Report from Cleveland

June 3, 2010 at 10:17 am 12 comments

I just traveled by car (14 hours with a 7yo – thank you to whoever invented Nintendo DS!) to Cleveland this past weekend for a family event.  My cousin who I stayed with is a teacher so we had a lot to talk about.  She’s one of those people who made a mid-life career change to teaching and she works in a Cleveland Charter school.

Anyhow, first of all, the headlines in the Cleveland paper were all about the teachers’ union and how there is pressure for them to accept concessions to avoid laying off a bunch of teachers.  There was talk about class sizes of 45 (and they call 37 scare tactics?!)   It was largely the same story as we have here.  I did see a chart in their paper comparing the length of the workday of teachers around the country and Chicago was right around average (not a wide range, really.)  But it did make me wonder whether I’m just getting old and boring and I’m finally paying attention to articles about things like teachers’ unions?  Or whether this issue is really hitting some tipping point in our society right now due to the economy, changing demographics, changes in union sentiment, etc.   Is this really the first time in years that this has been a huge issue all over the country?  I know it’s going on in New York as well and I assume other states.  One of the big topics in Cleveland is the idea of tenure vs performance when choosing who gets to keep jobs.  Which leads me to my next topic….

Performance is, of course, measured by test scores since there isn’t any other objective way to do it in a big school system.  My cousin, working in a charter school, does not get any kind of tenure benefits and the principal is VERY test-score focused.  The teachers get a bonus of several thousand dollars a year for meeting goals of raising test scores.  There are 2 fourth grade teachers in the school who kick ass every year and always get the bonuses and tons of public praise from the principal. 

My cousin teachers 5th grade, so she has these kids the year after the 2 “awesome” teachers.  This year when the kids were doing their standardized tests, they inquired why she wasn’t helping them.  When she said she can’t they explained the way that their previous teachers would walk around and look at their answers and give them a thumbs up or thumbs down until they finally got the thumbs up on the question.  They told of a few other subtle ways that the teacher would nudge them along during the test.   She asked the other 5th grade teacher to subtley ask her class about it.  And yes, that teacher would put a little pencil dot next to questions that she wanted the kids to ‘rethink.” 

So… cheating clearly is going on.  My cousin took the issue to the principal who said he was “mad that she hadled it this way” and said should have gone to the teachers herself.  He *did* tell them that “if you cheat this year, you’ll be fired” but nothing is set in place to monitor them in any way. 

So now my cousin is faced with the liklihood of showing DROPPING test scores from this same cohort of kids.  She was actually friends with these 2 cheating teachers beforehand and still can’t believe they do it.  But you have to imaging that the pressure of test score performance makes otherwise sane people find ways to “help” their kids that they may not even thinking of as actual cheating.    I know in the book Freakonomics, the author had identified teachers in CPS who had filled in answers for the kids at the end of the test.  Clearly it goes on.  It’s just hard to hear about a real case that involves someone I know who believes in doing things the right way.

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Whose credit card is education funding going on? How you can help promote CPS Funding (without having to buy raffle tickets or baked goods)

12 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Mom of two  |  June 3, 2010 at 11:28 am

    I know that this shouldn’t surprise me, but it does! Essentially these teachers are teaching our kids how to cheat. Call it “game the system” to make it sound better, but it’s still cheating! How awful, both for the kids as well as for the rest of the staff. These kids will then feel stupid the next year when their scores go down, and undoubtedly there are parents who will be upset with them the next year. And it doesn’t help them one iota in their lives.


    Talking about tenure – I have problems with this at an elementary school level. One of the reasons for tenure is to protect the teacher if they need to go up against admin – i.e. help the students rally against a current war, or teach a politically unfavored point of view about religion . . .etc. But in the elem grades I can’t see that there would be any reason to need that sort of protection. Am I missing something? Are there really important reasons for this to be in place?

    At our neighborhood elem school both the parents as well as the staff know of several teachers who are just bad, as teachers and as role models for the kids. They yell at the class every day most of the day, and use teaching methods left over from the 70’s and haven’t updated their classroom since they left college decades ago. You can tell they just want to make it to the end of the day, and don’t have the kids’ interest at heart. But they can’t be fired because of tenure. So instead, wonderful (albeit new on staff) teachers are let go. How do we solve this?

