* The SJ-R rightfully praises the work put into the new education reform law…
The bill signed by Quinn to much fanfare in Chicago on Monday was the product of months of negotiation that involved the state’s teachers unions, education reform groups and lawmakers from both parties. State Sen. Kimberly Lightford, D-Maywood, led the talks.
This is in sharp contrast to recent attempts at education reform in other states, where legislators have vilified unions and, by extension, teachers themselves. In Florida, lawmakers sought to link teacher pay to performance on standardized tests. They didn’t invite teachers to the table as they drafted their bill, causing tremendous public outcry from teachers and parents alike and leading to the bill’s veto by Gov. Charlie Crist.
The governors of Wisconsin and Ohio have drawn battle lines with teachers unions by making wholesale grabs at public employee unions’ collective bargaining rights. Ohio’s reform bill, signed into law in April, imposes a merit pay system for teachers and is being hotly contested.
We wonder how any state can purport to improve its education system without listening to the people who work in classrooms. We also have serious problems with the message these kinds of imposed “reforms” send to aspiring teachers.
All of this makes Illinois’ new reform law remarkable.
* Mayor Emanuel was asked repeatedly by reporters at another event later in the day why the CTU’s president was a no-show at the governor’s big bill-signing ceremony. He said he didn’t know. There was apparently a “scheduling conflict“…
A spokesperson for the Chicago Teachers Union says union president Karen Lewis did not attend the bill-signing ceremony, due to a scheduling conflict.
“This bill is the result of painstaking negotiations. We commend Senator Lightford and Representative Flynn-Curry for leading the way through the process. We look forward to continuing work that will improve schools, smaller class sizes, reducing the focus on standardized testing and equitable funding for all schools throughout the state, ” CTU spokesperson Liz Brown said in a statement.
A different response was given to WBEZ…
But notably absent from Monday’s signing ceremony was Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis, who had characterized parts of the bill as an attack on teachers’ collective-bargaining rights. Lewis did not attend the event because she was “busy focusing on the budget” ahead of a special school board meeting Wednesday, said union spokeswoman Liz Brown.
* But not all teachers union leaders were as skeptical…
Carpentersville-based Community Unit District 300 relied largely on seniority when it sent out 363 layoff notices earlier this year. But those letters could have ended up in different hands under sweeping education reforms that became law Monday.
Future school layoffs will be based more on performance under the new rules, signed by Gov. Pat Quinn as part of a major package of reforms intended to keep the best teachers in the classroom.
The law also makes it harder for teachers to strike and makes it easier to fire tenured teachers.
“I think in the long run, it’s going to be better for educating kids,” said Jane Russell, president of West Suburban Teachers Union, which covers parts of western Cook and DuPage counties.
* What about that longer school day provision? Progress Illinois takes a look…
The CPS school year is made up of 170 classroom instructional days. High schools get 421 minutes or about 7 hours in a school day, while the elementary school day is 354 minutes or 5 hours and 45 minutes long, CPS spokesman Bobby Otter said. The amount of time in the elementary school day is the number being used by Emanuel and the media in reference to the short length of the district’s academic day. According to a 2008 study by the Center for American Progress, that number is indeed the shortest school day amongst the nation’s large urban school districts.
Nationwide, the average number of hours in a school day (not just instructional time) is 6.64 hours, while the average number of days in the school year is 180, according to a schools and staffing survey obtained by Progress Illinois from the U.S. Dept. of Education’s National Center for Educational Statistics. Statewide, the average school day is 6.5 hours and the average school year is 177 days long. Texas has the longest average school day of 7.17 hours, while Florida has the longest school year with 184 school days.
The longer-school-day saga first hit Chicago this year with talks about bringing recess back to CPS elementary schools — which would also lengthen the school day, althought it would not affect instructional hours. Schools currently have the autonomy to determine when, or if, they have recess and breaks.
As for the the teacher’s union, CTU’s spokeswoman Liz Brown said there have been previous discussions about moving teachers’ 45-minute break, now taken at the end of the day, to the middle of the day, which would effectively lengthen the school day although, again, not necessarily instructional hours. While no proposal has been released on what a longer day would look like, Brown said, “It’s all in the implementation. It is tricky. There is a lot of issues — facility, safety, price on after-school programs.”
* But while some of the new law’s focus on Chicago takes effect immediately, other areas will only see change over time…
The new law takes effect immediately, but many schools will have to wait until contracts that have been negotiated this summer expire before they feel the effect of the new law.
Matt Vanover, spokesman for the Illinois State Board of Education, said many downstate districts won’t see any changes until at least the 2012-2013 school year, and some may not see any changes until the 2016 school year.
“The part of (the law) that deals with teacher tenure; that’s phased in over a period of years,” said Vanover. “You’ll see some schools begin to implement that in the next couple of years. Each year after that, additional schools would come on board.”
Alton Community Unit School District No. 11 Superintendent David Elson said his district is in the last year of a three-year deal with local teachers. He said he expects to begin negotiating a new contract in October.
“We will (of course) comply with state law as soon as we negotiate a new agreement,” said Elson.
* Even so, Downstate administrators seem enthused…
Salem Community High School Superintendent Brad Detering says the legislation makes the bargaining process between the teachers and schools more transparent for the community. “Niether side has the ability to hold things as a bargaining chip, and when you’re required to publicize your last, best offer after an impasse has been declared, I think it gives community members an opportunity to look and see if each side is being realistic,” he says.
The Superintendent also says it gives schools more options to handle sub-par tenure instructors. “No one is going out and looking for someone to dismiss, but if someone isn’t doing their job and not taking care of things, it does create a mechanism for that,” he says. “It also gives an opportunity for teachers who transfer from other districts to reach tenure earlier and also gives non-tenure teachers a chance to obtain tenure after three years if they are excellent.” Detering says the bill was the first collaborative effort between all of the parties involved. He says the only real drawback is some additional record-keeping.
* And education funding remains an issue, of course…
The challenge now turns to putting such changes in place amid financial uncertainties and state budget woes, educators caution. Illinois owes public schools $1 billion in unpaid bills. The spending plan for next year would slash $171 million in education funding.
“When you fund education as it should be funded … perhaps it will support the principles of (the law),” said Sen. Kimberly Lightford, D-Maywood, who led negotiations among union leaders, reform groups, policymakers, parents, school managers and rank-and-file teachers.
* Making Sense of the CPS Budget Deficit
* Appellate court to rehear case on CPS teacher firings