UPDATED: Education Reform Proposal Moving Forward

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (CBS/WBBM) — A major school reform package advanced in an Illinois Senate committee in Springfield on Thursday, with an unusual coalition of lawmakers, school districts and teachers unions supporting the measure.

The proposal deals with issues like tenure, teachers’ right to strike and lengthening the school day.

CBS 2 Chief Correspondent Jay Levine explains how they got all those groups on the same page.

Change, especially major reform, usually upsets somebody, and everyone seemed satisfied with the proposal headed for a full Senate vote soon.

It’s a package of education reforms that touts a premium on quality teachers. The idea is to make it easier for school districts to get rid of underperforming teachers, regardless of their salary or seniority.

State Sen. Kimberly Lightford (D-Maywood) negotiated the deal with unions and other interest groups. State Sen. Ed Maloney (D-Chicago), went so far as to call her “the Miracle Worker.”

LISTEN: Newsradio 780’s Dave Dahl reports

Although all the major players seemed to be on board, there were shots fired and returned over provisions like Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel’s top priority: a longer school day.

“The board will establish the time, they’ll analyze whether it’s an hour, an hour-and-a-half or two (hours), whether it’s a week, two weeks or three weeks,” Emanuel said. “We will establish it. It is essential. I will not allow the kids of Chicago to be academically cheated as they have for the last 30 years.”

Chicago Teachers Union staff coordinator Jackson Potter said “If Rahm wants to have a longer school day, or any of these other things that he wants, he’s gotta come and negotiate with us. There’s no quick fix here. There’s no easy way out of that.”

The union said Chicago Public Schools officials must negotiate some form of compensation for longer school days, which is a key provision of the School Reform Bill.

The measure also would make teachers’ strikes more difficult, though not impossible. And tenure, or lifetime job security, would be tougher to get.

“Teachers will no longer just get tenure based on seniority, they’ll have to have good performance,” said John Tillman of the Illinois Policy Institute. “Management will have greater control over removing bad teachers, keeping great teachers and not removing people when layoffs are necessary based on ‘last in, first out.’”

The proposal doesn’t guarantee better teachers, longer school days, or balanced budgets, but a spokesman for Chicago Public Schools said it’s a “step toward progress for Chicago Public Schools and the children, but there’s stillmore work to be done.”

Mayor Richard M. Daley agreed.

“Everybody has to sacrifice, simple as that. And I’m not getting into a debate as to what they said or not, but this is in the right direction,” Daley said.

While CPS has estimated that an extra hour in the classroom would cost $300 million a year, Emanuel was adamant that there will be a longer school day and under his watch and it won’t cost taxpayers anything close to that amount.

It was a clearly-drawn line in the sand from the mayor-elect and Levine said he’s never heard Emanuel as adamant about something as he was about a longer school day.

While Illinois House members weren’t throwing cold water on the celebration Thursday, Rep. Roger Eddy (R-Hutsonville), himself a school superintendent, cautioned that the proposal would need a full vetting.

“You have to balance this desire to keep the best teachers in front of children with the reality that as teachers advance in their career, they’re paid more,” Eddy said.

Jessica Handy, policy director for Stand for Children Illinois, said the proposal would build upon previously-passed legislation improving evaluations.

“It’s going to look at student growth, not, ‘Do your students reach a benchmark,’ but it’s going to incorporate, ‘How much are you getting your kids to grow each year,” Handy said, “and based on that new performance evaluation model, we want to take it the next step, and let’s incorporate that into personnel decisions.”

Lightford said she wants to throw out rumors that the big money of such groups as Stand for Children and Advance Illinois had an undue influence on the measure, and she also did not want to focus on provisions to make it more difficult for teachers to strike.

Ken Swanson, president of the Illinois Education Association, said his members – particularly more experienced ones – have concerns about the measure, but he believes he and leaders of other unions – CTU and the Illinois Federation of Teachers – will be able to sell it.

  • Jim

    Unions will not stand for this!!

  • tom sharp

    Before everyone starts congratulating the State Legislature for “ending seniority and making teachers more accountable to show growth,” please consider the following scenario that probably will be replayed hundreds of times at all grades in the Chicago Public Schools next year: The principal hires a new 2nd grade teacher who proves to be awful. After a year the principal can dump that teacher and not many would feel bad about it (expect the 2nd grade kids and their parents who suffered for that year). The following year, almost all or all of those 2nd grade students are promoted to 3rd grade in spite of not knowing most the requisite skill for entering 3rd grade (we all know that social promotion is alive and well in CPS). The third grade teacher is a 20-year vet with high ratings. However, even with her formidable education skills, she must spend most of her time going over 2nd grade material that the students didn’t learn. As result, the 3rd grade test scores for these students show little or no growth. The principal and CPS administrators can conclude, based on “the lack of student growth,” that she is a bad teacher and dump her because the Union can’t protect her. Ergo, a bad and good teacher are gone, the principal, whose poor judgment in hiring the bad 2nd grade teacher resulted in the firing of the 3rd grade teacher, still has her job, and the students are a year or more behind on their test scores. Congratulations all!!

    • Come on man

      As someone who has read the bill. This is not the case at All and the article addresses this issue. The scenario would work this way: Bad teacher sends 2nd graders to 3rd grade with no progress. Under PERA (passed last year) the evaluation of the subsequent 3rd grade teacher would based on growth. Not a set in stone benchmark that would have been made impossible to make because of the “bad” teacher. Therefore, so long as there is progress by the “good” teacher they will not be penalized.

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  • James

    I see ignorance is thriving in Chicago – Emanuel said. “We will establish it. It is essential. I will not allow the kids of Chicago to be academically cheated as they have for the last 30 years.”
    Unfortunately children are unable to choose their parents wisely, therefore it is left to the government to protect us from ignorant decision making, unfortunately the government is making the most ignorant decisions of all and they affect our society in a way that we might never recover from.
    When you take away parental responsibility and hand out every incentive available to people who overpopulate this country you do a disservice to everyone in the country. Handing out freebies like tax breaks, free schooling upgrades, free lunch, free housing, etc., for irresponsible people so they can have children that are neglected and abused is the number one reason our society is crumbling. It is the number one reason there is so much violent crime, higher taxes, pollution, overpopulation, etc.

  • James

    “Everybody has to sacrifice, simple as that. And I’m not getting into a debate as to what they said or not, but this is in the right direction,” Daley said.
    What Daley meant to say was, “Everyone except the parents has to sacrifice.” Because as we all know by now the more freebies the government hands out the less responsibility the parents have to take, therefore contributing to the breakdown of our society.

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