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Three Chicago Teachers’ Strike Links

Photo credit Kari Sommers, Chicago

Day one of the teachers’ strike and links are on the move across social networking.  Here are three local links to look into, the top one is a must-read:

Teacher X: Why I’m Striking

Yasmin Nair on Teacher’s Strike

Sun-Times Op-Ed - on why the strike happened.

Two locations helping families:

Uptown Strike School – teachers and volunteers run a free program for kids in Kindergarten through 8th grade in the Uptown neighborhood.

Camp Solidarity in Hyde Park – ditto for the Hyde Park neighborhood.

Viral open letter from a striking teacher, source unknown:

Let me begin by stating what the OVERWHELMING MAJORITY of my coworkers agree with:

There should be a streamlined process to get rid of genuinely bad teachers. A longer school day is a GOOD thing (provided some of the issues below have been addressed)

Salary issues have (for the most part) been dealt with. We are forfeiting our pay, standing outside, and protesting systemic INJUSTICE in Chicago public education- why must urban students be given LESS than their suburban counterparts???

Here are some of the issues (that I deal with on a DAILY basis) that need to be resolved:

1. We need class size reductions: Last year I had 35 8th grade students in a single classroom. This year, I have 33 students and we’re only 4 days into the school year. It is exceptionally difficult to effectively teach when there is such a large class size. In addition, last year I had 2 students who did not speak ANY English, and 4 students who had just come into the country- making the job of teaching that much more difficult. And finally, because I can control a classroom, I am consistently given the students with behavioral problems. Smaller class sizes are a better learning environment for students.

2. We need money for appropriate services for our students:
* My school of 1200 students has ONE school nurse who is only on-site 2 or 3 days per week.
* My school of 1200 students has TWO counselors.
* My school of 1200 students has TWO social workers.
* In general, schools need counselors, social workers, nurses, and other support personnel. 93% of students attending my school come from families living below the poverty line. 32% currently require language services. Simply stated, the support services for the wide range of care these students require are not available.

3. We need Professional Development: EVERY skilled profession allows for its professionals to be continually trained. In fact, the highest performing countries in the world extensively train their teachers throughout the year. CPS increased our school year by TAKING AWAY our days for professional development. We have 5 days of development for the ENTIRE SCHOOL YEAR….and those days have already been used. CPS required that all of those days be used the week before school started. Our teachers were not trained in anything related to our daily teaching practice. We were just informed about the new evaluation system.

4. Address the other REAL issues that must come along with school reform: POVERTY does not just affect one’s material resources, but vastly affects his/her spiritual, emotional, and mental health. If you are not consistently around people who are at/below the poverty line, you have no idea how this affects a person. My school has 93% of students receiving free lunch (a primary indicator of poverty). Parents/families need support systems. Kids need counseling services.

5. Re-evaluate the purpose of standardized testing: Standardized tests can provide some useful information, but should they be a determinant of teacher performance? How does one account for the innumerable variables? Also, creating a culture of over-testing students and heavily weighting standardized tests adversely affects curriculum development and the learning experience.

6. A more well thought out evaluation plan. CPS wants to evaluate teachers on three factors and eventually the following weight system:

a. 50% from Principal Evaluation- Principals received an ONLINE training to try to identify good teaching. That essentially still leaves their evaluations to a large amount of subjective opinion. Why not have the principal go into the class with a trainer from the city, score a teacher, and then identify and talk about discrepancies to account for subjectivity?

b. 40% from Scores on TWO tests:
Test #1: Growth on the MAP test.
Test #2: A performance test that is to be given in November and May. CPS told us last week that the homeroom teacher will grade one of the tests that they will use to then determine our pay. Does that make any sense?
As mentioned previously, there are too many variables that affect a student’s performance on standardized tests. Last year, 3 of my students had their parents incarcerated. Does that not affect a child? Most of my students come from single-parent homes. Does that not affect testing? I had a student last year who thought she was pregnant and a student who was pregnant the year prior to that. Surely, these factors affect test scores.

Let’s try to extend this to the corporate world: Imagine that 40% of your pay would be determined by the performance of your subordinates on a task given to them during ONE hour of ONE day. Forget the rest of the gains/knowledge/contributions you’ve seen them make in your daily interactions with them. Your pay comes down to their performance at one point in time. Oh, let’s also make it unbearably hot in the room they’re testing in. =)

c. 10% on STUDENT feedback- My pay will be determined by the opinions of my students…13 and 14 year olds. Need I say more?

7. Money to pay for more specialized teachers- Not a single teacher I know is against increasing the school day. However, we must be given money to hire specialized teachers. I grew up having gym and Spanish class EVERYDAY. My students get ONE special class PER DAY: Gym twice per week, and Spanish 3 times per week. The newly added time has come with NO funding or resources. I want my students to have a similar educational experience as a suburban student. In addition, the Mayor has said that the longer school day will provide foreign language and art instruction. This is the FIRST year that Spanish has been offered. They will not receive art instruction this year (Art has not been offered in over 3 years).

Mayor Emanuel says he just wants to get students to the starting line. Placing them in schools longer without anything to do with the extra time is not what teachers would say is placing them at the starting line. The students, teachers, and community need resources, specialized teachers, and an intelligent plan for the use of that newly allocated time. Without the funding and resources, the time can easily amount to nothing more than babysitting.

We understand that this is a real inconvenience for parents. We are parents ourselves. However, if these issues are properly addressed and resolved, it could make a difference for generations of students to come. At the very least, we’re hoping it will get us started on the road to repairing an incredibly unjust, ineffective, and broken system.

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