Chicago teacher: I find myself torn

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The teacher strike in Chicago is all over the news and seems to have struck a nerve in the country.  The power-play between the big city mayor with a reputation for no-nonsense toughness and the connected and well-organized teachers union has captured the attention of many.  And the fact that this battle is taking place in an election year makes the politics of it all especially engaging.

We here at NCTQ have been following the events very closely.  Many of the issues being negotiated are things we care a lot about - teacher pay, evaluation, seniority-based layoffs, etc.

But for all of the venom and vitriol being thrown around by city and union officials, what's missing are the thoughts and opinions of the everyday teachers. Today, we turn over this space to a guest blogger - a current teacher in the Chicago Public School system with more than three years of experience.  We agreed to keep the identity of the blogger anonymous per his request.  The views and opinions expressed here are the author's own.
Amidst the Chicago Teacher Union (CTU) strike, I find myself torn between the Chicago Board of Education and the CTU.  I find myself supportive of several Union arguments.  I am fully behind reducing the student-to-teacher ratio in each classroom.  I support creating climate controlled, comfortable classrooms where students can focus and perform up to their ability.  I support the provision of the necessary amount of student health professionals at every school.  I support the longer school day, especially with the additional compensation proposed by the board.

However, I have two primary objections to the position of the CTU, of which I am a member because I work in a traditional Chicago Public School.  First, I don't support the status quo surrounding a teacher evaluation system that abstains from incorporating student performance as a basis for determining teacher value. Second, I don't support seniority-based hiring and firing practices, including job security through tenure. 

I differ from the CTU in that I support the inclusion of student academic growth data as a key component of a teacher evaluation tool.  The student assessment tool proposed in Chicago is a computer-adaptive test designed to measure academic progress.  It adjusts as students progress through the assessment to pinpoint their achievement level.  Thus, it can be used at the beginning and end of a school year as a means of ascertaining students' academic growth.  

Still, the proposed teacher evaluation system is insufficient with only student growth assessments.  Fortunately, the proposed REACH Chicago Students system integrates student growth measures with classroom observations and student feedback. The corresponding weights of each of the three components are debatable, but each of the aforementioned criteria for evaluating teachers is essential for establishing a fair teacher quality metric.

My second issue with the stance of the CTU is their aherence to seniority serving as a primary factor in hiring and firing decisions. Stemming from my previously stated complaint pertaining to teacher evaluations, I believe teachers should be hired and fired according to the evaluations they receive.  This is assuming the teacher quality measure is fair and balanced, which is a precondition I assume under the REACH Chicago Kids evaluation system. 

Teacher quality, not merely experience, should be the number one determinant for a teacher being hired or fired.  This is fair to teachers and fair to students.  I do believe teachers should be rewarded in some way for their extended commitment to a school or district, but I believe this factor must be secondary to teacher quality. If we hold principals accountable for their school's academic progress, then principals should be able to hold teachers accountable for their performance in the classroom.  

In my opinion, the biggest issue preventing constructive collaboration and solutions in CPS is a result of the discordant and abrasive relationship between the Board and the CTU.  Both sides continue to antagonize one another in an effort to make the other side seem aloof, irresponsible, and disingenuous.  I truly believe each party wants to accomplish the same thing: attaining the highest quality public education for Chicago's kids.

Unfortunately, all has been lost in a counterproductive negotiating process in which leaders on both sides seek to demean the other and simultaneously neglect the students they are responsible for serving.
-- Anonymous Chicago Public School Teacher