As I write this on September 12th, the Chicago teachers are on strike for a third day. In listening to different media reports, many of them focus on salary and class size, issues that do not immediately appear relevant to other districts across the nation. However, there are several issues in which how they are resolved will impact the future of education. The strike represents the most significant resistance to the corporate reform agenda of privatization and high-stakes testing that have dominated educational reform in the United States over the last two decades. Here, I will focus on the testing agenda.
A central concern of teachers in Chicago, New York, and elsewhere is the increasing emphasis on using students’ scores on standardized tests to evaluate teachers, as required under the Race to the Top program. As pointed out in a letter from the Chicagoland Researchers and Advocates for Transformative Education (signed by 88 professors of education from Chicago area universities), there are major problems with using students’ test scores to assess teachers. These include:
1. That using what are called Value-Added Models of evaluation (comparing students’ scores over time) does “not produce stable ratings of teachers” (p. 2). That is, the results for each teacher are likely to vary significantly from class to class, and year to year.
2. “There is no evidence that evaluation systems that incorporate student test scores produce gains in student achievement” (p. 3).
Furthermore, the focus on test results is likely to further narrow the curriculum, promote more skill-and-drill teaching, and incentivize teachers “to avoid students with health issues, students who are English language learners, or students suffering from emotional issues” (p. 3).
We have begun to see the consequences of such an evaluation system in New York (the Annual Professional Performance Review), where not only are students’ scores on standardized tests the primary determinant in teachers’ evaluations but the majority of teachers must be found to be “ineffective” or “developing” rather than “effective” or “very effective.”
In New York, teachers are required to be rated on a bell curve, but the weighting of the different criteria is such that teachers whose students score below the test average MUST be found to be failing. Furthermore, while there is a bell curve, teachers must score 75 out of 100 points to be effective. Consequently, most teachers will be found to be in need of remediation, and in New York City, if teachers are found to be “ineffective overall” for two consecutive years, the district can begin the process of removing the teachers. Such an approach assumes that teachers are to blame for education’s problems and that if we just got rid of the “ineffective” teachers, schools would miraculously improve. In fact, Mayor Bloomberg has proposed firing all the teachers whose students score below average and doubling class size. (My article, “Raising the Stakes: High Stakes Testing and the Attack on Public Education in New York will be published in the Journal of Education Policy in early 2013.)
The outcome of the Chicago teachers strike will significantly determine whether corporate dominated reform focusing on high-stakes testing will continue unabated or whether teachers, parents, students, and community members will be included in the process.
The letter is available on the CREATE website at: http://createchicago.blogspot.com/2012_03_01_archive.html