This is the story of Teacher X. I am keeping Teacher X's name as well as Teacher X's school anonymous.
It began when my daughter, now 29 years old, was an eighth grader at a District 97 middle school. Those were the bad-old days when the middle schools often taught — as a matter of policy — to the bottom of the class. Teacher X was called on to teach a new "honors" class. My daughter liked school but she often came home complaining that she was bored in Teacher X's class. I told her to buckle down. But one-by-one, parents started demanding that their student be pulled from the class because it was so bad. Eventually, the class was half empty. The end of semester assignment was for these eighth graders to make collages of themselves. I took my daughter out after that. The principal acknowledged the problem but said Teacher X was going through a hard time.
Flash forward 10 years. My son was now at the same middle school. In the interim, the district had made some strides toward a better curriculum, but Teacher X was still there. The administration now teamed Teacher X with stronger teachers so that the students had at least some well-taught classes in their section. My son was assigned to Teacher X's section for seventh grade. I did not have high expectations and Teacher X met them. Soon my son began to make the same complaints my daughter had made years earlier. The class was boring. No one learned anything. The students did not take Teacher X seriously. If you mentioned Teacher X to any administrator, teacher, parent or student at the school, the reaction was the same: They rolled their eyes.
Teacher X earned over $100,000 per year before recently retiring
I tell this story for two reasons.
First, the Illinois Legislature is considering legislation called Performance Counts, which would put commonsense limits on teacher tenure. Here is the way things currently work. Tenure is based on time of service and not performance; layoffs are decided by seniority; and firing a teacher is nearly impossible. Performance Counts legislation would make tenure performance-based, eliminate seniority in layoffs and make it easier to fire poor-performing teachers.
We have Oak Park and River Forest representation on the Special Committee on Education Reform that is considering this bill. Sen. Kimberly Lightford and Rep. Karen Yarborough sit on this special committee. We need to encourage them and their counterparts to take these fairly modest steps at putting the interests of students first and the interests of teachers second.
Second, I see this issue having something to do with District 97's request that taxpayers approve $48 million in new taxes. Don't get me wrong. There are some exceptional teachers and administrators in District 97. But is the district a good steward of our tax dollars? It should be demanding much more than a one-year freeze in teacher's salaries in exchange for this very large tax hike. The district needs to reform the way it compensates and retains teachers and include a merit pay component to any contracts.
Jack Crowe is a third-generation Oak Parker. He cycles with the Lake and Harlem group and works at the Christo Rey Network of high schools.