STERLING – A vision for the future of public education in Illinois has taken two steps forward in the past couple of weeks.
Two bills have been signed by Gov. Bruce Rauner, one aimed at eliminating achievement gaps in Illinois schools and the other intended to create bigger pools of qualified candidates for teaching and administrative positions.
Rauner on Aug. 1 signed the Illinois Balanced Accountability Measure. It allows districts to use evidence-based systems to show student improvement in addition to standardized test scores.
Two weeks earlier, the governor signed the Education Licensure Reciprocity Act, the first bill to result from the Vision 20/20 effort of public education associations.
That bill is designed to streamline the licensure process for teachers and administrators and establish reciprocity with other states to increase the pool of qualified candidates for positions in Illinois.
"I give Gov. Rauner credit," said Tad Everett, superintendent of the Sterling school district. "He is prioritizing education. Rauner is putting the emphasis back on education."
Led by the Illinois Association of School Administrators, Vision 20/20 focuses on four policy priorities: 21st century learning, highly effective educators, shared accountability, and equitable and adequate funding.
Among other things, the plan seeks to recruit and retain effective teachers, link students to college and careers, expand educators' role and responsibility in state governance, restructure mandates, and fund education based on local needs.
School officials hope Vision 20/20 advances through legislation it will propose over the next 6 years.
The initiative was developed with input from statewide education organizations and educators.
The Education Licensure Reciprocity Act essentially changes the teacher certification law in the state.
It allows districts to hire teachers from outside of Illinois.
"A few years ago, there was a huge surplus of teachers in Illinois," Everett said. "As a reaction to that, the state created a licensure law, which made it difficult for anyone who did not go to Illinois and get a teaching certificate to apply for a job in Illinois. This new law changes that."
Ron McCord, superintendent of the Rock Falls High School district, said districts now will have more candidates for teaching positions that are difficult to fill.
"This will help us recruit future hires," McCord said. "This was one of the main emphasis and this is a good thing."
"If someone has a teaching certificate in Iowa, it's much easier for us to hire them based on the law change, which helps us to recruit," Everett said. "The process to get an Illinois license took forever, sometimes up to 6 months."
If there are elementary teaching openings in Sterling, Everett said, the district will easily have more than 1,000 applicants. But it is "lucky," he said, to have two or three applicants for a bilingual teacher position.
"There were even years when we wouldn't have an applicant," he said. "In areas that are hard to fill, this is big for us because it helps us recruit a bigger pool of candidates to come to Sterling and teach our kids."
The Illinois Balanced Accountability Measure creates an accountability model for schools. Districts are evaluated on assessment data and a school district's ability to close achievement gaps.
"It's a new accountability model that we will be using to determine if a school is being effective or not," Everett said. "We want accountability and to hold ourselves to a higher standard, but we want it to be realistic. It's a balanced approach to determine if a school is being effective or not."
Officials say this is the biggest shift in school accountability since the federal No Child Left Behind Act was implemented 14 years ago.
"This is something we have requested for years," McCord said. "We definitely support moving to the new accountability measures."
Unlike NCLB, which took only test scores into account, IBAM looks at those test scores and achievement gaps, but also considers a school district's professional practice to improve student performance.
NLCB required all students to make adequate yearly progress on standardized tests. The goal was to have all students become 100 percent proficient on those tests.
AYP held districts and states accountable for student performance under NCLB.
"We had schools where 90 percent of its students were proficient," Everett said. "It was awesome, but we were not making AYP because 100 percent of students were not proficient."
The new testing standards will begin to be implemented in the 2015-16 school year and continue through the 2016-17 year.
McCord said his district supports what will come from Vision 20/20.
"It's a good plan that has been put together by educators," he said. "It's finally time for educators to speak up on policies and legislation regarding education."
Margo Empen, superintendent of the Dixon school district, was unavailable for comment.