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Is Illinois the New Face of Education Reform?

By Allison Flamberg

The Center for American Progress recently released a report on the education reforms Illinois Governor Pat Quinn signed into law last month. Senate Bill 7 (SB 7) seeks to overhaul the state’s policies on teacher hiring, tenure, reductions and dismissals in an effort to make statewide educational improvements. This bill may be the first step in bringing true reformation to the Illinois education system. The collaboration between senate legislators, union organizers and negotiating lawyers, SB 7 is an example of how state governments and unions can truly work together for the common good.

Educational reform in Illinois has been coming for quite some time, as multiple bills have been pushed for in the past decade, each aiming to strengthen the current education system. After the “Race to the Top” Initiative failed due to lack of funding, however, the unions and the legislators began to create a network of mutual trust and an open dialogue that facilitated the drafting of SB7. Senator Kimberly Lightford oversaw the meetings that led to SB7. During a CAP event, Lightford stated that central to the creation of the bill was balancing allowing parties to voice their views while keeping the group moving forward to its end goal—a bill for education reform.

How to measure teacher performance in terms of student growth was a key discussion item among the bill’s committee. Both standardized testing and student grades were rejected as an inadequate measure of teacher effectiveness. No method was agreed upon before the bill was signed into law. Rather, the bill created a joint committee of teachers and legislators tasked with finding alternative methods of recording and evaluating student growth and creating a state-modeled plan for teacher evaluation.

While the battle for education reform in Illinois is far from settled, SB7 offers the nation a model on how to move the agenda forward in collaboration with teachers, unions, and legislators.

Allison Flamberg is a Research and Programs Intern with the National Council for Research on Women. This fall she’ll return to Reed College as a junior history major.

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