As teachers across Illinois settle in for a new school year, they do so under a new, and we hope, improved system that allows schools not only to get rid of bad teachers, but to reward the legion of good ones.|
Teachers, parents, lawmakers and taxpayers can happily move beyond the contentious tenure debate that led to sweeping changes in the way Illinois evaluates administrators and teachers.
Though it takes effect in just a little over a week, educators already have been busily laying the groundwork to implement the Performance Evaluation Reform Act. It represents a fundamental and overdue shift in how schools reward good teachers and weed out the bad ones by shifting the focus from seniority to teacher performance.
Of course, the way that the law is put into practice is every bit as important, perhaps even more so, as the legislation which created it. So we were pleased to learn in an excellent report prepared for us by Christina Slater, a two-time Dispatch/Argus intern, that Quad-Cities area educators have not only bought into the system but are committed to making it work.
Ms. Salter of Bettendorf, now in her second year in the Teach for America Program, surveyed a broad cross section of Q-C stakeholders. And while many recognized the challenge in creating a newer, tougher system, most gave the effort high marks thus far.
For example, early reports among his teacher members are "overwhelmingly" positive for a system they hope will create "more consistency in evaluation" and a "more accurate picture of what's going on in the classrooms," Rock Island Education Association President Bob Smith said.
Though much of the attention has centered on using student test scores to evaluate teacher performance, no longer basing tenure solely on seniority and easing the path to firing bad teachers, administrators like Moline superintendent David Moyer believe its real potential is in staff development.
While it's important to be able to get rid of truly bad teachers, the system that dies on Sept. 1 did not allow school districts to help teachers with potential, but substandard performances to become better. The new evaluation system, if properly implemented, does.
That doesn't mean that there won't be bumps in the road. Indeed, Ken Schneck, retired president of the Moline Education Association, says there will be a "steep learning curve." He's hopeful training programs held over the summer for an army of teacher evaluators will help.
Stephanee Jordan participated in evaluator training as a member of the Performance Advisory Council. "As somebody who was a teacher for 20 years, I want a fair and equitable evaluation tool that reflects what I'm doing in the classroom and also ... helps me improve and become a better teacher," said the ELL director for Moline and East Moline schools. "I think that's what all teachers want."
That is also what the schoolchildren of Illinois need.
If properly driven, the Performance Evaluation Reform Act will provide the keys to make it happen. Indeed, Rock Island superintendent Michael Oberhaus described the new system as a "good roadmap for what good instruction looks like, feels like, and how high-quality teachers prepare themselves."
That is much more than we dared to hope seven years ago when we and other member newspapers published the startling Small Newspaper Group investigative report, "The Hidden Cost of Tenure." As the series made clear, students suffer when the teacher is incompetent and a legion of good teachers suffer as they watch helplessly as the standards of their profession are pulled down by a system that fails to honor and reward the best teachers.
This new system, admittedly a work in progress, nevertheless represents a Titanic shift in attitude and we salute all who not only recognized the fundamental importance of improving teacher performance, but worked to create a system that both measures and promotes it.
On behalf of Illinois schoolchildren, thanks.
Moline, IL Details
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