Chicago teachers on strike: How the union’s fight over merit pay and job security highlights a broader national struggle.


  • Diane Ravitch Author and professor at New York University
  • Rick Hess Resident scholar and director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute
  • Andrew Rotherham Co-founder of Bellwether Education, author of the weekly “School of Thought” column for TIME and blogger at
  • Adrian Fenty Former mayor of Washington, DC
  • Nancy Youssef Middle East bureau chief, McClatchy Newspapers


  • 10:06:56

    MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. We begin the program with an update on the killing of U.S. diplomats in Benghazi and the attack on the U.S. Embassy in Cairo. Joining us by phone from Cairo, Egypt, Nancy Youssef. She's Middle East Bureau chief for McClatchy Newspapers. And we will try to bring you the latest on what we know, and we'll talk further about this issue tomorrow. Good morning to you, Nancy. Thanks for joining us.

  • 10:07:33

    MS. NANCY YOUSSEFGood morning, Diane.

  • 10:07:35

    REHMNancy, tell us what you know about the latest on the attack at the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi, as well as what's happened in Cairo.

  • 10:07:50

    YOUSSEFWell, this was all spurred yesterday by a planned demonstration against a man who had made a sort of amateurish film about Prophet Muhammad. Now, in Islam, just depicting the prophet in any way is considered offensive and blasphemous. And this movie, the 14 minutes that were released of it anyway, makes Prophet Muhammad to be a womanizer, a thief, someone who only spread Islam through the sword. And somehow, it started making its way around the Internet.

  • 10:08:29

    YOUSSEFAt the same time, Terry Jones -- Pastor Terry Jones of Florida had put out a video calling for a trial against Prophet Muhammad, and so there was a planned demonstration in Cairo. It seems that it had spread to Libya and -- but -- where here, people tore down the American flag in front of the Embassy and sprayed graffiti on the wall, in Benghazi, it appears that they were firing at the consulate. They set it ablaze. And we learned last night that one U.S. official had been killed.

  • 10:08:59

    YOUSSEFThis morning, the Libyan Minister of Interior announced that it had been Ambassador Chris Stevens, who was extremely popular within Libya, and that several others and injured. And so -- and the initial reports from the ministry of the interior were that he had died of smoke inhalation when, in fact, it appears that his car was hit by some sort of rocket or gunfire or RPG as they were trying to escape the blaze. So where Cairo was very boisterous and loud in their objections to it, it seems that the one in Benghazi, the rebel -- the western city of Libya was much more violent.

  • 10:09:45

    REHMNancy, you should know that three other Americans were killed...

  • 10:09:49


  • 10:09:50

    REHM...Tuesday in the assault on the American consulate, in addition to Amb. John Christopher Stevens. We have Secretary of State Clinton identifying one of the dead as Sean Smith, a Foreign Service Information management officer. But the names of the two other people killed has been -- have been withheld pending notification of families. Nancy, this film -- I have seen just one clip of it -- who is it who put it together?

  • 10:10:32

    YOUSSEFWell, it apparently cost $5 million and is financed by a group of Egyptian Christians who have put out several films like this in the past. We've heard sort of multiple sources of where it's come from. One had it financed by an American, and one had it financed by an Egyptian Christian sort of activist. And so we're still getting kind of conflicting reports, and that it's hard to believe that it cost $5 million because if you watch it, it's certainly not any high-level production.

  • 10:11:12

    YOUSSEFI can tell you, here in Egypt, the assumption was that it was put out by a Washington, D.C.-based Christian activist who's put out several similar films in the past. They were in the streets protesting him by name. So we're still trying to confirm whether that was related. There was also talk that Terry Jones had somehow been involved in it or at least endorsed it. So we're getting various versions of how this came about and who exactly was involved.

  • 10:11:39

    REHMNow, CNN is reporting that the Defense Department has dispatched two Marine Corps anti-terrorism security teams to Libya to reinforce security there.

  • 10:11:52


  • 10:11:54

    REHMAre you seeing anything further there in Cairo?

  • 10:12:00

    YOUSSEFWe're not. And I'll tell you, what was astonishing yesterday, watching Egyptians being allowed to climb these 12-foot-high walls. The flag was on the other side of that wall, and they were able to get in, put a ladder, lean ladder against the flagpole, go up, take the flag and, on the top of the wall, start tearing that and while someone else put an Islamic flag in its place. And then they crossed back over. But for hours and hours, they were standing on top of these walls.

  • 10:12:29

    YOUSSEFThey were painting graffiti on them, all while the Egyptian police sat idly and watched all of this happen. It was really astonishing. At the time, I thought maybe the Americans knew that this protest was on its way, that this was an effort to sort of allow them to let off their steam. But I don't know anymore because the same lack in security appeared to be the case in Benghazi. I don't know if it was a calculated effort or not. But it was -- I've never seen an embassy attacked the way I saw the one yesterday in Cairo.

  • 10:12:59

    YOUSSEFAnd there hasn't been any indication that they're going to try something as brave and again -- so it's hard to measure whether the security is more. I just know that yesterday, it was really astonishing to see how much the Egyptians were able to do to the U.S. Embassy, the second largest, by the way, in the world behind Iraq.

  • 10:13:19

    REHMNow, the other question is whether the timing was made to coincide with 9/11.

