IEA Executive Director Audrey Soglin. “What will this mean for us?” I asked. “It will be a challenge,” she responded coldly.
When I first started as a public school teacher, the district I worked in and the union local I was a member of had just settled a contract. As a result of their joint collective bargaining efforts, a committee was established to develop a new teacher evaluation program. At the time, although there were some minimum state guidelines, teacher evaluation was almost entirely a mandated part of the collective bargaining process.
Naturally a committee was established. The committee consisted of teachers selected by our local union leadership and it also consisted of administrators and board members. For three years they met and concluded in the points negotiated between the union and board. It became a part of our contract. Although the results of a teacher evaluation could not be grieved, a violation of the evaluation process could be the subject of a grievance.
As I think back on it, it was a extraordinary effort on the part of our little district. As in any committee work, many got frustrated. It seemed to go on and on. But what happened was that those involved engaged in a three-year dialogue over what counts as good teaching and tried to figure out a way to measure it. The voice of the teachers was present because our union was present. As members of the committee they frequently reported back on the progress of the talks and welcomed input.
It wasn’t perfect. But it worked as well as any part of the collective bargaining process works.
I think about this now as I hear back from teachers who are receiving their evaluations and rankings from last year.
What I hear doesn’t sound good. I believe that much of the problem is the result of the loss of collective bargaining rights.
Some try to argue that teacher evaluation is a process for improving teacher practice. But this is nonsense. Evaluation is a process by which those in power positions decide who goes and who stays and how that should be done.
That is why it needs to be bargained.
The purpose of professional development is improving teacher practice. And for all its system-wide faults and weaknesses, professional development shouldn’t be confused with a teacher’s performance review.
Teacher evaluation has been – little by little – removed from the collective bargaining process.
Our state unions are totally complicit in that change.
When IEA Executive Director Audrey Soglin was appointed by Governor Quinn to chair the committee that applied for a Race to the Top grant, it led to the legislature passing PERA, the Performance Evaluation Reform Act. PERA then became a part of Illinois’ Senate Bill 7, which changed the rules governing tenure, seniority, teacher evaluation and the right to strike by Chicago teachers.
This became the critical moment in Illinois for removing essential parts of teacher evaluation from local collective bargaining. Legislators and union bureaucrats had decided, with little discussion or research, what counted as good teaching practice and how to measure it.
At a IEA Representative Assembly shortly after Soglin led the move to remove major parts of teacher evaluation from local collective bargaining, I took to the microphone and pointed out that PERA had taken away all that our local had accomplished in creating an evaluation process that was working.
“What will this mean for us?” I asked.
“It will be a challenge,” she responded coldly.
The debate over what counts as good teaching practice and how to measure it is an important one. But like compensation and working conditions, it is best that the debate is reflected in a bargained agreement with teacher voices represented at the bargaining table through their local bargaining team.
We have lost that. Losing it was a loss of our collective bargaining rights.
Getting it back is the real challenge.