Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Teacher, students win in reform plan

Here's an op ed in the Chicago Sun-Times about the historic IL bill:

If you were shocked at last week's revelation that a group of education reform organizations, representatives from the state's three largest teachers unions and members of the Illinois State Board of Education came together to formulate a "historic" education reform package, you're not alone.

Oh, to have been a fly on the wall during those heated debates. To someone unfamiliar with the inner workings of the educational system, it's really difficult to overstate the red-faced, spittle-launching rage that usually erupts when reforms to hold teachers accountable for their performance in the classroom are openly discussed.

Take it from me, anyone who would dare to bring up in the average teachers' lounge the kind of reform measures that the Illinois Senate passed unanimously last Thursday night would not escape without a joke that they'd better be careful or their tires might find themselves slashed.

These changes are earth-shattering and, if the package survives House scrutiny, they have the potential to make Illinois a perfect example of how students can benefit from improvements that are made on a foundation of respect for teachers.

Yes, despite the teeth-gnashing, end-of-the-world prognostications from educators bent on interpreting these reforms as "stripping teachers of collective bargaining rights," what springs to my mind in all of this is "fairness."

These are changes that feel fair to tax-paying parents, students and talented, hardworking teachers.

Illinois Senate Bill 7 reads like a parents' wish list: The door would be opened for a longer school day in Chicago, and it would be harder to strike.

Instead of just showing up every day, new teachers would have to earn "proficient" or "excellent" teacher evaluations during two of the final three years of their four-year probationary period to qualify for tenure.

And even after tenure is secured, the red tape necessary to dismiss a tenured teacher would be reduced — but learning conditions could be factored into the dismissal process, protecting teachers from out-of-school factors that stunt students' performance in the classroom.

"Incompetence" has been defined and superintendents would have the ability to revoke a teacher's certificate if he or she received two unsatisfactory evaluations within a seven-year period, though they would also have the discretion to give a lesser sanction that could give a struggling teacher one last chance to get his or her act together.

The fact that the state's three largest teachers' unions signed onto it shows how reasonable the unions can be – when placed under enormous pressure!

Teacher, students win in reform plan

ESTHER CEPEDA    Apr 18, 2011

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