There may be a simple explanation for why the vast majority of fourth and eighth graders in the Chicago Public Schools can’t read or do math at grade level – though there may not be an easy fix for it.
According to a post this week on the Illinois Policy Institute blog, Chicago teachers just aren’t very smart. In fact, on average, they’re not as smart as the average Illiois high school student:
You’ll hear a lot of numbers bandied around in the coming days regarding the Chicago Teachers Union strike – average salary, anticipated size of the district’s deficit, level of state financial support.
But the number I find most disturbing is: 19.
That’s what the average Chicago Public School teacher scored on the ACT test if they took it when attending high school.
The piece cites a 2008 Southern Illinois University study which assembled teacher test data. The blog continued:
Despite all of the bright teachers [in the CPS], there are enough who scored so badly on the ACT that they dragged the average down to 19 out of a possible score of 36.
To put that number in perspective, today every high school junior in the state – whether they are going to college or not – is required to take the test. This year their average test score was just shy of 21.
To put the number in further perspective, a score of 19 would put CPS teachers at the bottom of their classes at every Illinois college or university tracked by the New York Times except Chicago State University, and they probably wouldn’t even be admitted at many of them. At Chicago State, a student with an ACT score of 19 would be in the 75th percentile, meaning the top 25 percent. A score of 16 would be in the 25th percentile, the bottom tier. At the University of Chicago, an ACT score of 34 is in the 75th percentile, while a score of 31 is in the 25th percentile.
This information is important because, as noted in a previous post, higher teacher test scores are decisively linked to higher student achievement.
The lack of quality teachers is a problem across the country. As the then-chancellor of the New York City public schools noted:
The quality of teachers has been declining for decades, and no one wants to talk about it. Principals know the truth and have to deal with it as best they can, but unions are reluctant to admit weaknesses in any of their members, colleges are loath to acknowledge the poor quality of their education programs, and administrators are afraid that confronting the problem will further erode confidence in public education.
And so we tolerate inadequate teacher education, noncompetitive pay, inflexible work rules and regulations denying bright people in other professions a chance to switch to teaching.”
The chancellor noted twice as many education majors need remedial math and English classes when they begin college as liberal arts majors.
So how to attract quality teachers? There’s no easy answer.
In Chicago, where teachers remained on strike at mid-day Friday, negotiations continued over teacher evaluation and related job security issues, opposed by the union. CPS administrators favor evaluation; rightly so. But, obviously, the process is slow and contentious.
There are a number of other options. Parent trigger legislation, passage of which is urged by The Heartland Institute, to enable parents to drive reform of failing schools, is on the books in a number of states and interest is growing.
Vouchers issued with state funds would enable parents to pay tuition at private schools, like Leo High School in Chicago. Tribune columnist John Kass visited that school a few days ago during the strike and wrote about it:
Since real school wasn’t open, I was compelled to visit an unreal school.
A South Side school where 100 percent of the students graduate, and 100 percent are accepted to college. A Roman Catholic all-boys school that draws from poor and working-class neighborhoods, a school where there are no cops or metal detectors, no gang recruitment, no fear.
An unreal school that is mostly black, but with a smattering of whites and Latinos, and where every student who sees a stranger in the halls goes up to the newcomer, introduces himself, shakes his hand, looks him in the eye and calls him Mister.
Leo High School, at 79th and Sangamon, seemed pretty unreal to me, too.
Or charter schools, among the reforms backed by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. “About 19,000 students have applied (to charter schools),” he said. “But we don’t have the availability. So clearly there are more people that would like to be in charter schools than we have available, quote unquote, seats for them. … My goal isn’t charters per se. My goal is the availability of choice for parents.”
These are words that “should send cold shivers down the legs of the teachers union leaders, Kass wrote, “because ‘choice’ is code for schools without union clout.”
There undoubtedly are talented teachers in CPS who are frustrated with the union and embarrassed by the image put forth by CTU president Karen Lewis.
“Union contracts make it next to impossible to reward excellent teachers or fire failing ones,” wrote James Sherk of the Heritage Foundation.
Chicago’s quality teachers hold the key to reform. They should go on strike from the union. For the children.