So who won? That seems to be the question on everyone’s mind in the days following the Chicago teacher strike. As far as I can tell it’s probably a toss-up. In the end compromise was reached and kids (who were the real losers) finally went back to class.
One would be naïve to believe that this is a case of no damage no foul. On the one hand teachers have made a statement that will reverberate loudly in other cities around the nation. With a unified voice they have announced that they will not be bullied into accepting longer teaching days, less job security and evaluation based on student test scores.
But, at the same time, the city governments, as well as the state legislatures, have spoken as well. They have served notice that things must change. They point to data which repeatedly points to America’s weak standing in math and reading proficiency. No one, they argue, should accept a situation in which less than half of our graduating classes, on a national average, reach proficiency. This argument becomes more cogent when reviewing the low proficiency levels reached by African-Americans, Hispanic, or Native American students. Should it not alarm us, they reason, if the average proficiency in states such as Mississippi, Alabama, West Virginia or Louisiana, to name just a few, falls below the national averages of Croatia or Serbia?1
So, let us all agree that change must happen. The nature of that change will remain at the center of national debate for years if not decades to come. Tuition vouchers, charter schools, internet education are some directions in which the winds of change will blow in the near future. Those who learn to harness those winds and channel them for the general good will be the heroes of our educational systems.
What the recent crisis has taught us is that teachers will be at the center of the debate. The eye is on teachers as all now realize that better teachers are the only true solution to creating better schools. (After spending more than $2 billion on helping schools improve, Bill Gates has come to the same conclusion, and now is focusing his funding on improving teaching.) Delineating the criteria for teacher success is the hot topic. I find it ironic that many, but certainly not all, teachers have used student test grades as the major indicator of achievement, and today that very same yardstick is being turned on the teachers themselves. While the better teachers learned to look at student profiles and gauge success with multiple modes of assessment, many, if not most, just added up the scores and reported achievement accordingly. Funny, how many Americans cannot understand why we cannot use that very same measure, student test scores, to evaluate the teachers themselves. You are judged in the same fashion you judge others. Perhaps, as we seek to apply better teaching practices, how we evaluate students should be one of our first areas of focus. I guess “You reap what you sow” may be appropriately applied here.
1 For an excellent recourse on this topic see Globally Challenged: Are U.S. Students Ready to Compete? The report can be accessed at http://www.hks.harvard.edu/pepg/PDF/Papers/PEPG11-03_GloballyChallenged.pdf