Linda Chavez

But CTU complains that their members shouldn't be judged on the basis of students' standardized test scores. Actually, they already are, but only 20 percent of teacher evaluations depend on student scores. The district's position has been that the weight ought to be doubled to 40 percent -- if the strike ends, there is likely to have been compromise on the issue.

The union's position isn't altogether unreasonable, however. Scores on standardized tests are an important and valid measure of what students know -- but they are also highly correlated to poverty and family structure. Chicago's students are disproportionately poor and come from fatherless homes. Overcoming these handicaps is a stiff challenge, even to the best teachers.

A better way to judge what goes on in the classroom might be to test students on the subject matter they must master at the beginning and end of the semester to see what they've actually learned in the classroom. And teachers ought to be tested periodically, too. If teachers haven't mastered the subject matter they are to teach, they're not going to be able to impart much to the students. But the unions resist efforts to re-test "credentialed" teachers -- even though the credentialing process accepts appallingly low performance by prospective teachers. In an era of widespread grade inflation, Illinois asks only that new teachers demonstrate a grade of 'C' in college education courses and content area and pass a multiple choice and essay test in basic and subject matter skills.

As for insisting that the school district rehires laid-off teachers first when jobs open up -- giving little or no discretion to the principals who must lead the schools -- it's no surprise. Unions are all about protecting seniority and their members' jobs. In essence, unions want decisions about whom to fire, lay off, or re-hire made on a seniority basis, not on merit.

And that is the biggest danger to students. Bad or mediocre teachers should be let go -- and the only way to do that is to ensure teachers know the subject matter they teach and students learn something while in their classrooms.

Good teachers -- of which there are many -- could win if these were the standards. And more importantly, so could students. But the outcome from the CTU strike is likely to produce few winners among either group.

Linda Chavez

Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .

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