How a Bill Becomes a Law: Field Museum Style

A woman pours a substance into a test tube.

This summer museum educators including The Field Museum’s Beth Crownover helped pass a law to ensure that Illinois teachers could continue developing their skills at museum-led workshops.   For the past two years, a law had been keeping museums from offering credit to teachers attending their professional development programs. The new law, which passed on July 24, reinstitutes museums as a source of high quality resources for educators.

“This was a real milestone for us,” said Crownover, the Director of Learning at The Field Museum. “It sounds cheesy, but museum education departments are exceedingly expert at what they do. If we can’t engage with classroom educators because a law blocks the work, how can we make an impact?”

To maintain their certification, teachers need to participate in development and enrichment programs. Museums had long been an important resource for teachers to complete their certification hours, but in 2013, the Illinois legislature put a law in place that identified only a small number of organizations where teachers could do their development. Museums didn’t make the list.

“We offer high quality professional development, and we want others to do the same, so the idea that the law was regulating where teachers could go to get certified wasn’t a bad thing in and of itself,” explained Crownover. “The problem was that museums weren’t included.”

Crownover and her colleagues both at The Field and at other Chicago museums sprang into action. Crownover and Raphael Rosa, formerly of the Notebaert Nature Museum, started the process by meeting with Illinois State Legislator Christian Mitchell in the summer of 2014.

“We showed him documentation of how the Museums in the Park contribute to professional development for teachers, and we explained that the current limited list of providers may prevent there being enough places certified to offer the approved programs to meet the demand,” said Crownover.

Mitchell sponsored the bill in February 2015. As spring progressed, it passed in the House and the Senate. Crownover continued to advocate for the bill as it moved through the legislature. Throughout its progress, a large majority of legislators supported the bill, and it was signed into law by Governor Bruce Rauner this July.

The new law recommends that Museums in the Park, a consortium of Chicago museums including The Field, as well as museums across the state, are highly qualified providers and able to independently offer educator development. In effect, it amends the old 2013 law that left museums off the list.

Crownover stresses that the bill’s passage was a group effort, citing colleagues both at The Field Museum and at other Chicago museums.  She further reflected upon the importance of the new law, saying, “We are just one museum out of hundreds that offer these programs across the state, and it’d be a shame if teachers couldn’t get high-quality resources from these institutions. If they couldn’t, it would negatively impact the students. These programs help teachers show kids the real context of a concept by working with physical objects. Think back—the best learning experiences we had in school were when we did something real.”