Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Illinois Is Beginning Education Overhaul; New Teacher-Rating Program May Sting Egos, Stir Introspection

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Illinois Is Beginning Education Overhaul; New Teacher-Rating Program May Sting Egos, Stir Introspection

Article excerpt

Pretty much everybody had at least one. That is, a teacher who probably should have been fired.

I encountered my most memorable in high school, last period of the day.

He was grumpy and confrontational and occasionally railed semi- coherently against the scourge of teenage pregnancy. He might abandon the room for 10 minutes or more to castigate a student he spied walking the hall without a pass. And he capped some days by placing his head on the desk and falling asleep while about 25 sophomores watched in amazed silence.

It never occurred to me to report his bizarre behavior. Besides, teachers had something called tenure, which I didn't grasp beyond assuming it meant immunity from consequences.

As an adult, I learned it was not immunity from all consequences, but from a lot of them. It is mainly a seniority system, rather like the one among union employees at this very newspaper, to enforce a "last hired, first fired" approach to layoffs.

Terminating a tenured teacher for cause, I was later told, is sort of like catching a flying bullet in your teeth. It's theoretically possible, but usually a greater effort than it's worth.

I ought to mention here that the sleepy grump, when he was awake and focused, did manage to teach me quite a bit. I cannot rule out the possibility that one of my classmates might even have regarded him as good.

Heck, years later I saw one of my bright and studious daughters rave about a particular teacher that my bright and studious son hated.

The connection between student and teacher is a very subjective thing - which has long confounded reformers reaching for more objective measures.

Now Illinois, of all places, is taking the first steps in an education overhaul enacted last year to national acclaim.

This is hard to fathom in a state better known for legislative gridlock, pension payments that are $83 billion in arrears and delayed school aid payments that are driving some desperate districts toward more layoffs.

Yet somehow, a coalition of lawmakers, activists, educators and union leaders reached consensus in 2011 on a bill that passed the House 112-1 and the Senate 54-0 on the way to a quick signature by Gov. …

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