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GOOD Education: Chicago Teachers’ Strike Lesson: We Need Autonomous Educators, Not Corporate Reform

This piece originally appeared on GOOD Education: Chicago Teachers’ Strike Lesson: We Need Autonomous Educators, Not Corporate Reform. lincoln.park.high

One week ago, the Chicago Teachers Union and the Chicago Board of Education reached an agreement on teacher contracts. But, what most pundits still don’t realize is that the strike wasn’t really about the contracts or the unions. It was about stopping the assault on public education, teachers, and children.

You know what’s hurting kids in Chicago and elsewhere? Contrary to media reports, it’s not the teachers union. It’s the corporate reform takeover—mayoral, not local control, closing schools and turning them over to charter corporations, evaluation of students and teachers with test scores, and weakening teachers unions. These policies are backed by billionaires, many of whom have never stepped foot in a public school classroom in their lives and they’ve blossomed thanks to the passing of President Bush’s No Child Left Behind and President Obama’s Race to the Top initiative.

In Chicago—as in many places—Mayor Rahm Emanuel and corporate reformers have waged a war on teachers. During the strike we heard that Chicago teachers are overpaid—elementary and secondary teachers combined earn an average of $71,236. An analysis found that public school teachers make 94 cents for every dollar earned by workers in 16 comparable occupations. Why are the people who hold our children’s minds in their hands paid the lowest of the low? Politicians who say that teachers are overpaid are living in a parallel universe. Many of my teachers pay for classroom supplies out of their own pocket. And they work damn hard. Please show them some respect.

Next is the fuzzy teacher evaluation system. Under Obama’s Race to the Top initiative, for states to be eligible to receive funds, they were forced to revamp their evaluation systems to allow for standardized test scores to be tied to teachers’ evaluation. Emanuel followed his former boss’ lead. Now, he wants test scores to represent as much as 40 percent of evaluations. His logic behind this is very crooked.

Unless you balance every classroom in terms of ESL, special education, behavioral tendencies, and socio-economic status, tying scores to evaluation is “flawed, dubious, and inaccurate” on many levels. The director of the University of Chicago Lab School, the very school where Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s kids attend, has even publicly criticized the use of standardized test scores for teacher evaluation measures.

When you have such evaluation changes, teaching to the test becomes the dominant pedagogy in classrooms, because if scores aren’t raised, teachers are fired. Instead of educating the whole child with math, English, science, social, studies, the arts, music, and physical education, for most students, an entire month of schooling is allocated to drilling, killing, and bubble filling. Emanuel has made the testing corporations very wealthy in his tenure as Chicago mayor. Schools have become test prep factories, churning out obedient and submissive graduates year after year.

The job of a teacher isn’t to raise test scores, but rather to create lifelong learners and active participants and citizens in our democracy. Stephen Covey once remarked, “Reducing children to a test score is the worst form of identity theft we could commit in schools.” I am not a number; I am a human being. It’s time to finally acknowledge the national testing experiment has not only failed miserably, but has gone haywire. We need to end this inappropriate high-stakes testing regime.

Why should politicians with no teaching experience come in and tell teachers how to do their job? Parents and teachers should only begin to believe a politician’s education proposals if they will send their own children to the schools they prescribe for others. Emanuel would certainly scoff at such a suggestion.

The strike may be over but the root issues still exist. Instead of corporate reform, if we want to really create change in schools, we need to trust teachers, give them autonomy, and most importantly, treat them like professionals. Is that too much to ask?

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

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About Nikhil Goyal

Nominated for the U.S. Secretary of Education by Diane Ravitch and lauded as an “emerging voice of his generation,” at age 17, Nikhil Goyal is the author of One Size Does Not Fit All: A Student’s Assessment of School by the Alternative Education Resource Organization. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox and Friends, Fox Business: Varney & Co., NBC Nightly News, and Huffington Post. Nikhil has spoken to thousands at conferences and TEDx events around the world from Qatar to Spain and has guest lectured at Baruch College in New York. He is leading a Learning Revolution movement to transform the American school system. A senior at Syosset High School, Nikhil lives with his family in Woodbury, New York. To contact, email him at ngoyal2013 at gmail.com.

Discussion

2 thoughts on “GOOD Education: Chicago Teachers’ Strike Lesson: We Need Autonomous Educators, Not Corporate Reform

  1. You write “if we want to really create change in schools, we need to trust teachers, give them autonomy, and most importantly, treat them like professionals. Is that too much to ask?”

    What are your thoughts regarding Teacher professional partnerships (TPPs) being discussed by Education Evolving? http://educationevolving.org/teacherpartnerships/what_is_tpp

    TPPs are formal entities, organized under law (partnerships, cooperatives, limited-liability corporations, etc.), that are formed and owned by teachers to provide educational services.

    TPPs may enter into contracts to manage entire schools, a portion of a school or to provide some other educational service. Teachers are in charge and they manage or arrange for the management of the schools and/or services provided. The school district is not managing the school, nor is a district-appointed single leader in charge (e.g. a principal).

    Posted by Tim McClung | September 26, 2012, 9:29 am
  2. I am a Senior Associate of Education|Evolving, mentioned by Tim McClung, above. I saw your post yesterday, Nikhil, and wanted to point you to my commentary published by Education Week yesterday. It gets at “how” to get teachers professional authority to make the decisions influencing school success.

    http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2012/09/26/05farris-berg.h32.html?tkn=OLOFPu%2FHEFb2strETVYydwWb7jg5KJlWDIgL&cmp=clp-edweek

    This piece focuses on some of the decisions teachers make in regard to job structures. But the book my colleagues and I wrote, Trusting Teachers with School Success: What Happens When Teachers Call the Shots (www.trustingteachers.org) gets at the school design, too.

    Indeed, they create lifelong learners and active participants and citizens in our democracy. They also expand the definition of achievement and assert/design new means of assessment.

    Posted by Kim Farris-Berg @farrisberg | September 26, 2012, 7:59 pm

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