The changes came about after months of negotiations between
teachers’ unions, education reformers and lawmakers, but the roots
of the reform can be found in the state’s failed bid for Race to the
Top funds, said Sen. Kimberly Lightford, D-Westchester, who led the
"It's not that we've never wanted to do it before. I
think Race to The Top was our driving force to get us all honest and
fair and willing to negotiate at the table," Lightford said.
Race to the Top was part of the federally funded stimulus
package. It called for states to compete for funds based on reforms
to improve student achievement. Illinois was eligible for between
$200 million and $400 million.
As part of the "race" for funds, Illinois passed the Performance
Evaluation Reform Act of 2010, known as PERA, which will place
teacher performance on evaluations for the first time by 2016.
"The idea was, 'Well, we may or may not get this, but is this the
direction that we want to go -- to tie evaluations to student
growth? -- and I think everyone agreed that it was," said state Rep.
Roger Eddy, R-Hutsonville.
PERA also changed teacher evaluation to include a "needs
improvement" option, which allowed teachers some wiggle room before
receiving "unsatisfactory" ratings.
"These were going to give much better feedback (than the
evaluations were) to teachers from principals as they developed, and
of how people were performing at the classroom and at the school
level," said Robin Steans, executive director of Advance Illinois.
But improving evaluations didn't mean they were being used
constructively, Steans added.
Widely hailed as making historic reforms,
Senate Bill 630 passed unanimously in the Senate on April 14.
Key reforms centered on placing teacher performance based on
evaluations ahead of seniority when it comes to tenure, filling new
and open positions, and layoffs.
"Without PERA, it would have been very difficult to get at a lot
of what we did in Senate Bill (630). PERA laid some great foundation
for what's coming next," said Jessica Handy, policy director of
Stand for Children in Illinois.
Stand for Children is a relatively new nonprofit, nonpartisan
organization operating in Illinois. The group, according to its
website, uses "the power of grassroots action to help all children
get the excellent public education and strong support they need to
Steans called the measure the next logical step to a law that
didn't have enough time to be as comprehensive as she had hoped.
"It takes what PERA does and puts it to use. … In other words,
we're going to have better evaluations. The question (was), what do
we do with them?" Steans said.
As a whole, the plan may not be a cure-all for education in
Illinois, but it's garnered momentum unseen in last year's talks for
Race to the Top, Handy said.
"At the end of the day, we're hoping that we've got this
broad-base coalition of support, and we don't want to see any
changes," Handy said.
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SB 630 now heads to the House for consideration, where House
Speaker Michael Madigan will take up the measure.
Madigan previously has supported eliminating teacher tenure, but
spokesman Steve Brown said the speaker is going to take a "good
look" at the Senate bill.
"What we really want to do is find the best way to keep good
teachers in the classroom," Brown said. "Obviously, they've
accomplished some good, but it's a two-chamber process."
Eddy, who is superintendent at Hutsonville Community Unit School
District and a legislator, said he'll be taking a closer look at
time frames to obtain tenure, especially accelerated tenure, which
allows teachers to obtain tenure earlier if they've already received
positive evaluations and tenure at a different school.
"There's some tweaking that is appropriate, but wholesale changes
to be critical to the body of work that they've done? I don't think
that's appropriate. I think they've done a really, really good job,"
Lightford, however, worried about Eddy being too close to the
"I believe that if he began to put his personal opinion in, it
can be swayed by his perspective as a superintendent," Lightford
said. "Where if you have a group, it's the perspective of the
teachers, the principal, the union side, the reform side. All of
them together decided the ramifications that will be put in place
for the superintendent, not a superintendent himself."
Eddy brushed those fears aside.
"I think conflict of interest is something that happens when an
individual has a personal stake or they have a gain to be made, and
that's certainly not the case here," Eddy said.
Statehouse News; By MELISSA LEU]