Tag Archives: Chicago Teachers Union

Class Action: An Activist Teacher’s Handbook

The newest Jacobin project features articles about the coordinated fight back against corporate-style education reform and all the damage it has done to our public school system.  I say without exaggeration, that it is some of the most cogent and heartfelt writing collected on the topic from educators on the front line, and as a contributor, I am both humbled and grateful to be published alongside such champions as Will Johnson, Mariame Kaba, Micah Uetricht, Kenzo Shibata, and Lois Weiner.
Class Action is available via digital download for free, but I encourage you all to buy a copy (~$13 after shipping) as I believe you will find yourself referencing the articles often in future conversations and classes you teach.  Also, please be sure to share the link via social media.
So congratulations to Bhaskar (Jacobin publisher), the Caucus of Rank and file Educators (CORE), and all the contributors.
Towards the public schools all children deserve-
Adam

WaPo Repost: #TooManyTests

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2012/11/11/time-on-testing-738-minutes-in-3-weeks/?wprss=rss_answer-sheet

 Time on testing: 738 minutes in 3 weeks

Posted by Valerie Strauss on November 11, 2012 at 11:30 am

How much time do teachers and students spend on standardized tests? That’s one of the big questions in public education today, which Adam Heenan, a Chicago school teacher and member of the Chicago Teachers Union addresses here.

By Adam Heenan

A few days ago, a colleague walked into our social studies department with a bubbled-in answer sheet from a test he had just administered. One student had turned the sheet on its side and bubbled in the colloquial acronym “YOLO” — You Only Live Once — on the exam. The teacher had  created the test, but to the teenager, it was just one more exam in a seemingly endless series of bubble-sheet, auto-scored assessments.

(By Adam Heenan)

I laughed at what the student had created, mostly because the “YOLO” script was evenly distributed across the length of the bubble sheet, demonstrating the student’s skill in measurement and design. But of course it isn’t funny. In my school, in just three weeks’ time, I have calculated that we spent 738 minutes (12 hours and 18 minutes) on preparing for and administering standardized tests. Our students are experiencing testing fatigue, which makes the results from each successive exam they take more invalid and the data about student learning more inaccurate. I can’t blame this student for speaking out against the excessive use of testing throughout our schools.

Though many people are waking up to the teach-to-the-test craziness gripping our schools, there are still many people who don’t understand the problem. They remember taking a few bubble tests as kids and didn’t think it was such a big deal — and for the most part, it wasn’t. At no time before now was kindergarten ever synonymous with 14 different tests per year, as journalist Ben Joravsky of the Chicago Reader has pointed out.

But the one-day, once-every-few-years standardized testing experience they remember is a far cry from the pervasive, high-stakes phenomenon testing has become. In order to make better policy choices about how we spend our precious education resources, the public needs to know just how much time and money has been spent on high-stakes testing in the No Child Left Behind era. This is why I and others have pushed for a full audit of the time and money that has been spent on all of this testing and test-prep, a call now supported by both the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers.

This year alone, my colleagues and I have devoted a significant chunk of the additional time we were supposed to have for teaching and collaborating to testing. By mid-October, our school had already sacrificed a week’s worth of teaching and learning time for Chicago’s standardized beginning-of-the-year exams for students in their regular classes, to be repeated for the middle-of-the-year and end-of-the-year exams as well. There have been two days of “testing schedules,” where teachers and students in grades 9, 10 and 11 have had to sacrifice instructional time for EPAS exams (the system of grade-aligned tests from ACT). We have devoted our own time to looking at the data, and common planning time to talking about looking at the data and learning the tests’ gibberish language of “RIT Bands,” “cut scores,” “BOYs, MOYs, and EOYs,” none of which translate to classroom practice. It seems like every single professional conversation we have is not talking about students, but rather about the tests others create.

And because the stakes of these tests are so high, even the allegedly “optional” tests and interventions become—culturally, if not officially— mandatory. Officials higher up on the school district chain of command constantly warn those of us down below that “we must get our test scores up,” that “our school has been on probation way too long,” and that test-driven sanctions like closure or turnaround are constant threats. Because test scores are being misused as evidence that schools and the people in them—including administrators, teachers, students and even the lunch lady—are failures in teaching and learning, administrators and teachers succumb to the pressure to focus ever more closely on testing.

