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Questions about deals to head off 'Performance Counts'?... 'Accountability for All' raises eyebrows among CTU rank-and-file

The Chicago Teachers Union recently thanked its members for helping to defeat — for the time being — "Performance Counts," proposed legislation aimed at the heart of teachers unions across the state of Illinois. The bill would have seriously curtailed the unions' right to collective bargaining, made future strikes virtually illegal, effectively abolished teacher tenure and seniority rights, and made teacher evaluations based on test scores (as the main measure of so-called "performance") the law of the land in Illinois.

While he was an Illinois State Senator in the early days of the 21st Century, Barack Obama (above right) supported Arne Duncan and Mayor Richard M. Daley's version of corporate "school reform," including increasing charterization and defining teacher, student and school success based on the dubious results of standardized tests. Once in office, Obama appointed Arne Duncan, who had privatized more public schools in Chicago than any other education chief in the USA, as U.S. Secretary of Education, and the Obama education plan, Race to the Top, is now viewed by the majority of critics as worse than George W. Bush's No Child Left Behind."Officials from the three largest organizations representing educators in Illinois worked tirelessly to mobilize our membership under difficult circumstances," the CTU website states. "Our members responded without hesitation to fend off the attack. This mobilization accomplished what seemed impossible just weeks before. We taught the billionaire lobby groups that in Illinois they can't simply buy legislation that will trample education."

The three largest organizations cited are the Chicago Teachers Union, the Illinois Federation of Teachers, and the Illinois Education Association. More than 98 percent of Illinois teachers and other public education workers are organized into unions with collective bargaining rights. They are represented for the most part by unions affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers (AFT, of which the CTU and IFT are a part) or by the National Education Association (NEA, which represents most suburban and downstate teachers in Illinois).

Was the defeat of "Performance Counts" a victory?

Or did the billionaires who backed Performance Counts teach the teachers' unions a lesson?

The January issue of the Chicago Union Teacher, the union's monthly magazine, featured a cartoon showing money from Bill Gates and Eli Broad (via the Gates and Broad foundations) aimed at destroying teacher unions in Illinois. The money had come into Illinois through an organization called "Stand for Children," which was based in Oregon and did not even have offices in Illinois until after it had contributed more than $600,000 to Illinois political candidates in the weeks before the general election of November 2, 2010.

As soon as the good news for teachers was announced (that the Gates financed Stand for Children attack on the teachers unions was thwarted), suddenly a proposed bill sponsored by the Chicago Teachers Union, Illinois Federation of Teachers and the Illinois Education Association sounded suspiciously similar to the one that was supposedly defeated.

During the years since he became U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan (above, with his wife and family and President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden) has continued to add to his mendacious version of his own personal narrative, much as most of the hucksters for corporate school reform have been doing. In recent speeches, Duncan has made his few hours' work at Chicago's Jackie Robinson elementary school (where he tutored in a program run after school by his mother) into a career in "teaching." Duncan also ignores the fact that he and his wife live in suburban Virginia, sending their kids to school there, while the Obamas refuse to send their own children to the Washington, D.C. public schools, continuing to claim, as they did when they sent their children to the University of Chicago Lab School rather than some of the premier public schools in Chicago, that D.C. public schools are not "good" enough for the Obama daughters. "At the top of our agenda we'll be promoting 'Accountability for All', our legislative package of education proposals, developed in partnership of the IFT, Chicago Teachers Union and Illinois Education Association," wrote IFT President Daniel Montgomery. "'Accountability for All includes proven reforms to increase student achievement and enhance teacher effectiveness and would hold school administrators and school board members — not just teachers — accountable for their performance in public schools."

It certainly would hold teachers accountable, just like Performance Counts. Here is what Jim Broadway in "State School News Service" wrote:

"Although they differ in the details, the proposals have similar elements. Both would link a teacher’s classroom performance to the granting of tenure, recertification and decisions on dismissal for incompetence, filling job vacancies or reductions in force.

"Performance would be measured in part by student achievement. Both proposals would streamline dismissal, but the union version would require better support for teachers in such areas as professional development and remediation."

The act, according to the CTU website, says teachers should have tenure based on three years of 'proficient' or 'excellent' annual evaluations, while consideration for "qualifications, years of service and performance evaluations in case of economic layoffs."

In other words, this would give the green light to principals set on cutting costs to more easily target veteran teachers who cost more, seriously undermining tenure.

Clearly, this proposed bill contains language with concessions that teacher unions across the country are being forced to give up. In this case, however, the concessions come after the IFT's Montgomery wrote that over 50,000 e-mails and countless phone calls were made to legislators, teachers visited the union's website and facebook page in record numbers, and nearly 15,000 members participated in the IFT's first ever "Virtual Town Hall Meeting."

Since the 2010 session of the Illinois General Assembly adjourned without passing "Performance Counts," more and more teachers have been asking not only what we were being asked to organize to defeat — but what "we" were supporting. The answer to the latter question has become less clear, not more, since Performance Counts failed to pass in Springfield.

Quick to respond to questions posed by teachers online, the CTU website stated it understands the proposed bill is controversial and will seek input from teachers across the city.

"This language has not yet been included in any pending legislation," the CTU website states. "It reflects both the shared and the differing priorities of our three organizations. Our members may find in this proposal elements with which they disagree. We don’t agree with everything that is in it. Accountability for All represents a compromise balancing the political realities of the time with education policies that protect our members and the students we all serve. It is also the only plan that was crafted in consultation with community and student groups.

"The immediate threat has paused for the time being, which gives our rank-and-file members the opportunity to give input into what they want to see in the bill. In the coming weeks, CTU leaders will hold meetings across the city to hear from you about all aspects of this proposal. Our goal is to move beyond responding to attacks. We plan to craft a cohesive, comprehensive, positive blueprint to strengthen our students’ achievement. Don’t miss this opportunity to make your voice heard!"

A schedule of these meetings and a more comprehensive summary of the legislative language will be available soon, the CTU stated.

The CTU press office has not responded to a request from Substance to see a copy of the proposed Accountability for All bill. 



Comments:

January 27, 2011 at 12:46 AM

By: Garth Liebhaber

Teachers are the Experts, and the First Line Advocates.

Thanks for your article, Jim. Every teacher I talk to seems pretty willing to fight to keep the things we've worked so hard for in the past, and to continue fighting for the educational system we and our students deserve.

We teachers have an ethical obligation to be the first advocates for our students. Those children are depending upon us to speak up. We are much more the experts than the suits and ties downtown, much less in washington or some other "think tank". We also owe it to our parents to inform them of the realities. It's a shame that the parents are hearing more about "the current state of education" from the corporate driven news media than the flesh and blood humans that work with their children everyday.

There may be "political realities" that call for compromise, but most teachers aren't into political games, as much as they are drawn to doing the right thing. The right thing is to understand our true goals and to focus on them rather than a slow sellout, such as Marilyn Stewart was giving us.

I find a lot of strength in when I think of having stability, which largely comes through tenure and other union driven teacher protections. Call it the power of commitment that gives you the ability to have 100% purpose in being a teacher.

It was hard for a lot of us this past spring during the layoffs. I think most teachers did pretty well to not buy into the fear strategy of layoffs, but at the same time, life as a teacher would have been a lot more effective if we weren't staying up late researching teacher jobs in Texas or New Zealand!

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