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When the Unions “Embrace” Weak Reforms and Try to Look Like Real Reformers

(CER President Jeanne Allen shared her thoughts with reporters in an email earlier this week. We thought everyone has a right to know what’s happening.)

The teacher evaluation piece in the Chicago contract negotiation is so weak to start that it’s almost unfathomable that the union would waste political capital on this piece. Have you looked at what the evaluation language of the new law and the Mayor’s demands actually say? It is not, as some have reported, about finite test scores. The 25% now and 40% later of evaluations that are said to be determined based on test scores are not based on one formula, yet. It’s fuzzy, as it has been in most laws recently passed and most contracts. Evaluations can include test scores, but how and who decides is still up in the air. This is not unusual in any case today, but it is underreported.

Take DC, for example. Teachers are evaluated against an average composite of predicted scores for certain kids. The extent to which their kids, over time, meet or exceed the predicted scores for similar kids is PART of their overall evaluation. “Performance” in IMPACT also includes peer, principal and some district observations, as well as factors relating to the school as a whole. And that’s only part of it. The comparisons are done by the research organization, Mathematica – externally evaluated – not a principal reviewing individual test scores.

These factors – who evaluates, how, based on what, over what time, and what the 25% of evaluation actually means (!!) has yet to be determined.

The union is not striking against evaluations, but they are using it to incite their members without informing them it has yet to be determined. They are striking against the notion that ANY evaluation is on the table, that they won’t have as many sick days, that they aren’t getting more of a pay increase, and, frankly, that failing schools with lower enrollments, regardless of their teachers, will be shuttered.

Some unions are getting too much credit for embracing evaluations. It has been smart — and easy — for unions in other states to “embrace” evaluations. The New Jersey Education Association is claiming that Gov Christie’s new law is “Our Law.” The much fabled New Haven contract is something to which Randi Weingarten points often. New York’s agreement was much ballyhooed last year but no agreement on evaluation has even occurred after the Governor demanded inclusion of performance in all contracts! Other union leaders have their own list of places showing how well they get along on this issue when they are “at the table.”

But none of these cases represent real performance evaluation efforts for teachers. They either drive bonuses to teachers whose average scores across schools — determined by a number of factors of which test scores are minor (New Haven) OR they leave evaluation development up to school districts, where unions have the most power (NJ).

So of course Chicago’s opposition looks extreme — their “counterparts” in other states have seemed to walk the walk.

The reality is none of them are really walking the walk, and even the sheer mention of evaluations, like the sheer mention of school choice, is enough to incite the old guard, even if there is very little meat to the threat at this point in time.

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