My colleagues and I are tired of the obsessive testing culture in our school. We just want to teach. And judging by all the petitions, testimonials and even wristbands we’ve seen echoing that sentiment, this is a national problem, not just ours.

We need to know how much time and money test-driven policymakers have diverted from teaching and learning into testing, and to show what we could be doing with those resources instead. Because, let’s face it: You only live once, and we can’t afford to waste precious minutes of our children’s education.

Charter School Forum in Chicago, Broy refused neutrality w. CTU

I attended the Charter School Forum last night hosted by the Better Government Association (@BetterGov), and Catalyst News (@CatalystChicago), a education news source in Chicago.  The forum comes at a time when 140 Chicago Public Schools are slated to be “turned around” and/or “charterized.”  Broy of the Illinois Network of Charter School maintained that charters schools are “places of innovation”  though Potter of the Chicago Teachers Union often pressed him on this he seemed to dodge the answers. Potter constantly asked Broy for a “neutrality” pact to stop the continuous proliferation, lets study what’s actually happening in these experimentation centers, and to actively allow charter school teachers to unionize.  Currently, fourteen charters are unionized, though there is still much harassment when charter school teachers express interest in forming a union.

At the end of the forum, Catalyst expressed interest in continuing this discussion.  I would hope that in the next panel discussion we could hear from teachers, parents and students.

CTU House of Delegates: Please Reject the Fact-finder’s Decision

Unfortunately I will be missing the House of Delegates meeting tomorrow, but I want to encourage delegates to who will be there to vote to reject the offer.  I applaud Arbitrator Benn and Vice-President Sharkey for all their hard work. Benn’s determination on compensation seems quite fair.  However, I would still vote no because what we are fighting for at this moment in time is more than just fair compensation.

As you all know, Arbitrator Benn cannot rule on school conditions, and it is for this reason that we must reject the offer. We deserve fair compensation and great teaching and learning conditions for ourselves, our colleagues, and our students.

We must continue to negotaiate for a school day that is filled with the arts and PE, and fight against the testing-culture that has made our schools more like prisons.  We must continue to stay at the table on behalf of our support staff: PSRPS, clinicians, nurses, psychologists, and social workers; all the people that help make our schools functional and healthy places to come to day-in and day-out.  We must continue to negotiate because all those who have been fired illegaly deserve a recall.

We must continue to negotiate because the whole nation, yes, the whole world is hoping we don’t trade in our ethics for a pittance.  It’s a pittance we will get if we stay negotiating, but educators and students deserve so much more.

Please reject the Fact-finder’s Decision.

You can watch the CTU Press Conference on the Fact finding here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O2SW5qNaTfM

The Strength of our CTU Leaders comes from our Members, Parents, and Students of Chicago Public Schools

Educators across the country are following  what’s happening in Chicago to see how we are leading the way against corporate-style education reform that hurts and disempowers the students and teachers in the classroom, the curriculum of our neighborhood schools, and the local leadership of parents and taxpayers for a rich public education system.

We are Ground Zero for the national fight on a dignified public education system  for the United States of America.  I am proud to be a member of the Chicago Teachers Union, and am committed to doing whatever is necessary: bargaining, negotiating, door-knocking, and yes, striking, if it means we have better teaching conditions, and better learning conditions for the city of Chicago.

The Longer School Day in Chicago Part II: What Should it Look Like?

I have previously argued that reforming education by just adding time onto the school day amounts to good talking points for the newspapers, but bad planning, and won’t necessarily improve education teaching or learning.  Perhaps that argument fell on deaf ears because it seems as if the Longer School Day is more or less a “given” for next year in Chicago.  Now, the discussion has turned to, “Ok, so what do we do with the extra time?

But to say it is a “discussion” would imply everyone is talking together, except that’s not what’s happening.  Teachers are talking about what next year will look like.  Students are talking about it, as are parents.  So is the media.  All stakeholders have their opinions, ideas and recommendations, but  if the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing, it’s hard to point in the direction in which we actually want to go.

