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Followup to Illinois Educational Reform – Challenging teacher tenure

As a followup to the House Education Reform Committee post from December 14, concerning educational reforms, statewide school reform seems to be an issue whose time has come. The latest resolution deals with substantial changes in the teacher tenure that will reduce the power of seniority in the Illinois educational system.

Tenured teachers and principals could lose state certifcation if they failed their performance evaluations three years in a row during a 10 year period. An appeal would be allowed before the State Teacher Certification Board before revocation. Now the really contentious item. The changes in the state law would pre-empt any previous collective bargaining agreement that currently protects teachers and principals.

School reform has been an important issue in 2010. This spring the General Assembly passed the Performance Evaluation Reform Act that ties a teacher’s evaluation to their student’s performancy on standardized tests. Full implementation should be in each teacher’s valuation by 2016.

Teacher’s representatives are concerned that this is all happening too fast. Looking at the time line with the draft plan, a student could start high school as a freshman this year. Go to school for four years and graduate and go to the senior prom before this policy is fully implemented in 2016. Doesn’t seem too fast to many educational reformers.

Advance Illinois, a reform group in the last education post, support the link between teacher evaluation and student performance. Effective teachers will be necessary to implement academic achievement and the resources will need to be equitably dispersed throughout the school districts, based on administration perogative, not based on seniority or tenure negotiated in a union contract.

With Illinois cutting funding due to their financial crisis, layoffs may come to the school and seniority may not be looked on as favorable by school boards as it has in the past. School boards would be required to look at other factors in considering who must be let go, such as qualifications, certifications, experience, performance ratings.

With possible layoffs, these characteristics could have priority over seniority. If fact, a school would be required to look at a candidates merit and ability to perform the position, while completely disregarding the length of service at a school. Other changes in the plan included a three member panel to fact-find board to help with collective bargaining discussions that come to a standstill.

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23 Comments

  1. shawnnews

    One of the arguments for tenure, at least at the university level, is that people who have dissenting opinions from their collegues are allowed to research and teach without threat of losing their jobs because of their opinions.
    This would be really bad for conservatives. Here’s why.
    Conservatives are in the minority in college economic classes. Milton Friedman and Friedrich von Hayek are revered by conservatives but not in academic circles supposedly. A teacher who could demonstrate the validity of his or her ideas based on further research into Friedman or Hayek’s ideas could get fired for coming to disagreements with his department’s majority view.
    The same goes for science classes. I’ve posted a few links this week on your blog on global warming. People who would attempt to challenge the climate change consensus would be in danger of losing their jobs.
    School boards and administration officials cave to popular demands all the time. We can see that in how Harlem didn’t braodcast Obama’s speech to school kids — like many presidents has done. Pat wrote some column about how in the mid-century that district let go of a drama teacher the year after she produced “Inherit the Wind.” Educated people will often bow to the will of ignorant who make enough noise and have enough political power.
    I predict that if you get rid of tenure, more teachers will be let go because one group or another doesn’t believe the teacher’s views are helpful to some ideology.

  2. Elizabeth

    Please look at what has happened in Rockford. All the non-tenured teachers were fired and then most rehired–at what cost to those of us who are taxpayers. From a board meeting, the district is being sue for discrimination over this. Illinois without personal or union contracts is an at-will employment state. Teachers would, particularly in the current environment in the Rockford school district, be fired at whim. Age discrimination would be common. A few friends were at-willed in their 50’s from jobs. Age descrimination is difficult to prove. With companies (and educational institutions, cities, etc trying to save money, those making higher salaries would be let go. As we get older, it is much harder to find a job.

  3. At the primary and secondary level, tenure is a bad idea that protects non-performing teachers. At the college/university level, there are options. Not so at the primary/secondary level. Chicago Public Schools recently tried to fire 700 non-performing teachers. Of course, the union took them to court to block the firings.

    The unions protect the teachers, they could care less about the kids. If your kid was stuck with a failure of a teacher, would you still support the unions protection of that teacher? The Chicago Tribune recently reported that only 50% of Illinois Seniors passed the standardized reading and writing tests. Less than 25% passed the science and math tests.

    I don’t blame the teachers entirely, since the pathetic excuses for parents many kids are stuck with does play a big part in this failure. However, nor can we hold teachers blameless. A good teacher can help a child overcome a lack of parental guidance. On the other hand, good parents can’t do a thing about a bad teacher.

    For those of you who disagree and plan to support the union no matter what, I say feel free to step to the head of the line and sign your kid up for the failing teachers classes.

