Mind the Gap: The Chicago Public School Teachers Strike and Racial Realities

Do the CPS teachers strike because of an understanding of racial realities?

Lawrence Auster has been discussing the Chicago Public Schools teacher strike, and pointed out something that seems to fly in the face of the Waiting For Superman crowd:

In today’s post on the Chicago public schoolteachers’ strike, a reader explains in clear terms what the teachers are striking against: the prospect of teacher evaluations based on standardized test scores. The teachers refuse to accept a system in which their career, their salary, their future is determined by their ability to educate the ineducable.
Of course, not a single Republican politician or mainstream conservative writer in the country would understand this, since they believe that blacks have the same intellectual abilities as whites, and that it’s only the soft bigotry of low expectations that is holding the blacks back…
Remember, it was a few weeks that SBPDL published the racial breakdown of the students of 400,000+ students enrolled in the CPS system, and it doesn’t look anything like that of the Chicago high schools John Hughes immortalized in his 1980s films:
 Total: 404,151 (FY2011-2012) Student enrollment
Preschool: 24,232
Kindergarten: 29,594
Elementary (1-8): 236,452

Secondary (9-12): 113,873

Student racial breakdown
African-American: 41.6%
Latino: 44.1%
White: 8.8%
Asian/Pacific Islander: 3.4%
Native American: 0.4%
Better though, is the breakdown of the teachers, administrators, employees, and principals of the CPS system [all information courtesy of the Chicago Public Schools official Web site]:
Total: 40,678 (2009-10)
Total positions:
Public schools: 35,711
Non-public schools: 35  
Citywide: 3,473 
Central/regional: 1,459
Principals total: 529
African-American: 49.8%
White: 30.8%
Latino: 17.5%
Asian/Pacific Islander: 1.5%
Native American: 0.3%
Racial breakdowns (all staff):
African-American: 40.0%
White: 36.1%
Latino: 20.4%
Asian/Pacific Islander: 2.9%
Native American: 0.7%
Teachers total: 21,320
African-American: 29.7%
White: 49.7%
Latino: 16.1%
Asian/Pacific Islander: 3.6%
Native American: 0.9%
We already know the teachers are striking over the indignity of being offered a pay raise of only 16 percent (from an average salary of $76,000), which Chicago Teachers Union has countered with a demand of a 30 percent raise. But what is truly driving this strike? 
 
Well, what if it’s the realization that Waiting for Superman to close the racial gap in educational achievement ain’t gonna happen any time soon and that proposed metrics to tie student performance (scores on standardized tests) to ¼ of a teacher’s assessment is the primary grounds for pedagogical rebellion in the Second City? [Question at heart of Chicago strike: How do you measure teacher performance?, Sevil Omer, NBC News, 9/12/2012]:
With negotiators trying to hammer out an agreement that would end Chicago’s teachers strike, one of the key sticking points is how to evaluate whether a teacher is doing a good job, an issue that has riled school boards across the U.S. in recent years.
Chicago’s school leaders are proposing that student performance on standardized tests count toward 25 percent of a teacher’s assessment, growing to 40 percent in five years, according to NBCChicago.com.
But Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis is critical of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s push to make great use of standardized tests in teacher reviews, calling the process flawed. Union officials say the system wouldn’t do enough to take into account outside factors such as poverty, crime and homelessness.
“Evaluate us on what we do, not the lives of our children we do not control,” Lewis said in announcing the strike. It was unclear what union officials proposed instead.

White kids in Chicago schools can only be found in 1980 John Hughes films (like The Breakfast Club)

Keep in mind that one school system, Atlanta Public Schools, tried to cheat its way to improved test scores in its predominantly Black system – with the entire educational bureaucracy in America cheer leading each time the test scores showed tremendous overall improvement. With big-time financial bonuses and promotions tied to a teacher’s ability to improve the standardized test scores of their pupils, APS administrators applied insane amounts of pressure for improvement, “By any means necessary” (Cheating report confirms teacher’s suspicions, Paul Frysh, CNN, 8-8-2011). 

