Teacher Tenure Reform Coming to Illinois?

Rachel Sheffield /

It’s the beginning of a new year, and Illinois isn’t wasting any time getting education reform off to a good start. Teacher tenure reform is currently on the hotplate of Illinois lawmakers, with the House being set to vote on a measure January 12.

The proposed legislation would “link teacher tenure to student test scores,” reports The Wall Street Journal. Under Illinois’s current system, “new teachers are offered tenure after three years on the job unless there are serious concerns about their work. After that, districts face a certain, protracted legal challenge to any attempt to dismiss a tenured teacher,” writes Collin Hitt, director of education policy at the Illinois Policy Institute.

Not only would the new law base teacher evaluation on student outcomes; it would require tenure to be “renewed every two years based on frequent, rigorous evaluations.”

A study of three Illinois school districts—Chicago, Rockford, and Elgin—found that less than half a percent of all teachers in these districts received an unsatisfactory evaluation in four years, despite low student test scores and graduation rates. This suggests, according to Hitt, that “teacher evaluations are not being credibly used.”

He continues: “Principals often know which teachers need to be replaced—but tenure laws make the process so burdensome and expensive and bureaucratic that formal action is simply not feasible, efficient or effective.”

And when ineffective teachers are allowed to stay in the classroom, it’s the children who suffer most.

Teachers unions also make it nearly impossible for schools to dismiss ineffective teachers. Hence, it’s no surprise that the Illinois Federation of Teachers and the Illinois Education Association are pushing back on the proposed tenure reforms.

However, as The Wall Street Journal puts it, “The fight in Illinois is a microcosm of the shifting sands in national education policy.”

As an example of the shift taking place, Colorado passed a similar tenure reform law last year, and Florida is likely to pass its own tenure reform in the coming months. Beyond this, a variety of other changes to education that put children front and center are catching on across the country.

Students should have as much opportunity as possible to receive a good education. An effective teacher is critical to a child’s learning; thus it only makes sense that schools have the authority to put the best teachers in their classrooms. Furthermore, good teachers should not be kept from schools simply because a potential slot is filled by an ineffective teacher.

Policies like tenure reform that give children the best chance at success are a step in the right direction—in Illinois and across the nation.