The teachers’ strike in Chicago is one of the most important stands taken by educators for the future of education in the United States. Strong, effective education for young people is immensely important not only to those individuals, but to our nation as a whole. Countries whose citizens are well educated have greater innovation and economic growth.
In Chicago, teachers are striking for the sake of not only their futures, but the futures of the students they teach. At the forefront of this strike is how to evaluate student and teacher performance in the classroom.
The city of Chicago has chosen a straitjacket for its teachers. In coming years, standardized testing will account for 40 percent of total teacher evaluations.
At first glance it makes sense. Linking teacher performance to student performance seems like the best way to find the best teachers for students. And that would be a great way to evaluate teachers.
The problem comes with what defines student performance. For the city of Chicago, they have decided that it is standardized tests. Teachers who have students who perform well on standardized tests must be great teachers, right?
Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Converting a student into a raw number does not properly evaluate their growth in school. School, especially primary school, is a time of great growth not only in learning, but in overall development. Test scores are not sufficient to show how much a student has gotten out of a class.
Jesse Rothstein, associate professor of Public Policy at University of California, Berkeley, points out that “There are big swings from year to year” in standardized test results, and there are other studies that show there are correlations between good test scores and other metrics like teenage pregnancy and incomes in students.
Yet, with such varying ideas about how effective test scores themselves are of a measure of performance, it is too soon to link such a large portion of teacher performance to wildly varying numbers. Research from The Upjohn Institute has found that in the few instances where pay and teacher evaluation were linked to student performance on exams, there was little improvement in scores relative to schools where it was not linked.
Of course, regardless of facts, the debate has devolved quickly into political squabble. Anti-union people see it as an attempt to extort more money out of an already struggling city. Pro-union people point immediately to how poorly teachers are treated regardless of the actual issues at hand. And there are a lot of people who think Chicago school teachers are doing this all at the expense of students, as they are being held out of school.
Ultimately, the decisions made here will have long-term consequences not only on Chicago school children, but on school children across the United States. The Chicago school district is one of the largest in the United States, so many in the future will model their school programs on Chicago’s.
We should all be supporting the teachers in this debate. The Chicago government thinks that they have found a solution in tying teacher evaluations to student performance on standardized tests. If this becomes their major reform, they will be comfortable to sit back and wait.
Putting future generations at risk in what basically amounts to an experiment is not worth the cost of hardworking teachers’ jobs in any circumstance ever. But that’s what the city of Chicago is trying to accomplish.
Jay Nogami is a sophomore public policy leadership major from Denver, Colo. Follow him on Twitter @JayTNogami.
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