MTEA President Peterson Rallies Chicago Teachers

Bemoans the Use of Data in Education

By Christian D’Andrea

MacIver Institute Education Policy Analyst

Milwaukee Teachers Education Association President Bob Peterson had some harsh words for a crowd of striking teachers in Chicago this weekend. In the midst of comparing Scott Walker to Rahm Emanuel and copious amounts of back-patting for taking part in 2010’s protests, he went out of his way to blast national-level curriculum changes that will raise educational standards across the country.

“They [students] do not deserve a dumbed-down, data-drenched, test-driven curriculum,” Peterson shouted to a hyperactive crowd. “And we teachers…deserve to be treated as professionals! As professionals, we demand that our students receive a comprehensive, quality education.”

Yes, because who would ever want their educational outcomes based on actual data?

Those “dumbed-down” standards would include more resources for early childhood literacy, a greater focus on science and math, and more classroom time for teachers and students. These Common Core of Data standards aren’t unique to Chicago or Milwaukee, and they’ll be sweeping across the country in an effort to raise the bar for American students and make state-to-state comparisons more readily available. That centralized data format will give Americans a better idea of which reforms are working in which state, and allow for data to be shared in order to help raise the tide of public education across the country.

Peterson isn’t a fan of that, though he doesn’t explicitly state why. Is it because higher standards will showcase just how poorly schools like Milwaukee’s are actually performing? Or is it because it may showcase how school reforms like choice programs and charter schools are doing more for their students with less funding? Or maybe the problem is greater accountability for teachers when a stronger system of data collection can provide more accurate feedback on how much a student is learning in the classroom in a given year?

But of course Bob Peterson doesn’t believe in data-driven curricula. He hardly even believes in data. When the School Choice Demonstration Project showed that voucher students made educational gains when compared to their MPS peers over a five-year span, his first response to the results was to imply that they were driven by cheating in the private schools.

A look at the data behind the program could have given Peterson plenty of avenues to explain the difference in scores. A simple statistical analysis could have given the MTEA president some ammunition to argue in favor of MPS’s results in the study. A state audit months later used the selection of students in the study to create a reasonable discussion over the impact of the benefits for voucher school students.

But, data be damned, he went to cheating first. And that declaration set the stage for Peterson’s comments this week.

Peterson says in his comments that MTEA has demanded that teachers be treated like professionals. Apparently that doesn’t include being judged on the merit of your work in order to recognize quality. He also demands that his students receive a “comprehensive, quality education.” That’s a bold statement coming from an educational leader mired in the lowest-performing school district in Wisconsin.