Illinois Education Advocates Respond to DFER Analysis of SB 7 Teacher Evaluation Policies

On Monday, we published a critical analysis by our Director of State Legislatures, Ron Tupa, of Illinois’ education reform bill SB 7. SB 7 passed the Illinois Senate by a vote of 54-0 on April 15th and was approved by a vote of 112-1 in the Illinois House on May 12th. Right now the bill is on the desk of Governor Pat Quinn where, at this writing, it awaits his signature.

SB 7 is an omnibus education reform bill in the sense that it sets new policies in several areas, including extending the school day and setting a higher bar for unions to jump before ordering a strike. Our critique, however, focused only on provisions of SB 7 that address teacher evaluation, tenure, and dismissal policies, including those that amend Illinois’ Performance Evaluation Review Act (SB 315), which was signed into law (also by Governor Quinn) in January of 2010 as part of the state’s Race to the Top effort.

Two Illinois-based advocacy groups – Advance Illinois and Stand for Children – both of which we have worked with closely on national and state education policy issues and regard with the utmost respect and admiration – have taken issue with many of the points raised in our analysis.

Their Executive Directors, Robin Steans and Jonah Edelman, respectively, have sent us a detailed, written response, which appears below, verbatim and in its entirety. We welcome the dialogue, and will follow up with our take in a forthcoming post.

Written Response from Robin Steans and Jonah Edelman:

As people deeply involved negotiating and drafting SB7 here in Illinois, we were disturbed to read the misleading piece posted by Ron Tupa yesterday on this site. While we rebut and respond to each of his points and criticisms below, it is worth making a few points up front. First, had Mr. Tupa taken the time to talk to anyone in the state, he would have realized that his conclusions were either wrong, or not driven by common sense and good policy. And while it might have made for a less entertaining post, some basic fact-checking would have ensured a more accurate accounting of SB7.

It is also worth noting that Mr. Tupa ignores some of the most significant aspects of the legislation, namely:

· Streamlined dismissal for tenured teachers based on performance and conduct,

· ending forced placement around the state,

· the ability to more readily lengthen the school day and year in Chicago, and

· transformative changes to how bargaining disputes are resolved in the country’s third largest district.

The primary premise of Mr. Tupa’s posting is simply wrong. Legislators were actively engaged in every step of SB 7’s development and negotiation. In December 2010, multiple days of public hearings were held on the original draft of the “Performance Counts” legislative proposal submitted by a coalition of education reform organizations, which served as a foundation for the SB 7 negotiations that occurred over the Spring. Over the course of the Spring, both Republican and Democratic House and Senate members actively participated in the negotiations over the bill, with strong leadership by State Senator Kimberly Lightford and several Senate Republicans. For each of the multiple negotiation sessions, a status report of agreements and open issues was prepared by the Illinois State Board of Education’s General Counsel and circulated to staff of each of the four legislative caucuses, who were able to keep their members informed. Legislators were engaged and informed of all aspects of the bill’s development. Perhaps this level of attention and care is not common in Colorado, which might explain Mr. Tupa’s rush to a wrong-headed conclusion. (Again, had he taken the time to check his facts, anyone even remotely involved in this process could have easily verified the level of review that accompanied this bill’s drafting.)

1) Is rife with loopholes and escape clauses.  


a. One example – written into the language affecting tenure requirements and the four year teaching probationary period – in essence confers a ‘default’ evaluation rating of ‘proficient’ to any teacher whose district simply fails to conduct an evaluation of the teacher (for whatever reason), as required.