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Editorial: Education reform comes to Illinois

Updated: June 14, 2011 12:31AM

There’s always talk of change. There’s always hope for change. And then change almost never happens.

Except this time.

On Thursday afternoon, the Illinois House passed an ambitious education reform package, following a unanimous vote in the Senate in April. The legislation awaits the signature of Gov. Quinn, who strongly supports it.

The bill won’t transform failing schools and it won’t ensure that kids arrive at school ready to learn.

But it will open the door toward improving the one thing schools can control: the quality of the teacher in every classroom.

The bill will, finally, create a system that rewards and advances Illinois’ most talented teachers. This upends the current system, the maddening one where teachers too often are rewarded for showing up and sticking around, even if they’re sub-par.

The bill includes a long list of profound, if commonsense changes. It will be easier to fire bad teachers and harder for teachers to earn tenure. And performance, not simply seniority, will guide teacher layoff decisions when money is tight.

The bill creates a higher hurdle to jump before teachers can walk a picket line, and it allows Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel to extend the too-short school day and year in Chicago, though the financial impact of longer hours will have to be negotiated with the teachers union.

And this was done without destroying the unions, as other states have attempted. All the major unions were in on the negotiations that led to this bill, and until last week, all were on board.

The Chicago Teachers Union was the first to jump ship, citing two parts of the bill that gave them heartburn. We criticized the inflammatory way they voiced their concerns. Until then, this had been a civilized and even-handed process.

Still, the union raised legitimate concerns about language in the bill that affects their bargaining rights.

The fixes are relatively easy. We expect them to be included in a “trailer” bill that likely will be drafted and, we hope, passed soon.

This bill is good for Illinois teachers and, far better yet, good for Illinois schoolchildren.

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