  • 10:13:28

    YOUSSEFYeah. I asked some of the organizers this yesterday, and they said that they'd organized it on 9/11 because that was the day that Pastor Terry Jones had decided to hold this trial against Prophet Muhammad. That said, a lot of the people who came out yesterday -- the date certainly wasn't lost on them, and it was -- appeared to be an effort to time it 9/11. And, interestingly, a lot of the protesters were chanting things like, "Take a picture, Obama. We're all Osama."

  • 10:13:58

    YOUSSEFAnd there are references to how they were all the new Osama bin Ladens. And so the original purpose, I think, was to time it to when this pastor was planning to hold Prophet Muhammad on trial. But I think for a lot of people attending, they weren't really focused on that because, again, a lot of the people didn't know the details.

  • 10:14:16

    YOUSSEFThey just knew that something had been done that was offensive towards their prophet. So I think for a lot of people who were attending, this was time to lash out against the Americans on what everyone here knows is a very emotionally wrought day in the United States.

  • 10:14:34

    REHMTell me what the situation is like in the streets of Cairo today.

  • 10:14:41

    YOUSSEFWell, they're very crowded because there are several protests going on all over, not just in front of the embassy but at the national council buildings and against the Egyptian government. It's not nearly as aggressive as it was yesterday, but there are a lot more people getting word and starting their own sort of protests throughout the country. And so it's been very hard to move around, and a lot of people are reacting to what happened yesterday.

  • 10:15:11

    YOUSSEFThat said, I've heard from a lot of people, too, who are really saddened that this protest led to the death of an American diplomat. It's very interesting. You find people who say, you know, this -- we shouldn't -- it shouldn't have come to this. So what happened in Libya, I think, is sort of making some people here kind of take a step back about what their reaction should be when people put out things that are offensive to their faith.

  • 10:15:39

    YOUSSEFI get the sense yesterday that that was never the intent from here that things would go violent, that there would be a very clear demonstration against the movie and a defense of the prophet.

  • 10:15:50

    REHMAll right. And Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has just concluded her remarks saying, "How could this happen in a country we helped liberate," she is talking obviously about Libya, "in a city we helped save from destruction?" She says, "It shows how confounding the world can be." And she finalizes it by saying, "Let me be clear: There is no justification for this. None. Violence like this is no way to honor religion or faith."

  • 10:16:34

    REHMAnd later on in the morning, we will be hearing from President Obama. Final question, Nancy, what do you think this means for relations between the U.S. and the two countries?

  • 10:16:51

    YOUSSEFWell, I think what it really raises -- for the United States, I think there's this expectation that if there were democratic elections, which happened in both Egypt and Libya, that this would lead to a reform in terms of ideas, in terms of how the Middle East view the United States. And this event suggests that some of the Islamists in particular are not warming up to the United States but, in fact, still more emboldened to attack it.

  • 10:17:19

    YOUSSEFSo I think it's been disconcerting in that sense for U.S. observers who had hoped that this would lead to better relations. And I think, you know, for Egypt, it's certainly complicated because they were trying to promote their country as a place that had come back since the Arab Spring, a place for economic development. In fact, the U.S. is trying to help in that regard. What's happening here is certainly making that more difficult.

  • 10:17:44

    YOUSSEFPresident Mohammed Morsi of Egypt will be making his first trip to the United States on Sept. 23, and it'll be interesting to see how he is able to communicate that this Egypt is not a threat to the United States in light of what's happened. And in Libya, it's interesting. It's a much more almost personal one-on-one experience for the Libyans because so many people knew Chris Stevens amongst everyday Libyans. And he was such a wonderful bridge between the United States and Libya. I think it -- there, it just feels tremendously sad on a very personal level.

  • 10:18:17

    REHMNancy Youssef, she is Middle East bureau chief for McClatchy Newspapers. She'll join us again tomorrow morning. Nancy, thanks for being with us. Stay safe.

  • 10:18:32

    YOUSSEFThank you so much.

  • 10:18:34

    REHMAnd when we come back, we'll be talking about the teacher's strike in Chicago. Stay with us.

  • 10:20:04

    REHMAnd in Chicago, public schools are closed for a third straight day. The Teachers Union continues to negotiate a contract with the city. That negotiation may be underway as we speak. Here in the studio: Rick Hess, director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, Andy Rotherham -- he's a columnist for Time magazine -- and Adrian Fenty, former mayor of Washington, D.C.

  • 10:20:43

    REHMOn the phone with us from New York, Diane Ravitch, education policy analyst and professor at New York University. We do invite your comments, questions throughout the hour. Join us by phone, email. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning, everybody. Thanks for being patient.

  • 10:21:06

    MR. RICK HESSGood morning.

  • 10:21:07

    MR. ANDY ROTHERHAMGood morning.

  • 10:21:08

    MR. ADRIAN FENTYGood morning.

  • 10:21:08

    PROF. DIANE RAVITCHGood morning.

  • 10:21:08

    REHMAndy, if I could start with you, tell us about this strike in Chicago. Why now?

  • 10:21:16

    ROTHERHAMWell, Diane, I think it's important to remember these things don't just happen in an instant. This one's been building up, in some ways, since the mayor, Rahm Emanuel, who is President Obama's White House chief of staff, took office in Chicago. There's been disagreements about pay raises, in some cases, that have to be rescinded 'cause of the city's budget problems, a major disagreement, a very bitter dispute about how to extend the school day.