    Is there a danger of a teacher getting removed for less then honorable reasons? Of course. But I submit that the danger of a generation of stupid kids who can’t even compete with third world countries is far worse.

  4. Ted,
    There are states that don’t have teacher unions. You should look at their test scores and graduation rates. Pretty soon teaching will be regarded as a second class profession(maybe it already is). How do we attract high-quality talent into this profession?

  5. Where ever you find bad teachers you will find bad administrators. Why is it no one wants to go after this problem first. Bad administrators hire, review, and retain bad teachers. If administrators would do their jobs then bad teachers would not be hired, not be retained not achieve tenure, and for those who go bad after reaching tenure they would be documented and in due course and process be mentored and retrained or be let go. Trouble is that means administrators have to get their feet off their desk and work for the large salaries instead of trying to find the easy way out where they can fire anyone they want.
    Did we not just replace over 1/3 of our administrators (principals) here? Why because they were doing a great job? Ae the ones now in charge doing a great job? Dr. Sheffield also brought in many new administrators downtown is it because the old ones were doing a bad job? We would hope so, but if she simply brought in her own group that does not mean they are great at what they do….seems wherever they came from they would have done everything to keep them…after all great administrators are hard to find. Administrators who are good at what they do recognize talent and know how to retain it and they also recognize those that need to be gotten rid of. Does make you wonder what to make of the whole Dr. Hardy thing.

    In all fairness we have some good administrators and we have some bad ones, fix the management problem before you declare war on the workers.

    Before you jump on what is essentially an anti-union band wagon you might want to research a little, what you would find is that states with collective bargaining laws do better on raising student test scores vs. those of states without those laws. And you would also find that the number of teachers let go in both of those situations is similar here is one such rebuttal to the anti-tenure/union groups http://www.counterpunch.org/macaray03202009.html

    We need to look at fixing the root of the problem first, develop a system of finding and retaining good management (administrators) they will in turn hire, retain, and retrain teachers in a manner that will put the best educators in the classroom. We have a revolving door at the top and are no more than 2 years away from looking for a new superintendent, and every time you hire a new superintendent the bad administrators (management) under them get a new lease on life as it will take a few years for them to evaluate and find out who is any good, if they have that ability to begin with. Recognizing talent is a talent.

  6. Now see what they get paid? Are you getting your money’s worth?

    http://www.familytaxpayers.org/salary.php

  7. Ted Biondo

    Shawnnews – you will be surprised, but I wholeheartedly agree with your view on tenure at the college level, especially for conservatives. I just today read about a christian astronomer who was denied advancement, even though he was the leading candidate for the job simply because he was accused of being, Heaven forbid, a “creationist” not an evolutionist, even though he denies it. Some of these college professors discriminate worse than those we normally associate with discrimination.

    http://www.onenewsnow.com/Legal/Default.aspx?id=1256892

  8. Ted Biondo

    Elizabeth – I agree that sometimes being an at will employee may be bad for the employee and maybe education is worse than some because of emotion versus assessments.

    But I worked as an at will employee for over 42 years and was layed off for 3 weeks total in my entire life. We were always under the threat of being let go. Our skills kept us in the job because only a few could do what we did.

    But, if the people of the state get to look at the remediation process that is allowed with tenure in this state I could change their minds in a few minutes to get rid of it because of the process you have to go through which can take at least a year and may go through multiple years.

    If there was another process, I would change my mind, but having been involved in numerous remediations that lasted for 1 to 5 years – the state can’t keep doing that or it must come up with an easier way to get rid of bad teachers.

  9. Ted Biondo

    Mike we have good and bad administrators and teachers – we have to go after both. The kids do not have time to waste. They only get one shot at their education – the school district will be there long after the kids lives have been messed up. It has to be fixed what ever it takes – right away.

    I’m on an anti-bad-education bandwagon, not an anti-union bandwagon. This system needs to be fixed and the parents need to be fixed also. But you can’t legislate good parents, unless you want to remove the children from bad parents – but I don’t want to go there.

    You can legislate what teachers have to know at least when they teach in the schools and as I posted a few days ago some of the standards are being raised. The basic skills test requirements for teachers are going to be raised – they have to be. 35% to pass the math and 50% for the other two tests and taken as many times as you want until passing – not in my world!

    Those conditions don’t exist at Sundstrand. But neither do we have undisciplined rabble rousers at Sundstrand running around disrupting others who are trying to do the work. Standards have to be maintained so discipline has to be maintained and these people are removed in the private world.

