JEFFREY BROWN: And we head back to Chicago and the national spotlight focused on a teachers strike in the nation’s third largest school system.
Chicago teachers walked the picket lines for a second day as contract talks resumed. The union spokeswoman said the teachers had agreed to just six of 49 articles in the proposed contract.
One of the most contentious remains the issue of tying teacher evaluations to student test results. Democratic Mayor Rahm Emanuel has pushed that idea and other reforms.
And on Monday, he drew support from an unlikely quarter. In Portland, Ore., Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan said, “This teachers union strike is unnecessary and wrong. We know that Rahm is not going to support our campaign, but on this issue and this day, we stand with Mayor Rahm Emanuel.”
The man at the top of the Republican ticket, Mitt Romney, criticized the strikers and accused President Obama of siding with them. But Mayor Emanuel, the president’s former chief of staff, rejected any attempt to use the strike as a means to attack his one-time boss.
MAYOR RAHM EMANUEL, D-Chicago, Ill.: The president is committed, has done one of the most important things with Race to the Top to make sure that we have accountability in our system and the best-qualified teachers in our schools. And that’s exactly what we’re trying to do here.
JEFFREY BROWN: Announced in 2009, the Race to the Top competition seeks to encourage performance-based standards in state and local school districts. At least 30 states have begun using student test scores to evaluate teachers, but the move has often ignited tensions with teacher unions and administrators.
In Washington, D.C., teachers agreed to implement a merit-based pay system in 2010, and New York state educators did the same earlier this year. But those agreements were reached only after years of difficult negotiations.
And, in Los Angeles, the union and school district officials are now in talks over how to implement a new teacher evaluation system.
And for more, we’re joined by Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, whose membership include the Chicago Teachers Union.
And Roy Romer, who served as superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District from 2001 to 2006 and before that as governor of Colorado. He’s currently senior adviser to the College Board.
Randi Weingarten, I want to start with you.
When you look at the Chicago strike — and I know you’re out there now in Chicago — what are the one or two more most important issues that you find resonating at the national level that affect teachers everywhere?
RANDI WEINGARTEN, American Federation of Teachers: Right.
It’s really about the — saving the heart and soul of public education for all kids who need public education. And when you’re on the streets talking to teachers, they are determined to have the tools they need to help kids and for kids to have the resources they need to succeed.
And what struck me, no pun intended, was how resolute teachers are and paraprofessionals are about, this is a fight to ensure that kids, their kids, their communities have what they need.
And I’m seeing that across the country with the need to increase standards so that we’re doing much more project-based learning and deep and richer learning, something that I know Roy has been advocating, but yet at the same time poverty increasing and the cuts in schools almost making it — making it incredibly hard for us to do our jobs, and then being blamed when we can’t do our jobs.
JEFFREY BROWN: Well, Roy Romer, at a more specific level, a lot of this seems to be around things like hours of the day, the number of hours worked, and teacher evaluations. What do you see when you look at Chicago?
ROY ROMER, former superintendent, Los Angeles Unified School District: I think we need to extend the hours of the school day.
I think we just need that more time to do the job for those children. I think the real issue out there is whether you use tests for a part of the evaluation.
I think we need multiple measures to evaluate teachers. We have got to do a better job of evaluating teachers. And we ought to use tests to determine what progress a student has made.
JEFFREY BROWN: Randi Weingarten, speak to that specifically, yes.
RANDI WEINGARTEN: Right.
So, Roy, you know I love you.
ROY ROMER: Yes.
RANDI WEINGARTEN: But the teachers have already agreed to the longer day. The issue is making sure that that day is actually used for the right things.
And right now in Chicago, a city, by the way, that’s had mayoral control for 15 years, a city that has tremendous management rights and top-down authority — but between — what the teachers were telling me is between 15 and 25 days, the equivalent of 15 to 25 days, are being used for test prep.
Now, as Roy knows, we think that there should be multiple measures and evaluations and that we need to have evaluations that go to both, have I taught it and have kids learned it?
So, the issue is really making sure an evaluation system is comprehensive and fair and about continuous improvement, not tied significantly to one measure, meaning these old tests that no longer measure what kids are supposed to know and be able to do.
ROY ROMER: Randi is right that the old tests are inadequate. We need better tests, but a test’s primary purpose is to help the child learn during the next period of instruction.
But we also need to evaluate teachers and test data ought to be a part of multiple measures. You have got to be very careful and cautious how you do this, because, otherwise, they will game the system.
JEFFREY BROWN: Well, let me stay with you. A lot of the focus has been — in Chicago and beyond — has been whether the teachers unions are resisting changes and reforms such as that. You have argued that in the past. Where do you see the resistance and how does it play out?
