We have the choices they are afraid to exercise there.
Chicago’s 29,000 public school teachers already had a pretty good deal, and they were offered an even better one. They were either the highest-paid in the country or the second-highest after New York City depending on whose numbers are used. The average Chicago teacher salary – before benefits – is about $76,000, compared with the $47,000 a year the average Chicago family earns. And in recent negotiations, they were offered a 3 percent raise this year, and what would amount to an average raise of 16 percent over the four years of the proposed contract.
Nope, not good enough, so the teachers went on strike for the first time in 25 years. What was the problem? They don’t exactly like being evaluated, which the proposed contract called for more of. In exchange for the extra money, the district wanted, among other things, student performance on standardized tests to have some bearing on how teachers are evaluated.
You could almost hear the panic in union head Karen Lewis when she said teachers should be evaluated on what they do, “not on lives of children we do not control.” Teachers can’t be held accountable for students’ socioeconomic situations. The lame argument is that it’s not possible to come up with metrics that take into account outside factors like crime and poverty and zero in on specific teachers’ abilities. Teachers are trying to exempt themselves from the universal rule elsewhere in the labor universe that good performance can be measured and rewarded.
We’ve gotten beyond that in Indiana. The sweeping changes pushed through by Gov. Mitch Daniels over the past eight years have at their foundation a strong accountability component. Teachers are judged based on the performance of their students. Schools are judged based on the performance of their teachers.
Without that accountability, the state would not have been able to take the next steps – a charter school initiative designed to free education innovators from stifling rules, and the largest voucher plan in the nation. Student performance is measured, and teachers are evaluated, and if a public school doesn’t perform to expectations, parents now have other options.
Education hasn’t gotten the attention it deserves in the governor’s race. Republican Mike Pence, for example, wants even more choice, but Democrat John Gregg isn’t happy with the choice we now have to send public dollars to private schools. Which one is more right? Chicago has shown us the danger of public schools not being willing to change. We are in the enviable position of being able to decide where change will take us, but we have to pay attention.