Why Illinois might be a model for education reform


Kimberly Lightford, assistant majority leader for the Illinois Senate, took a lead role in organizing the variety of voices that pitched ideas.

“Some of the premise of us coming together was that we had no choice. The Race to the Top application brought together so many points of view, but what I saw as a legislator for the first time was that we could work together for the good of our students,” said Lightford. “If we work in that vein, then we should come up with some meaningful legislation. We’re all professionals, we have a job to do, and we have to respect each others’ opinions.”

Lightford said the meetings originally were too large to work effectively.

“The meetings had over 80 people, and for me, I needed input; a smaller roundtable where there were people [who] could make decisions. I minimized the meetings, and I was criticized for it,” she said.  “There were some challenges, because sometimes we want to venture off and do it our own way instead of sticking with the course of the group. That was my challenge, keeping everyone at the table.”

The inclusion of key teachers’ unions in the drafting process was a first for the state.

More news about union-district collaboration:

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And for the latest news and opinions about education reform, see:

School Reform Center at eSN Online

“Overall, what we did was really insist that the voice of the practitioner would be heard in the discussions,” said Audrey Soglin, executive director of the Illinois Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union. “Someone suggested that unions can or should only do one kind of advocacy. We reject that notion. It is both our practice and our mission to improve education and be the advocate for the adult.”

While striking capabilities were focused on by the Chicago mass media, it was the tenure and lay-off procedures that caused more discussion during drafting. Parties disagreed whether the tenure process should be made more difficult or whether seniority and performance evaluations should factor into reductions in forces (RIFs).

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