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Equity, innovation and scaling impact emphasized at 5th Annual 60 by 25 Network Conference

Jocelyn Sharif addressed the crowd at the 5th Annual 60 by 25 Conference on Feb. 6.

Jocelyn Sharif has been interested in cooking since she was a young child watching the Food Network with her parents.

“I was a shy child,” said Jocelyn, “and cooking was a way to express myself.”

Now Jocelyn has taken her interest in cooking and applied it to a career path. She is enrolled in Bloomington Area Career Center’s culinary arts program and will further her pursuit of culinary arts and hospitality management at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, R.I.

“This program has really made me realize what exactly I want to do,” said Jocelyn. “It made me realize I could be a chef and be my own boss.”

High school students across the state are more prepared to attain postsecondary degrees and credentials because of career pathways programs like those in Bloomington. Career pathways and aligning the education system were among the topics at the 5th Annual Illinois 60 by 25 Network Conference, which took place February 6-7 in Bloomington. More than 200 attendees representing all corners of Illinois came together for two days of learning, resource sharing and inspiration. The Illinois P-20 Council’s 60 by 25 goal is to ensure 60% of Illinois adults have a postsecondary degree or credential by the year 2025 (Illinois currently stands at 50.1%). This year’s conference’s theme was Scaling for Impact, with an eye toward expanding cross-sector collaborations and furthering innovation in local communities. Conference speakers emphasized equity and providing educational opportunities that will lead to ongoing success in careers and life for all students.

“Our system is designed for the comfort and complacency of adults,” said Dr. Tony Smith, State Superintendent of the Illinois State Board of Education. “We are not designed for unique supports for all kids.”

The 60 by 25 Network, formed in 2013, supports communities to increase meaningful and equitable postsecondary attainment and civic engagement. Advance Illinois, Education Systems Center at Northern Illinois University and the Illinois Student Assistance Commission are the network organizers. Thirteen Leadership Communities across the state have developed collective impact strategies that bring together early childhood, K-12, higher education and business and community organizations.

“I’m hopeful because the policy windows are open and Illinois has a structure to strengthen connective tissue between policy and implementation,” said Jason Quiara, Senior Program Officer for the Education and Economic Mobility Program for the Joyce Foundation, a network funder. “That structure is the Illinois 60 by 25 Network. Other states are looking to this model as an inspiration for their own collaboration and policy implementation.”

Among the high points of the conference was the first-ever Program Data Walk, which featured interactive displays on the impact Leadership Communities are making on student outcomes. The data walk provided a venue for communities to interact while sharing local successes and ideas for the future. Additionally, the Humans of 60 by 25 video made its debut at the conference, featuring Leadership Communities sharing their stories in their own words.

Alex Fralin, Chief of Schools for Madison (Wis.) Metropolitan School District, delivered a keynote address titled “The Equity Imperative: Without an Equity Lens, Our Capacity to Scale is Always Limited.” Additional speakers at the conference included Dr. Al Bowman, Executive Director of the Illinois Board of Higher Education, Dr. Karen Hunter Anderson, Executive Director of the Illinois Community College Board, Julie Koenke of ConnectEd California, Dr. Amy Loyd of Jobs for the Future, Dr. Landon Mascareñaz of A Plus Colorado and Achieve Inc. and Jeffrey T.D. Wallace of LeadersUp.

“The public good requires extraordinary schools,” added Superintendent Smith. “Your leadership will be what makes the difference.”

Sign up to receive email updates from the Illinois 60 by 25 Network, or apply to become a Leadership Community here.


Downstate superintendents join teacher coalition

“We have done a pretty good job at demonizing teacher positions in this state,” said Chuck Lane, Superintendent of Centralia High School. Read what recommendations Lane offers to change the teacher shortage crisis affecting Illinois. Read more.



Education organizations announce new coalition, Teachers for Illinois’ Future, to address teacher shortage and elevate the teaching profession

SPRINGFIELD (Feb. 12, 2018) – A diverse coalition of teachers, K-12 administrators, higher education institutions, and advocacy organizations have come together to call on leaders to address the state’s urgent need to increase the number of teachers and to elevate the teaching profession in 2018 and beyond.

