“Common sense, along with our research and the research of others, has shown that consensus-oriented education reform is the preferred and potentially more successful way to go,” said Cynthia G. Brown, Vice President for Education Policy at the Center for American Progress, at a July 13 event hosted by CAP. She explained that in many states, debates over education reform have been contentious and partisan, but “leaders in other states like Illinois have sought solutions to these tough issues in a bipartisan manner.” Effective collaboration allowed lawmakers to pass major legislation, Senate Bill 7, which overhauled state policies on teacher tenure, hiring, reductions in force, and dismissal, in order to improve teacher effectiveness and improve the education of children in Illinois.
Two panel discussions and a presentation by John Luczak, education program manager of the Joyce Foundation, highlighting the evolution of the legislative package and the positions of stakeholders, followed Brown’s opening remarks. The first panel included Senate Assistant Majority Leader Kimberly Lightford (D-IL); Audrey Soglin, the executive director of the Illinois Education Association; Jonathan Furr, a partner at Holland & Knight LLP and representative of the advocacy groups; and Darren Reisberg, deputy superintendent and general counsel, Illinois State Board of Education. The second panel discussed implications for federal policy from the Illinois experience and included Brad Jupp, the senior program advisor in the Office of the Secretary of Education; and Michele McLaughlin, the senior education policy advisor of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.
CAP released on the same day two reports examining the successful Illinois education reform process. Elliot Regenstein’s “Illinois: The New Leader in Education Reform” discusses how the Illinois State Senate and other groups successfully negotiated Senate Bill 7. Saul Rubinstein and John E. McCarthy’s “Reforming Public School Systems through Sustained Union-Management Collaboration” identifies the important conditions for successful education reform negotiations between teacher unions and school district management based on a series of case studies.
John Luczak discussed how collaboration in Illinois produced a better, more substantial series of education reform laws than negotiations in which recalcitrant sides fail to reach middle ground.
“What’s unique about the Illinois story is the collaboration that’s been used to pass all of these laws, including Senate Bill 7, a potentially contentious law in terms of the substance that was addressed,” said Luczak. “We really believe that the collaboration used to develop the laws will lead to better implementation.”
Sen. Lightford explained that bipartisanship and a collaborative spirit allowed the negotiators to work effectively despite their differences.
“The children matter the most,” Lightford said. “We have the ability to all do what is right for the students…If we work in that vein, then we should be able to come up with some meaningful legislation.”
Lightford, Luczak, and the other featured panelists supported the conclusions of the two recently released CAP education policy papers: Input from both teachers and administrators, strong leadership from the state legislature, the voices of education advocates, effective institutional structures for debate, and a culture of mutual respect contribute to the productivity of the policy reform process.
The negotiating process in Illinois kept teacher unions and advocacy organizations at the table unlike recent education reform negotiations in Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and other states.
Audrey Soglin said, “We really did insist that the voice of the practitioner would be heard in the discussions.” Luczak noted that discussions included “some of the best state union leaders, if not the best, in the country,” as well as “important high-quality advocates arguing for what they think is going to improve teaching and learning in classrooms and better outcomes for kids.”
The speakers were quick to point out that, while difficult, the writing of good legislation is only the first step in the ongoing process to reform American education. “Passing the laws is the easy part,” Luczak said. “Now we really need to focus on implementation.”
For more on this event please see its event page.