"I believe that education is the civil rights issue of our generation." – U.S. Secretary Arne Duncan, October 9, 2009

Strike That, Reform It

Heads butt once again over education reform in the recent Chicago teachers strike.  Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago teachers certainly have different takes on how to improve Chicago schools. But which path is the right path to take?

Chicago teachers strike

Mayor Emanuel suggests closing poor-performing schools and opening new ones equipped with new teachers and administration. I almost laughed when I read this in the article. Really? That’s like cleaning up your bedroom by removing everything off your floor and hiding it in your closet—problem solved. Or is it?

I get it; he wants a clean plate, a fresh start, but while this may temporarily give some peace of mind, this seems relatively inefficient. There are already great teachers out there, why replace them? We already have a solid structure built, so let’s tweek it and cultivate it, not get rid of it.

Based on the article, it sounds like Mayor Emanuel thinks bad teachers are the cause of under-performing schools. To me, this is illogical thinking. At first glance you would think that a teacher’s effectiveness at teaching should be evaluated by their student’s test scores—a single input and a single output. But education is far more complicated than that, and that is why I believe it is unfair to evaluate a teacher’s performance based on their student’s test scores. A child’s academic performance is a result of many factors, their teacher’s influence is just one of them. Crime, poverty, hunger, problems in the home, and health are all factors that influence a child’s learning. Teachers do not have control over these social issues! So to evaluate them based on students’ test scores is to say teachers are responsible for these factors.

His plan is also inefficient in that it will bring us in a complete circle. Teachers and administrators are replaced. Then what? Replacing teachers doesn’t guarantee more effective teaching practices, and it doesn’t change the fact that some disadvantaged children come to school without basic school supplies. If only the teachers change and nothing else, we’ll end up right where we are now.

Unlike Mayor Emanuel, Chicago teachers are getting to the root of the problem. They are aware of the multiple factors that influence a child’s learning. Their push for more resources in neighborhood public schools is evidence that they are doing what they can to improve these factors.

This is way beyond the job description.


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One thought on “Strike That, Reform It

  1. I wonder if the mayor’s attitude isn’t a reflection of the times. It makes me think of the people who seek divorce at the first spat, instead of trying to fix the relationship.

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