The story of Teacher X in Oak Park

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Jack Crowe

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.

Reader Comments

4 Comments - Add Your Comment

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Carollina Song from Oak Park  

Posted: February 21st, 2011 5:49 PM

Mr. Crowe, I think it's impossible to discuss a subject as complicated as teacher tenure in 500 characters, so I won't even try. However, your math is incorrect. $48M is the amount of total property tax that would go to D97 if the referendum passes. Currently, Oak Park residents pay about $41M or $42M in property taxes. Thus, we are really talking about a $6M referendum issue, not a $48M one, which is what you implied when you wrote "$48 million in new taxes". Please issue a correction.

chet21 from Oak Park  

Posted: February 16th, 2011 2:11 PM

Carter? Teacher Y, I keep hearing about "change" to tenure, but, gosh, your unions never seem to get around to it - do they? In the meantime, my kids, recent grads, endured some awful teachers in D97. Fortunately, the good ones outnumbered the bad ones by 15-1. I also recall how "tenure protection" saw the district transferring and "promoting" many of the bad apples all over the place. Parents would complain and then they'd get a job on Madison or, again, transferred.

Teacher Y from Chicago  

Posted: February 16th, 2011 1:35 PM

CONTINUED from below And yes the tenure process can and should be amended, but it should not be eliminated. A great number of my colleagues feel tenure should be changed and streamlined, but to eliminate it would open the door to an education system where teachers are afraid for their jobs - there have been cases where teachers have been fired for not changing the grade of a star athlete or a board member's child. That is not education, that is coercion. Tenure is in place to ensure equity.

Teacher Y from Chicago  

Posted: February 16th, 2011 1:27 PM

As a public school teacher, I would like to respond to your statements regarding tenure. Your depiction of tenure has greatly simplified the process - tenure is granted not solely by years served, but based on good administrative evaluations. Administrators have the opportunity to dismiss a non-tenured teacher for any reason. Tenure then is due process for teacher dismissals to ensure fairness and equity in the event a teacher needs to be removed. Yes, the process is cumbersome, and yes the tenu

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