Paul Street: Striking Neoliberalism in Chicago


Friday, September 14, 2012

on Zspace

The strike currently being waged by the teachers’ union in Rahm Emmanuel’s Chicago is quite remarkable. A critical underlying issue is how teachers’ performance is appraised. Under a new assessment system that strongly ties teacher evaluations to student test scores, the city is threatening to put “as many as one-third of Chicago’s teachers on track for termination.”[1]

In Chicago as in school districts across the country, the educational authorities have made students’ scores on standardized tests the sacred gauge of whether a teacher deserves to keep her job.

A big problem with this method of measurement is that teachers have no control over what serious researchers have long shown to be the primary determinant of students’ performance on such tests – those students’ home and neighborhood environments and socioeconomic (class) status.[2] As Gary Orfield of the Harvard Civil Rights Project noted eleven years ago, “When students come to class hungry, exhausted, or afraid, when they bounce from school to school as their families face eviction, where they have no one at home to wake them up for the bus, much less look over their homework, not even the best-equipped facilities, the strongest curriculum, and the best-paid teacher can ensure success.” [3]

“Attempting to fix inner city schools without fixing the city,” education professor Jean Anyon noted in her 1997 book Ghetto Schooling, “is like trying to clean the air on one side of a screen door….Educational change in the inner city, to be successful, has to be part and parcel of more fundamental social change.  An all-out attack on poverty and racial isolation that by necessity will affect not only the poor but the more affluent as well will be necessary…” [4]

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