  10. Ted Biondo

    Interesting data Terry – I’ll keep these for reference.

  11. Ted – There in lies the problem that you and most others do not seem to fully understand. Teachers do not get the luxury of picking and choosing who they get as students. It is called public education for a reason and it is mandatory for all up to a certain age including those that disrupt and have little or no interest in being there and or hold education as having little or no value. Now throw in the remaining children who do want to learn but many come with a mix of abilities and disabilities and you suddenly have what at Sundstrand would be complete chaos. By the way unlike Sundstrand where you got to pick and choose here you take all get over it, deal with, it even if you the engineer realize that the piece(s) are what, I think, you would call defective and will not meet the standard no matter what you do…..Oh just described NCLB in a nut shell only it has taken the public and politicians the better part of 10 years to undestand what the engineer (teacher) could see to begin with setting arbitrary standards, expecting all to live up to and meet those standards is not realistic if it were then we would all be brain surgens, rocket, scientists, etc…. But again the understanding public does not see the problem as they are neither teachers nor engineers and want quick fixes to age old problems that have and are becoming more complex as our society changes. Public education has been, given over the years, many of society problems talk about and solve some of those issues and you will also improve education.
    As for basic skill test go take it then come back and comment on it. You likely have no idea as to the actual difficulty and it is after all called basic skills. And while we are at it you likely view 35% as a low standard and most likely view 50% as not much better but these percentages tell me nothing about the standard or the test. You can change the requirement to 50% and have a test that is less difficult than the test that was given where only 35% was required to pass. Makes for a good blog point for the faithful but means nothing unless you know the meaning behind the numbers.
    Yes there are ways to legislate parents, tie grade, attendance and performance to tax deduction or penalty, or reduction in social beneifits in other words make the students resutls tangible to the parents pocket book and it is likley to be a bigger game changer than any other reforms that are out there.

  12. Ted Biondo

    I agree that parents must be more accountable for their children, and that some of the kids come to school knowing very little compared to others, depending on how much vocabulary they did or did not receive through their parents.

    Also, there are schools in Chicago where the parents pay a small tuition and 90% of their children go to college from the same neighborhoods with a 50-60% drop out of the public schools. So the parents do have a lot to do with it. We can’t save them all.

    I am not an educator. I am a taxpayer who, with others, pay about $13,500 per student in the RSD205 district. If the public schools can’t figure out something to increase the education of these children, then I and others will give up on public schools and I am going to do as much as I can for vouchers or other means to help those students whose parents give a damn – then there will be a Many Children Left Behind (MCLB) but we will save some of the kids in this generation and build from there.

  13. Elizabeth

    Ted:
    Out of curiosity, I just went to the Interactive School Report card for Rockford. According to it we spend $6,483 on instruction and $11,187 totally. The instruction amount includes teachers, and aides.

    I also worked in an at-will situation. One was hired for one’s expertise. If one did not perform, a security officer and one’s boss came with a box and a check and excorted the person out the door. Like you I never had a problem. We were paid very well and provided with the tools and training we needed.

    But reading the paper in Rockford where people have called for the firing of the more expensive teachers and people who call for outsourcing art and PE and no foreign language classes, I wonder without tenure what would happen. There needs to be a way to fire bad teachers, but with the current chaos of the district could this be possibly done here?

  14. readingmike94

    the problem truly lies in teacher education programs i didnt see one article in reference to the study that showed all illinois college and universty teacher education programs received a score of d when you read the atlantic or compare to finland they have great teacher prep programs at the univ level it is there we should begin our critcism

  15. Elizabeth

    correction: escorted

    Ted:
    I also want to express how much I appreciate your reasoned discourse and thoughtful replies.
    Elizabeth
    .

  16. Ted Biondo

    Thank you Elizabeth, I appreciate your comment very much. I arrived at my calculation by dividing $404,000,000 budget by 29925 students. I know some of it is passthroughs, transportation and debt service for the buildings and maintenance, but it all is needed to make the system work for the students and so I put it in the calculation.

  17. Denny Wallace

    Let me point out a few key points that demonstrate the near impossible task of Evaluating a Teacher such that poor performance would EVER place thier job at risk…

    So how stupid would you have to be to get caught at poor performance assuming the following restrictions?

