Sweeping teacher tenure, strike bill pushed in Springfield

Teacher unions offer their own plan

January 5, 2011

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Illinois lawmakers are hearing this week from groups who want to overhaul teacher tenure and limit teachers’ right to strike.

Their draft legislation, called Performance Counts, could fundamentally change how teachers are hired and fired in the state. Instead of giving teachers tenure automatically after a certain number of years on the job, it would tie teachers’ job security to performance—how much their students learn.

“It’s designed to build on stronger, more meaningful performance evaluations and to make those performance evaluations start to matter as we make decisions about how we staff our schools,” said Robin Steans, executive director of Advance Illinois, which helped draw up the plan.

Advance Illinois was among the groups that pushed for changes to Illinois’ teacher evaluation law running up to the federal Race to the Top competition. That law was written with teachers unions at the table, and requires districts to evaluate teachers based largely on how much their students learn. Many districts in the state are currently grappling with how to do that. But that law never tied evaluations to teacher pay or tenure.

Under the new proposal, teachers would have to earn "proficient" or "excellent" ratings for four years before earning tenure. Teachers with tenure could lose it if they perform poorly, and the process for firing a bad teacher would be streamlined. The state’s three largest teachers unions aren’t opposing those measures outright. But they are fiercely fighting another provision: Performance Counts would all but eliminate teachers’ right to strike.

Leaders of the Illinois Education Association, the Illinois Federation of Teachers and the Chicago Teachers Union—which combined represent nearly every public school teacher in Illinois—complain the current draft legislation was drawn up without any teacher input. They unveiled their own proposal in Springfield this week called “Accountability for All.” It would require school board members to get training in education and labor law and financial oversight, and it emphasizes districts’ responsibility to provide teacher training, but it also steps back some from tenets teachers unions have long held dear, such as seniority.

Performance Counts is being backed by heavy hitters from the businesses community: the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago, the Illinois Chamber of Commerce, and the Illinois Business Roundtable. Also working for its passage is a new player in Illinois, Stand for Children. The out-of-state group donated more than $600,000 to Illinois lawmakers’ campaigns this fall and has pushed in other states for teacher tenure reform.

Performance Counts advocates are hoping to pass legislation by January 11, before the new General Assembly is sworn in.