Letter: Illinois public schools achieve despite challenges

By on December 13, 2012

As the leaders of organizations representing public school administrators, principals, teachers and school board members in Illinois—the education professionals and the people working on the front lines in our public schools—we feel it is important to respond to the recent “report card” issued by the private group Advance Illinois.

While we agree with Advance Illinois that we need to continue to strive to improve public education, we do not agree that an arbitrary “grade” of C- is an accurate depiction of what is going on in our public schools and, as such, it inappropriately erodes public support for education.

More than half of Illinois schools serve concentrations of at least 40 percent disadvantaged students, up from 35 percent 10 years ago, and the report notes “in the face of this demographic shift, Illinois’ academic performance improved modestly in the core subjects of reading and math” across all demographic and economic groups. The report states that Illinois has improved its national ranking as other states facing similar demographic change declined.

Included in the data but never mentioned publicly is this fact: When it comes to the percentage of students demonstrating college readiness on all four benchmarks on the ACT test, Illinois was No. 1 among the nine states in the nation that administered the ACT to all of its graduating class of 2012. It’s apples to oranges to compare Illinois with states where the test is mostly taken only by college-bound students, but even compared to that group Illinois ranked 12th in the nation.

The U.S. Department of Education released its graduation report just last week for the 2010-11 school year, and Illinois ranked 10th nationally with a graduation rate of 84 percent, just 4 percent from the top spot.

We would be the first to say that we must improve on closing the achievement gaps in Illinois. Having said that, the new federal report showed that, with regard to graduation rate, Illinois ranked eighth for Black and African American students (74 percent), seventh for Hispanic/Latino students (77 percent), seventh for White students (89 percent), 11th for Limited English Proficient students (68 percent) and ninth for Economically Disadvantaged students (75 percent).

This has been achieved despite the fact that Illinois ranks at or near the bottom in the nation in state funding for education, and has suffered an 11 percent cut in General State Aid and a 42 percent cut in transportation funding in the past three years.

We agree with Advance Illinois on many of the issues facing public education, such as the value of a strong Early Education program and the fact that the growing poverty problem is one of the biggest issues facing public education. We hope that the education reform package and Common Core Standards will be thoughtfully implemented to support, not just rank, principals and teachers so that teaching and learning improve.

Regardless of the arbitrary grade we are given, or even if we rank No. 1 in a particular category—as we do in the percentage of the graduating class of 2012 that meets all four ACT benchmarks for college readiness—we know we have more to do. As the names at the bottom of this letter attest, administrators, principals, teachers and school board members jointly remain committed to improving the quality of education for the children of our state.

Dr. Brent Clark
Executive Director
Illinois Association of School Administrators

Dr. Michael A. Jacoby
Executive Director
Illinois Association of
School Business Officials

Jason Leahy
Executive Director
Illinois Principals Association

Roger L. Eddy
Executive Director
Illinois Association of School Boards

Cinda Klickna
President
Illinois Education Association

Daniel J. Montgomery
President
Illinois Federation of Teachers