ROY ROMER: Well, Randi has been one of the persons who has been trying to move unions forward on this. But I have got to tell you, there’s a lot of variety of opinion.
And we ought not be in this strike out there. We ought not. We ought to be settling this on the negotiating table. And we have to include some multiple measures for teacher evaluation. Hopefully, Randi is out there and she can bring this to an end. It ought to be brought to an end by negotiation.
JEFFREY BROWN: Randi Weingarten?
RANDI WEINGARTEN: Well, look, no one — and no one wants a strike. And it is unfortunate that it has gotten to this point. And it was unfortunate all the things that led up to it, including the mayor’s taking away a raise, trying to unilaterally implement the extended day.
But the parties are working hard at the table. I went over to the bargaining table for a bit today. I’m in Chicago to really do not only a fact-finding, but obviously to support the teachers and the paraprofessionals.
But let me just say the teachers want to be in classrooms, but they want to make sure that they have the tools to do their job. And they want to make sure the kids have the tools to do their jobs.
JEFFREY BROWN: But, again, I want to go — broaden it more naturally, Randi Weingarten.
RANDI WEINGARTEN: Right.
JEFFREY BROWN: There’s a sense out there — and you hear it from politicians and you hear it from people on the street — that the teachers union is resisting such changes, specifically the teacher evaluation and such things as that. And we see it in different cities.
RANDI WEINGARTEN: Right. It’s just not true. Look, people have been asking me this all week long.
There are districts upon districts and unions upon unions that have agreed to teacher evaluations throughout this country. You have had Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey all change their teacher evaluation systems this year with the work of teacher unions.
What the teacher unions have asked for is that teachers are actually being treated fairly and they actually have the tools and conditions they need. And what you’re seeing is you’re seeing a lot of big city mayors resist that because they don’t want to spend the money on it.
Ultimately, if we’re going to change to have these new standards, which is what Roy and I have both championed, so that kids are applying knowledge, not just knowing things, we need to have the time to make sure that that gets done right, and same with evaluations.
You can’t just have a press conference and say we now have a new evaluation system. We have to actually make sure we do these things correctly and collaboratively. And that’s what teacher unions throughout the country are trying to do — or at least the teacher unions that I’m involved with are trying to do.
JEFFREY BROWN: So why do you still see resistance and why is there that sense abroad that…
ROY ROMER: Well, the teachers union in Chicago, I don’t think has the approach that Randi Weingarten does.
I think she’s on the right track. Namely, we need to have this multiple evaluation. We ought to involve teachers in designing the system. But we ought to do it and do it quickly and get those kids back in school in Chicago.
JEFFREY BROWN: All right.
RANDI WEINGARTEN: Right. And, unfortunately, unfortunately — I’m sorry to interrupt, Roy — I think that’s what is happening at the bargaining table now.
But why did it take a strike deadline to do that? These folks have been bargaining for months and months and months. And just in the last few days, I have seen real progress. I have been monitoring it a lot, been on the phone all last weekend.
No one wants a strike. A strike hurts everyone. But we want to make sure we get it right for kids. And that’s what the Chicago teachers…
JEFFREY BROWN: Let me ask Roy Romer, has — you have been on the political side of this as well and have actually…
ROY ROMER: Yes.
JEFFREY BROWN: Is there a political shift under way? I mean, you can’t help but think about this in the midst of a campaign. And here we have a he Democratic mayor, Rahm Emanuel, ties to the White House, has been part of the reform. The unions have been friends, allies to the Democratic Party. And here’s a fight.
ROY ROMER: This is a local issue.
I don’t want to get national politics and debate in on it. I think city by city, state by state, we need to solve these problems. And I think we can solve these problems. We’re making progress.
But the key thing is we have got to think about these kids. They’re not getting a good enough education. We need to be radical in the change that we are bringing to the table.
JEFFREY BROWN: Randi Weingarten, do you see yourself in some sense fighting both parties now?
RANDI WEINGARTEN: Look, I think Roy is right. This is a local issue. It has national ramifications.
But you noticed the first thing Mitt Romney, who doesn’t want to invest in public education — the first thing did is try to nationalize this issue and try to get President Obama in there.
And President Obama rightly said or his campaign rightly said this is a local issue that has to be solved at the negotiating table. One size doesn’t fit all.
But we do want to make sure that teachers are the best they can be. We want to make sure they get support. And we want to make sure the kids get what they need so that they can achieve their dreams.
JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Randi Weingarten, Roy Romer, thanks both very much.
ROY ROMER: Thank you very much.
RANDI WEINGARTEN: Thank you.
JEFFREY BROWN: And, for the record, we invited Mayor Emanuel to appear on the program this evening. His office didn’t respond to our request.