Is There A Correlation Between Teachers in Chicago and Westford?

This week teachers in Chicago left the classrooms and hit the street to protest breakdowns over a new contract. Are these echoes of what was seen in Westford?


Earlier this week, teachers in Chicago voted to strike for the first time in 25 years following an impasse over contract negotiations.

While a strike for Westford's teachers wouldn't have been possible under Massachusetts state law, today we want to ask if there is a common thread between the situation in Chicago and the one teachers encountered here.

Is comparing a town of 22,000 people and one of the largest cities in the country an apples and oranges proposition? Or do teachers face the same challenges in education everywhere across America?

and the potential budget problems for upcoming years impact any potential comparison?

Let us know your thoughts in the comments, and don't forget to get our free morning newsletter if you don't already!

Franklin September 12, 2012 at 11:25 AM
Like in Chicago WPS teachers have proven ready and willing to fight (take to the streets, work to rule) for a FAIR contract and a VOICE at the table to collectively bargain their contract. Bridges have been burned between teachers and admin here in Westford as is the case currently in Chicago, similarity exists where students loose in these struggles, the environment will determinate MUCH more quickly if Westford tries the same garbage with its teachers again in a year.
Vincent DiRico September 12, 2012 at 11:40 AM
there is very little similar between the 2 situations (except C is more broke then W), you really should study the facts a bit
Sam September 12, 2012 at 12:16 PM
How can they be striking? They are the highest paid teachers in the country except for NY. According the Westford Teachers it's all about pay equality. Where could they possibly go to gain more respect? What will happen to these Chicago schools when the "brain drain" begins?
Franklin September 12, 2012 at 01:57 PM
It was about Pay in WPS its mostly not about pay in Chicago but the new state eval system in mass touches most of the same 3rd rails as currently in Chicago so buckle up
Sam September 12, 2012 at 02:03 PM
Not about pay? You must of forgotten about your past posts as well as every other teacher that logged in over the past few months.
Katie S September 12, 2012 at 02:29 PM
Chicago's strike is not about pay.
Sam September 12, 2012 at 02:50 PM
Westford sure was. If you read what was happening here, that was what it was all about. The assumption being that if teachers here were paid what neighboring towns were being paid all would be well. So my original question (being sarcastic) was how can these HIGHLY paid professionals in Chicago possibly strike.
Franklin September 12, 2012 at 03:00 PM
Among other things they (R.E) want to link pay and 50% of eval to standardized test scores, teachers will then do nothing but teach to the test and try to avoid teaching more difficult (English 2nd language, special education) kids because they are tougher to get to do well on tests, please simply read about the Chicago situation yourself and found out the positions
Franklin September 12, 2012 at 03:02 PM
For the record Chicago teachers offered steps and 8% raise, WPS teachers no year 1 step and 1% raise. Chicago not directly about pay but in these 'difficult financial times' it's good to note how other teachers are being compensated
kms September 12, 2012 at 05:40 PM
Westford's beef was based on promises not kept. Money was to be set aside for the following year and when it came down to it the money wasn't there. The teachers want what they deserve, which is compensation (like every one else) for a job well done.
Dan D. September 12, 2012 at 11:36 PM
Unfortunately, there is are real reasons why standardized testing has become so important. More unfortunately, all of the school districts are tossed into the same standardized testing bucket, whether the schools were/are crappy or not. I have interviewed graduates of high schools (not from Westford or any other "top" school system) who could not read well, could not write a coherent sentence, and who could not think critically if their lives depended on it. Yet, they had a nice, shiny HS diploma to show off, evidence that quality of schools vary wildly. Public disgust with the teachers unions and the education establishment's unwillingness or inability to deal with those problems has led to standardized testing. Everyone who has had a kid go through a school system has seen teachers that should have been fired (even in Westford), but can't be for many reasons. The educational establishment has brought standardized testing upon itself.
Dan D. September 12, 2012 at 11:41 PM
KMS, I agree 100%! Let's pay teachers and school administrators for jobs well done indeed!. That means eliminate automatic step raises, raises based on degrees obtained (admit it, there are junk degrees out there!) and put everyone on merit pay! Devised good standardized tests, with input from business and academia, include grade appropriate civics, math, english, science, writing (including grammar and spelling..yes, they DO count in the real world), US and world history, basic economics and maybe even a foreign language and have at it!
Monsanto September 13, 2012 at 12:00 AM
And thus welcome the biggest 'teach to the test a-thon' ever! If that's what paid the bills things like how to conduct oneself appropriately (civic and civil discourse) during a conversation with those who have different viewpoints would be deep sixed for only things on the shiney standardized test
Billy B September 13, 2012 at 12:05 AM
