Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Time to quit hiding costs of tenure

Scott Reeder's series for the Small Newspaper Group
concluded last week with a good editorial, however we disagree changing from property tax to income tax. All
the articles can be reached by clicking on the title above.

An editorial: Time to quit hiding costs of tenure

Small Newspaper Group

Twenty years after the Illinois Legislature tried to
bring greater accountability into the classroom by
making it easier to fire bad teachers, Scott Reeder of
The Small Newspaper Group Springfield bureau launched
an investigation to determine the effectiveness of
those reforms.

The results of the investigation, one of the largest
in the company’s history, are startling.

Despite denials from the state’s two major teacher
unions, the data indicates that tenure has evolved
into near total job protection that mocks the goal of
accountability. The greatest abuses of this system are
often in the poorest school districts.

As part of this six-month investigation, Reeder:

-- Filed about 1,500 Freedom of Information Act
requests with various governmental entities.

-- Achieved a 100 percent response rate when seeking
data from each of Illinois’ 876 school districts.

-- Reviewed every case of a tenured educator facing
dismissal during the past 18 years.

-- Conducted one of the largest media document reviews
in the history of Cook County courts, according to
Linda Cuellar a spokeswoman for the circuit clerk.

-- Interviewed hundreds of educators, union officials
and experts.

What to do now

Students suffer when the teacher is incompetent. The
result is a disaster when the jobs of tomorrow require
higher skills than ever.

Good teachers suffer as they watch helplessly as the
standards of their profession are pulled down. They
are unfairly tarnished with the brush of mediocrity.
To add insult to injury, terrible teachers are paid
$50,000 or more to go away, while the best teachers
rarely get a bonus or premium pay based on merit. We
should have the courage to honor and reward the best
teachers. Their contributions are beyond measure, but
we must try anyway.

The taxpayers suffer by paying hundreds of thousands
of dollars in legal fees in cases to produce verdicts
that defy common sense.

For everybody’s sake, Illinois needs to bring real
accountability to the system.

A few suggestions:

-- It shouldn’t take a reporter six months to get this
kind of information. It should be collected by the
state and offered to the public as an accountability
report card each year.

-- Illinois should follow Iowa’s lead in outlawing
secret deals with bad teachers. Sunlight is a great

-- Long term teachers who are incompetent should
receive severance pay reflecting their seniority,
along with professional outplacement help. This is
better than keeping them in the system, where the
damage they cause to students lasts for years after
the student has left that classroom.

-- Some teachers have students who come badly prepared
and motivated. What counts is not the starting point,
but the progress made during the year. That can be
measured and rewarded.

-- Voucher systems, allowing students to choose among
public schools, would install a spirit of healthy
competition that would wake up the school boards.

-- But the greatest reform would be a grand trade.
Financing schools with property taxes, started when
only the rich owned real estate, is wrong, resulting
in huge disparities among school districts in the
state. Illinois should replace the property tax with
an equivalent income tax, in return for real
accountability for performance. The system we have is
a sham and a disgrace..

Now that the costs of tenure are no longer hidden, we
can do no less.

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