  • 10:21:37

    ROTHERHAMChicago has one of the shortest school days in the country. Kids were in school for less than six hours a day, and the mayor wanted to extend that in disagreements about how to pay for that, who should staff it. And so, then, that all sort of -- that was settled this summer, the after-school extended day issue. But it's been building. Last year, the mayor and the union president, Karen Lewis, had a very public dispute where she allegedly disrespected her and yelled at her at a meeting.

  • 10:22:04

    ROTHERHAMAnd it has just been -- so this has been building, so that's why now. The teachers -- there's not a contract they needed to negotiate it. But this has been sort of building up with a bunch of things. And at this point, best we can tell, the money issues are actually pretty settled in terms of how much money the city can afford, and they're sort of working out the details of how that's allocated. But that's pretty settled.

  • 10:22:24

    ROTHERHAMThe big sticking points are around issues of teacher evaluation, what to do with teachers who lose their jobs as the city downsizes, and whether or not they're guaranteed jobs in the system, or if they can't find jobs, they're separated from the system. And some of this stems from Illinois passed a law along with more than 20 states over the last couple of years to change how they do teacher evaluation, and so some of that is implementing this law which left some of the big decisions up to districts.

  • 10:22:49

    ROTHERHAMAnd some of it is just -- over the years, despite all its problems, Chicago actually has pretty good human capital policies, meaning personnel policies. And Chicago officials feel that a lot of what the union is asking for in this negotiation would actually turn the clock back on that. And they won't agree to it.

  • 10:23:05

    REHMDiane Ravitch, to what extent can these issues actually now be negotiated?

  • 10:23:15

    RAVITCHWell, I think that -- it's hard to see where they're going to come out. At some point, obviously, they will reach a deal. But they may -- in fact, it may turn on what seem like arcane questions, like teacher evaluation. This is a big sticking point for the union, and that they're actually striking against the Obama administration's Race to the Top program. Of course, it was Race to the Top that requires states to evaluate teachers by the test scores of their students.

  • 10:23:42

    RAVITCHAnd the union points to the fact that Chicago's an extremely violent-plagued city, particularly youth violence. There's been story after story about the number of kids who are shot and killed every year. And there is tremendous poverty, very intense racial segregation. And the teachers say, test scores are affected by a lot more than during what happens in the classroom. They're also concerned about class sizes.

  • 10:24:07

    RAVITCHThere are classes that have more than 40 children, and the research on class size is very clear that, particularly for black children and the early grades, small classes are very important in terms of their progressing. Yet there are kindergartens and first grades with more than 40 children, which is outrageous. So I think the union has a vision of a school system that has the kind of resources where children get what they actually need, which is classes in the arts, foreign languages, a library.

  • 10:24:35

    RAVITCHThere's one social worker for every 1,000 children in the city of Chicago. There -- the union is very concerned about all this disparity. And when they see that, for example, Mayor Emanuel has his children, as he has a right to do, in the University of Chicago Lab Schools that has small classes and all the things that they want for the children of Chicago, it gets them very upset. And I think that there is -- as Andy said, there's a lot festering anger because, for years, the teachers have not been included in any of these discussions.

  • 10:25:04

    RAVITCHAnd they see a vastly under-resourced system where the children are being cheated. And they're looking for something more. And it has to do with all the specific issues but with a larger vision of what's the best kind of education for the children in their classrooms.

  • 10:25:20

    REHMAnd turning to you, Rick Hess, do you see a larger debate going on here in school reform itself playing out not only in Chicago but around the country?

  • 10:25:33

    HESSYeah. And I think evident both in what Andy and Diane have said is that there are deep rooting -- there are deep-running tensions from the last several years, particularly around Race to the Top, that have really come to a head in Chicago. And in some sense, you couldn't have written this to be more dramatic. It's the president's former chief of staff. It's the president's hometown. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan had a long stretch as superintendent in Chicago for most of the last decade.

  • 10:25:58

    HESSSo, you know, the dramatic aspects of this are clear. What you really see a fight here is Obama's former chief of staff is fighting for the kinds of reforms that have been strongly associated with reformed Democrats, teacher evaluation, rethinking seniority. And the other side, you see the Chicago Teachers Union in a year when the unions have taken some real blows, the failed recall of Scott Walker in Wisconsin, the NEA announcing in July they've lost more than 100,000 members. You see the CTU trying to mount an aggressive effort to push back on those kinds of reforms.

  • 10:26:35

    HESSFrankly, I think we're going to see a lot more of this in the next couple of years as these reforms get implemented. How this comes out is going to matter a lot. If it looks like Rahm Emanuel wins, it will be a real blow to the unions -- the teacher unions in this country. And it's going to raise a real possibility that Democrats can argue, look, you don't need to go to Republicans to push this agenda. If it looks like Rahm Emanuel backs down as tough as he is, there's going to be real questions about whether Democrats can follow through on this agenda.

  • 10:27:05

    REHMAnd turning to you, Mayor Fenty, do you expect to see more union backlash to education reform in other cities and states around the country?

  • 10:27:19

    FENTYYou know, Diane, I'm actually going to waive my right to talk about the adults because I've been reading all these stories. And the forest is being lost through the trees here. Chicago school system, half the kids graduate. They're dropping out in the same numbers here in D.C.