We teach to the test ALL THE TIME in WPS it's called MCAS !!! English grade 10 teachers spend a disproportionately huge amount of time on some skills (5 paragraph essay, nevermind kids don't know there is such thing as a non 5 paragraph essay) and skim the surface of others. Biggest laugh was when Jim Antonelli said 'here at WA we don't teach to the test' ( maybe he doesn't but many of his teachers sure do!)
Randy Winslow September 13, 2012 at 12:17 AM
There are too many differences to say the situations are similar. The mayor of Chicago is Huge union backer, and democrat. Westfords entire government system is republican and anti-union. the teachers in Chicago want more pay because of the extra 90 minutes a day they have to be in school. Westford teachers had promised pay taken away from them. Their new evaluation process is almost the same as westfords, westford just has better teacher and teachers who are more prepared for the new evaluation process.
Alex Finnegan September 13, 2012 at 01:41 AM
"How can they be striking? They are the highest paid teachers in the country except for NY. According the Westford Teachers it's all about pay equality. Where could they possibly go to gain more respect? What will happen to these Chicago schools when the "brain drain" begins?" You have to factor in Cost of Living. $75k a year in Hawaii (highest) is not the same as $75k a year in Tennesee (lowest) http://www.missourieconomy.org/indicators/cost_of_living/index.stm If they are the 2nd highest paid, relative to cost of living they would be #1 by a long shot. Thats why New England in general averages higher pay for any job, because c.o.l. here is higher. I don't know what is going on there, I'll do some looking. My guess, the issue of contention isn't compensation. Probably some sort of contracted merit based pay, or evaluation system that just does not work in this field. It's like appointed judges, they are untouchable (no elections) specifically so they won't make decisions that compromise the law to keep their jobs. I'm not saying that the judges appointment system is perfect, but that is why it's done. Merit based pay has too many flaws & adds the wrong incentives. Too many things are immeasurable. Too many kids develop in ways standardized testing doesn't' reflect. No one wants the hard kids to teach, they want the good test takers. I can't find the study right now but cheating also increases dramatically under such systems. By both students & teachers.
Alex Finnegan September 13, 2012 at 03:10 AM
This addresses simply the point of contention. I've not done any fact checking on it. http://news.yahoo.com/why-chicago-teachers-striking-guide-140500343.html I remembered where I read that standardized testing leads to cheating. It's the first chapter of the book Freakonomics by Steven Levitt & Stephen Dubner. Here is a brief summary of that part of the book http://beetqueen.wordpress.com/2007/07/10/freakonomics-catches-teachers-and-sumos-cheating/ But moving towards merit based pay systems seems like an ok idea. Like a salesman working on commission. However salesman aren't typically known for their truthfulness & their only concern is moving product. It's how they make their living. Turning kids into a commodity, a number, a figure, a stat for the teachers is the wrong relationship we want them to have with the kids & it's counterproductive at every level. It doesn't accomplish what it aims to do. It becomes about getting the kids to pass this test. Learning, brain development & education is all very individual & teachers tailor their approach to students, because students learn differently. The kids in the class aren't "standardized", parents don't want kids taught like robots. But somehow it's a good measure of a teacher's worth to test the kids robotically. I'm not saying there shouldn't be any goals, penalties or repercussions. But turning kids test scores into dollar signs isn't an improvement on anything as education is about so much more.
Juno September 13, 2012 at 02:36 PM
WPS leadership is more out of touch with their teachers
Dan D. September 13, 2012 at 02:44 PM
Ok Alex, how should teachers be objectively evaluated and measured? Surely there ones who are better than others, how should those be identified and rewarded? how should the poor ones be identified and either helped or terminated?
Dan D. September 13, 2012 at 02:51 PM
Freakonomics is a great read, by the way, I'd recommend it to everyone. However, I'd challenge the assumption that standardized testing leads to cheating. Poor character leads to cheating, the teachers who were caught cheating in Chicago were just bad people. There were plenty of good, honorable teachers who did not cheat. In a sense, the standardized testing and the great analysis that was done to determine cheating actually helped rid the profession of some bad players.
Sam September 13, 2012 at 02:52 PM
And Chicago is not out of touch? "They already stole our 4 percent and then they're offering us a 2 percent. That's a disgrace," said Tennille Evans, a high school counselor. "They should've started at 4 percent." “It says a lot about how our members feel and where they are right now,” said CTU president Karen Lewis. “They feel totally disrespected by how (the longer day) has been rolled out.” After nearly eight hours of talks at the union's Merchandise Mart headquarters, Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis looked grim. "We are very disappointed," Lewis said at a news conference. "We thought it would be infinitely better than it was." What we saw here over the past few months is standard union protocol.
Mcgirk September 13, 2012 at 07:44 PM