    #1 ‘…The evaluator will advise the staff member as to when each observation will be conducted….’ So A Teacher knows in advance when a busy Principal will be able to perform the ONLY ALLOWABLE means to determine if a teachers Performance is acceptable…

    #2 Daaa You can’t be on your best behavior for the ONE day you know in advance that your actual performance can be judged… Any other performance doesn’t count because you weren’t given prior notice… Coming in ‘allegedly Drunk or High on Drugs wouldn’t matter because you weren’t give prior notice… so what cause could be shown to jusge you if you (just for example) were drunk or high on drugs?

    #3 ‘…the specific criteria on which the evaluation will be made…’ So I guess this means if the Principal didn’t specifically state some criteria like ‘you didn’t bathe that day, Not professionally prepared or your classroom was neat and orderly…. Then a teacher couldn’t be held accountable for such defficiencies?

    #4 Think about it… Prior notice before being evaluated at least 3 times, timelines for meeting with teachers, allowing for review and grievances then completing a 90 day remediation plan… and again meetings on the results and I assume 3 more formal observations of specific teachers Performance, again all requiring prior notice ‘to count for anything.’

    You get this little catch-all bit of logic: ‘…A summative evaluation report shall be preceded by at least three observations of professional performance, one of which shall be no less than 30 minutes. No observation shall take place after May 1….’

    NO OBSERVATION SHALL TAKE PLACE AFTER MAY 1ST?

    What do you think happens if the teacher and Union finds a way to delay things to where no way can the ‘review Process’ be completed by May 1st…. Doesn’t this suggest the Teacher is handed a ‘get out of jail free card or do-over’????

    If a Teacher can’t be fired without the due process of this procedure being completed within the same school year, prior to May 1st… Considering this loop hole is allowed… ‘…the ninety (90) day remediation period will start anew upon the return from leave….’

    So what prevents a teacher even if they are caught red-handed performing badly.. even though were provided notice when such formal observance would take place’ Just asking for a LOA and waiting out the May 1st time line and get a do over?

    Or what happens if a teacher just Transfers out if they are silly enough to get caught… Doesn’t look like anything prevents that so then you are going to stick a New principla to document poor performance observed by another Principal at another school???

    Yet even if you were able to make everything stick…. Do you honestly believe a Union Attorney wouldn’t shred such logic in a grievance procedure… Alas not a damn thing happens even if a Teachers would EVER BE STUPID ENOUGH TO DO SOMETHING when they have to be provided Notice before it can count against them…

    I don’t see anywhere that a teacher can be held accountable for telling his Boss to go stick it where the sun don’t shine… YET TEACHERS WANT EVERYONE TO BELIEVE THEY CAN BE HELD ACCOUNTABLE?

    What’s dumber? Those who suggest such obvious nonsense or those who believe a tenure teacher can actually be fired?

  18. Denny Wallace

    Please tell me how any Teacher can be held accountable based upon the following Contract Language (Used to come up with above comments)???

    http://www2.rps205.com/District/Pages/Collective-Bargaining-Agreements.aspx

    ARTICLE 17 – EVALUATION PROCEDURES
    Section A:
    The Evaluation Plan approved by the Board and the Association is incorporated into this Article by reference.
    The building principal and/or designee (limited to assistant principals and the appropriate, qualified special education and special services supervisors and administrators, in consultation with the building principal) is responsible for evaluating all staff members assigned to his/her building. Responsibilities of evaluators, in addition to those specified in the Evaluation Plan, include:

    1. Apprising each staff member upon assignment, and/or at the beginning of each school year, the specific criteria on which the evaluation will be made.

    2. Prior to each observation, reviewing with the staff member the methods of evaluation to be employed. The staff member shall explain his/her objectives, methods and materials to the evaluator. The evaluator will advise the staff member as to when each observation will be conducted. The evaluator shall meet with the staff member after each observation to review the completed observation form.

    3. Assuring that probationary staff members are evaluated once each semester.

    4. Assuring that staff members on contractual and continued service are evaluated once every two years or upon request of the staff member or evaluator. In the years not evaluated, the principal shall place a letter in the staff members personnel file, with a copy to the staff member, stating that the lack of an evaluation will not be construed as an adverse reflection on the staff member s performance. A form letter jointly agreed upon by the Board and the Association will be utilized.

    Section B:
    1. All monitoring or observation of a staff member shall be conducted openly and with full knowledge of the staff member. In evaluation or observation of staff members, the use of closed circuit television and public address or audio systems are expressly prohibited.

    2. A summative evaluation report shall be preceded by at least three observations of professional performance, one of which shall be no less than 30 minutes. No observation shall take place after May 1.