The coalition, Teachers for Illinois’ Future: Investing in teachers for all students today and tomorrow, has a vision that all students, especially those who need the most, have access to the teachers they need to prepare them for college and career.

Over the last decade, the supply of future Illinois teachers has tightened. This shortage varies by region and subject area and is most acute outside of the Chicagoland area in rural and suburban districts. The subjects where this shortage is most severe include special education, bilingual, high school STEM, and career and technical education. To view unfilled teacher positions by district, and to see how the shortage affects our most vulnerable students, visit coalition member Advance Illinois’ interactive data visualization here.

“The supply of quality teaching candidates simply isn’t meeting the demand– especially in rural Southern Illinois. We must think outside the box to draw more people into the profession. The numbers are getting worse every year, said Chuck Lane, Superintendent of Centralia High School.”

The teacher shortage is impacting all students in all regions of the state. Schools hire substitute teachers in lieu of fulltime teachers, cancel classes, and convert classes to online instruction. Tia Taylor, a Teach Plus fellow and kindergarten teacher said, “We have failed our students when we can’t provide them with a consistent, quality education. How can we expect our students to succeed when we can’t recruit and retain the teachers that they need?”

The Teachers for Illinois’ Future coalition is a collaborative effort to:

  • Ensure students have the teachers they need in order to learn.
  • Support teachers’ growth from exploration of profession and throughout their career.
  • Increase the respect for and the desirability of the teaching profession.
  • Provide school and program leaders with systemic flexibility to meet their students’ needs.


Teachers for Illinois’ Future is a campaign led by Advance Illinois, Association of Illinois Rural and Small Schools, Center for the Study of Education Policy at Illinois State University, Equity First Superintendents, Northern Illinois University, Roosevelt University, and Teach Plus.

Contacts: Bob Dolgan, Advance Illinois, Cell: 773.447.1980, Email:

Anna Schneider, Advance Illinois, Cell: 217.242.9645, Email: 

Press release: State, national leaders to talk equity, degree completion at 60 by 25 Conference

SPRINGFIELD (Feb. 2, 2018) – Dr. Tony Smith, State Superintendent of Schools, and other state and national education leaders will speak at “Scaling for Impact,” the Fifth Annual 60 by 25 Network Conference on Tuesday, February 6, 2018, at the DoubleTree in Bloomington. Dr. Smith will deliver his thoughts on how Illinois can expand equity among its public schools to an audience of 200 business and community leaders, advocates and early childhood, K12 and higher education practitioners who are working toward degree completion in their local communities.

The 60 by 25 Network, formed in 2013, supports communities to increase meaningful and equitable postsecondary attainment and civic engagement. The state’s goal is to increase the proportion of adults in Illinois with high-quality degrees and credentials to 60% by the year 2025. This year’s conference will highlight the programs in local communities that are helping our state achieve its goal.

Now in its fifth year, the Network has achieved many accomplishments including building and strengthening partnerships among high schools, postsecondary institutions and businesses. For example, East St. Louis, where only 9% of adults have a college degree, concluded its first “Running Start” program. This program enables high school students to earn an associate’s degree and high school diploma simultaneously, significantly cutting the cost of higher education for families. East St. Louis is one of the 13 communities that will be sharing best practices for fostering degree completion through collective impact efforts.

Other conference speakers include Dr. Al Bowman, Executive Director of the Illinois Board of Higher Education and Dr. Karen Hunter Anderson, Executive Director of the Illinois Community College Board. The keynote address “The Equity Imperative,” will be presented by Alex Fralin, Chief of Schools, Madison (Wis.) Metropolitan School District. Dr. Landon Mascarenaz of A Plus Colorado and Achieve Inc. will speak during a breakout session on parent-teacher home visits to improve student outcomes. See the full agenda for more.

What: Fifth Annual 60 by 25 Network Conference

When: Feb. 6-7 (Supt. Smith speaks 10:10-10:25 a.m. on the 6th)

Where: DoubleTree by Hilton, 10 Brickyard Drive, Bloomington, IL 61701

Registration still open: Click here for more information.

