SPRINGFIELD -- State Sen. Todd Sieben introduced legislation Thursday that he said will enhance school accountability and improve teacher quality.
The Geneseo Republican said his legislation was inspired by The Hidden Costs of Tenure, an investigative report conducted by Small Newspaper Group that focused on accountability issues in the public schools. Small Newspaper Group owns The Dispatch and The Rock Island Argus.
"That report showed that the consequences of a student having a bad teacher can be severe," Sen. Sieben said. "We need to do something about this. Our children deserve better. I think if we have better disclosure of information, some of these problems in schools can be better addressed."
One finding in the report is that teacher job-performance evaluations rarely result in ineffective teachers leaving the profession. Only one out of 930 evaluations of tenured teachers results in an unsatisfactory rating.
"I think a lot of parents and school-board members aren't aware that bad teachers are receiving good job evaluations. This bill would force administrators to report the number of teachers rated excellent, satisfactory and unsatisfactory at the end of each school year," Sen. Sieben said.
"If a parent or board member knows of an underperforming teacher and later sees that all of the teachers in the district have been rated 'excellent' they can say, 'Wait a minute -- something needs to be done."
Sen. Sieben also introduced legislation that would force school districts to disclose financial terms of settlement agreements in cases in which teachers are paid to resign.
The newspaper group's investigation found that because it often can cost a school district more than $100,000 in attorney fees alone to attempt to fire a teacher, some school boards have resorted to secret agreements in which teachers are paid to resign.
Both of the state's major teacher unions, the Illinois Federation of Teachers and the Illinois Education Association, routinely insist the terms of the settlement agreements remain confidential.
"That's just not right. This is taxpayer money and we ought know how it is spent," Sen. Sieben said.
The Illinois Business Roundtable and the Illinois Press Association are lobbying for the passage of the measures.
The Business Roundtable is a public policy group made up of the chief executive officers of Illinois' largest companies. The Illinois Press Association is a coalition of the state's newspapers.
"These bills are about the public's right to know how their schools are being run and how their tax dollars are being spent. We very definitely will lobby for the passage of this legislation," said David Bennett, executive director of the press association.
Jeff Mays, president of the Roundtable, said members of his group are frustrated that the state's system of evaluating teachers is having little impact on teacher quality.
"Job performance evaluations should be a tool for improving teachers. But even though school districts across the state have devoted millions of hours to evaluating teachers, we don't see a discernable improvement in teacher quality," he said. "Study after study has shown that teacher quality is the most important factor in whether a student learns."
Mr. Mays said that there is a great deal of frustration that school administrators have been unwilling or unable to address the problem.
The Small Newspaper Group report found that of an estimated 95,500 tenured teachers in Illinois, only an average of two per year are fired on grounds of poor performance and only five are dismissed for issues of misconduct.
The investigation also found that 93 percent of Illinois school districts have never even recommended the dismissal of any tenured teacher in the last 18 years.
Sen. Sieben, who is married to a public school teacher, said common sense would indicate there are more under-performing teachers in the state than these statistics would indicate.
"We owe it to the good teachers out there to do something about this problem," he said.
Mr. Mays said he anticipates Sieben's measures will face stiff opposition from lobbyists for both major teacher unions.
A spokesman for the Illinois Education Association declined to comment on the legislation Thursday. Representatives of the Illinois Federation of Teachers did not return telephone calls seeking comment.
To read the entire series, go to http://thehiddencostsoftenure.com.
Sherrard, IL Details
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