The New York Times Joins the CTU-Bashing Party

This morning, I posted the following on my Facebook status:

I wouldn’t use today’s NYT Editorial on the CTU strike as a window-cleaning schmatta.

Unfortunately, editorials in influential newspapers cannot be dismissed so easily. So let’s take a closer look.

The editorial begins unpromisingly:

Teachers’ strikes, because they hurt children and their families, are never a good idea.

Notice how it is the ‘idea’ that is problematic, thus indicting the agent of the strike i.e., the union. A more promising start might have been:

City administrations should never let negotiations with teachers get to the point where they feel compelled to strike.

Because, you know, city administration policies can also hurt the ‘children’ that the New York Times is so worried about. Let’s move on. (The next sentence, incidentally, undermines the seriousness of the situation by putting it down to a personality clash between Rahm Emanuel and Karen Lewis.)

The Times is quite sure that the union is opposed to ‘sensible policy changes,’ ones that,

[A]re increasingly popular across the country and are unlikely to be rolled back, no matter how long the union stays out.

Well. I hadn’t realized aping bad policies implemented elsewhere was such a good idea. And perhaps the Times could evaluate these ‘sensible’ changes for us? Thankfully, it does tell us that Mr. Emanuel rescinded a 4-percent pay raise last year, and that he, in keeping with the current fashion of diminishing organized labor in every way possible, by-passed the collective bargaining process to implement a longer school day.

The Times’ ‘why don’t you follow the lemmings’ query is on display again when it comes to noting the union’s resistance to ‘an evaluation system in which a teacher’s total rating depends partly on student test scores’:

Half the states have agreed to create similar teacher evaluation systems that take student achievement into account in exchange for grants under the federal Race to the Top program or for greater flexibility under the No Child Left Behind law. Such systems are already up and running in many places.

The Times does not stop to consider that such evaluations and ratings might be flawed and that the CTU’s stance might make more pedagogical sense. No sir; this is a fait accompli, fall in line!

The primary beef, in any case, over and above everything else, is that the union is ‘holding the city hostage’ by not bringing forward its ‘legitimate suggestions’ (if any) for improving the evaluation system in the right way. I hate to break the news to the New York Times, but the power to strike is organized labor’s weapon of last resort, one only to be used when faced with a recalcitrant and obdurate management. That same management, if not confronted with that threat, can all too easily stonewall its way into a resolution that favors it alone (and not the city’s students).

The editorial continues,

What stands out about this strike, however, is that the differences between the two sides were not particularly vast, which means that this strike was unnecessary.

But it is only the union that is required to make concessions.

Moreover, Ms. Lewis, who seems to be basking in the power of having shut down the school system, seems more inclined toward damaging the mayor politically than in getting this matter resolved.

Pardon me, I thought this was about a ‘personality clash’ between two folks. Why is Ms. Lewis’ personality the only one to be indicted?

If the strike goes on for much longer, the union could pay a dear price in terms of public opinion.

And the editorial page of the nation’s most prominent newspapers is helping that process get started.

5 comments on “The New York Times Joins the CTU-Bashing Party

  1. JR says:

    Samir, I will confess that I don’t have an update on the CTU’s stance on evaluation. You mention that their stance might make more pedagogical sense. You felt that the oped was short on details in certain places. I respectfully ask the same. What is the CTU’s stance, what is the policy that makes more pedagogical sense, that you refer to? I am all ears and would sincerely love to know what said policy is.

  2. Samir Chopra says:

    JR: This is a document detailing the CTU’s plan: http://www.ctunet.com/blog/text/SCSD_Report-02-16-2012-1.pdf

    The general problem with evaluation is that it is tied to test scores: i.e., bad student test scores means bad teachers. This is a horribly narrow view of how things proceed in evaluation. By that account, my teachers in high school were bad teachers in all those subjects that I did poorly in – but it does not take into account a host of other factors that made me perform badly in those subjects. I had the best teacher in the world in Chemistry in high school, but I did not do well in the 11th grade because of my own issues. Similarly in the 8th grade. To peg teacher evaluations to test scores means that people ‘teach to the test’, it means that teachers are indicted for a host of factors that are not under their control.

    • JR says:

      I agree with you on your logic, and how it’s imperfect. I see your point how a teacher is punished for the classes that you did poorly in. In looking at the CTU plan, however, I see a lot of how the evaluation DOESN’T work, as you assert. What I do not see, however, are any specifics on a better alternative for evaluation of teachers. All that I could find is this:

      “What is sorely missing is a system that supports the development of ‘culturally
      responsive pedagogy,’ where teachers are encouraged to draw on students’ cultural repertoire to span the bridge between students’ past experiences and the learning of new concepts.”

      Am I missing details that are somewhere in the report? Obviously, this is a very vague statement, very short on specifics. Does the CTU present a plan with any specifics on teacher evaluation? Am I missing it, or is it not here?

      It’s one thing to say that the current system doesn’t work, and propose another system, with some details that better address evaluation.

      It’s another thing entirely just to say that it doesn’t work, and leave it at that. because to me, THAT is what doesn’t work.

      Did I miss specific proposals anywhere? How can we come to a better system if the teachers themselves, who are the experts, don’t propose any specifics on evaluation?

  3. Samir Chopra says:

    JR: Would you rather that we implemented a bad strategy, one that pisses off bad and good teachers alike? Or would you rather take the time to figure out a evaluation method-if required–that actually made sense? It makes no sense to say ‘We proposed a bad strategy X, and since you have not proposed a specific strategy in response, we’re going to go with that.’ That is going to make a bad situation worse.

    Note too, performance evaluation is a tricky business in all spheres. Sports fans and owners are still figuring out how to rank players, and that is in a business where tons of unambiguous statistics are available. Teaching is not like marketing or sales where sales figures can be used to rank employees.

    Even more fundamentally, teacher evaluation is a red herring. The real problem with public schools is poverty – do you think it is just by magic that all the great teachers are in wealthy suburbs? Focusing on teachers takes attention from the neglect of public education.

    And now, I’m getting into an area which is huge. So here is a link, which has a bunch of more links:

    http://leiterreports.typepad.com/blog/2012/09/chicago-teachers-strike.html

    And also this:

    http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2012/09/20129128128828331.html

  4. Jr says:

    I do think we should take the time to have the best system in place. However, seniority based protection is absurd, and unacceptable. There needs to be a meritocracy, one way or another. These posts really do seem to be just tilting at windmills.

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