  • 2. Gotta love Cleveland  |  June 3, 2010 at 3:01 pm

    NPR just had a story on the Cleveland schools that addressed the problem of new teachers being let go; including many who were just recruited into the system ! ! !

  • 3. LR  |  June 3, 2010 at 8:53 pm

    It’s disturbing alright. But, it also serves as a reminder to take those test scores with a grain of salt.

  • 4. Hawthorne mom  |  June 3, 2010 at 9:38 pm

    In my experience, tenure has value not in cases of a teacher going up against a principal over issues of wars, or politics, but in cases of personality clashes. There are many fruit cake principals out there who decide they don’t like a teacher and would try and get rid of them, oh, say, because that teacher didn’t vote to renew the principal’s contract as the LSC rep. Or because they don’t like it that the teacher speaks up against foolish school policies in staff meetings. Or because the principal would like to put their cousin in the 4th grade classroom you happen to be teaching in. Believe me, it happens!
    (of course there are teachers who are overly antagonistic, teachers who pick fights with principals, who make their principal’s life crazy, and bad teachers in terms of quality)
    All that said, I have really mixed feelings about tenure. I like tenure because truly, there are not many good principals out there and so many are so very bad. I don’t trust their judgement in determining who is a good teacher and who is a bad one.
    At the same time, I don’t like tenure because it protects bad teachers. It protects teachers to the point that it is incredibly hard to get rid of even the ones who assault children. I have worked with teachers who sit and read the newspaper instead of teaching, with teachers who have missed more than 40 days of school in a year, with teachers who cannot speak English and with teachers who don’t even try to teach well. And really, while I think we have to give teachers a few years to get their heads above water, at some point, I am not sure if even the well meaning teachers who are trying should stay in the classroom if they can’t produce results.
    My dilemma with that, though, is sure, anyone teaching in a school in Wilmette can be successful. But what about the teacher at Manierre or Senn HS or McCutcheon (where so many of their students are homeless)? It becomes much harder to say whether or not a teacher is good based on test scores in schools like those ( all high poverty, undesirable schools). Especially when parents can’t or won’t do their part in the instructional process. It is like holding the physician accountable for the pediatric patient whose parents don’t finish out the round of antibiotics. Do we tell the doctor she has to go and watch each parent actually give the meds? Do we tell the teacher they are personally responsible to make sure each kid in their classroom is reading 20-30 minutes every night? No.
    So, in my mind, this is where standardized testing as an accountability measure gets problematic. At the same time, I am not saying teachers in high poverty areas don’t have some amount of responsibility.
    It seems to me that there has to be multiple measures of what constitutes a good teacher, protection for teachers against unreasonable job termination, and much better mentoring and coaching for educators. There also needs to be much smaller class sizes in high need schools, much more support, and serious money given to teachers who can actually produce results for kids in high need schools without cheating. All that said, I don’t believe any of those things will actually ever happen.

  • 5. Mom of two  |  June 4, 2010 at 7:09 am

    Thanks for the explanation, Hawthorne Mom. Tenure makes more sense with that info. It’s too bad that there isn’t a way to assure that principals have more integrity – so that “lead from the top” could work in our schools.

  • 6. Paul  |  June 4, 2010 at 12:32 pm

    Excellent points Hawthorne Mom. I think the recommendations you make at the end of your post should happen, and I’m optimistic that they will happen…eventually.

  • 7. Hawthorne mom  |  June 8, 2010 at 8:42 am

    I don’t know if anyone has been following what is happening in DC, but Michelle Rhee, the head of schools there is making some very big changes. Among them, she has been successful at getting great pay for successful teachers in poverty schools. Great pay as in, 130K a year. It is measures like these that will draw the very best to the field. I have heard over and over again that pay doesn’t make great teachers. But I believe it helps. She also has secured concessions that include making it easier to get rid of bad teachers. I know she makes a lot of people mad, but I like her.
    I really wish we could do that here. I also wish we could lower class sizes, do year round schools (and have air conditioning in all buildings), increase the length of the school day, require recess and build collaboration time into our school day.

