A big pay raise and watered-down teacher evaluations
WSJ Editorial, September 16, 2012
Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis knew what she was doing by calling a teachers strike on the first week of school two months before Election Day in a city whose mayor is President Obama's former chief of staff. The union is now debating whether to accept a tentative deal that includes a big pay raise but dodges the most consequential reforms. How much more does it want?
The union had demanded a pay increase of 29% over four years, but the 25,000 teachers will still get 16%, which is far more than most workers in the private economy get these days. Chicago teachers already make on average far more ($71,000) than the average private worker ($47,000), not counting benefits and summer vacation, and this deal will increase the wealth redistribution.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel did win a longer school day—to seven hours from five hours and 45 minutes. But the city had already agreed to a union demand to hire 500 additional new teachers to help fill the longer school day, and the average teacher will work a mere 15-20 minutes more per day.
The district also won more autonomy for principals to hire teachers, though they will have to first interview from the pool of union teachers laid-off at public schools.
Teachers won big, however, on what they really care about (other than money), which is limiting the degree to which student test scores count in teacher evaluations. Student performance will count for only 25% starting this year, moving up over the next two years to 35%. This leaves the rest of the evaluation to the kind of subjective judgment that has long kept the worst teachers firmly in place.
The union nixed merit pay—everyone has to move in lock-step, you know—and teachers that do somehow get a ranking of "needs improvement" suffer no consequence in the first year. After a repeat of that ranking, they move into a category of "unsatisfactory," which means they get 90 days of remediation to shape up. If they don't, they are then put on a path to dismissal, which in the past has taken from two to five years but which Chicago Board of Education President David Vitale says will now take about nine months.
The political wrangling around all of this will still be huge, and you can expect the internal pressure on principals will be enormous to give all but the very worst teachers a passing grade. That's why serious evaluation reform includes ratings by assessors from outside the school bureaucracy.
Mr. Vitale is calling this "without question the most transformative collective-bargaining agreement in the history of the Chicago public schools," which only proves how low the bar has been set. The Chicago Teachers Union decided to stage this illegal strike because it knew Messrs. Emanuel and Obama couldn't tolerate a Scott Walker-type battle in an election year with one of their party's main funders.
It's good news that even Democrats like Mr. Emanuel now understand the moral imperative of education reform. But the failure of inner-city schools is so profound that incremental reforms like Chicago's aren't nearly enough. Democrats are going to have to side with students over unions in promoting far more radical change if they really want to be credible proponents of upward economic mobility.