Sweeping changes proposed to how IL teachers are hired, fired

Seniority is out, teacher performance is in.

April 13, 2011

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Updated at: 6:20 am on 4/14/11

For months, groups pushing for changes to teacher tenure in Illinois have been meeting behind closed doors with the state’s biggest teachers unions.

They’ve now emerged with a deal that would fundamentally change how teachers are hired and fired in Illinois.

Robin Steans of the group Advance Illinois was at the negotiating table, along with representatives from the state’s three largest teachers unions and the Illinois State Board of Education.

“It is hard to overstate what a huge step in the right direction this is on a whole host of fronts,” said Steans.

Take seniority, she said.

“For layoffs, which have been happening around the state, it’s been last hired, first fired,” said Steans. “What this bill does is at every juncture it says, ‘No, this shouldn’t be about just who’s been around the longest, it should be about how people are performing for kids, and who’s doing the most effective job.’”

That would be determined by overhauled teacher evaluations that take into account student growth. The process for dismissing a teacher would be restructured and sped up.

A prior version of the bill, called Performance Counts, had been drawn up by Advance Illinois and the national group Stand For Children, but without the teachers unions. That bill included a provision that would have made it nearly impossible for teachers in the state to strike. Unions railed against it and criticized the groups for failing to include teachers in reform plans.

Ken Swanson, president of the Illinois Education Association, which represents most suburban and downstate teachers, called the new bill and the inclusive negotiations that took place to hash it out "historic."

"We have demonstrated that you do not need to attack collective bargaining rights, you do not need to demonize public servants, that unions and public employees care deeply about the public we serve, and that we will come to the table and we have credible ideas on how to make the system more responsive," said Swanson. He said in the end, the bill is "good for kids, fair to the adults in the system."

The bill preserves teachers' right to strike, but it becomes more difficult in Chicago. Seventy-five percent of Chicago Teachers Union members would need to vote to strike, rather than the current 50 percent.

The proposal also makes it easier for Chicago’s school district to set a longer school day, though wages and compensation would still have to be negotiated.