PERA, PEAC, VAM and other absurdities... Have Chicago principals been ordered to 'Veterans Administration' the 'data' on teacher observations? Is the 'Talent' Office at Chicago Public Schools telling principals to file fraudulent REACH evaluations reports?

As most people paying attention know, the PERA (Performance Evaluation Reform Act) law, was passed by the Illinois General Assembly in January 2010. That was six months before Karen Lewis and the new Chicago Teachers Union leadership took office and began to develop the union's ability to critique and challenge many of the more absurd programs stemming from corporate "school reform."

Since she was hired after a career at Sears Holdings to be an executive at America's third largest school system, Alicia Winckler has held three different jobs -- all of which were the same job as CPS "rebranded" the huge and growing office over which she reigns. She began as the "Chief Human Resources Officer" of CPS. That became the "Chief Officer of Human Capital." And by September 2011, Winckler had become the "Chief Talent Officer" at Chicago Public Schools. Board of Education members regularly now discuss the "Talent Office" with a straight face, never even asking how someone who learned about talent at a failing retail empire could be qualified to oversee talent in a major school system. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.The PERA law and its implementing regulations require that Chicago principals evaluate teachers using "metrics" that make little sense. Principals are required to do several personal observations of classroom praxis each year and to hold conferences with teachers about those reviews. Other aspects of the PERA approach to what some call "state driven management" are even more challenging.

By the deadline for completing the observations on May 20, 2014, Chicago principals were unable, in hundreds (perhaps thousands) of cases, to do the required teacher observations and conferences. As a result, principals have been warning that they will need more assistant principals for next year (thereby further reducing the number of physical education and fine arts teachers they will be hiring) so that they can do a job that is absurd to begin with.

But instead of putting on the record that hundreds (perhaps thousands) of evaluations haven't been completed, principals are being told to put in the informaton.

So what have CPS officials been suggesting principals do if they were unable to do the PERA observations and conferences with teachers? Basically, but not in writing, they are telling principals to enter "data" into CPS computers -- do "Pull A Veterans Administration." As careful readers of the news know now, the lethal combination of inadequate resources, an absurd evaluative system, and "performance" bonuses for administrators was part of what led to the currently unfolding scandals in the Veterans Administration of the United States of America. Given that Chicago principals have been awarded "bonuses" of up to $25,000, a form of merit pay that was rejected by the Chicago Teachers Union for teachers, the incentivization to replicate the VA mess also exists in Chicago Public Schools and for the same reasons.

"This is not in writing," one principal who asked to remain anonymous told Substance, "since the HR REACH people will not do it... But they have told principals that even if they miss a deadline to observe a teacher, to place it in RLS anyway..." Supposedly, this should help when principals missed the 30 days, 90 days, or other performance requirements, which many did.

For a few years between 2009 and 2011, astroturf groups like "Advance Illinois" (headed by millionaire heiress Robin Steans, above) dominated the news media versions of evaluative reality for Illinois public schools. As a result, absurdities and impossibilities such as merit pay and VAM evaluations of teachers and principals became Illinois law by January 2010, when the PERA law was passed by the Illinois General Assembly. By the time the new leadership of the Chicago Teachers Union (which took office in July 2010) was organized to challenge the bases for such absurdities, Steans and her colleagues continued, briefly, to hold the high ground both before legislative hearings and in the media (especially the Chicago Tribune, the city's major proponent of every iteration of corporate "school reform"). By late 2012, as the problems with "performance based evaluations" became more clear (and the potential corruptions that would follow became more obvious), Steans was finally receding from the public eye, although Advance Illinois (chaired by former White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley and former Illinois Republican Governor Jim Edgar) continued to operate thanks to millions of dollars in corporate funding. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.And so, by the end of the first week of June, principals were being told, verbally, to send in their data by computer to the central office. According to principals who asked to remain off the record because speaking to Substance may not be rewarded by CPS officials, the questionable data entries are being encouraged as public school enters its final week in Chicago for the children (teachers and other staff have two additional days next week).

As everyone observing a Chicago Board of Education meeting knows, the seven members of the Board of the third largest school district in the USA are awash in data, and none of them ever challenges the numbers and information pushed in front of them by Barbara Byrd Bennett, the system's so-called "Chief Executive Officer", and her executive staff. And since the vast majority of the executive staff of the Chicago Public Schools by June 2014 have come to Chicago from outside Illinois (Byrd Bennett is from Ohio; her most recent job was helping privatize the Detroit public schools; the majority of her senior executive appointments have also been people with no classroom or principal experience in Chicago), there is little chance that anyone at the top will challenge the absurdity of what is being put before the Board members.

And since the Board members were all appointed by Mayor Rahm Emanual after his May 2011 inauguration, there is an equally small chance that any of them will cast a skeptical eye on the numbers that will be provided to them. Ironically, a higher percentage of the members of the school board in Chicago (two out of seven) are actually veteran classroom teachers who also served as administrators, but that's another story for another time. Most of the administrators who surrounded Barbara Byrd Bennett at the monthly Board of Education meetings have no right to be governing the nation's thrid largest school system. Most have been imported from other states, many having no educational qualifications, but instead boast MBAs and experience with major consulting firms.

