UPDATED: Major Changes to Teacher Tenure, Hiring and Firing Coming in Illinois?

By Sean Cavanagh — April 14, 2011 2 min read
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Numerous Illinois lawmakers say they have struck a deal with unions and education advocates on a proposal that would make sweeping changes to the job protections and rights of teachers across the state.

The contours of the agreement are still emerging, and the legislation could very well change, going forward.

But supporters of the proposal are touting it as the antithesis of recently enacted laws on collective bargaining in Wisconsin and Ohio, which have roiled the political waters and provoked union outrage in those states.

According to a summary provided by one of the measure’s authors, the Illinois proposal would make major changes to teachers’ seniority and tenure protections—while also carving out separate rules in some areas for the 409,000-student Chicago school district.

The current version of the proposal would:

• Require districts to consider performance and job qualifications, rather than just seniority in teacher layoff and recall decisions. (This section would not affect Chicago, where litigation is ongoing on this subject, lawmakers say.)

• Establish a streamlined process for districts to dismiss tenured teachers, in Chicago and other districts around the state.

• Allow Chicago public schools to increase the length of the school day and school year. The district would be required to bargain over the impact of those changes on teachers, such as whether they should be paid more for that work. But the school system would be authorized to make those changes while bargaining is ongoing.

• Make teachers’ certifications, qualifications, ability, and “relevant experience” the determining factors for districts filling new and vacant positions. Seniority would only be tie-breaking factor in those decisions.

• Set new requirements on teachers receiving positive performance evaluations before they’re granted tenure. Accelerated tenure could be given to teachers with sterling performance evaluations.

Union officials, and their critics, are sure to debate the relative toughness of those provisions—and how they stack up with other states’ proposals. Once you’ve looked over the Illinois measure, give me your take.

[UPDATE (April 15): The bill sailed through the Illinois state Senate by a 59-0 vote, drawing praise from both Republicans and Democrats, and Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn. It now moves on to the House, where lawmakers could be keen on making changes, according to reports.]

A spokesman for Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, a Democrat from Chicago, pointedly told me that “Illinois has two chambers in its legislature,” and said House lawmakers would need time to consider the broad proposal.

“We’re going to take a good, hard look at it over the next few weeks,” said Steve Brown, a spokesman for Madigan.

Sen. Kimberly Lightford,a Democrat who worked on the agreement, described it as a melding of the views of groups—unions, legislators, groups that have called for changes in teacher job protections and that haven’t cooperated in the past. Illinois’ unions are saying much the same thing.

“This is the result of all sides—reformers, unions and administrators—coming together,” Lightford said in a statement, “to find workable solutions to long-disputed issues.”

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A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.