Education leaders discuss ESSA, equity at Legislator Forum
March 20, 2017: Thirty-six organizations, 27 legislators and an array of other education leaders came together in Springfield on March 14 for Advance Illinois’ annual Legislator Forum. Keynote speaker Ryan Smith, Executive Director of Education Trust-West, a California education advocacy organization, highlighted new opportunities to fairly evaluate and assist schools in the state’s plan for the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and contrasted the law with its predecessor, No Child Left Behind.
“We did not disaggregate data by race in No Child Left Behind,” Smith said. “We did not know how low-income students and students of color were doing. Under ESSA, equity must be our north star. We have to have safeguards in place.”
Advance Illinois Executive Director Ginger Ostro opened the evening by providing an overview of ESSA, and the opportunities the state has to assist low-income students, who trail behind wealthier peers on key academic milestones. The event arrived on the eve of the Illinois State Board of Education’s vote to approve the state’s ESSA plan.
“It will take us all working together to deliver on the promise of ESSA and remain involved statewide and locally so that the system is fair to students, clear to parents and teachers and supportive of schools,” Ostro said. “We look forward to working with every partner here to help define our criteria for evaluation, our goals and the supports that are needed in order to close achievement gaps.”
A panel consisting of Ryan Smith, ISBE Superintendent Tony Smith, East St. Louis 7th grader Cynthia Cutler and Carbondale high school teacher Bill Curtin delved into how ESSA will directly impact schools and classrooms. Superintendent Smith spoke to the state’s “60 by 25” goal, which calls for 60% of Illinois adults having a postsecondary degree or credential by 2025.
“Our state board has asked, ‘How and what ways can we support all of our children, in particular the kids who are the least well served and in the most marginalized districts?'” Smith said. “How can we create a system that both says all kids need our support and we need to held accountable for their improvement.”
Cynthia was asked what she would like to let all those in the room who make rules and policies to know. “About 80% of students in our school are not ready academically when they start high school,” said Cynthia. “How will we make sure our students are ready and prepared? If we’re not PARCC ready, how will you know if we’re not progressing and not ready? How can we work toward that?”
Natalie Neris, a former Golden Apple teacher and co-chair of Advance Illinois’ Educator Advisory Council, closed the event with a call to action.
“ESSA provides us with an opportunity to design a system that can really change the game for those who have been historically underserved,” Neris said. “My charge for all of you is to go out and talk to your legislators, knock on their doors, or make a phone call. The conversation doesn’t end here. This is just the beginning.”