Chicago Teacher’s Strike Day #6: Little d democracy

 

Chicago Teacher’s Strike Day #6: Little d democracy

Posted by eric ribellarsi on September 16, 2012

by Rita Stephanie

Strike continues!

News flash: The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) House of Delegates has voted to continue the teachers strike. At 3:00 p.m. today a meeting was called for union delegates to review the contract wording that has been put forward by the Chicago board and the union negotiators. The 800 members of the House of Delegates have decided that they have not had enough time to review the contract language and voted with an overwhelming majority (according to CTU president Karen Lewis) to continue the strike and open up the discussion to union members.

In a televised news conference at 6:05 p.m. Lewis said that the House of Delegates wanted to exercise their right to review the contract. She said that the union is a democratic organization and that she supported the right of members to review the language of the contract. Schools will not open Monday and members have overwhelmingly decided to continue the strike. When questioned by reporters she said that a key issue was TRUST. Union members do not trust the school board or the mayor to have their interests at heart. This would be an understatement! Union delegates say that their strength lies in the strike.

I am not a member of the House of Delegates, but was very proud of the way that Karen Lewis and the union conducted the negotiations this weekend.

As a communist I understand that the process of “little d democracy” can be messy and take longer. The fact that Karen Lewis and the other members of the union negotiations did not try to “sell” the contract is commendable. In her press conference Lewis made the point that she is here to serve the union members, not to “market the contract.”

Obviously, as a union member I am extremely interested in the wording of the contract. As a communist I am excited to understand the process of allowing a large group of people (approximately 25,000) to engage in a democratic discussion and come to a collective decision. I can’t wait to see how this is going to play out over the next two days. (The union will not hold a vote on Monday in respect of the Jewish high holy days.)

People in the city are watching what happens in this strike.

I’ve taped up an on-strike sign outside my apartment on the gate. Walking to the grocery store this weekend, neighbors kept asking:

“Are you going back to school?”

“What do you think will happen?”

The strike has inspired working class people. One example is an older woman a few houses down. Each time she sees me she tells me that she is thinking and praying for me—she wants us to win!

One issue that continues to be contentious is teacher evaluations.

It seems that the union was able to negotiate that 30% of teacher evaluations will be based on student test scores. This is the minimum amount of student scores included in evaluations that has been legislated for all teachers in the State of Illinois.

The Chicago board had been trying to make student test scores more than 50% of teacher evaluations.

I’ve been asked repeatedly about why evaluations are such a big part of the negotiations of our new contract. The unstated question hangs in the air–are teachers against reform? Are teachers just trying to protect their jobs and resist education reform?

Evaluation is only one aspect of education reform, but it has become an important point of contention in this contract. Teachers have been talking about this constantly for the last week. To be clear, the teachers that I work with and talk to all think that evaluations are important and necessary. Karen Lewis made the point at the Sept. 15th rally in Union Park that teachers want to be assessed. They want to learn what their weaknesses are and improve without it being a punitive process.

Teachers want to make sure that evaluations are put in place that can improve teacher competency and are not punitive “got-ya” tricks. Here is an example of the contention. (Stay with me here, I’m going to get specific. I’m also going to share personal experience to illustrate my points. I can’t extrapolate how widespread this experience is, but I’m using the experience to try and illuminate the situation.)

An extremely good rubric has been developed by an educator, Charlotte Danielson. This rubric is a way that teachers can be evaluated objectively in different areas of work, (or domains, as the Danielson framework describes.) The four domains are (1) planning and preparation, (2) classroom environment, (3) instruction and (4) professional responsibilities. Each domain is broken down into specific points called components. For example, planning and preparation is broken into the components of: “Demonstrating knowledge of content and pedagogy”, “demonstrating knowledge of students”, “selecting instructional goals demonstrating knowledge of resources”, “designing coherent instruction”, and “assessing student learning”. The rubric describes which teacher actions are “unsatisfactory”, “basic”, “proficient”, or “distinguished” in each of these components. The descriptions are very specific and observable. As a teacher that has worked with and been evaluated under this rubric, I can say that I have found it very constructive and helpful.

Rather than making this very constructive framework and rubic the majority of teacher evaluations, the school board has attempted to make test scores a higher percentage of the evaluation process. Teachers are very concerned that weighing evaluations so heavily on student performance will adversely impact teachers that work in high poverty environments. My school is 99% African American and 99% high poverty and my fellow teachers feel these test score evaluations do not accurately reflect the impact that we are having on our students. So many factors negatively affect the ability of our students to perform well on standardized tests. The problems of poverty are extremely complex and the evaluation process for teachers needs to reflect this.

I’m looking forward to being a part of this process. THE STRIKE CONTINUES! I guess one of the chants that we said all week is true, “Aw shucks, you got the teachers fired up!”

Go Teachers!

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