The Tribune’s editorial of August 23 was full of misleading and false statements. Its general premise is that the way to improve teaching and learning is to identify the best teachers and fire the rest. In the real world, teachers become great through experience, self-reflection, and collaboration. Researchers at University of Virginia found that students taught by seasoned grade level teachers for 4 years in a row scored approximately one grade level more than students taught by beginning teachers. University of Pittsburgh researchers found that teachers working collaboratively raised student math scores by 6 percent. Great teachers employ practices to teach the whole child, not just to teach to the test. Yet, if teachers’ jobs depend on their students’ test scores, they are more likely to do just that.
The idea that education will improve if we rank and sort teachers according to their students’ test scores, is wrong for many reasons. Ranking tells us nothing about quality. The last place runner in an Olympic event is not a slow runner. The standardized tests used to judge “teacher quality” are invalid for this purpose. For example, an Op Ed piece in the Tribune Friday described a teacher who changed the author’s life. There is no standardized test to measure compassion or the ability of a teacher to instill confidence in students.
The Tribune should not celebrate the fact that so many New York teachers were denied tenure. There is already a revolving door of young teachers who leave the profession because they are unsupported and expected to work long hours for low pay. In Chicago, over half of new teachers leave their schools within five years. This instability in the education profession is harmful to students, particularly those without other sources stability. Research done in New York City schools found a negative and significant effect of teacher turnover on student achievement.
Tenure is not, as the Tribune says, an “inviolable job guarantee”. Teachers receive tenure after four years only if school administrators have found them to be a good fit for the profession. Many leave before achieving tenure. In a recent period, 32 percent of teachers left CPS before attaining tenure. Before celebrating, the Tribune should have the decency to see if their prediction is correct—that denying tenure to so many will improve student performance.
Socio-economic status is the largest predictor—up to 75 percent— of student success. All the talk of reforming teaching ignores that fact. Finland has the top schools in the world because they have chosen to value equity. In Chicago, over 100 schools needing the most support have been closed and replaced with low-performing charters that make money for their owners but do nothing to improve instructional outcomes. Recent state tests show that only one group of charters beat the CPS district-wide average passing rate.
Finally, the editorial says that CTU wants to water down standards. This couldn’t be further from the truth. CTU wants evaluations to be fair, to be done in a way that helps teachers grow, and to be based on proven measures, not just another experiment on low income students! Follow the research-based practices proposed in CTU’s “Schools Chicago’s Students Deserve,” and then there will be progress in Illinois.
Karen GJ Lewis
President, Chicago Teachers Union
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