Illinois Education Bill

January 1, 2011

On December 16th and 17th the Illinois General Assembly held hearings on a bill called the Performance Counts Act. The bill is being pushed through the legislature on a "fast-track" agenda and is expected to pass this month.

The main thrust of the bill is that it would link teachers' jobs to performance evaluations. "Performance" evaluations would be used to undermine job protections such as tenure and to justify terminations. Teachers who are given three "unsatisfactory" evaluations within ten years would be prohibited from working again as teachers anywhere in the state. The bill would also strip teachers' unions of the right to bargain over such issues as class sizes and student schedules.

Such actions are a vicious attack on the teachers and the public schools.

For decades, teachers were drastically underpaid and subject to arbitrary treatment and discrimination in wages, job security, working conditions, etc. Women and minority teachers were paid less. Politicians and administrators rewarded their friends and punished their enemies, looking on the teaching profession as part of the "political machine." Teachers were routinely denied freedom of conscience and the right to teach the truth.

Through repeated struggles, teachers improved their conditions. Union contracts and various laws have created objective standards to enforce certain minimal rights such as a measure of job security and equal wages commensurate with teachers' level of education and years on the job. "Performance Counts" and similar schemes being implemented throughout the country seek to replace these objective standards with subjective criteria, including the "evaluation" of the principal and student performance on standardized tests.

The theory used to justify this attack is the claim that "teachers aren't getting the job done," "seniority makes teachers lazy," "union rules don't work," etc. Linking teachers' jobs to performance evaluations only gives school administrators unlimited power to terrorize teachers and trample underfoot job protections written into law or union contracts. "Performance Counts" is not only a scheme for attacking job security protections it is also an attack on the integrity of the public schools and on any modern definition of rights.

The real problem in education is precisely that the government refuses to make the investments necessary to guarantee a modern educational system. The starting point for genuinely modernizing our public schools is for the government to provide students and teachers with the necessary inputs (e.g. smaller class sizes, modern buildings, an all-sided curriculum, etc.). Instead of looking for new ways to blame and attack the teachers, the government should begin by fulfilling its own responsibilities.