The strike by Chicago public school teachers is an illustration of the teachers’ union wanting its members to be paid without any evaluation of their performance.

In a city where unemployment has hit 11 percent, teachers are striking not over money, but over how they are evaluated and whether principals should have a say over which teachers work in their buildings.

Although the union disputes it, those are the two issues. And the teachers are wrong on both counts.

The city of Chicago has offered teachers a 16 percent raise over the four years, and has agreed to hire back tenured teachers who were laid off so Chicago schoolchildren can attend school more hours per day. The longer school day — implemented in some schools this year — requires at least seven hours of instruction each day. Previously, some schools were only in session for five hours and 45 minutes a day.

The average Chicago teacher’s salary is $71,000 per year. But that’s not the issue. In fact, good teachers are underpaid. Excellent teachers are grossly underpaid.

The key is to quit paying every teacher merely on their longevity and advanced degrees. Teachers should be evaluated on how well they teach.

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One of the key issues is a state law that requires a new teacher evaluation system and that student performance on standardized tests make up at least 25 percent of that evaluation. Chicago teachers are balking at that idea.

There are issues with standardized tests and no system should rely solely on tests for a teacher evaluation. At the same time, these tests are one measure of how well a teacher performs. In some classrooms, student achievement on the tests improves year after year. In other classrooms, students tread water or their performance recedes. The difference, over the years, is the teacher. Those who move their students forward need to be rewarded. Those who don’t need to adopt new methods or, if performance issues persist, be encouraged to find another profession.

The other sticking point is allowing principals to select the teachers who work in their schools. Principals, who are measured on their school’s performance, need to have the right to hire the teachers that will help them succeed. Currently, the Chicago teachers’ union has a large say in where teachers are assigned. Some principals are understandably upset when they are assigned sub-par teachers, yet expected to improve a school’s results.

The union, in other words, doesn’t want teachers to compete for jobs. If principals are allowed to hire their own teachers, it will undoubtedly lead to the sub-par teachers being identified and “left behind.”

Evaluations based on objective performance data and competition for positions is standard in the business world. Most private sector employees are evaluated at least annually and are expected to meet certain standards. To varying degrees, pay is based on performance.

That’s the issue at the heart of this dispute. Chicago teachers want to be paid, but they are objecting to measures of their performance.


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