    3. If the evaluator notes areas in which the staff member needs to improve, the criticism shall be reduced to writing and a copy given to the staff member within ten (10) schools days of the occurrence. All criticism of a staff member shall be in writing and shall contain suggestions for improvement.

    4. A copy of the summative evaluation report shall be given to the staff member within ten (10) school days of the 30-minute observation. A conference shall be held within five (5) school days at the request of the staff member or the evaluator. If the staff member disagrees with the summative evaluation report, he/she may submit a written answer whichshall be attached to the file copy of the summative evaluationreport in question. Any such written answer will be delivered to the evaluator within ten (10) school days of the conference. Additional conferences shall be held within five (5) schooldays of the request of the staff member with the appropriate supervisory and administrative personnel to the level of superintendent.

    5. On subsequent observation forms and summative evaluation reports, the evaluator shall comment on previously noted criticisms of the current year.

    6. The observation forms and the summative evaluation reports shall be initialed by the staff member to show that copies have been received. Initialing does not necessarily indicate approval of or agreement with the reports. The summative evaluation reports shall then be filed in the staff members personnel file.

    7. During the ninety (90) day remediation period after receiving a Notice to Remedy from the Board, a staff member shall not be allowed to transfer to another school without the express written approval of the Board. This restriction shall not preclude movement due to Article 12, Section F, staff reductions.

    8. Should a staff member on remediation be granted a leave of absence, the ninety (90) day remediation period will start anew upon the return from leave.

    Section C: With the understanding that any evaluation process includes subjective performance measurement, it is not intended that the evaluation of any professional staff member under the Evaluation Plan, i.e. excellent, satisfactory, or unsatisfactory, be subject to the grievance procedure. The evaluator shall provide in the summative report reasonable, well-defined performance goals for each performance rating of unsatisfactory. Failure of the evaluator to provide reasonable, well-defined performance goals for each performance rating of unsatisfactory shall be considered a procedural defect. Any procedural defects in the evaluation process will be subject to the grievance procedure. Upon the written request of a staff member who receives an overall rating of satisfactory, the evaluator shall, within a reasonable time, provide a written summary of goals for the staff member to achieve in order to receive an overall rating of excellent.

    Section D: The procedures set forth above shall be fully applicable to staff members working in extracurricular and co-curricular assignments, except that item B-2 may be adjusted to accommodate the exigencies of the activity.

  19. Ted Biondo

    Denny – thanks so much for your digging into the REA contract on this issue – you have made your point concerning the contract and remediation process and multiple ways around that process.

    That’s why I thought the Illinois Educational Reform group, if they follow through, make all contract language like this null and void.

    From the report goals I mentioned in the post:

    “The changes in the state law would pre-empt any previous collective bargaining agreement that currently protects teachers and principals.”

    This is the only way it could work – to change the existing language in its entirety.

  20. iamconfused

    Ted, what happens to me? I teach students with disabilities. They will never pass any test such as NCLB. Since my students will not show adequate learning on an annual basis…do I get fired?

  21. As one of the teachers who was “honorably dismissed” last year I can honestly say the union did nothing to help me. I can also say that tenure can’t help the truly bad teachers. I have seen truly bad teachers two years away from retirement get fired. If an administrator really wants to fire a teacher it can be done. But, it is up to the administrator.

    My concern with this bill is that it not only ties student performance in with not only the teacher’s job but also their livlihood (revoking the teaching certificate is going far beyond what is necessary).

    So many other factors go into play that teachers can’t control. As was pointed out above, the teachers don’t get to control the “raw materials” that walk into their classrooms, nor do we get to control the outside pressures such as what programs we use (just look at the new reading program the district adopted and the millions of dollars of reading resources that are being made to sit unused) or discipline issues (such as being told not to write students up or not to send them out if they are disturbing the learning environment) that threatening our teaching certificates is ridiculous.

    As someone who has been RIFed twice and “honorably dismissed” once I know there needs to be a better way, but threatening my teaching certificate isn’t it.

  22. Ted Biondo

    Welcome to the blog, Nichole. I would like to direct you to another post and the comments on teacher evaluation which obviously has some teacher’s comments at the following link:

    http://blogs.e-rockford.com/tedbiondo/2010/12/24/how-to-fairly-evaluate-teachers-based-on-student-performance/

    and commeter #10 on the following link which lead to the above:

    http://blogs.e-rockford.com/tedbiondo/2010/12/22/trying-to-close-the-achievement-gap-is-cheating-our-brightest-students/

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