Education Reform: Spotlight Illinois
The state of Illinois recently made headlines in education by passing a reform bill that would make it easier to fire teachers deemed ineffective and allow for a lengthened school year in Chicago.
The main point of the bill is to link teacher tenure more directly to student achievement. In an example scenario, a teacher could be laid off for poor student achievement and seniority, which is a factor often considered in cases of teacher lay-offs, would not play as large of a role in saving teacher jobs.
Provisions in the new bill will give Chicago Maylor-elect Rahm Emanual powers to lengthen the school year. Many believe this is critical for student achievement. This move comes at a time when budget constraints in other states have seen teacher furlough days and huge cuts to education.
The Illinois bill made headlines and drew support from the U.S. Department of Education. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said:
“Illinois has done something truly remarkable, and every state committed to education reform should take notice. Business, unions, educators, advocates and elected officials all came together around a plan that puts children ahead of adults and paves the way for meaningful education reform. For some time now I have been saying that tough-minded collaboration is more productive than confrontation, and this is the proof. I respectfully urge Governor Quinn to sign this quickly so that Illinois can put these landmark reforms to work in the classroom.”
How the longer school year will be funded remains to be seen. Equally unpredictable is the model, if any, Illinois will set for the rest of the country as this bill addresses a long debated question of how to adequately and fairly assess teacher competence.
The debate over measuring a “good” teacher has been waged in every state and the set of criteria—from student evaluations to standardized testing–can be murky and inconsistent.
A recent blog post in the Baltimore Sun highlights a unique challenge in Maryland—a state now under deadline pressures to revamp the way its teachers are evaluated. The evaluation system will combine traditional methods of assessment like personal observations and review of lesson plans with new approaches from different jurisdictions.
The most complicated part of the equation is to adequately measure “student academic progress.” Student “growth” is often measured in stages–for example how many grade levels a student improves in critical areas such as math or reading within a given school year.
The broad idea of measuring student growth has proved convoluted for other states, but for Maryland, the issue is critical because 250 million dollars of federal educational funding are at stake.
With Illinois pushing the equivalent of a “no-excuses” bill into the national spotlight, other states must reassess how they grade, promote and fire teachers.
Amid the lack of consistency across the board and arguments that divide decision-makers on how to fairly assess teachers, one thing remains universal for teachers, parents and lawmakers alike—-coming up with a solution is of utmost urgency for students across the country.