IL Senate Edu-Reform Bill Hard to Swallow

Recently an Education Reform Bill was unanimously passed (59-0) by the IL Senate with the stated goal of improving the quality of teachers throughout IL.  What the 106 page Bill amounts to was what the Chicago Teachers Union leadership described as “avoiding a missile, but getting hit by a bullet.”

Senate Bill 7, sponsored by Sen. Kimberly Lightford (D) was lauded as a “Compromise Bill” where twenty parties interested in Education Reform were able to come up with a recommended plan together.  It would be the first time in which the leadership of the Illinois Federation of Teachers (IFT-AFT), the Illinois Education Association (IEA-NEA), and the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) would lobby together for a bill to improve education and teaching conditions.  Lobbying together is perhaps an overstatement. It was more like fending off hungry lions when you are in the room with corporate-style edu-reformers Advance Illinois and Stand for Children.

In more concrete terms the CTU was asked to “sit at the table, and be force-fed” or leave the table and go back to Chicago.  If we left the table and refused to bargain, a Bill would have been passed that would have de-certified our Union altogether.

Because the Teachers Unions decided to be a part of the discussion, that didn’t happen.  What was put into the final legislation was a vote for 75% of Union members to go on strike, after an extensive arbitration and waiting period.  Take it, or leave it, with the understanding that “if we leave it, the state will legislate whatever they want,” and they don’t like us down there.

In Illinois, Chicago and Chicago Public Schools (CPS) have historically been viewed as burden to the state legislators, the Illinois State Board of Education, and a burden to the IL budget.

According to Rod Estvan, an Education Policy Analyst for Disability Rights Organization Access Living who attended a hearing on the Bill, noted that, Chicago is viewed as having a “hopeless case of bad schools,” so the attitude of legislators is one of dismissal.  It has been this way for a long time, leading in 1995 to “Mayoral Control” of Chicago Public Schools.  So now, there are usually two sets of rules issued in any education legislation: Rules for Chicago, and Rules for the Rest of IL.

The Best parts of this Bill include the requirement of training for School Board members on labor, education issues, and school finance which wasn’t required before.  We also like the “portability of tenure,” which had not been available to teachers in IL before.  If a teacher chose to move from district to district, that individual would have to start all over.

The part of the Bill that requires a “Survey of Learning Conditions” to be done by all stakeholders is toothless.  Another layer of data that just sounds good.  If legislators had any sense in them they would realize that mass amounts of data don’t help create more voice or better conditions.    If they really wanted to listen to the voice of community members, the legislation would mandate public fora to be held in each school on a quarterly basis.  (Oh, wait, these are the same people who are implementing Race to the Top value-added model initiatives, ever mind, just another standardized test.)

The Bad parts of the Bill describe a sort of, tiered-tenure seniority system, where after evaluations are taken into account, then seniority is a tie-breaker when it comes to reduction in force (RIFs). After two “Unsatisfactory” evaluations in seven years, the teacher is dismissed, and would potentially have her or his Illinois teaching license revoked.  I call this part the “Bad Teacher Prevention Bill,” because that’s what the “uninformed legislators with good intentions” want it to do, but I am skeptical that this is what will happen.

The problem with this is that we don’t know what Unsatisfactory even means yet! The language of this part of the Bill is completely dependent on a new evaluation system that was passed by law in summer of (PERA) 2010, but has yet to be designed.  More than thirty individuals some of whom are teachers, administrators, and scholars, sit on the evaluation design panel, but which also includes Edu-Reformers including Advance Illinois and Teach for America(!).

The new evaluations must be “data-driven,” (read: more testing) by a fast-approaching date.  In actuality that date is approaching here in Chicago two to four years faster than in the rest of IL because that’s the way the law was written and our the CTU under Marilyn Stewart did not fight against it (spring 2010).

I don’t like that my evaluation will be based on tests scores.  Every teacher knows that tests don’t measure what students know, and certainly don’t measure how good I am as a teacher.

However, the worst part of the Bill is the last part which legislates that to go on strike, three-quarters of our membership need to vote for it.  This is unprecedented, unfair, and clearly idiotic on the part of the legislators and edu-reformers who are force-feeding us.  What I expect to happen, is when teachers across the state start getting unsatisfactory evaluations that don’t reflect their classroom practice, I have a feeling it’ll be easy to get a 75% or rather a 100% vote to strike.  Call me naive, but what goes down, must come up, and teachers are about to get sick to their stomach.

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3 responses to “IL Senate Edu-Reform Bill Hard to Swallow

  1. You are truly a soothsayer with this balanced and contextualized view of the legislation. However, I’d like to correct a couple of minor but important mistakes in your post.
    1 (very minor) the bill is actually 111 pages long.
    2. Important: the actual language of the bill currently states that three-fourths of the “bargaining unit” members must vote affirmatively to authorize a strike (page 109). This means that we wouldn’t just need 75% of our members to strike but that the 75% must include agency-fee non-members, scabs and others who work union-eligible jobs but are not our members. That is a sick requirement.
    3. Possibly the worst part of the bill is not the 75% provision but language on page 107 that would amend the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Act (IELRA) to curb the power of the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board (IELRB) and strengthen the hated Section 4.5:
    8 …A dispute or impasse over
    9 any Section 4.5 subject shall not be resolved through the
    10 procedures set forth in this Act [the IELRA], and the Board, mediator, or
    11 fact-finder has no jurisdiction over any Section 4.5 subject.
    12 The changes made to this subsection (b) by this amendatory Act
    13 of the 97th General Assembly are declarative of existing law.
    This means that any dispute (like the 1600-some grievances CTU has filed against the illegal firing of our sisters and brothers last summer) cannot be adjudicated by the Illinois Education Labor Relations Board (IELRB) (as most grievances are) but would have to be filed in open court. The courts tend to be more reluctant to rein in the school board than the IELRB. What’s more, that final phrase (“declarative of existing law”) implies that the stripping of IELRB jurisdiction is retroactive (it could nullify the grievances we’ve already filed). That is over-the-top damaging to our union.

  2. I don’t think I necessarily represent the agenda of the NEA in saying this, but all the things you’re against in this post, I seem to be against, and all the things you’re for, I’m for, too. I think as teachers we just see things differently than lawmakers, and that results in a lot of the sillier parts of legislation like this. Personally, I don’t plan on getting “Unsatisfactory” on my observations. That’ll at least solve some of the problems for me, right? :)

  3. Oppressed Teacher

    I believe a focused strategy targeting members of the Illinois General Assembly to amend this legislation in a manner that protects the rights of workers. Certainly, our fellow unions understand that curbing the power for one sector of the work force to redress grievances opens the door to other sectors. This is a precedent they must fight with us to prevent.

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