Lessons for Wisconsin -- How Illinois Recognizes Its Great Teachers With New Reform Law

06/14/2011 01:48 pm ET | Updated Aug 14, 2011

Illinois Governor Pat Quinn has signed what might be the most important piece of education legislation ever passed in the state.

It's also one of the most historic showings of collaboration between teacher unions, legislators and reform groups. All came together to draft dramatic changes in how teachers earn tenure, how layoff decisions are made, when teachers can be dismissed for poor performance, and what's necessary for them to strike.

Senate Bill 7 puts performance at the center of decision-making in Illinois schools and will ensure the most effective teachers are at the head of the classrooms.

Teachers who demonstrate they are efficient, skilled and impactful will be rewarded with tenure and will be able to remain with the students who need them the most. And although experience still matters, teachers will no longer be laid off based solely on the number of years they have been teaching.

The legislation recognizes our teachers' accomplishments, rather than downplay their efforts as some governors and legislators have done this year. These new policies will benefit our school children and strengthen Illinois' ability to compete in the global economy.

Unlike our neighbors in Wisconsin, Ohio, and other states, Illinois education stakeholders worked together to craft an aggressive bill that makes our state the nation's new leader in education reform. The Illinois bill drew tremendous bipartisan support -- it passed 59-0 in the Senate and 112-1 in the House -- thanks to the outstanding leadership provided by several legislators, including Sen. Kimberly Lightford (D-Maywood) and Darren Reisberg (Illinois Deputy Superintendent and General Counsel).

These new policies will benefit Illinois' school children while also improving the teaching profession because the unions were at the table advocating for students as well as their members. Reform policy groups, notably Advance Illinois, worked tirelessly to educate legislators on the benefits of change and helped drive the conversation towards a new performance-based system.

This collaboration could only occur after several years of tough conversations, relationship-building, and strategic support. The Joyce Foundation has been laying the groundwork for this type of reform for years through investments in a range of strategies for improving public policies on teacher quality in Illinois and other Midwestern states.

Now, the hard work of implementation begins. The good news is that because Illinois passed these laws with unprecedented collaboration, we have a better chance to execute these new policies well. Moving forward, Joyce plans to continue investing in education strategies that drive significant improvement in our state's schools.