  • 10:27:35


  • 10:27:35

    FENTYHalf the kids graduate. Seventy percent failed to meet state standards. You got 87 percent of the kids in poverty, 85 percent of the kids are minority in the Chicago public school system. And just like in D.C. and New York and elsewhere, many of these kids are way behind where they're supposed to be in reading and in math. And here you have a newly elected, very popular mayor being one to throw huge political chips into this fight to say, we're not going to stand for this.

  • 10:28:04

    FENTYYou know, this school system needs to be fixed, and I'm willing to put my political career on the line. To me, I don't understand why people aren't rallying around him. Certainly for my party is Democrats saying, you know, we know that school systems aren't going to be fixed by tinkering around the edges. Kudos to Rahm Emanuel, keep it up, even do more. That's how I see this going. And I really hope that President Obama and Secretary Duncan and other Democrats who that you can't fix school system tinkering around the edges publicly support Rahm Emanuel and say, way to go.

  • 10:28:38

    REHMNow, where does that put you, a Democratic mayor, in the face of unions and most especially teachers unions?

  • 10:28:49

    FENTYWell, listen. Let me take what the teachers saying. Here, they're getting a guarantee 16 percent pay raise, and what they want is something that doesn't happen in the real world. They want it not tied to any type of objective performance criteria. They ought to be completely subjective or, as they've had in the past, to be based solely on seniority. We see where that's gotten Chicago public schools and everywhere else.

  • 10:29:10

    REHMWhere did it get to Washington?

  • 10:29:12

    FENTYOh, it got it us to the bottom. And so what we did here is we said, no, we're going to tie it towards objective criteria where if you can raise test scores and raise graduation rates and your evaluations get better, then we'll give you pay increases. That's how this has to happen. There has to be more accountability.

  • 10:29:30

    REHMDo you want to see an end to teachers unions?

  • 10:29:36

    FENTYI want to see an end to automatic tenure after a short period of time to getting pay raises just solely based on seniority and collective bargaining agreements that don't allow managers to hold people accountable. It hasn't gotten us anywhere. The teachers unions have been basically running the system for decades now, and our kids are failing. Let's do what's right for the kids for a change instead of doing what's right for adults.

  • 10:30:01

    REHMIs that a fair statement, Andy, that the teachers unions have been running the show for a very long time?

  • 10:30:10

    ROTHERHAMI think I would broaden it. I think that's a fair statement. I would broaden it, though, that it's the adults in the system. And when Mayor Fenty started, he said he doesn't want to talk about that, and it is inescapable. When you look at this, it's all about the adults, and the system is pretty well set up. And I think one of the issues in Chicago that really sort of crystallizes this -- it is an important issue -- is when you -- you have to downsize, and that's just a reality, and you're downsizing for different reasons. You're losing kids to charter schools as there in Chicago...

  • 10:30:33

    REHMRight. Right.

  • 10:30:34 they did here in Washington. Population moves. In Chicago, people are moving to the suburbs and so forth. You wind up with more school footprint, if you will, than you do kids, and you have to rightsize the district. The issue is what happens to teachers in those downsizing? And what the union is asking for is guaranteed jobs, that you continue to carry them in the system. They've done that in New York City, for instance.

  • 10:30:56

    ROTHERHAMIt's costing the city over $100 million. And that's the kind of issue, as we talked about and Rick talked about, this sort of transition period we're in. In the old days, we did, quite frankly, treat school systems, particularly urban school systems, like jobs programs. And now there's a lot of pressure in --embodied in Race to the Top and the things President Obama is talking about to focus much more on performance.

  • 10:31:15

    ROTHERHAMAnd these are the kind of hard clashes that sort of you can't fuzzy up with. It's all about the kids or what's good for teachers is good for kids. These are really hard decisions that really crystallize the issues here.

  • 10:31:24

    REHMDiane Ravitch, weigh in, please.

  • 10:31:27

    RAVITCHWell, I totally disagree with everything that Mayor Fenty said. If unions were the problem, we ought to be looking to the right-to-work states. We have lots of states that don't have teachers unions or that have such weak unions that they're totally toothless, and that's where the lowest performance is. The highest performing states in the United States are Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Jersey.

  • 10:31:48

    RAVITCHThese also happen to be the most unionized states in the country. Teachers unions have nothing to do with lower performance. Finland, which most people point to as being a very high-performing nation, is 100 percent unionized. The same is true in many of the other high-performing nations. But just look to our own nation and you'll the question is, do we want to have our schools look like Georgia and Mississippi and Alabama, where the teachers unions are toothless, or Louisiana?

  • 10:32:13

    RAVITCHThis is where there are no unions. This is where the adults who run the schools don't have to consult with the teachers. It doesn't make for higher performance. That is absolutely a canard. And I think that it's absolutely appropriate for people to be able to join in collective bargaining. I thought that issue was resolved during the New Deal.

  • 10:32:30

    RAVITCHWhat we have happening today is Democrats like Mayor Fenty and Mayor Villaraigosa and some others having adopted what we used to see as the far right agenda in education, and that is that education will be run through carrots and sticks. We have, for example, a huge amount of evidence that charter schools do not produce better results than regular public schools with unionized teachers.

