Emanuel tries to turn Chicago schools

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has fought fiercely for education reform in Chicago, writes Alexander Russo in Ed Next.  When he took office in 2011, Emanuel pledged “to do bold, concrete things—enact a longer school day and year, implement principal performance bonuses, expand International Baccalaureate (IB) programs, and revamp teacher evaluations—and get them done as quickly and visibly as possible.” After three years, results are mixed.

Test scores have risen in the Windy City, but lag far behind the Illinois average.

Emanuel faced a $1 billion budget deficit and massive and unfunded pension liabilities. Enrollment was declining leaving schools half empty. The mayor rescinded teachers’ 4 percent salary increase to balance the budget.

The “newly energized” Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), led by Karen Lewis, went on strike for seven school days at the start of the 2012-13 school year. The new contract blocked merit pay and gave teachers 2 to 3 percent raises. 

Yet Emanuel was able to extend the school day and year and introduce a new teacher evaluation program.

Despite some progress, Chicago schools face budget problems, bitter fights over school closures and $19 billion in unfunded pension liabilities.

Emanuel and Lewis have not been able to work together on funding or pension issues.

Emanuel was pushing for a delay in addressing pension liabilities. “I’m going to turn this battleship around,” he told the Chicago Sun-Times, but “I’m not going to reverse 30 years of bad practices in just three years.”

Ed reform needs ‘happy’ rebranding

Education reform should be the “happy” movement, reports Education Gladfly in its April Fool’s Day edition. “Closing sh***y, no good schools” is seen as mean and divisive. After rebranding, “This school evokes a World War II bomb shelter” can become “We must transform education for the twenty-first century.”

Rather than “This teacher’s grasp of pedagogy is on par with that of a Barbie doll, her classroom presence wouldn’t fog a mirror, and her content knowledge is surpassed by my dog,” say, “We must open up new, twenty-first-century career opportunities for our struggling education professionals.”

The April Fool’s ‘Fly also reports on “tough times” for Chicago union leader Karen Lewis, who’s under attack from members for being too soft.

Dissidents’ demands:

Classes no bigger than eight kids
Tenure after one year of teaching (rounding up any partial years)
Rahm Emanuel’s head on a plate
Rahm Emanuel’s hide as a coat
Rahm Emanuel’s ears on a cat
Ten-year moratorium on standardized testing
Free ponies for all

Chicago “Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced (from his ski chateau) his decision to close all Chicago public schools.” He recommended home schooling.

Obama on education

President Obama talks about education in an NBC interview as part of Education Nation. He manages to praise Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Chicago teachers’ union, while accusing Romney of “teaching bashing.”

Here’s the transcript.

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Chicago teachers end strike

After more than a week on picket lines, Chicago teachers’ union delegates have voted to end the strike. Schools will reopen Wednesday.

Saying it marked “a new day and a new direction “ for Chicago schools, Mayor Rahm Emanuel hailed the contract — with its teacher evaluations, longer school day provision and plans for five new science and technology high schools.

A union statement bragged about stopping “corporate ‘school reform’.”

“Now we have stopped the board from imposing merit pay! We preserved our lanes and steps when the politicians and press predicted they were history. We held the line on health care costs.”

The district will use students’ “growth” scores as only 30 percent of a teacher’s evaluation, the minimum set by state law. A committee will discuss how to evaluate teachers.

I still think it looks like a victory for the union — and for union chief Karen Lewis, who’s rumored to be thinking about challenging Randi Weingarten for leadership of the American Federation of Teachers. Whether a more militant AFT is good for teachers in the long run is another question.

Rahmbo got rolled by the union, writes Rick Hess.

Chicago mayor asks court to end ‘illegal’ teachers strike

Calling the Chicago teachers’ strike “illegal,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel asked for a court order to force teachers back to work, but a Cook County Circuit Court judge refused to hear the case till Wednesday, reports the Chicago Tribune. Union delegates will meet Tuesday to discuss the proposed deal.

