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Education in America

Education in America: Illinois Tackles Seniority

After my second year of teaching, my district had a “reduction in force” and “RIF”ed (“let go” in layman’s speak) every single first, second, third, fourth, and fifth year teacher.  They RIFed 25% of their staff.  The district ended up calling back almost every single one of those teachers; however, that summer was the worst summer of my life as I played the waiting game about whether or not I would have a job.  When the district decided that they had the money or need to hire back teachers, they had to go through every one of those RIFed teachers one by one in order of seniority and offer them jobs if there were openings in a position where they were certified to teach.

Finally, two weeks before school started, I was called back to teach high school because by a fluke my certification covers high school.  I have no experience or interest in teaching anything above third grade and had only taught kindergarten at that point.  In the end I was lucky and was able to apply for a special education certification which led me to a much more appropriate situation.  However, many other teachers were not so lucky and were stuck in positions where, while they held the certification, they had no experience or desire to teach said subject; high school teachers ended up teaching elementary school and math teachers ended up teaching art.

This is the part where I get to education reform.  This spring, Illinois passed an education overhaul bill.  Unlike bills in other states, this bill was actually crafted by unions, education advocates, administrators, and school boards in addition to lawmakers. The bill features many changes to educational policy, but the biggest ones are the changes to the tenure and reduction in force (RIF) policies.  There is a lot more I could go into regarding this reform, but I think I’ll just focus on the RIFing this week.

Previously (as illustrated by my personal experience), at the end of the school year districts would often RIF teachers and then hire them back as money became available.  This process was based purely on seniority, meaning that a second year teacher who did not receive positive evaluations might still have a job while a first year teacher who only received excellent evaluations may be out a job. Additionally, due to the callback procedures, teachers rarely ended up in their same position. Many would just leave the district instead of waiting to be called back. I have seen too many amazing first year teachers RIFed who then found other jobs during the summer while poorer-quality teachers with more seniority remained in the district.

Under this new law, seniority will only be used as a deciding factor when other factors (mostly teacher performance) are tied.

I was initially following the bill’s progress and was pleased with the fact that it was supported and created by such a wide range of educational stakeholders.  However, it was finally passed at the end of May, and as any teacher knows, that is an extremely busy time so I was unable to really follow the progress at the end.

It was only in researching this piece that I found out that at the very end two of the unions pulled their support while the third took a neutral stand.  This mostly happened because of last minute changes affecting bargaining rights of the unions.  This worries me, however, I am an optimist, and I am hoping that this overhaul of the reduction in force and tenure systems will lead to better teacher retention and swifter inadequate teacher suspensions.

Further Reading:

Sb 7 Analysis

Education Overhaul Sent to Quinn’s Desk

Illinois Education Bill Passes Over Union Objections

By Mona Se Queda

I teach bilingual special education and I like guinea pigs.

One reply on “Education in America: Illinois Tackles Seniority”

I was fortunate to escape RIFfing b/c of my special ed certification, but I did see it a lot when I taught. I think 7/8 years there was at least one person from our building who was RIFfed.
I think making it easier to RIF more teachers is throwing a cup of water on a house fire, though. The problem isn’t the older teachers, the problem is the terrible planning and implementation that leads to RIFfing in the first place. RIFfing does little except cause unnecessary tension between veteran and novice teachers, I think this new plan could make that tension worse. It’s just switching from being unfair to novice teachers to being unfair to ALL teachers, and I don’t think that’s the direction they need to be swinging.
How much of a teacher’s performance is tied to test scores in Illinois? Will the neediest schools suffer a higher RIF rate than the schools that are doing well? How will it effect the teaching force to know that instead of worrying about RIF for the first few years, they have to worry about being RIFfed for their entire career?
If governments, school boards and districts could get their act together, maybe they could figure out a way for schools not to have to fire a huge chunk of their workforce (that almost always get rehired after attrition) every single summer. Like, I dunno, waiting until they have the attrition numbers in before RIFfing, instead of the other way around.

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