Illinois Education Reform Legislation Puts Kids First

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Illinois teachers unions, part of a broad coalition that helped shape historic state legislation to keep the best teachers in the classroom and boost learning conditions for students, stepped forward this week to voice support for the bill, which is up for a vote in the state Senate.

The Illinois Federation of Teachers, the Chicago Teachers Union and the Illinois Education Association threw teacher support behind S.B. 7 at an April 14 press conference in Springfield. The unions were part of the diverse group that developed S.B. 7, led by state Sen. Kimberly Lightford. The legislation, union leaders said, reflects unprecedented collaboration that led to unanimous support.

S.B. 7 "exists today because of everyone's commitment to putting politics aside and doing what's in the best interests of our kids. We want the best teachers with the most experience teaching our kids," said Illinois Federation of Teachers president Dan Montgomery.

"We are proud that we were successful in making sure experience and performance are respected," said Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis, who is an AFT vice president. "We have made the process for teacher dismissal more efficient and fair. We also have made certain there will be more accountability for everyone involved in the education of our students—not just teachers, but administrators and school board members as well."

AFT president Randi Weingarten noted that the bill reflects the understanding that for kids to succeed, everyone in schools, including teachers, must be held to high standards, and teachers need to be supported and treated fairly. "The serious and inclusive process used to craft this legislation, in which partisan politics took a back seat to kids' best interests, stands in stark contrast to anti-union, ideological legislation coming out of other states," she said. "The process and the resulting bill prove that when we look for solutions together, we can make schools better for all students."

Key reforms that were championed by the Illinois teachers unions in their "Accountability for All" plan and included in the bill are:

  • A new Survey of Learning Conditions that will provide a reliable instrument to measure a school's progress through teacher, student and administrator feedback that will be made public. 
  • Required training for school board members that will ensure they are qualified in critical areas of responsibility, including financial oversight, education and labor law, and accountability. 
  • A measure to ensure layoff decisions take experience and performance into account.  
  • A process for granting tenure to teachers who are performing well in the classroom, and a way to expedite the tenure process if a teacher truly excels in the classroom. 
  • A streamlined dismissal process for underperforming teachers that protects teachers' due process through the addition of a highly qualified evaluator.
  • An improved mediation process to include more public disclosure of final contract offers, while protecting members' rights to collectively bargain and to have a voice at the table so they can keep advocating for our kids.  
  • Union leaders also praised the work of Lightford, who presided over more than 40 meetings, some as long as 10 hours, where the contents of the bill were debated and, ultimately, agreed to by all participants.

More information on the "Accountability for All" proposals can be found at the Illinois Kids First website. [IFT, CTU, IEA]

April 14, 2011