About the Illinois 60 by 25 Network

Powered by Advance Illinois, Education Systems Center at Northern Illinois University, and Illinois Student Assistance Commission, the 60 by 25 Network supports communities to increase meaningful and equitable postsecondary attainment and civic engagement.


Deputy Director Ben Boer discusses school funding formula on the Education Gadfly Show

Our Deputy Director Ben Boer joined Mike Petrilli and Alyssa Schwenk on the “Education Gadfly Show” for a “master class in state policymaking” this week. Boer joined the Fordham Institute podcast to discuss how a coalition of advocates succeeded in getting Illinois to overhaul its inequitable school funding formula. Boer was voted Network MVP at the Policy Innovators in Education (PIE) Network national summit in October.

Listen to audio from the interview.

Impact of Illinois teacher shortage hits vulnerable students hardest

By Alex Baptiste
Data Analytics Associate

A good teacher can be the difference between a student going to college and dropping out of high school. But in Illinois, our most vulnerable students do not always have access to the teachers they so desperately need.

Click the image to explore our IL Unfilled Teacher Positions data map.

A recent survey from the Illinois State Board of Education reveals that communities of color and low-income school districts are most likely to see teacher shortages. Of the 1,006 unfilled teacher positions in the state, 74% are in majority-minority school districts while 81% are in districts where the majority of students are low-income. 90% of vacancies are in underfunded school districts. These vacancies bolster an uncomfortable truth: Illinois’ marginalized students face more barriers to accessing high-quality education and supports.

The subjects with most teacher vacancies further illustrate that Illinois is underserving its most vulnerable students. Over half of the state’s unfilled teacher positions are in bilingual and Special Education, meaning English learners and students with special needs are less likely to have the supports they need, especially if they live in under-resourced districts with more low-income students or more students of color.

Regionally, subjects affected by teacher vacancies vary. Downstate, teacher vacancies affect a broad range of subjects. While 30% of teacher vacancies are in special education downstate, an additional 40% of vacancies are evenly distributed between science, math, foreign language, and bilingual education.

In collar counties, bilingual education (40% of vacancies) and special education (20%) have the greatest shortages. In Chicago, vacancies are split between special education (40%), bilingual (13%) and elementary education (13%), though Chicago suburbs have equal need in special education and bilingual (30% each).

In order to address teacher shortages throughout the state, Illinois must work to elevate the teacher profession and provide districts with the resources they need to attract, hire, and retain high-quality teachers. The state should consider student demographics as well as regional differences to best target resources and supports. Otherwise, the state will continue to perpetuate a lopsided education system where our most vulnerable students receive the least support.

Deputy Director Ben Boer discusses Illinois School Report Card on The 21st

Ben Boer with host Niala Boodhoo, left, and Madhu Krishnamurthy of the Daily Herald.

Our Deputy Director Ben Boer joined “The 21st” for an interview on the Illinois School Report Card that aired on public radio stations across the state on Nov. 3. The report card provides relevant data to families and educators for every school in the state.

Listen to audio from the interview, and click here to read about this year’s report card.

Essence of ESSA: Growth versus proficiency

Academic progress at Zion school shows promise of new system

Third and 4th graders at Beulah Park Elementary School in Zion are gaining crucial skills as they make inferences while reading books as varied as Junie B. Jones and a biography of 19th century scientist Mary Anning. Now that progress will be recognized in the way Illinois evaluates its schools.

Illinois’ plan as part of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) plan, the replacement for No Child Left Behind, provides a system for rating Illinois schools and for providing struggling schools with additional help. Illinois’ ESSA plan, developed by the Illinois State Board of Education, emphasizes academic growth in rating schools. Parents use the ratings to better understand their child’s school—or where to send their child to school—and the state uses the ratings to determine which schools will get additional assistance. The test scores of 4th graders improved by 17.5% last year, one of the largest improvements of any school in Illinois.

Lynn Butera (left), principal of Beulah Park Elementary School and Dr. Keely Roberts (right), Superintendent of Zion Elementary School District

“It’s about closing the academic achievement gap, and growth really matters for that,” said Dr. Keely Roberts, Superintendent for Zion School District 6.

