I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Friday, December 28, 2012

The Lawsuit That Might Change Everything

I'm going to make a prediction: this lawsuit will change the entire conversation about education "reform":

CHICAGO -- The oft-maligned Chicago Public Schools (CPS) policy of subjecting neighborhood schools to “turnaround” discriminates against African-American teachers and staff according to a federal lawsuit filed this week by the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) and three public school educators. More than half of the 347 tenured teachers who were terminated by CPS as a result of the most recent turnarounds are African-American. This is the second major legal action on this matter taken by the union.
The Dec. 26 lawsuit alleges that the process for selecting schools for turnaround results in schools being selected that have a high percentage of African-American teachers, compared to schools that performed similarly but are not selected for any school action. More than 50 percent of the tenured teachers terminated as a result of the most recent turnarounds were African American, despite making up less than 30 percent of the tenured teaching staff at CPS, and 35 percent of the tenured teacher population in the poor performing schools.
The complaint, a potential class action first filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in August by the CTU and teachers Donald L. Garrett Jr., Robert Green and Vivonell Brown Jr., challenges termination by virtue of the Chicago Board of Education’s policy and practice in selecting 10 South and West side schools for turnaround in February 2012—effective June 2012.
“While no one wins when jobs are lost, to disproportionately affect a particular segment of the population— whether intentional or not—indicates a glaring oversight and lack of concern for what the loss of jobs does to an individual and their community,” said CTU President Karen GJ Lewis. [emphasis mine]
Let's start with this: the heart of the reformy argument for just about every prescription they push - charters, test-based teacher evaluation, gutting tenure, throwing out seniority - is that "nothing is more important to a child's life than having a good teacher." And that the way to get good teachers is to ensure that administrators and school districts have the ability to fire at will anyone they wish to get rid of.

Unfortunately - and largely because these people have so little practical experience as educators themselves - the reformies don't understand the full implications of what they are doing. Wait, scratch that: it's possible they know, but they simply don't care.

Take the sexism inherent in test-based teacher evaluations. As I've shown previously, women who are teachers are much more likely to suffer from the humiliation of having their inaccurate VAM scores published than men who teach. Scroll down in the comments to see my trolls desperately attempt to shrug this off; to their chagrin, however, the facts can't be denied.

How does this relate to the CTU lawsuit? Well, CPS is going to have to show that it isn't making closure decisions capriciously; they're going to have to disclose their methods for determining which schools should be shut down. That will inevitably mean looking at how test score data is used to determine the "effectiveness" of a school. And if that becomes an issue in this lawsuit, watch out: all of the issues the reformies have so far tried to sweep under the rug will now be front and center:

  • Are the tests themselves unbiased? Are they properly vetted? Are they graded to exacting standards? (Answer to all of these: no.)
  • How can a "normalized" test - a test designed to create a bell-curve distribution of scores - give all schools a chance to succeed when a normal distribution, by definition, means some schools must "fail"?
  • If school boundaries were drawn to match neighborhood boundaries, then the students were not randomly assigned to schools; this is analogous to a principal who does not randomly assign students to teachers. Well, non-random assignment completely compromises the use of tests to determine the "effectiveness" of a teacher or a school. You can't say Teacher A is better than Teacher B, based on test scores, if Teacher A has students who are easier to educate than Teacher B. Maybe Teacher A has fewer kids in poverty, or fewer kids who don't speak English, or fewer with special needs. Same with School A and School B: non-random assignment skews the results.
  • Which brings us to how a district assigns its teachers. I can't speak as to how teachers are placed in Chicago's schools, but the lawsuit makes clear that the CTU sees a pattern where minority teachers are assigned predominantly to the South and West Sides. Maybe this isn't coercive; I don't know. I do know that the student populations are not the same as on the North Side. And CPS is going to be hard pressed to prove that it's reasonable to hold schools and teachers to the same standards on bubble tests when they are not teaching the same students.
The reformies response to the last point is to claim that VAM-based evaluations attempt to tease out the teacher's "value." But by now, we all know that the models are incredibly unreliable and completely inappropriate for making high-stakes decisions. And if the decision is based on "growth" in scores, that's even worse: the people who designed the growth models admit they can't separate out a teacher's or a school's effect on student growth.

So this lawsuit will have to address the unreliability of using tests to judge schools and teachers. It will have to address the poor quality of the tests themselves. It will have to address the segregation taking place in schools both at the student and faculty levels. And, most likely, it will address how charter schools are compounding racial and socio-economic segregation.

In other words: the CTU's lawsuit is going to force the reformies to deal with some hard truths about their agenda that they worked so long to avoid.

This was, of course, inevitable. You can't keep pushing this stuff and not expect to be challenged. You can't keep spitting out nonsense and expect people to simply accept it - especially when their jobs are on the line.

Lawsuits move notoriously slowly in this country, so it may well be that this one takes a long time to gain traction. But here's hoping it will. It's time for the people who are ruining our public education system to be held to account for their actions; this lawsuit will be a good start.


Walt S. said...

"In other words: the CTU's lawsuit is going to force the reformies to deal with some hard truths about their agenda that they worked so long to avoid."
Don't get your hopes up.
If their actions are found to violate the law they will simply circumvent it or work to change the law.
Look at the NJ law requiring Pension payments, it is simply ignored.
Look at the COLA provision, it was simply scratched.
In a country with a Supreme Court which validated Citizens United it appears that the law doesn't mean much. The interpretation and enforcement of the law is what counts and the powers that be have that fully under their control.
I hope I didn't spoil your holiday!

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