In November, the Chicago Teachers Union and the Board of Education  agreed not to push each other on the longer school day for a while.  The Union retracted its lawsuit, and those thirteen schools that voted for the longer day at the beginning of this school year will not have to revert to their former schedule.  So, what of the rest of the schools and the future decisions to be made?  Perhaps the Pioneer schools, as the Board has dubbed them, can offer great insight for the district-wide plan for next year as to what worked -and didn’t work- in their schools during the 2011-2012 school year.

But we are neither waiting nor relying on the teachers at the Pioneer schools to come up with ideas.  Teachers are involved in planning across the city, but to what capacity and what end?

In October, National Louis University partnered with the VIVA Project to ask CPS teachers, “what do you think a longer school day should look like?”  They did this by inviting teachers through the CPS workplace email system to participate in online discussions regarding the topic for twenty days.  In November, eleven of those 600 participating teachers* were selected to write a summative report on the overall concepts and themes brought up in the discussion boards.

Major themes and action items included: eliminating time wasted at the beginning and end of the school year by staffing all classrooms by day 1, and having finals grades due the last week of school (currently grades are due at the beginning of June, and students remain in school-with nothing to do- for another ten days);  recommending that all schools go to Track E (year-round) scheduling, but only as long as all schools have air-conditioning; and considering block and parallel schedules which could include  even having clubs and activities at the start of the day.

This past week the eleven teachers who wrote the report presented it to the CEO of Chicago Public Schools Jean-Claude Brizard, and in a separate meeting to Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis.  From what a participant told me, both leaders responded generally positively to the report.

While this has been going on, Principals across Chicago Public Schools were told/asked to form Longer School Day Committees in each of their schools to have teachers in each school “plan for how time in an extended school day will be spent,” and were given estimated minutes in each day between 75 and 90 depending on the grade level.

Many of the in-school committees will spend hours deliberating and carefully laying out how a longer schedule could be best implemented in their schools, (principals have to provide the committee reports to their network facilitators in early January, so many committees are meeting this weekend) but teachers have to consider more than a few unknown factors that will affect the implementation of the each plan; factors that they have little if any direct control over.

Because extra time in school must consider both what the students will be doing, and where they will be doing it, both capital and operating budget expenses affect the final plans for implementation.  Will principals be allotted the extra money to support the recommendations their committees make?

Beyond that, will contract negotiations in the summer break down over disagreements on how the time will be spent?  Will one school plan be weighed against another plan as being more or less cost-prohibitive?  Will teachers who have invested time and energy developing great plans for their schools fight for recommendations only to be told all schools will implement plans garnered from the VIVAteachers report?

Too many unknowns.  It would be better if the Board and the CTU would agree to a process for 1) developing and supporting longer school day committees in each school, 2) providing each committee with research from VIVA and the Pioneer schools , and 3) allotting financial resources to support each committees’ recommendations.

But it would be best if we started having honest discussions about how much time and money is being wasted in non-instructional capacities, and what good education looks like.  Only when that happens can we begin to assess how a longer school day has the potential to be a better school day, and that’s the direction in which we need to head.

*Only current CPS teachers and education professors were allowed to take part in the VIVA dialogues.

If you haven’t seen it yet: Stand for Children Co-founder describes Illinois take down of teachers and their unions. (YouTubeClip)

The original video of Jonah Edelman’s talk to the Aspen Institute is an hour long, but this version on YouTube is 14 min.

Talking Points
-Why StandforChildren got involved in the IL Nov 2010 elections
-Why Rahm pushed the “Longer School Day”
-What Edelman thinks of the organizational structure of the Union
-What Edeman thinks of Union leaders in IL
-What Edelman foresees happening in Chicago.
Then read Edelman’s apology letter he issued the next day on Fred Klonsky’s blog.

IL Senate Edu-Reform Bill Hard to Swallow

Recently an Education Reform Bill was unanimously passed (59-0) by the IL Senate with the stated goal of improving the quality of teachers throughout IL.  What the 106 page Bill amounts to was what the Chicago Teachers Union leadership described as “avoiding a missile, but getting hit by a bullet.”