No Child Left Behind emphasized academic proficiency, test scores from a single moment in time, rather than academic growth. Proficiency often correlates with a student’s race, income level or disability status and doesn’t provide a sense of a school’s academic progress. Schools have more control over academic growth. The vast majority of students at Beulah Park are minority and low-income, and 22% of students meet or exceed PARCC standards in 4th grade English language arts. ESSA will still take into account proficiency, which is particularly critical in the upper grades as it relates to college admission.

“We care about kids surviving in the world and getting into schools like U of I,” Roberts said. “The bar shouldn’t be lower for proficiency because that’s limiting to our children.”

A recent reading exercise in Valencia Samuel’s 4th grade class compared the biography of a 19th century scientist, Mary Anning, a famous fossil collector, with a modern story about saving porpoises. The concept of compare and contrast was reinforced in the classroom and in smaller sessions with individual students. Understanding the progress students are making helps the school make informed decisions about staffing individualized support sessions and the allocation of time during the school day.

“We look at every child and set goals,” said Lynn Butera, Principal at Beulah Park for the past 15 years. “We’re using data from our [assessment] scores and mastering skills and continuously growing to be more proficient.”

ESSA will provide a more nuanced picture of Illinois’ education system, funding for initiatives such as professional development of teachers and an updated plan for supporting schools. Its true promise is in the end goal of lifting achievement and helping prepare all students for college, career and a healthy life.

“Growth is what it’s all about,” said Julie Dobnikar, a 3rd grade teacher at Beulah Park for 16 years. “It’s about knowing when I have made a difference.”

The mission of the Real Learning for Real Life coalition is to close achievement gaps and prepare the whole student for college, career, and life after high school. In order to achieve this mission, we are working toward improving understanding of ESSA. Click here to receive email updates from Real Learning for Real Life.

Making the most of 2017 Illinois Report Card data

By Melissa Figueira
Policy Associate

Several years ago, Advance Illinois helped spearhead an effort to revamp the way the Illinois Report Card displayed data about the state’s 2 million public school students. In 2013, the report cards got a much-needed makeover. Now, they are among the highest quality reports of their kind in the entire United States. The Illinois State Board of Education released the 2017 Report Card on Oct. 31.

From Baffling to Best-in-Class

The old Report Card was overladen with complex metrics and was neither understandable nor useful to the general public. The process of creating the new Report Card brought together a wide array of stakeholders, with the goal of making the Report Card readily understood and used by parents and communities, schools, districts, and researchers alike.

According to a comparative 2014 report compiled by the Education Commission of the States, Illinois hit the ball out of the park as the Report Card was ranked in the top three in all categories, indicating that it has “overall the best, easy-to-find, informative and readable report cards.”

Exploring the Illinois Report Card Online

Finding your child’s school or school district is a breeze thanks to the search function on the Illinois Report Card home page, which lets you search by school, district name, or zip code. But what’s even more striking than the easy navigability of the site is the wealth of information about every level of educational organization that the report card puts, quite literally, at your fingertips.

At the state, district, or school level, the site’s interactive functions provide a clear picture of the demographics of both the student population and the educators who serve them, as well as information about school quality and environment and student academic progress. Another important feature is the ability to compare the performance of any school or district to the performance of Illinois as a whole. A “State Snapshot” gives a birds-eye view of student outcomes and characteristics across the state, and options to view five-year or 10-year trends to provide an idea of where schools and districts have made progress over time.

For each school or district, a button at the upper right corner of the screen downloads the highlights in the form of an “At-a-Glance” PDF that includes stats and a brief explanation of each measure and how it is displayed. Finally, for those who prefer a more intimate interaction with the data, there’s an option to download data in Microsoft Excel format.

Data for Continuous Improvement

Now, with the passage of a new, equitable education funding formula and the implementation of Illinois’ state plan under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the Report Card will soon display additional information on district spending, and school spending, and student growth and performance broken down by demographic subgroups. This kind of data, which highlights schools’ strengths while identifying areas with potential for improvement, is critical for the work of continuous improvement if we want a public education system that enables all Illinois students to achieve their full potential.