 

Recall the reason that such cheating was necessary in the overwhelmingly Black APS system (School: Teacher Helps Students Cheat Because She Says They’re ‘Dumb As Hell’, CBS Atlanta, 8-28-2012):
A former fifth-grade teacher implicated in a cheating scandal reportedly gave students the illegal assistance because she thought they were “dumb as hell.”
According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, math teacher Shayla Smith was accused of offering students the answers to a test they were taking at the time. She had reportedly been responsible for supervising them while the tests were being completed.
Schajuan Jones, who taught a fourth-grade class across the hall from Smith’s former room, overheard her talking to another teacher about the test.
 “The words were, ‘I had to give your kids, or your students, the answers because they’re dumb as hell,’” Jones was quoted as saying about the interaction between Smith and the unidentified third teacher.
Though few will ask the question, it is vital to inquire of those striking CPS teachers if they too feel the way about their students as Shayla Smith did of her pupils in the APS system. 
 
Are the striking teachers in Chicago afraid to tie their salaries (and career aspirations) to primarily non-white students that are “dumb as hell,” knowing that to have these students test scores – those same students they baby-sit teach – count toward 25 percent of their evaluations would be tantamount to spotting an opposing football team a seven touchdown lead?
Let’s quickly look at the reality of life in the CPS system:
  • In Chicago, white students comprised three percent of suspensions — and 10 percent of the total student population — but black students, who had a larger overall representation at 42 percent, comprised 76 percent of the city’s school suspensions. The data show that in 2009 to 2010, Chicago suspended the third largest percentage of black students among the country’s 20 biggest school districts. The only districts with higher black suspension rates were Philadelphia and Prince George’s county, outside of Washington, D.C.  “Some of the worst discrepancies are in my home town of Chicago,” U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who formerly led the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) system, said on a Monday call with reporters. “We began peer juries where students were responsible for disciplining each other and finding alternative ways to resolve disputes. It is clear that Chicago –- and many other cities — still have a lot more work to do.” [Huffington Post, Chicago Public School Students Face Racial Discipline Gap Education Department, 3/6/2012]  
  • What about improvements in test scores?
Twenty years of reform efforts and programs targeting low-income families in Chicago Public Schools has only widened the performance gap between white and African-American students, a troubling trend at odds with what has occurred nationally.
Across the city, and spanning three eras of CPS leadership, black elementary school students have lost ground to their white, Latino and Asian classmates in testing proficiency in math and reading, according to a recent analysis by the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research.
Even for schools so often weighed down by violence, poverty and dysfunction in their neighborhoods, news of this growing deficit was surprising to researchers considering the strides African-American students had made nationally over the same period.
“It has certainly been shocking to us to discover there has been progress in some areas but without equity progress not shared equally among all the students,” said Marisa de la Torre, a researcher on a recent report by the consortium that examined two decades of changes within CPS. “You don’t really want to leave one group of students behind.”
Since the early 1990s, black fourth- and eighth-graders in the U.S. have improved their reading and math scores at a greater rate than whites on the annual National Assessment of Educational Progress tests, a key performance indicator across demographics. Educators and politicians hailed this as an important step toward closing an achievement gap that had confounded them for decades.
This is an important issue in Chicago, where almost half of CPS students are black, the vast majority from low-income households. Yet for all the talk and attention paid to boosting African-American achievement in recent years, there has been no such breakthrough.
“It’s not the students’ fault. It’s our fault as adults,” CPS’ new chief, Jean-Claude Brizard, said recently in a speech to the Chicago Urban League. “In order to turn things around, we must make sure that the students and their achievement always comes first. Not adults. Not politics. Not administrators. Not contracts.”

Poor test scores are only part of the equation. Only 1 in 2 African-American students in Chicago graduates from high school, a number that has increased over the past decade but not at the rate of other racial and ethnic groups. School suspensions, expulsions and disciplinary cases also affect black students disproportionally. [CPS fails to close performance gap

Black students still losing academic ground despite reforms, study finds,

11-14-2011, Chicago Tribune]

How about scores on the ACT?:

This year’s new counting method emerged after complaints that some high schools were trying to boost their scores by preventing low-achieving juniors with too few credits from taking the PSAE and the ACT until their senior year, meaning the potentially lower scores would not be counted against the school.

