State wants to cut principals' power

October 31, 2001


State Board of Education Chairman Ronald Gidwitz suggested Tuesday that
school districts be given the power to assign the best teachers to the
neediest schools, an idea that would strip Chicago principals of some of
their cherished hiring power.

Many experienced teachers currently "bid on schools in which they want to
teach,'' Gidwitz told a legislative committee hearing called in response to
the Chicago Sun-Times "Failing Teachers'' series.

"Although I appreciate the desire of many teachers to teach in 'better'
schools, this practice does a disservice to children by all too often
removing experienced teachers from the very schools in which they are needed
the most,'' Gidwitz said.

Instead, districts should be empowered to "place their best teachers where
they are needed the most," Gidwitz said. "I realize this is a controversial
proposal, but I believe it is one we should confront.''

Gidwitz responded to Sun-Times findings that the state's neediest
children--those in the lowest-scoring, highest-minority and highest-poverty
schools--were roughly five times more likely to have a teacher who flunked
at least one certification exam. Tuesday's hearing at the Thompson Center
was the first of three called by Senate Education Committee Chairman Daniel
Cronin (R-Elmhurst) on how to get better-qualified teachers in front of the
state's neediest students.

Cronin called for "dramatic solutions'' to the problem, but conceded that
Gidwitz's proposal "scares me a little bit.'' Another witness, Sharon
Bender, principal of Chicago's Schurz High School, called it a "terrible''

Under the 1988 Chicago school reform law, Chicago principals now select
teachers, rather than have teachers sent to them by district officials. That
power would be eroded by Gidwitz's proposal, but other Gidwitz ideas were
better received.

Gidwitz proposed a scholarship or loan forgiveness program to attract
teachers into the neediest schools, similar to those offered physicians in
medically underserved areas. He also urged that colleges of education use a
new, tougher teacher basic skills test as an entrance requirement, and that
new teachers receive mentoring so the state doesn't lose 24 percent of them
in their first three years--and as many as 30 percent in urban Illinois

But Gidwitz also warned that the new Basic Skills test for teachers, which
replaces one pegged at an eighth- or ninth-grade level, will drain the new
teaching pool. As of last year, one of 10 Chicago teachers tested since
state exams began in 1988 had flunked the old Basic Skills test, the
Sun-Times found. Many of them eventually passed, but 635 never did and
taught full time anyway.

"This is a crisis,'' Deputy Governor for Education Hazel Loucks said of the
teacher crunch. A recent state reports show that, by 2003, about 30,000
teachers and administrators will be eligible to retire but only 12,500 new
teachers are projected that year.

The search for fully qualified teachers is most difficult in lowest-income
schools, Chicago school officials testified. Nearly 10 percent of Chicago's
teaching force--or 2,648 teachers--are working on certificates that can
temporarily waive two required teacher tests, they said.

Deborah Lynch, president of the Chicago Teachers Union, said some Chicago
principals try to squirrel away money by hiring less-expensive full-time
substitute teachers who have not passed all their certification tests, but
every classroom should have a "qualified, certified, caring teacher.''

James Dougherty, president of the Illinois Federation of Teachers, said
"there's raiding going on'' even among suburban schools, where officials
call teachers "in the middle of the night'' and "try to steal them'' to fill

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