  • 10:32:54

    REHMDiane Ravitch, she is education policy analyst and professor of New York University. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Mayor Fenty.

  • 10:33:08

    FENTYYou know, one of the things that the president of the union, Lewis, has said publicly is that if the -- Rahm Emanuel's plan went forward, that 6,000 teachers would be laid off under that proposal. And, you know, this is what she thought as a reason not to go forward with the plan, but people like me see this as absolutely the reason why we should go forward. If you start to put objective criteria in teacher evaluations and then it results in a mass layoff of teachers, to me, that's accountability. That's holding people responsible for what they are supposed to do.

  • 10:33:46

    REHMGive me an idea of what you mean by objective accountability.

  • 10:33:52

    FENTYWell, I believe that raising the percentage of teacher evaluations importance by how much test scores are counted is absolutely essential. Yes, you have to have management review. Yes, you have to have graduation rates and other measures. But the only objective thing that you can look to in evaluating whether a student is performing in a classroom is tests. And why the teachers union and Lewis and Ravitch and everybody else wants to run from objective criteria, the only thing I can pull away from it is that they don't want to be held accountable.

  • 10:34:26

    REHMAndy Rotherham.

  • 10:34:27

    ROTHERHAMWell, I just want to respond. We heard something a moment ago that you hear a lot, and I think it really tends to confuse people. I was a state board member here in Virginia for four years. We don't have strong teachers unions like in some of the other states like Massachusetts and New Jersey that Diane Ravitch mentioned. But the reality is our schools operate the same way. Our policies are largely the same.

  • 10:34:45

    ROTHERHAMAnd that's because whether you want to talk about Alabama or New Jersey and Massachusetts, these issues exist. They are policies that are either in teachers' contracts and strong union states. They're in state law in states where the unions are weaker, and weaker is a relative term. These are powerful political organizations that spend millions and millions of dollars on politics.

  • 10:35:03

    ROTHERHAMAnd so it's really the wrong variable to sort of look at to begin with, this north-south comparison that we hear quite a bit. It's simply inaccurate as a way to look at the policy landscape and how schools operate.

  • 10:35:15

    REHMSo, Rick Hess, where do these reforms really work?

  • 10:35:20

    HESSSo it depends what we mean by which reforms. There's -- one way to think about this is there's two kinds of reforms. There are reforms which are interventions in classrooms. We're going to teach children to read differently. We're going to help them master languages differently. Then there are reforms which are trying to put us in a position to get talented educators into classrooms, to give more flexibility, to make sure we give kids as much time as they need.

  • 10:35:45

    HESSAnd the kinds of reforms that they're arguing about in Chicago are not reforms that are calculated to teach children in a classroom. They're reforms that are calculated to make it easier to hire and keep good educators, to make sure kids get enough instructional time. Two quick points I would just add. One, just building on what Andy said, one thing to keep in mind is I think the union is fair to point out, as Randi Weingarten has done, that this cannot all fall on the shoulders of unions.

  • 10:36:13

    HESSManagement has been negligent at the table for decades. That's why strikes are so rare because management in most districts is folded. Rahm Emanuel, to my mind, is to be lauded because he is standing up for what he thinks is right for kids. Second is let's be clear about what's being done in Chicago right now. Right now in Chicago, there's a teacher for every 16 students. There's a district employee for every 10 students.

  • 10:36:38

    HESSThey're spending more than $13,000 per child per year. So let's not imagine that Chicago is bereft of resources or is running around with a student-teacher ratio that's enormous.

  • 10:36:51

    REHMSo -- but how much of an issue is teacher salary?

  • 10:36:55

    HESSSo the average teacher salary right now, as reported by the Chicago school board, is $76,000 a year. The unions' initial salary offer -- which I understood 30 percent raise over two years, which I've been informed is actually higher than that -- would have pushed average teacher salary, by 2014 in Chicago, to about $100,000 a year in a time of 8 percent unemployment and tough public budgets.

  • 10:37:18

    REHMRick Hess, he's director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute. When we come back, it's time to open the phones. We have callers from around the country. I look forward to speaking with you.

  • 10:40:05

    REHMAnd we're back. We're going to go right to the phones first to Key West, Fla. Good morning, Jenny. You're on the air.

  • 10:40:13

    JENNYGood morning.

  • 10:40:15

    REHMGo right ahead, please.

  • 10:40:16

    JENNYYes. I have a problem with schools being treated as businesses and students being products, which was mentioned on one of the financial stations on TV the other day. There is an administrator...

  • 10:40:31

    REHMNot here, it wasn't.

  • 10:40:33


  • 10:40:34


  • 10:40:34

    JENNYAnd there was a very good program yesterday evening with an expert from Boston doing research that...

  • 10:40:39


  • 10:40:39

    JENNY...debunks the whole idea of merit pay and mentioned Finland, which is ultimately my question. There is administrative bloat across this whole nation. I have taught in both Illinois, in Chicago, and Florida. I'm retired, and I can tell you that merit pay would not work. It'll boil down to favoritism and people being moved around to schools to satisfy someone down on the south street in the administrative building. And I know where I taught in Florida, which was at the college level, there was a disproportionate number of administrators compared...

  • 10:41:25

    REHMAll right. Is merit pay one of the issues here, Rick?