From what I hear WEA became a great deal stronger from the actions of last year, should negotiations drag again I bet teachers move to work to rule fast
Alex Finnegan September 13, 2012 at 08:08 PM
"I'd challenge the assumption that standardized testing leads to cheating. Poor character leads to cheating, the teachers who were caught cheating in Chicago were just bad people." Your half way there. Poor character + incentive/opportunity leads to cheating. Merit based pay & standardized testing is the incentive, then you would need opportunity. There is poor character in every profession, culture & class. You'll never control that, we can control incentive. You can challenge Levitt and Dubner's math that standardized testing leads to cheating, but you have to prove it. Saying it means nothing, where in there math did they go wrong? What they did is not an assumption, they proved with sound math that cheating increases. You are challenging that with what? The character of the teachers didn't all of a sudden change when they added standardized testing (ironically their test was done in Chicago I believe) The incentive changed. Incentive comes in many forms. Social, financial, personal. It's also a synonym for penalty in the way we are using it. Speeding tickets are a penalty, but there design in the system is a financial incentive. When people used to be punished by being thrown in the stalks in the town square it was a penalty, but in the system it was a social incentive to obey the rules.
Alex Finnegan September 13, 2012 at 08:24 PM
"Ok Alex, "how should teachers be objectively evaluated and measured?" The same way many other jobs are, by a superior monitoring performance. A good experienced teacher can recognize a bad teacher, & can also help them. Most principles are former teachers, I can't find it now but there was only one state in which they weren't, it was more of an MBA position like the S.I. Test scores can be part of it if the Principle deems it appropriate & in the areas it's not give it little value (i.e. kids on an IEP who have difficulty with standardized tests) It has to be in the hands of someone who has the training & experience TO evaluate it. What better evaluation could there be? Tests reflect only certain things. A couple of the smartest, most intelligent, most brilliant minds I know never passed 8th grade. I'm not talking Einstein I mean people I personally know. Were they to take the SAT's they would probably be scored as idiots. But somewhere along the way they learned how to observe, analyze, process, weigh & measure, hypothesize & test. I guess the depression and two world wars can force the mind the learn a lot.
Alex Finnegan September 13, 2012 at 08:44 PM
If you are talking pay reward the current system is cleverly designed to make teachers affordable, & considering all the factors I have no problem with it. It forces teachers to be committed. What I have a problem with is when people throw it in their faces how much a teacher of 15 years with a master's degree makes. They were paid dirt for quite a while. They don't break even with their education costs until year 10 & now 15 years of experience, continued learning & halfway through their career people are upset about what they make. Thats is how the system was designed. We pay you little now, but it will catch up with you later. It uses to it's advantage many financial tricks. No one is complaining about the starting teacher making $38k than you shouldn't complain about the 15 year teacher making $70k Yes it's unfair that all teachers get paid the same but there are systems in place by which teachers do get evaluated & aided to improve. Bad teachers can be fired. But considering how in MA where teachers are required to get a masters degree, it's the only way to make them affordable. People will point to the vacations but I've shown you the math in previous posts that the disparity is not as large as people think. People thinking of entering the field will do some thorough research to find out how much work it truly is so for the sake of drawing future teachers the pay has to become rewarding at some point, or people won't become teachers….
Alex Finnegan September 13, 2012 at 09:07 PM
Then we would need to increase salaries to draw them back. How you pay them is a delicate balance of keeping new teachers interested. If you lose that by decreasing the financial incentive, to save money now, long term you've just done the exact opposite of what you intended & will need to pile back on the financial incentive to keep them interested. It's a system just like any other, & it wasn't invented by teachers. So if they are willing to play by the rules of that system why shouldn't the earn the pay out. Most anti-teacher rhetoric was born in places where teachers DO get a pretty sweet deal. States where they are required to get a bachelors degree only, where they town pays a percentage of their pension contributions each paycheck, where cost of living adjusts their salary even higher & where as a town, county & state the schools rate sub par. NONE of those are true here. The states mandates an extra 2 years of education (47 states don't) teachers pay the entire 11% of retirement contributions & have for quite a while, factor in cost of living teachers in MA make much less than other states & MA is regarded as being one of the best states for schools in the country. Those other states the rhetoric consists of having teachers contribute more towards pensions, improve test ranking to "earn" their paychecks, increase retirement time to at least 30 years etc. MA did all that + some long ago. That rhetoric shouldn't be carried over here, especially in Westford.


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