment method as needed. But now it sounds like I’m blowing smoke….. the point is, we need to always keep our eyes open and put ourselves in a feedback loop to determine if what we are doing is working or not.

  3. Vav Says:

    I’ve heard our current Secretary of Education note that the two most important factors in student achievement are 1. quality teachers and 2. parental (guardian) involvement. If that is the case, charter schools are succeeding because they have more ability to control these primary factors. How do we make that same thing happen for all public schools? Why do we tolerate the performance of the few poor teachers? How do we encourage/push/require more parent involvement?

    Unfortunately, rather than raise the bar we tend to lower our expectations (for parents and students). I know we can do better, but we need to address these difficult items. We need the best teachers. We need to require and measure that our poor get better fast or go away, our average become good, and our good become great. We need involved parents. While we likely cannot force parental involvement we can set much higher expectations and encourage (to the point that people feel shame for not stepping up) better involvement throughout the community.

  4. G. David Frye Says:

    There are almost no quantitative measurements of good teaching vs. bad teaching, other than student performance – but of course that’s a yardstick that depends too much on what you (the teacher) have to work with (the students). More subjective tools are available, such as observing and critiquing teacher performance by administrators, peers, or outside experts. None of them are applicable in a negotiated contract that has tenure as its primary tool for job security.

  5. Vav Says:

    So why not do testing at the beginning of the year and again at the end and evaluate teachers based on how they were able to help the children progress? The value in this data is high as you could longitudinally follow a child to understand what is needed over the summer break. Would also be good in working with the parents to help the kids continue the progress that they start in the classroom.

    CTU is publicly arguing that using student test scores for teacher evaluation is horrible. New State law requires 30% of teacher evaluation. CPS wanted 50% and caved to the new State minimum. Not sure how this issue would play out in U4. I know that a couple of the most recent CFT presidents are (were) themselves good at their jobs and have a high regard for high quality teachers. They also understand the damage done by poor teachers. But how does that translate into the U4/CFT negotiations? Is the union mother ship position the position of CFT? I guess we’ll find out when a new contract is decided.

    Regarding public involvement, I’m torn. Every employee in U4 works for the tax payers. We elect the board, who hires an administration, who then hires all of the workers. The various unions negotiate with the board, who represent the people. However there is a major conflict in this scheme because without support of the U4 employees, it is very difficult for a board member to be elected. This same conflict exists in all public sector union negotiations with elected boards.

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