  • 10:41:30

    HESSNot right now in this negotiation. So that's not exclusively on the table. Honestly, I think I would disagree with the caller. I think, you know, Adrian spoke to this very effectively a few moments ago. One of the problems with the way we have spent education dollars is we have spent them formulaically, without regard to whether we're serving kids well. And I think simple-minded merit pay based solely on test scores is a bad idea. I agree with the caller there.

  • 10:41:57

    HESSBut I think that we absolutely need to rethink how we're spending dollars to make sure that 13,000 bucks a year that Chicago is spending per student is actually recruiting and keeping the kinds of educators who make a difference for kids.

  • 10:42:09

    REHMHow much money is going to be on the table in Chicago, Andy?

  • 10:42:14

    ROTHERHAMWell, it varies. The union's initial offer was north of 30 percent and over the next three years. And, I mean, the city had to reject that. They simply don't have the money, Diane. You will catch a unicorn today by its horn before Chicago has that magnitude of funding right now. It's just the reality of the economy and the state budget and where it is. They've since brought it down, and they seem, again, to be pretty close where you're going to have the biggest raises will be in the low 20s. A lot of teachers will get in the teens, and that's over four years.

  • 10:42:44

    ROTHERHAMAnd again, I think as Rick said, that's against the context of a tough economy, unemployment north of 8 percent. You have a lot of people worried about losing their jobs. So I don't think it's not about running schools like a business or anything. I just don't think there's a lot of sympathy out there around the country, particularly, frankly, in the upper Midwest, which has been hit hard, for guaranteed jobs and double-digit raises, as that somehow being a huge sacrifice or being unfair. People still see it that way.

  • 10:43:08

    REHMAll right. Let's go now to La Porte, Texas. Good morning, Judith.

  • 10:43:14

    JUDITHGood morning, our hero. I would like to comment on two things quickly. One is that I think the teachers should be really commended for acting for social workers on the campuses because I feel that competent ones can turn a child's attitude around and feel like there's someone on his side 'cause that's important in every school, especially in the poorer districts. I mean, everything that can help turn a child's motivation, success and self-esteem around is to have a clear surrounding that is enjoyable to the child.

  • 10:43:51

    JUDITHAnd if you notice, you very well hear when they talk about test scores of any content, they don't mention how many Shakespearean plays that they are familiar with, narrative ballads, which are so enticing to children.

  • 10:44:06

    REHMAll right. Thanks for your call. Diane Ravitch, you mentioned social workers. Why are they so important?

  • 10:44:14

    RAVITCHWell, Chicago schools have a lot of kids with an awful lot of home problems. And, you know, when we talk about resources, the teachers are not the ones who allocate the resources. As I mentioned earlier, they have many classrooms that have an excess of 40 children in a classroom. They have one social worker for every 1,000 children in a particularly violence-plagued city. And if they are wasted resources, I think, that the school board ought to be accountable for that.

  • 10:44:39

    RAVITCHI did, however, want to get back to this issue of test scores because judging teachers by test scores has not been validated anywhere in America. There is no district that has done it successfully. The most successful evaluation system is at Montgomery County, right in your own neighborhood, where there's a peer assistance program where over 200 teachers have been fired because the teachers and the principal found them to be not effective, and they didn't use test scores.

  • 10:45:05

    RAVITCHTest scores are not, in fact, an objective measure. Every testing program has the poorest kids at the bottom and the richest kids at the top. So if you expect to achieve equity through testing, it's a fantasy. D.C., for example, has had a testing by the -- an evaluation system since 2009, and its test scores have gone flat ever since it imposed the IMPACT system.

  • 10:45:27

    REHMMayor Fenty.

  • 10:45:30

    FENTYA couple of things. One, the D.C. test scores are -- over the course of the first two years of Michelle Rhee's tenure, more than any other jurisdiction in the country, and it was because of aggressive...

  • 10:45:39

    RAVITCHWhat about the last term?

  • 10:45:40

    FENTY...reforms. We weren't in charge the last two. The thing I want to talk about is the unions who talk about not wanting to change. But if you look at the current structure, the way it works is when you get a teaching job, basically in any inner city school system in America, as soon as you've been there for two years, you have automatic tenure. And then what happens is you get pay raises based solely on how long you've been in the system.

  • 10:46:08

    FENTYI challenge the union to point anywhere in the world that this is the case. It's not the real world that they live in. Companies don't work like this. Any place that judges itself as successful...

  • 10:46:17

    REHMSo you want to do away with tenure for teachers?

  • 10:46:22

    FENTYI do. I absolutely do. I'm one of the people who thinks Rahm Emanuel -- I would encourage him to do even more. But -- and so I certainly commend him for doing it as much as he did. And, again, I would like to say, you know, Diane Ravitch and others who don't agree with Rahm Emanuel, they're fine to state their position. What I have a big problem with is politicians who know that this is the right thing to do, but who fail to come to the side of Rahm Emanuel and others who are willing to go out on a limb and put their careers on the line.

  • 10:46:52


  • 10:46:52

    ROTHERHAMWell, I think the important piece of context here is we keep hearing about test scores and so forth. Most teachers in Chicago, and most teachers in this country for that matter, don't teach in grades or subjects that are assessed with standardized tests. We're really talking about maybe 30 percent of the teachers. The rest of them, again, are teaching -- they're teaching grades that we don't assess in early grades, different subjects in high schools where there's teaching subjects that we don't use standardized tests.