“State law expressly prohibits the CTU from striking over non-economic issues, such as layoff and recall policies, teacher evaluations, class sizes and the length of the school day and year,” the Chicago Public Schools motion states. “The CTU’s repeated statements and recent advertising campaign have made clear that these are exactly the subjects over which the CTU is striking.”

In addition, the strike is “a clear and present danger to public health and safety,” the motion states.

Rick Hess analyzes the politics of the strike in week two. Chicago Teachers Union leader Karen Lewis “is becoming the anti-Michelle Rhee for teachers who’ve yearned for a fire-breathing anti-evaluation, pro-LIFO champion,” he writes. While she looks strong, Emanuel is “losing traction.”

In the fight against Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Democratic reformers had argued “you could get dramatic reforms without changing the rules around collective bargaining.”

If even Rahmbo can’t follow through on tough-minded school reforms, while offering more pay in a tough economy, it’ll raise questions about the seriousness of less combative Dems.

In the long run, it’s bad for the unions if Democrats “decide they have to choose between teacher quality and working with unions,” Hess concludes.

 

Compromise in Chicago: Strike may be over

Chicago teachers have reached a tentative deal with Mayor Rahm Emanuel to end the weeklong strike. While details aren’t yet clear, it appears the mayor has compromised on a plan to tie 40 percent of teacher evaluations to growth in student test scores. Student performance will account for a smaller percentage of a teacher’s rating.

. . . the union won assurances that if a teacher is laid off because of a school closing, that teacher gets preference in hiring decisions in other schools as long as he or she has positive teacher evaluations.

It’s also believed teachers who receive poor evaluations will have more protections before being fired.

Teachers will vote on the deal over the weekend. It’s likely schools will reopen on Monday.

“Some Chicago teachers seem to think that they shouldn’t be held accountable until poverty is solved,” writes New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof. Instead of asking for higher pay to attract better teachers, “the Chicago union seems to be using its political capital primarily to protect weak performers,” he writes. “There’s now solid evidence that there are huge differences in the effectiveness of teachers, even within high-poverty schools.”

Politics and the Chicago teachers’ strike

Teacher evaluation — what percentage of a teacher’s rating should be based on students’ improvement on tests? — is at the heart of the Chicago strike, writes Marc Tucker, looking at the politics. The city wants a higher number than the one set by state law. And why did Illinois require the use of student test scores in evaluating teachers? It wanted to please Arne Duncan to get Race to the Top money.

The very policy that the teachers are most furiously opposed to is not just Rahm Emanuel’s policy.  It is core Obama administration policy.  The mayor is carrying the water for the Obama administration’s education reform strategy, and, in doing so, may be undermining the very reelection effort to which the mayor is personally very committed.

. . .  The administration has ardently and successfully advocated a reform agenda that teachers and their unions see as anti-teacher.  They have been successful in this advocacy because a tough-minded stance on teacher evaluations is one of only a tiny handful of issues on which the administration can find common ground with Republicans around the country.

President Obama has taken no position on the strike, notes Stephen Sawchuk on Teacher Beat.

“The president has said what’s appropriate to be said, that this is a local issue,” (American Federation of Teachers president Randi) Weingarten said.

. . .  I overheard the president of the Illinois Federation of Teachers telling the striking teachers that he’d removed his “Reelect Obama” lapel pin.

After vehemently endorsing the Wisconsin teachers’ union’s fight with Gov. Scott Walker, Weingarten “has been careful to not embrace her Chicago chapter too closely,” writes Rick Hess in a New York Daily News op-ed. There’s been no fiery rhetoric this time.

What’s different is that this is a bad fight for the teacher unions – most of the public, seeing the facts, will not be on their side – it comes at an awful time, and an ugly defeat could be a crushing blow.

The district is opening more “Children First” centers to provide games, arts and crafts and recreation for children and expanding to normal school hours, reports Sawchuk.

It’s about power, writes Mike Petrilli on Flypaper. “The unions are feeling whipsawed by tectonic shifts that have occured within the Democratic Party in recent years.”

There’s talk the strike could be settled soon — perhaps soon enough to start classes on Monday. Striking teachers are planning what to tell their students, reports the Chicago Tribune.

