Advance Illinois releases state education report card

Staff Writer
Aledo Times Record

Former Governor Jim Edgar and former U.S. Secretary of Commerce Bill Daley today jointly delivered a report card on education in Illinois. As co-chairs of Advance Illinois, they presented the statewide education advocacy organization’s report “The State We’re In: 2010” to a full house at a City Club of Chicago luncheon.

“This is the first cross-cutting assessment we’ve ever had of how our education system is serving students from birth through college,” said Edgar.  “The report looks beyond test scores at progress, achievement gaps, and conditions in our schools. There are some hopeful efforts now underway, but we’ve got a sobering amount of ground to cover. As a state, we’re just not measuring some vital things, like whether our children are starting kindergarten ready to learn, how many students need remedial help in college, and how well our teachers are performing in the classroom.”

The report reveals some strengths, particularly in early childhood. However, it also shows the state lags badly in K-12 and post-secondary attainment. The organization cites crucial information gaps, noting that many key aspects of educational performance are not currently being measured.

“We are doing well in preschool because the state focused and made it a priority. We need to do the same across the board,” said Daley. “As part of the state’s recent Race to the Top application, we have put some new strategies in place and now have a strong roadmap for reform. What’s important about a broad picture like this is that it gives us a benchmark. It shows us where we are improving, where we are falling behind, and where there are gaps. We can’t build the system we want tomorrow if we don’t know how we’re doing today.”

Here are Illinois’ grades:

Early Education: Incomplete. Illinois offers more preschool slots than any other state, and ranks highly in the qualifications of our early education teachers. If these were the only indicators, Illinois would have earned a B+.  But unlike several other states, Illinois does not measure whether children are starting kindergarten developmentally and academically on track. Without that key outcome measure, the state receives an ‘Incomplete’.

K-12: D. Illinois ranks in the bottom half of the nation in reading and math at the 4th and 8th grade levels. In general, the system seems to be serving only a third of our students well. While the newly-authorized longitudinal data system should help informed decision making in the long-term, we need to fill a number of information gaps.

College Credentials: C. Only 37 percent of Illinois adults over the age of 25 have an associate’s degree or higher. That makes Illinois’ workforce less competitive in the national and global economy. Illinois ranks 42nd in the nation for college affordability, and it now costs an average family 35 percent of their income to send a student to a public 4-year institution, up from 30 percent two years ago, even after accounting for financial aid. In addition, data suggests that too many students arrive at college ill-prepared, but we lack reliable information about the number taking remedial coursework, or the cost it imposes on families and institutions.

The report points to four questions that cannot be answered with current data:  1) Are children ready when they start school? 2) How effective are teachers and principals, who are the primary drivers of student achievement? 3) Do schools have a professional culture and climate that promotes learning? and 4) What academic growth are children making each year?

“Some will say these grades are dispiriting, but we have in place a state-level plan for reform, supportive leadership and a great recent track record.  Now that we have the numbers, we have no excuses,” said Advance Illinois Executive Director Robin Steans. “From here, we just need to keep moving. We can never say we didn’t know where the hard work was needed or that it couldn’t be done.”

To view the full report or for more information, visit advanceillnois.org.

Advance Illinois, is an independent, objective voice to promote a public education system in Illinois that prepares all students to be ready for work, college and democratic citizenship. It is co-chaired by former Illinois Governor Jim Edgar and former U.S. Secretary of Commerce Bill Daley. www.advanceillinois.org