  • 10:47:15

    ROTHERHAMSo what does this is really about is -- and those teachers are going to be, obviously, evaluated by other methods, observations. There's a whole lot of different things being tried right now as the system starts to move towards taking this more seriously. So the fundamental issue, you know, we get tied up in tenure and so forth, is just, are we going to make these evaluations consequential? Are they going to matter to personnel decisions? And Chicago is illustrative here. In 2009, 93 percent of teachers in Chicago were rated superior or excellent. Only 3 percent were rated as unsatisfactory.

  • 10:47:43

    ROTHERHAMNow, any -- you've 26,000 teachers in Chicago, many of whom are outstanding. But any time you have 26,000 people, you're doing hiring at that scale, it's reasonable to assume that more than 3 percent of them are going to be struggling. We just didn't pay attention to this. And so the debate now is about, how do you do that? And test scores are only one part of that. It's sort of being held up as this, you know, turns into this three-ring circus. But it's really only a piece of this conversation about how do you evaluate teachers.

  • 10:48:05

    REHMAll right. To Indianapolis. Good morning, Martha.

  • 10:48:10

    MARTHAGood morning. I wanted to speak to the issue of class size. I taught at the labs school where Arne Duncan went to school and where Mr. Emanuel has his students. The kindergarten classes I taught were 22 and 23. When I taught in the Chicago public schools, at a magnet school, my kindergarten class was 42 students with no aide. So I don't know where these one in 16 teachers are. But in my 14 years of teaching in Chicago, I never saw a class of 16 students.

  • 10:48:41

    REHMRick Hess.

  • 10:48:43

    HESSSure. There's 26,000 teachers in Chicago. There's 400,000 students. You don't have to do complex math to get it to 16:1 students to...

  • 10:48:50

    REHMBut it has to vary.

  • 10:48:52

    HESSWell, so --- absolutely, it varies. That's right. That's district-wide. Now, one of the reasons class sizes don't match student-teacher ratios is because a collective bargaining agreement imposes restrictions on the teacher work day. So, you know, one of the reasons that you don't actually have class sizes of 16:1 is in part collective bargaining agreement provisions. The average class size in Chicago -- there is a bit by grade level, but it varies between 24:1 and 25.5:1.

  • 10:49:19

    HESSSo, you know, so there are absolutely examples, I'm sure, of 42:1. There are also examples in Chicago of 8:1 and 9:1 in special education classrooms. So that -- one other thing, just to keep in mind, is the reason that this fight is so heated is we have seen other contentious efforts to reform teacher evaluation. We just talked about the Washington example. Joel Klein did it in New York in 2005. Denver passed the system about a decade ago. Each of this came with enormous new dollars for teachers.

  • 10:49:50

    HESSThe D.C. involved $60 million from philanthropy. New York, Joel Klein gave a 40-odd percent pay raise in order to get the deal done. That was one that created the rubber rooms that Andy referenced. What you're seeing now in Chicago and going forward is particularly Democratic mayors pushing for the president's reform agenda without a big influx of new funds. That's why the Chicago fight is so telling. We're going to see what happens when you try to do this without lots of new money to give away.

  • 10:50:18


  • 10:50:19

    ROTHERHAMDiane, I think class size is one of these conversations that for people who worked -- an education analyst is just incredibly frustrating. It's very settled in the literature. Diane Ravitch is absolutely right that in the early grades and particularly for at-risk kids, lowering class size is an important thing to do, and not just lowering it to 18 or 20, but dropping it way below 16 and really putting good teachers in front of them. But it's that point of good teachers. The research is completely settled, and this has been studied for a long time, teacher effectiveness matters more than the class size.

  • 10:50:48

    ROTHERHAMAnd so if a district -- you want to put the money towards lowering classes in those early grades for at-risk kids. But you're going to get more bang for your buck, really making sure that across your system, particularly those -- at those other grades, those other subjects you're evaluating, you have the best teachers that you can have 'cause, again, the research is settled. We fight over and shed blood over education and on radio shows, but it is absolutely settled that teacher effectiveness matters more than class size.

  • 10:51:10

    REHMAll right. To Avon Lake, Ohio. Good morning, Joan.

  • 10:51:16

    JOANGood morning. And my thanks for your show. I listen to it daily. Thank you.

  • 10:51:20

    REHMI'm so glad. Thank you.

  • 10:51:22

    JOANIn regards to several things, evaluation -- right now, I don't see an objective means of doing this because it's very hard to eliminate favoritism. I speak from experience, and I enjoyed my years -- many, many years of teaching. And class size, we are still speaking of children as if they are inanimate objects.

  • 10:51:48

    REHMAll right. Let's take one issue there, and that's evaluation and how you avoid favoritism. Mayor Fenty.

  • 10:51:58

    FENTYWell, I mean, they do it the same way you do it at NPR or anywhere else in the world. You hire good managers, and they have to show you results. One of the things we are huge here in D.C. is hold us accountable for our results. If test scores go up, if graduation rates go up, if enrollment goes up, all three of which happened when we were in D.C., then we're doing a good job. If those things go down, well, then get new people in charge. That's what you do about management.