  • 8. Hawthorne mom  |  June 8, 2010 at 9:01 am

    I should add that the pay Rhee has secured is only given to teachers who demonstrate success through test scores, which, like the original blog entry shows, can be falsified through cheating. It isn’t a perfect science and there are definitely potential problems with it.

  • 9. kg  |  June 11, 2010 at 9:53 am

    First off, I’d like to say that my child goes to a CPS RGC and we are very happy with the school and find that the teachers are (mostly) wonderful. We also have experience with another child at an idependent (Latin, Parker, Catherine Cook, City Day, etc…) school. I will say that at the independent school teachers really do seem to be more interested in feedback, parental concerns, are happy to set up meetings, etc., since they can be terminated (and in my experiecne at least one was) if things are not working out to the satisfaction of parents and school officials. I understand the concept of unions, tenure, etc., and their value to protect professionals from the discrimination and whims of tyranical PTAs, principals, etc. However, my own experience in public school growing up was one of teachers who used tenure to be lazy. Teachers read newpapers instead of instructing, talked with other teachers in the hall while students were given worthless “assignments”, they shrugged if we didn’t get concepts and openly complained about our lack of cognitive abilty as an exuse for their lousy teaching, they were running to their cars before all us kids were even out of the building, etc……really grim stuff that I now know would never happen at a good independent school or decent public school instead of the lower-income, quasi-ghetto community where I grew up (of all kids we needed good teachers the most). Thank God for an eventual Catholic school and good parents, otherwise I’d probably have ended up being God knows what instead of a lawyer. Teachers want the respect and renumeration of a professional, but they want all the job protections (seniority over ability, extra pay for doing what every other working person does as part of their job [e.g, staying after school for meetings], short work hours, inability to get fired except for glaringly wrong behavior, etc.) of uneducated UAW workers. Education is too important an endeavor for the sake of our kids’ and our nation’s future economic and social viability to allow the laziness, incompetence, etc. of some teachers to continue. Unions can be a blessing or a curse, depending on the situatuion or individuals involved, but let’s put kids first in any case.

  • 10. Chicago mom of 3  |  June 13, 2010 at 6:00 am

    Teachers (and schools) should not be paid or rewarded for test scores unless an independant proctor administers the test. Can’t cheat if you aren’t in the room when the test is given…..

  • 11. HPMom  |  June 13, 2010 at 10:28 am

    This is kind of a random question and not that related to the above discussion but I thought I’d ask anyway: when the schools run the lottery are all the kids thrown in together, regardless of Tier? Or do the schools run a lottery for each Tier and divvy up the admissions to each Tier? Or is the Tier stuff done only for the waiting lists? I find the Tier stuff pretty fishy and I’m concerned that we were assigned to the wrong tier…sure we aren’t the only ones…
    Thanks for any insights.

  • 12. Deborah Menchaca  |  July 8, 2010 at 7:33 pm

    Tenure protects teachers against unprofessional administrators who are working to protect their mini-kingdoms and dictatorships. Tenure does not protect teachers from assault or other criminal activity. It provides teachers protections through due process. A teacher may be removed if found incompetent by the site administrator who must provide evidence of that incompetency. The process involves a minimum of three month evaluation period where the teacher is given ample opportunity to remediate the problems determined by the administrator, under the guidance of consulting professionals provided by the board. I was removed from my teaching position by a principal who was mad that I wouldn’t go out with him. The excuse he used to fire me? Between October 18 and October 25th (way past the 20th day that programs are set in place for the year) he received 30 Spanish speaking students and needed to fire a monolingual teacher (me, a tenured teacher) in order to hire a bilingual (nontenured) teacher. Under investigation, it was discovered he had been advised by his superiors to use this strategy. I spent a year in court with the labor board (a long, grueling year spent worrying how to support my family) fighting for my job. I was reinstated to my position but chose to move to another school instead. That principal? Worked another 7 years at that school committing atrocity after atrocity. Oh, by the way, his wife was a principal at another school in the district.

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