Guest Column: All Illinois students deserve a great education taught by an excellent teacher

By Mary McClelland
Communications Director, Stand for Children

Currently, education stakeholders, including education reform groups, the teachers’ unions, and legislators are working together in Springfield on legislation that will take a huge step toward building better schools across our state. One major component of the legislation focuses on performance-based evaluations—something that has been debated for years. I believe now is the time—and opportunity—for definitive action that puts students first.

Illinois has some fantastic teachers who work in a profession that takes an immense amount of skill. Shouldn’t we treat teachers like the valued professionals they are?

The value of a great teacher cannot be understated.

Take a look at Northwestern economist Diane Whitmore Schanzenback’s study showing that when a student moves from a below-average teacher to an above-average teacher, the child’s adult earnings rise by about 3.5 percent per year, amounting to more than $10,000 in additional lifetime income.

Multiply that by the number of students in a class, and the economic impact of that educator is $320,000 in lifetime earnings for his or her whole class. And this is just the money side of things!

Look at Stanford University’s Eric Hanushek (whom you might have seen in Waiting for Superman) study that proves an above-average teacher produces a year-and-a-half’s worth of normal test score gains in a single academic year, while a below-average teacher only raises their students’ scores by half a year, putting those children further and further behind.

All of this goes to show what we already know: Teaching matters. The Performance Counts agenda, supported by education advocacy groups, takes a huge step forward in addressing how we keep the best teachers in the classroom.

The agenda proposes tying teacher retention and advancement to performance to be sure every child receives an excellent educator. In nearly every profession, it’s performance, not longevity, that matters. Generally, in most industries, job performance is reviewed annually, and excellent performance is recognized and rewarded. There is no job security based solely on the length of time you’ve worked somewhere. Why should it be different in teaching? Excellent performance means job security.

Building on the new teacher evaluation law passed last January, the Performance Counts agenda will tie teacher evaluations to teacher tenure and certification and to school district decisions on teacher dismissal and reductions in force. For the thousands of teachers who work hard every day to inspire students, this proposed change is of no consequence. However, for those ineffective teachers, a poor evaluation finally will have a real consequence. This puts the students’ interests above the teachers’, which is where it was always supposed to be.

The second significant change will restore balance to the collective bargaining process by providing the school community information about the bargaining issues at stake through a fact-finding process.

The current process leaves students, parents and taxpayers at risk and in the dark. This will make the process more transparent. The Performance Counts legislative package establishes a more balanced bargaining process—a pathway to compromise that seeks to resolve disputes and keep classrooms open.

The Performance Counts agenda puts student learning and teacher quality above teacher seniority and tenure. It restores balance to the collective bargaining process. Illinois’ students need this change.

Mary McClelland is communications director for Stand for Children, whose “mission is to use the power of grassroots action to help all children get the excellent public education and strong support they need to thrive.”

From the March 23-29, 2011 issue

One thought on “Guest Column: All Illinois students deserve a great education taught by an excellent teacher

  • Mar 31, 2011 at 9:12 am

    I agree with Ms. McClelland, her strategy makes sense. But another idea is that maybe we should look at why schools failed in the first place. I got a decent education in a public school. Then things changed. Our schools were taken over by a group of self-described education experts and then things went to hell.

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