  • 10:52:22

    FENTYI just wanted to add just one thing that came up, and that's this issue of poverty that has been brought up repeatedly by the teachers' union president. The reason that she doesn't think that we should count objective criteria like tests, again, for pay raise is because she feels there's so much poverty and homelessness and social issues in inner-city Chicago, and thus, teachers aren't in control of being able to raise -- to me and to others, that smacks of saying that poor kids cannot be held accountable to the same standards as any other kids. And that's ridiculous.

  • 10:52:54

    REHMBut don't you need parental guidance and parental support to continue to inspire those children for learning? If they don't have it at home, where are they going to get it?

  • 10:53:08

    FENTYYeah. I'd just like to speak, but, to me, the Chicago Teachers Union is trying to take a pass on being held accountable by saying that if -- that because we're not in charge of the entire student's family, then we can't be held accountable or responsible for raising test scores. I think it's a cop out.

  • 10:53:25

    REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Diane Ravitch, do you want to weigh in?

  • 10:53:31

    RAVITCHSure. First of all, I want to correct something Mayor Fenty said. There is no such thing in any district in America as automatic tenure. Tenure has to be earned. It has to be won...

  • 10:53:38

    FENTYAfter two years, it's absolutely automatic.

  • 10:53:40 getting the approval of a principal. Someone has to grant tenure. Teachers don't give tenure to themselves, and it's not automatic. As far as what improvements we've seen, Rick has mentioned the districts that have adopted teacher evaluation systems. None of them have seen any dramatic improvements. New York City saw its scores revert. We have now this same achievement gap that we had 10 years ago. The scores have gone back to virtually where they were 10 years ago.

  • 10:54:05

    RAVITCHDenver has seen no improvements. And D.C. has the largest achievement gap today of any city that's tested by the federal government, double the size of the achievement gap of any city that's tested by the federal government.

  • 10:54:16

    REHMIs that true, Mayor Fenty?

  • 10:54:18

    FENTYOh, Michelle and I were very clear that we need more reform. And to -- we were closing the achievement gap.

  • 10:54:23

    REHMMichelle Rhee.

  • 10:54:24

    FENTYAnd that's why we need to continue the reforms, but we certainly don't need to go back to the unaccountable ways of the past.

  • 10:54:30

    REHMAndy, tell me, are there similarities between what's happening in Chicago and what's happening -- what happened to the teachers union in Wisconsin?

  • 10:54:42

    ROTHERHAMI think only insofar the specific similarities is just we're now having a conversation about this stuff that we haven't had and about these hard issues. And I often say -- and it sounds a little flip, Diane, but bear with me -- education, it's like when you see a couple in a bad marriage and they argue about everything except whatever the core issue is. For years in education, we have argued about everything except personnel. Now, we're talking about personnel.

  • 10:55:06

    ROTHERHAMAnd obviously personnel instruction matters most to what we do in education, so that's naturally going to be very contentious and it's evolving. Diane Ravitch, you know, said these cities that have passed evaluations and these states and nothing has happened, it's early. At Bellwether Education, which is my day job, we just put an analysis of 21 state laws. They're still being implemented and so forth, and so I would say that is a story that's very much TBD.

  • 10:55:29

    ROTHERHAMI wouldn't make a rush to judgment that that's going to be a success or that it's going to be a failure. It's unfolding now. We're going to learn a lot as that goes forward. But it's much too soon to declare a verdict on any of this.

  • 10:55:40

    REHMRick Hess.

  • 10:55:40

    HESSYeah. I mean, I think that question, the Wisconsin versus Chicago question, is fascinating because this is the place where Republican and Democratic school reformers part ways. In Chicago, you have seen Democrats red reform. And many of those -- it's not many as Adrian pointed out, but a lot of Democrats red reform have rallied behind Mayor Emanuel. Even the New York Times had said nice things.

  • 10:56:01

    HESSIn Wisconsin, those same Democrats red reform parted ways with Walker, attacking him pretty vociferously, and, obviously, he got treated roughly in the pages of New York Times. Two big differences. Personally, I prefer the Wisconsin approach. I think it does two things. One, the Wisconsin approach treated the cause to my mind rather than the symptoms by addressing and dialing back the scope of collective bargaining at the state level.

  • 10:56:24

    HESSIt made it possible, I think, for districts to run responsibly without having to engage in this trench warfare that we're seeing Mayor Emanuel dealing with. Two, by dialing back the state obligation in terms of expansive benefits for teachers. What you saw in Wisconsin was enormous savings for school systems that can be poured in the classrooms, whereas in Chicago, you're seeing a lot more money being put in teacher's pockets.

  • 10:56:46

    REHMHow much longer is this strike going to go on, Andy? Quickly.

  • 10:56:50

    ROTHERHAMOh, I suspect we're going to see it wrapped up within a couple of days. I mean, part of this strike, it's pretty clear, is the union needed to have some theater for its members. Let them blow off some steam. I mean, I think that's increasingly obvious, and so the two sides are not that far apart. This will be wrapped up in a few days. And, frankly, the union is taking just a huge PR beating nationwide.

  • 10:57:08

    REHMAndy Rotherham of Time magazine and former Mayor Adrian Fenty, Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute and Diane Ravitch, professor at New York University. Thank you all so much.

  • 10:57:28

    HESSThank you.

  • 10:57:28

    ROTHERHAMThank you.

  • 10:57:29

    REHMAnd thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.

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