Chicago Strike Highlights Debate Around Teacher Evaluations

You’ve probably heard by now that teachers from the third-largest school district in the U.S. are on strike. Yesterday, Chicago teachers left work to go on strike after negotiations broke down. They are putting their foot down even after receiving an offer for a 16% pay raise over four years. Chicago teachers want better job security and fairer teacher evaluations, among other demands.


There are a whopping 26,000 public school teachers on strike, putting class on hold for countless kids. However, it may be more difficult for teachers to get what they want. The New York Times asserted that over the past few years unions have weakened; over 300,000 school employees lost jobs since June 2009 and the largest teacher union, the NEA, has lost 100,000 members  over the past two years.

One of the major issues under debate is around teacher evaluations. Mayor Rahm Emanuel has insisted on merit-based pay and having student test performance weigh more for determining teacher tenure.  State law currently calls for a minimum of 30% of teacher evaluations based on student test scores and Chicago wants to increase that to 40%. The unions are against this change, noting that these tests are not necessarily accurate and don’t take the big picture into account.

This debate is not limited to Chicago, though. Districts across the country are grappling with how to evaluate teachers, both to award credentials and to evaluate ongoing performance. As entrepreneurs and innovators are flocking to the complex world of education tech, we’re on the horizon of some vast changes, and that includes how we evaluate teachers. Many argue there  are methods of evaluation from other professions that could be utilized for teachers, too. How should teachers be evaluated and what new tools or technology could help make evaluations more effective and fair? The debate is just heating up.

And as for the students? Fast Company recently suggested top apps for students while their teachers are on strike. They suggest trying DreamBox Math, Smarty Ants, Wonderville, MinecraftEDU and, of course, Khan Academy.