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Illinois House Passes Bill That Upends Teacher Hiring Practices

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A bill that would drastically overhaul how Illinois teachers are hired and fired cleared the state's house late Thursday.

The bill, which now needs only the signature of Governor Pat Quinn, a supporter of the measure, would make tenure contingent on student achievement and limit the collective bargaining rights of teachers unions by making it harder for teachers to call a strike. The bill also gives Chicago Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel the power to extend his city's school day and makes it easier to dismiss teachers deemed ineffective based on student achievement.

In passing the bill, Illinois becomes the latest in a slew of states including Florida and Wisconsin to overhaul the union rights and evaluation methods of public-school teachers in light of large budget gaps, looming layoffs and pressure from the Obama administration to focus on teacher accountability.

"Clearly this is a moment of opportunity for those who would like to bring to an end what they might see as the stranglehold of seniority to district bargaining," said Linda Darling-Hammond, an education professor at Stanford University and education adviser to President Obama's 2008 presidential campaign. "We should be asking why these layoffs are happening anyway, why our country is abandoning its public schools," she added.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan lauded the Illinois law in a statement. "Illinois has done something truly remarkable and every state committed to education reform should take notice," he said, adding:

Business, unions, educators, advocates and elected officials all came together around a plan that puts children ahead of adults and paves the way for meaningful education reform. For some time now I have been saying that tough-minded collaboration is more productive than confrontation and this is the proof. I respectfully urge Governor Quinn to sign this quickly so that Illinois can put these landmark reforms to work in the classroom.

The bill passed despite objections from the state's three teachers unions. The Chicago Teachers Union withdrew its initial support after the bill's passage in the Senate, pointing to passages that make it harder to call a strike and limit their collective-bargaining rights.

During Thursday's session, the house also approved a budget that would cut education funding throughout the state.

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