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Education reform roundup

Tuesday, Jun 14, 2011

* 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.

* Related…

* Making Sense of the CPS Budget Deficit

* Appellate court to rehear case on CPS teacher firings

- Posted by Rich Miller        


14 Comments
  1. - wordslinger - Tuesday, Jun 14, 11 @ 10:56 am:

    Excellent editorial by the JR. In an action-packed session of the GA, this reform didn’t get the attention that it deserved.

    Illinois can do things the right way in a bipartisan manner. Hats off to all.

    The sour grapes from the CTU are intensified by the fact that they couldn’t spell Rep. Currie’s name correctly in their statement. Put the red pen to it and take five points off.


  2. - Pot calling kettle - Tuesday, Jun 14, 11 @ 11:20 am:

    ==The Superintendent also says it gives schools more options to handle sub-par tenure instructors.==

    Schools have always been able to dismiss sub-par tenured faculty. The issue has been, and will remain, the willingness to take the time to document poor performance. I’ve heard board members and administrators talk about how they “know who the bad teachers are” yet, they seem unwilling to follow through with documentation. Since the new process still requires documentation, nothing will change unless the administrators are actually willing to take the time to document performance. We shall see…


  3. - Dwight - Tuesday, Jun 14, 11 @ 11:20 am:

    There is no way to “fund education as it should be”. Gauranteed you will never hear a teacher, union official, administrator, janitor, dean, principal, assistant anything or Democrat politician say “Finally we are spending enough. Let’s not increase it anymore!”


  4. - Anon III - Tuesday, Jun 14, 11 @ 11:46 am:

    The legislature had a full plate of issues and a near-empty cup of money. It seems that in all the negotiating by education interest groups, the GA decided to punt on Quinn’s call to reduce the number of school districts from 840 to 200 or less. The 840 school districts in Illinois cause unnecessary duplication in management positions, electoral expenses, tax collection expenses, bond underwriting, legal representation, and a host of other expenses.
    Part of the reason we have 840 separate school districts is protection of redundant school district functions and positions, such as 840 school superintendents and 840 school district business managers. The introduction in Springfield of legislation to consolidate Illinois school districts launched school workers’ lobbyists to issues position papers and press releases exposing the “myths about school consolidation”. The lobbyist’s most repeated contention was that there should be “no forced school consolidation.” They warned of “forced school consolidation” as if school closings and transporting of teachers and students to unknown destinations were immanent. Note: it’s not about consolidating schools, but about consolidating school districts.
    It appears that in the process of negotiating “Education Reform” District consolidation got thrown under the bus. The School District Consolidation bill passed on May 28, 2011, by the House concurrence with the Senate, (HB 1216) proposes a “School District Realignment and Consolidation Commission,” a twenty member commission composed of the major educational interest groups – associations of school board members, of superintendents, of district business officials, of principals, teachers unions, Regional Superintendents of Schools, and legislators – to submit a report to the General Assembly identifying criteria for consolidation and describing which districts should consolidate. But there is a clear conflict of economic interest in asking school administrators and teachers’ to recommend how many and which school districts should be consolidated.
    The makeup of the proposed Commission foretells its conclusion. It is going to be like a game of Musical Chairs in which no one loses except the taxpayers because when the music stops, the Commission will not take away any of the chairs.


  5. - Marty - Tuesday, Jun 14, 11 @ 11:46 am:

    Way too early for all these people wrenching their shoulders to pat their own backs. Come back in 5 years or so and let’s see if the educational outcomes have really improved.

    And, by the way,
    6.5 hrs times 177 days is 1,150.5 hrs/yr., assuming they never take a sick day.
    8.0 hrs times 245 days is 1,960.0 hrs/yr., allowing for 2 weeks of vacation, 6 holidays and no sick days.

    Teaching is a 3/5 time job with additional time and pay available just for the asking once you have a little seniority. Look at public school pay scales compared to private and religious schools; the public school teachers have no legitimate reason to gripe.


  6. - dave - Tuesday, Jun 14, 11 @ 12:07 pm:

    **6.5 hrs times 177 days is 1,150.5 hrs/yr., assuming they never take a sick day.**

    LOL. You really think teachers only work 6.5 hrs a day, and only work when the students are in the building?


  7. - CircularFiringSquad - Tuesday, Jun 14, 11 @ 12:08 pm:

    Will Capt Fax be selling the Senator Kim T Shirts given away at the bill signing?
    Sounds like a real keeper for readers of the Fax


  8. - Wensicia - Tuesday, Jun 14, 11 @ 12:39 pm:

    More days in the school year is good, more time in the school day would be good too, if this time was used for instruction. If not, wasted time that will cost districts more money.

    And, BTW, Marty…I’ve been putting in eight hour days most of my career, not counting after school and work taken home.


  9. - Pot calling kettle - Tuesday, Jun 14, 11 @ 1:01 pm:

    ==6.5 hrs times 177 days is 1,150.5 hrs/yr., assuming they never take a sick day==

    Did you think before you posted? You need to add 2-3 hrs/night plus 5-10 hours over the weekend for grading and prep plus summer clean up and prep for the fall. Also, somewhere in there, the teacher has to earn enough continuing ed to maintain certification.

    If you really think teaching is a part-time job for awesome pay and no worries, you should go for it…

    There’s a reason why half of the new teachers leave in the first five years.


  10. - Cincinnatus - Tuesday, Jun 14, 11 @ 1:13 pm:

    Assuming 1960 hours working hours per year, dividing by 177 days equals 11.1 hours per day.


  11. - Yellow Dog Democrat - Tuesday, Jun 14, 11 @ 1:28 pm:

    === If you really think teaching is a part-time job for awesome pay and no worries, you should go for it… ===

    As I’ve often said as well, anyone who thinks that teachers are under-worked and overpaid should quit their current job and apply to CPS.

    After all, CPS has a chronic shortage of math, science, English and special education teachers.


  12. - Louis G. Atsaves - Tuesday, Jun 14, 11 @ 2:12 pm:

    They take a 45 minute break at the end of the work day? Who negotiates this stuff?

    Amazing!


  13. - Left Out - Tuesday, Jun 14, 11 @ 6:43 pm:

    The ‘layoff’ in District 300 that is described above may or may not be a true layoff. Because of notification laws for teachers, all school districts in Illinois have a ‘layoff’ every spring. Then they hire back teachers over the summer. The number of teachers in any school district when school starts in the fall may be less, the same, or more than at the end of the previous school year. Lets wait and see what fall brings.


  14. - Pot calling kettle - Tuesday, Jun 14, 11 @ 10:35 pm:

    ==They take a 45 minute break at the end of the work day?==

    I don’t know about CPS, but most schools call this a “planning period” and the teachers use it to work with each other on student and school issues. At the schools I am familiar with, it’s not a “break” in any sense of the word.


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