GUEST COMMENTARY: What Chicago's strike taught Indiana's teachers

2012-09-26T00:00:00Z GUEST COMMENTARY: What Chicago's strike taught Indiana's teachersBy Jeff Abbott
September 26, 2012 12:00 am  • 

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel settled a labor contract with the Chicago teachers’ union after an eight-day strike. Teachers were happy to secure concessions limiting a school reform program they said would harm students and cost teachers jobs. Emanuel walked away with a teacher evaluation system and other changes that he says will make educators more accountable.

An eight-year veteran Chicago teacher, however, was disappointed with the settlement. And her reasoning was right on point as we look to the future: We must build a sustainable and dedicated teaching force, she in effect argued, rather than a profession built of teachers who will come and go quickly because of low respect and poor working conditions.

Many states, including Indiana, are now mandating teacher evaluation policies. Teachers are concerned about using student standardized test scores as a major part of their evaluations. They are fearful of being fired over something they cannot wholly control.

Teaching is a two-way process – teachers teach and students learn. To say that a teacher is responsible for both is sometimes holding teachers responsible for something that is not entirely in their control.

Some students just don’t have the resources to learn enough to “pass” a standardized test. Many come from families that are high poverty, or do not speak English, or do not value education, or do not create a family environment conducive for their children to learn and have a successful school experience. Additionally, some students simply do not have the intellect to pass standardized tests.

The efforts by policy makers all over the country to hold teachers accountable for student achievement on standardized tests will fail because it will drive top-quality teachers out of the profession and will not attract the needed high-quality teachers. There is simply no evidence that holding teachers accountable for students’ standardized test scores will improve the quality of education.

So what will improve the quality of public education?

  • Requiring principals and teacher leaders to compete for school management contracts.
  • Allowing teachers and their principals to govern their own individual schools.
  • Holding them accountable for both student academic growth and for student and parent satisfaction levels.

If this new public-school structure is coupled with informed parent choice of schools and with funding following the students, teacher leaders and their principals will have to compete as a team for students. A one-for-all and all-for-one atmosphere in the school will be created. 

This new school culture will improve our Indiana public schools far more than new top-down rules and mandates governing teacher evaluations.

Jeff Abbott, an adjunct scholar of the Indiana Policy Review Foundation, teaches at Indiana University-Purdue University at Fort Wayne. He is a former superintendent of the East Allen County school system. The opinion expressed in this column is the writer's and not necessarily that of The Times.

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