And so it remains to be seen how much "garbage in" will produce the "garbage out" that will eventually wind up in front of the seven members of the Chicago Board of Education at their June 25 monthly meeting. Substance is also unable to learn how many principals are refusing to follow the pointed -- nothing in writing -- suggestions by officials from the so-called "Talent Office" and from other bureaucratic outposts.

What Is PERA? According to the Illinois State Board of Education's website, here is some of what PERA is about:

The Performance Evaluation Reform Act (PERA) (Senate Bill 315; Public Act 96-0861) was passed by the Illinois General Assembly and signed by the Governor in January 2010.

In summary, PERA requires, among other things, that:

Upon the implementation date applicable to a school district or other covered entity, performance evaluations of the principals/assistant principals and teachers of that school district or other covered entity must include data and indicators of student growth as a significant factor.

By September 1, 2012, principals, assistant principals, teachers in contractual continued service (i.e., tenured teachers) and probationary teachers (i.e., nontenured teachers) be evaluated using a four rating category system (Excellent, Proficient, Needs Improvement, and Unsatisfactory).

Anyone undertaking an evaluation after September 1, 2012 must first complete a pre-qualification program provided or approved by the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE).

PERA established the Performance Evaluation Advisory Council (PEAC) comprised of teachers, principals, superintendents and other interested stakeholders to advise ISBE on the development and implementation of improved performance evaluation systems and supports. The PEAC has been meeting monthly in Bloomington, Illinois and will continue to do so through 2017. The PEAC web page, which includes a substantial amount of helpful information, can be found at:

Recently, the PEAC has provided ISBE with recommendations for minimum standards for principal/assistant principal and teacher evaluations as well as model principal/assistant principal and teacher evaluations. At its November 19, 2011 meeting, and based on the recommendations of the PEAC, the ISBE approved administrative rules to be published for public comment (the PERA Administrative Rules). ISBE expects that the PERA Administrative Rules would take effect, with any revisions based on public comment, around February or March of 2011.


June 10, 2014 at 6:03 PM

By: Keith Plum


When principals or assistant principals enter bogus observation data, aren't they violating the law? What legal repercussions could they face? Shouldn't they have their PERA/REACH certification revoked?

June 11, 2014 at 3:37 AM

By: George N. Schmidt

'Legal repercussions'? Who is policing liars and crooks?

Your question about "legal repercussions" is a good one, and the kind of honest rhetorical question teachers are always asking before plunging back into the real world of all those kids. But this is Chicago in 2014. This is the town where the cheating on crime statistics grew so bold that a police blog ("Second City Cop") was making mincemeat out of the mayor's posing and finally Chicago magazine caught them "juking the stats" (as The Wire so nicely put it).

One result of these pressures was that the Chicago chief of police (who was imported by Rahm, remember, from New York City and Newark, thereby insulting every local cop and career officer in Chicago), a guy who prides himself on keeping himself in shape (although not with the silly bench press fetishes of his predecessor) wound up having a heart attack. Even the toughest guys can only stand so many two in the morning phone calls from that crazy guy who got elected as mayor in 2011 and immediately went out to get the scripts in order for "Emperor of Chicagoland".

As far as we can tell today in Chicago, principals in the city's real elementary schools are divided into three parts (sort of a triage; or like Caesar's Gaul...).

The honest ones, usually those with experience as teachers and respect for the value of their staffs (teachers and everyone else in the school) are trying to continue to do a job with professionalism and integrity -- in the face of enormous pressure from the administration to lie, cheat, and at times steal.

The middle third are waiting to see which way the winds blow, sucking up to their Network chiefs and higher ups, even in the face of the most ridiculous "data driven" nonsense, while at the same time trying to keep peace with their staffs and parents. But they are like the guy who tries to sit on a fence: eventually he has a very sore _____ and isn't respected by either side.

Then there are the liars and cheats. Since CPS has rewarded principals for lying and cheating for 20 years, going back to the days of Paul Vallas and Gery Chico (as CEO and Board President), this group gets featured (sometimes nationally, as with the Arne Duncan visit to Juarez, which rigged its attendance data last year) and often locally.

Now to your question.

Right now, the Mayor, CPS administration, the Board, and most of the corporate media are encouraging the cheats. And there is no policing of cheating, except in the most trivial ways. The Inspector General evades inspecting the real scandals (e.g. again, Juarez) while hyping every teacher or child who is "caught" evading the ever-more-hypocritical residency rule.

Realize that if the I.G. can't even catch a "Chief Executive Officer" whose home is in Ohio or a "Chief Administrative Officer" whose real home is in the north suburbs, why would anyone expect those who cheat on REACH to face anything except the danger of getting a $25,000 performance bonus?

Apparently the system that gave rise to the deadly cheating in the Veterans Administration exists in many other public entities - especially Chicago's public schools. It could be interesting to learn that the I.G. of CPS had finally gone after the real liars and cheats in the system, but that would require a "culture change" ripping their roots out from what they've been doing for the past 20 years.

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