Friday, November 11, 2011

Testing Teacher Sycophancy in Chicago

CPS Imperial Guard With Teacher Slave (from Flickr ewen and donabel)
The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) is entering negotiations for their new contract. On the table are numerous assaults on their working conditions, including a longer school day. However, they are also locked in a battle with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Board of Education over a standardized test being used to screen out would be teachers who are pro-union, independently minded, or willing to fight the status quo in the interests of their students or their colleagues’ working conditions.

The test is called TeacherFit and it was specially designed for the Chicago Public Schools (CPS). In place since last spring, it has been used to bar teachers from teaching in CPS for 18 months, even if they had already been hired. According to a report in Working in These Times, some of the 31 questions include:
  • I help people when they need it, even when that means risking a confrontation.  
  • I love being a champion for my ideas, even against others’ opposition. 
  • I love to challenge the status quo.

It turns out that nearly 33% of applicants failed the test, which is not surprising considering that many of the answers that would best serve students would annoy or frighten administrators. 

Most people go into teaching because they care passionately about children and want to help them. Therefore, it is presumed that we will help our students, even beyond their lessons, from time to time. Examples include calling home and meeting with parents and administrators over discipline, attendance and preparedness issues or seeking extra services for at-risk students or those needing mental health, special education or financial assistance. Any of these have the potential to lead to confrontations and conflicts with parents or administrators who are in denial, don’t want to be bothered, or who have other agendas and priorities.

Being a champion for our own ideas is how we develop and implement innovative new curriculum and how we advocate for our students’ needs. Either of these can lead to opposition or resistance from administrators. And while virtually everyone seems to feel that the educational status quo is not working, administrators want complete control over how it should be changed. They certainly don’t want to be challenged on their decisions.

As a result of the high failure rate, CPS is now using the results to recommend or caution against hiring applicants. Yet even this is a violation of labor law, according to Working in These Times . In an October 27th complaint filed with the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board, CTU argued that five of the test questions, including the above examples, constituted illegal intimidation and interference and violate collective bargaining rights.

Other test questions related to teachers’ willingness to work during their lunch breaks, evenings and weekends. While most teachers do some or all of these, it is not required by their contracts and they are free not to whenever they wish. It is certainly inappropriate for a boss to ask a potential hire if he is willing to ignore his future contractual protections as a prerequisite to being hired. It would be like asking him if he was willing to have sex with the boss during the job interview. Saying no means you he won’t get the job. Saying yes means he might get the job, but only with some very unpleasant and abusive strings attached.

Philosophically, the test is perfectly in line with the nation’s current obsession with data-driven reform, accountability and testing. It is also consistent with the drive to weaken union protections and workers’ independence, while increasing their servility.

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