Senate Bill 7, sponsored by Sen. Kimberly Lightford (D) was lauded as a “Compromise Bill” where twenty parties interested in Education Reform were able to come up with a recommended plan together.  It would be the first time in which the leadership of the Illinois Federation of Teachers (IFT-AFT), the Illinois Education Association (IEA-NEA), and the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) would lobby together for a bill to improve education and teaching conditions.  Lobbying together is perhaps an overstatement. It was more like fending off hungry lions when you are in the room with corporate-style edu-reformers Advance Illinois and Stand for Children.

In more concrete terms the CTU was asked to “sit at the table, and be force-fed” or leave the table and go back to Chicago.  If we left the table and refused to bargain, a Bill would have been passed that would have de-certified our Union altogether.

Because the Teachers Unions decided to be a part of the discussion, that didn’t happen.  What was put into the final legislation was a vote for 75% of Union members to go on strike, after an extensive arbitration and waiting period.  Take it, or leave it, with the understanding that “if we leave it, the state will legislate whatever they want,” and they don’t like us down there.

In Illinois, Chicago and Chicago Public Schools (CPS) have historically been viewed as burden to the state legislators, the Illinois State Board of Education, and a burden to the IL budget.

According to Rod Estvan, an Education Policy Analyst for Disability Rights Organization Access Living who attended a hearing on the Bill, noted that, Chicago is viewed as having a “hopeless case of bad schools,” so the attitude of legislators is one of dismissal.  It has been this way for a long time, leading in 1995 to “Mayoral Control” of Chicago Public Schools.  So now, there are usually two sets of rules issued in any education legislation: Rules for Chicago, and Rules for the Rest of IL.

The Best parts of this Bill include the requirement of training for School Board members on labor, education issues, and school finance which wasn’t required before.  We also like the “portability of tenure,” which had not been available to teachers in IL before.  If a teacher chose to move from district to district, that individual would have to start all over.

The part of the Bill that requires a “Survey of Learning Conditions” to be done by all stakeholders is toothless.  Another layer of data that just sounds good.  If legislators had any sense in them they would realize that mass amounts of data don’t help create more voice or better conditions.    If they really wanted to listen to the voice of community members, the legislation would mandate public fora to be held in each school on a quarterly basis.  (Oh, wait, these are the same people who are implementing Race to the Top value-added model initiatives, ever mind, just another standardized test.)

The Bad parts of the Bill describe a sort of, tiered-tenure seniority system, where after evaluations are taken into account, then seniority is a tie-breaker when it comes to reduction in force (RIFs). After two “Unsatisfactory” evaluations in seven years, the teacher is dismissed, and would potentially have her or his Illinois teaching license revoked.  I call this part the “Bad Teacher Prevention Bill,” because that’s what the “uninformed legislators with good intentions” want it to do, but I am skeptical that this is what will happen.

The problem with this is that we don’t know what Unsatisfactory even means yet! The language of this part of the Bill is completely dependent on a new evaluation system that was passed by law in summer of (PERA) 2010, but has yet to be designed.  More than thirty individuals some of whom are teachers, administrators, and scholars, sit on the evaluation design panel, but which also includes Edu-Reformers including Advance Illinois and Teach for America(!).

The new evaluations must be “data-driven,” (read: more testing) by a fast-approaching date.  In actuality that date is approaching here in Chicago two to four years faster than in the rest of IL because that’s the way the law was written and our the CTU under Marilyn Stewart did not fight against it (spring 2010).

I don’t like that my evaluation will be based on tests scores.  Every teacher knows that tests don’t measure what students know, and certainly don’t measure how good I am as a teacher.

However, the worst part of the Bill is the last part which legislates that to go on strike, three-quarters of our membership need to vote for it.  This is unprecedented, unfair, and clearly idiotic on the part of the legislators and edu-reformers who are force-feeding us.  What I expect to happen, is when teachers across the state start getting unsatisfactory evaluations that don’t reflect their classroom practice, I have a feeling it’ll be easy to get a 75% or rather a 100% vote to strike.  Call me naive, but what goes down, must come up, and teachers are about to get sick to their stomach.