Using an apples-to-apples, juniors-versus-only-juniors comparison, results contained in a CPS Powerpoint released to reporters Thursday indicated the average ACT score racked up by CPS juniors rose from 17.3 to 17.4 on the 36-point college admission test.
Again, comparing only juniors to juniors, the percent of CPS students considered “college-ready’’ in all four ACT subjects tested — reading, English, math and science — also increased from 7.2 to 7.9 percent, a paltry showing but still an uptick nonetheless.
And, under the old counting method, the percent of CPS juniors who passed the Prairie State this year held flat, at 29.3.
But CPS’s news release reflected only the new counting method in its reported scores. As a result, CPS found that the percent of students passing the Prairie State declined one full percentage point, and the CPS ACT average dropped by 0.1 of a percentage point, to 17.2.
The headlines of the CPS news release were uncharacteristically negative: “Mostly Flat and Declining High School Test Results Underscore Need for More Time on Task and Extended School Day for Students. PSAE shows that only 7.9 % of student test takers meet college readiness benchmarks.’’
Chicago Public School officials emphasized the more dire score calculations, however, and contended they proved the need for a longer school day and year, as Mayor Rahm Emanuel has been demanding.
“These results show we have work to do,’’ new Chicago Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard said in a news release. “Students need more time in the classroom with their teachers and that time needs to be best used to boost student achievement.’’ [CPS High School ACT Scores Go Down – and Go Up, Chicago Sun Times, 8-18-2011]
What are some of the current metrics for students when it comes to grade-level proficiency in reading and math?:

Seventy-nine percent of the 8th graders in the Chicago Public Schools are not grade-level proficient in reading, according to the U.S. Department of Education, and 80 percent are not grade-level proficient in math.

In 2011, the U.S. Department of Education administered National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) tests in reading and math to students around the country, including in the Chicago Public Schools. The tests were scored on a scale of 0 to 500, with 500 being the best possible score. Based on their scores, the U.S. Department of Education rated students’ skills in reading and math as either “below basic,” “basic,” “proficient” or “advanced.”

Nationally, public school 8th graders scored an average of 264 on the NAEP reading test. Statewide in Illinois, the 8th graders did a little better, scoring an average of 266. But in the Chicago Public Schools, 8th graders scored an average of only 253 in reading. That was lower even than the nationwide average of 255 among 8th graders in “large city” public schools.

With these NAEP test results, only 19 percent of Chicago public school 8th graders rated proficient in reading while another 2 percent rated advanced—for a total of 21 percent who rated proficient or better.

79 percent of Chicago public school 8th graders were not grade-level proficient in reading. According to the U.S. Department of Education, this included 43 percent who rated “basic” and 36 percent who rated “below basic.” [U.S. Department of Education: 79% of Chicago 8th Graders Not Proficient in Reading, CNSNews.com, 9-10-12]

And what of the ACT average of the teachers who are tasked with educating what Auster deems the “ineducable” in Chicago? Try a whopping 19:

You’ll hear a lot of numbers bandied around in the coming days regarding the Chicago Teachers Union strike – average salary, anticipated size of the district’s deficit, level of state financial support.
But the number I find most disturbing is: 19.
That’s the average Chicago Public School teacher’s score on the ACT test if they took it when attending high school, according to a 2008 Southern Illinois University study.
Despite all of the bright teachers, there are enough who scored so badly on the ACT that they dragged the average down to 19 out of a possible score of 36.
To put that number in perspective, today every high school junior in Illinois – whether they are going to college or not – is required to take the test.  This year their average test score was just shy of 21.
But none of this stuff matters, right? Let’s just keep our eyes averted from reality and look to the skies, Waiting for Superman together. 

Chicago Public Schools is going the way of the Detroit system: basically, the teachers are paid to provide surveillance for eight hours a day (and the school to offer free lunches that the parent(s) can’t afford), baby-sitting students so that the police department in the Second City can have a momentary reprieve:
Chicagoans are likely going to notice more uniformed officers on the streets during the duration of the teacher strike.
“We’re emptying out our offices,” police Supt. Garry McCarthy said Sunday night at a press conference at the Harold Washington Library. “We’re taking officers who are on administrative duties — we’re shutting down administrative duties — we’re putting those officers on the streets to deal with potential protests at various locations throughout the city.”
And this city, Chicago, is labeled a “world class city”? Maybe now you understand why Mayor Emanuel sends his kids to extremely private the University of Chicago Lab Schools:
The University of Chicago Lab School is an elite, diverse and costly school that has long educated the children of Chicago’s rich, famous and clout-heavy. Annual tuition at the Hyde Park school ranges from $21,876 for grades 1-4 to $23,676 for grades 5-8 and $24,870 for high school students.
In Chicago, you must always be prepared to Mind the Gap in racial achievement: now you know why the teachers of the Second City are striking, as having their salaries and careers tied to student achievement (where no measurable achievement will ever be quantified, unless you pull the APS method of cheating) is a metric they aren’t willing to have on the bargaining table.
View more videos at: http://nbcchicago.com.
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