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Last Days for Illinois K-12 Chief Koch? Governor Seeks 'Transformational' Leader

Illinois Superintendent Christopher Koch is one of the nation's longest-serving state education chiefs, having taken over in the Land of Lincoln in 2006. However, to the victors go the spoils, and first-year Gov. Bruce Rauner's appointments to the state school board appear ready to move on.

That's according to reports in the Chicago Tribune, which reported that the state board appears ready to discuss a severance agreement with Koch, according to the state board's upcoming meeting agenda that was posted online Monday. Rauner, a Republican, has now appointed five of the board's nine members, and therefore they have the votes to oust Koch and bring in a new superintendent, particularly if the governor wants a change. 

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And Rauner told the Tribune editorial board that while he likes Koch personally, "He's not transformational. We need transformation."

Among all the state superintendents, Koch's tenure is second only to June Atkinson, the North Carolina chief who's been in office since 2005. He has overseen some major changes to Illinois education policy, including but not limited to the state's shift to the Common Core State Standards, as well as a shift to raise the cut score for proficiency on state tests in 2013. 

On Koch's watch, Illinois struggled to receive a waiver from the No Child Left Behind Act because of its plan to implement a new teacher-evaluation system in 2016-17, one year later than other states receiving waivers. Eventually, Illinois received a waiver from the U.S. Department of Education, but in some ways it embodied the struggles states have experienced with respect to federal requirements for teacher evaluation, which is still a sticky issue for NCLB waivers. 

Illinois could part ways with Koch right as the state's testing window opens for the performance-based assessment portion of the PARCC exam. How difficult might it be for a new superintendent to step right into the anxieties and complications that this first administration of PARCC begins? 

One rumored replacement for Koch is Tony Smith, the former head of Oakland, Calif., district who now runs the W. Clement and Jessie V. Stone Foundation, which focuses on early-childhood education, in Chicago.

One more bit of Koch trivia: Back when the sequestration was dominating headlines in 2012, Koch came up with what is likely the most entertaining description of the broad cuts affecting the federal budget. In a nod to cryptozoology, he said that the pronunciation of "sequestration" could best be understood as a combination of "Sasquatch" and "castration."

Photo of Chris Koch courtesy of the Illinois State Board of Education


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