WITH teachers in Chicago on strike, it’s tempting for Californians to view it as a phenomenon of the rough-and-tumble politics of the Windy City with little application to the Golden State. True, some issues, such as the high wage demands of the teachers union, are Chicago-specific. But in many other ways what’s happening in Chicago holds lessons for California policymakers and voters.
First, the Chicago school district, like many districts in California, has produced low student outcomes.
On the 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress exam, 80 percent of Chicago fourth-graders failed to score at the proficient level in math, and 82 percent failed to hit the proficient mark in reading.
By comparison, 80 percent of Los Angeles fourth-graders failed to score at the proficient level in math, and 85 percent failed to make proficiency in reading. Proficiency is defined as full mastery of subject matter and is the goal for all students.
Yet, despite such anemic student achievement results – or because of them – teacher unions in Chicago and California have opposed the inclusion of student performance results in teacher-evaluation systems.
In negotiations, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel, President Obama’s former chief of staff, called for student test scores to account for 40 percent of a teacher’s evaluation. The Chicago Teachers Union, according to Education Week, “has refused to consider using test scores as part of a new teacher-evaluation system.”
Similarly, many teacher- union contracts in California ban the use of student achievement results.
For example, the teacher- union contract for the Chaffey Joint Union High School District, which serves Ontario, Montclair and Rancho Cucamonga, states that the evaluation of teachers shall not be based upon “Standardized or other District test results that measure achievement.” Yet, new research shows that evaluating teachers based on student achievement can have important positive consequences.
A recent study of 2.5 million students by Harvard and Columbia researchers strongly indicates that evaluating teachers based on student tests scores raises the probability of students attending college and increases their future earnings.
“Teachers unions are among the top donors,” notes Education Week, “especially at the state level, to Democratic candidates, and their members are crucial to get-out-the-vote activities.”
Given that political reality, Joe Williams, executive director of Democrats for Education Reform, has observed that organized labor is using the Chicago strike “to send a message nationally about what teacher unions are going to tolerate from Democratic mayors.”
In California, from 2000 to the present, the California Teachers Association spent roughly a quarter of a billion dollars on political contributions and lobbying expenses, dwarfing the total of other special interests. Former Democratic state Senate president Don Perata said that the teachers union views itself as “the co-equal fourth branch of government.” No wonder then that many Californians are looking to the November ballot for change.
Proposition 32, called the Stop Special Interest Money Now Act, would prohibit both unions like the CTA and corporations from deducting money from the pay of their members or employees for political purposes and from making direct contributions to state and local candidates.
The CTA, not surprisingly, is the largest donor to the anti-Prop. 32 campaign.