CPS releases its latest contract proposal, strike end in sight?

September 13, 2012

Linda Lutton and Becky Vevea

There appears to be movement on at least one of two major issues that have kept 350,000 students out of school this week, and their teachers on the picket line.

Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis emerged from talks late Wednesday apparently pleased with the school district’s latest offer on teacher evaluations.

“I’m smiling,” she said. “I’m very happy.” She said the most recent proposal on the district’s new system for evaluating teachers was “a lot better.”

That proposal, released to reporters late Wednesday, would modify an evaluation system, known as REACH, that the Chicago school district unveiled in late March.

Though the union had spent months meeting with the school district to shape the evaluation system, it did not sign off on the final plan. And teacher evaluations have become one of two major stumbling blocks at the bargaining table, along with recall rights for teachers who've lost their jobs in the face of ongoing school closings.

The union has feared that the new evaluation system could put more than a quarter of teachers on a course to eventual dismissal. That’s about the percentage of teachers who scored in the bottom two categories of a four-category rating system during a pilot program the district conducted.

The new contract proposal offers the following modifications to the original evaluation plan:

  • an appeals process for “erroneous ratings”
  • a renaming of the “needs improvement” rating to “developing.” The four ratings would now be excellent, proficient, developing, and unsatisfactory
  • a pilot year for tenured teachers
  • in the first year, any teacher can decide if their first observation counts toward their overall rating at the end of the year.
  • biannual instead of annual ratings for teachers in the “satisfactory” category, and
  • teachers rated "developing" two years in a row would no longer automatically drop to "unsatisfactory." Unless teachers lose more than 10 points from the previous year, they could stay at this rating category indefinitely.

Significantly, the contract proposal does not seem to touch on one of the union’s biggest underlying problems with the rating system: using student growth measures to rate a teacher.

A 2010 state law requires that “student growth” be included as a “significant factor” in rating a teacher.

The Chicago plan uses controversial “value-added measures,” derived from standardized test scores, to determine growth, but only in part. It also incorporates classroom-based activities, projects, and labs that teachers will design as a student growth measure. Over the course of the contract, the percentage that those "value-added" scores count would grow, but would never be more than 25 percent of a teacher's rating. Classroom observations and student surveys would comprise the rest. The union has said it considers the value-added scores unreliable.

Here is a chart that shows exactly how much and which student growth measures will count. The numbers have not changed since they were proposed in March.

Other significant provisions in the latest contract proposal include:

STEPS: CPS is agreeing to retain a modified “step” salary schedule that gives teachers automatic annual raises for additional years of service. It will accept a union-proposed “modified” schedule that boosts pay for teachers with between 5 and 13 years of experience “to retain experienced teachers.” The district had initially proposed eliminating steps and shifting to a “differentiated pay” schedule that would reward teachers for working in hard-to-staff schools or subjects.

PERFORMANCE PAY: Though the Board is not asking to implement a new salary schedule, they still wants to set up a joint committee with the union to revamp how teachers are paid. The committee would explore linking compensation to a variety of factors, including student growth and working in hard-to-staff schools or subjects. The Board wants to set up a career ladder that rewards teachers who take on additional responsibilities, like being a mentor teacher or department chair. The committee will also have the authority to make changes to the new evaluation system.

REHIRING RIGHTS FOR TEACHERS AFFECTED BY SCHOOL CLOSINGS and CONSOLIDATIONS: Principals at schools that receive children from a closing school must appoint tenured teachers displaced from the closed school to vacancies for which they qualify, if the tenured teacher has been rated proficient or better. Tenured teachers with proficient or excellent ratings who are unable to transfer will join the district’s “reassigned teacher pool” for five months (down from 10 months in the current contract). Teachers can also opt to take a severance package worth three months pay.

PRINCIPAL DISCRETION OVER HIRING as it relates to school closings and turnarounds.  A “Quality Teacher Pool” will be created for teachers laid off due to school closings or consolidations. Principals with vacancies must interview up to three qualified candidates from that pool. If principals select a teacher other than the “quality teacher pool” candidate, they must tell the district’s Talent Office why.

CALENDAR: The school year would be 178 school days long for students (up from a current 170). Columbus Day would remain a holiday. There would be no class on report-card pickup days (CPS had proposed students be in school a half day before teachers meet with parents).

The full text of the school district’s latest contract proposal is posted below.

Both the school board and union say it's possible school could be in session Friday.