Christopher Barker, who teaches math and humanities at an elementary school, said he’ll ask students. “Is there anywhere that you go in life when you do have to speak up for yourself when there’s a perceived injustice?”

Donielle Lawson, who teaches special education at an alternative high school at Cook County Jail, also plans to discuss the strike. “They’re all too familiar with bullying and societal injustices, so it would be a very easy conversation with them,” Lawson said.

Chicago teachers go on strike

Chicago teachers are on strike,reports the Chicago Sun-Times. Chicago Public Schools administrators are staffing some elementary schools to offer half-day child care; some churches and community centers also are open to children.

The city’s charter schools are open as usual. About one third have room for more students.

Key disputed issues in the talks were teacher cost of living raises, additional pay for experience, job security in the face of annual school closures and staff shakeups, and a new teacher evaluation process that ties teacher ratings in part to student test score growth.

. . . CTU officials contend that CPS’ offer of raises over the next four years does not fairly compensate them for the 4 percent raise they lost this past school year and the longer and “harder” school year they will face this school year, with the introduction of a tougher new curriculum.

The union also wants “smaller class sizes, more libraries, air-conditioned schools, and more social workers and counselors to address the increasing needs of students surrounded by violence,” reports the Sun-Times. Chicago has been hit by a wave of homicides this year. Many of the victims are children, teens and young adults.

CPS officials say teachers average $76,000 a year and would earn 16 percent more over four years in the proposed contract. The district could face a $1 billion deficit by the end of the school year.

Pay isn’t the big issue, argues a Reuters analysis. The teachers’ union is fighting education reforms that make it easier to fire teachers and close schools if test scores don’t improve.

In Chicago, last-minute contract talks broke down not over pay, but over the reform agenda, both sides said Sunday. The union would not agree to (Mayor Rahm) Emanuel’s proposal that teacher evaluations be based in large measure on student test scores.

Nor would the union accept his push to give principals more autonomy over hiring, weakening the seniority system that has long protected veteran teachers.

“This is fight for the soul of public education,” said Brandon Johnson, an organizer with the Chicago Teachers Union.

Did both sides want a strike? asks Alexander Russo.

“It’s a strike of choice,” says Emanuel.

Democrats split on trigger, teachers

Who speaks for Democrats on education? asks Gadfly. Won’t Back Down, Hollywood’s positive take on the parent trigger movement, was shown at a theater near the convention site with the blessing of the White House, despite opposition by teachers’ union leaders.

DNC delegates who attended passed parents and teachers who picketed outside on their way to listening to uber-reformer Michelle Rhee discuss the movie inside.

. . . As Rhee pointed out, “There is no longer sort of this assumed alliance between the Democratic Party and the teachers unions.”

Democratic Mayor Rahm Emanuel, President Obama’s former chief-of-staff, faces a Chicago Teachers Union strike next week.

The alliance between the teachers’ unions and the Democratic Party is “fraying,” opines the LA Times.

Brizard will head Chicago schools

Chicago’s new schools CEO will be Jean-Claude Brizard, an education reformer who fought with the teachers’ union over performance pay as superintendent in Rochester, New York. A few months ago, 95 percent of teachers voted “no confidence” in his leadership.

Brizard “is not afraid of tough choices, and that is what Chicago’s students need today,” said (Mayor-elect Rahm) Emanuel, who has pledged longer school days and more accountability from teachers.

A Haitian immigrant, Brizard started as a physics teacher.

In his resignation letter to Rochester’s school board, Brizard touted what he said were his achievements while atop the 32,000-student district: Raising the graduation rate to 51 percent from 39 percent in three years; more than doubling the number of students enrolled in Advanced Placement classes; streamlining the district’s curriculum; decreasing suspensions by two-thirds since 2006; carving $51 million out of the budget through more efficient business practices; and launching a 10-year, $1.2 billion school modernization initiative.

Emanuel also announced  seven new Board of Education members and a new executive team for the district, which Brizard helped select.

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