Recent News

Advance Illinois Responds to the Illinois State Board of Education 2019 Illinois Report Card

CHICAGO, IL (October 30, 2019) Advance Illinois President Robin Steans released the following statement about the Illinois State Board of Education 2019 Illinois Report Card

“The 2019 Illinois Report Card takes a major step forward by providing more data and transparency on how schools are funded and how students are performing. By shining a light on new data, including site-based expenditures, student groups, and Civil Rights Data Collection, the Illinois State Board of Education empowers people to have more informed conversations about the public education system generally, and with an equity lens.” 

“Upon preliminary review of the report card, we applaud the progress that has been made in some areas of student achievement, but there is still significant work to be done, and major inequities remain. We look forward to using the data provided in the report card to inform conversations with policy makers and education champions across the state.”

Robin Steans
Advance Illinois


About Advance Illinois
Advance Illinois is an independent policy and advocacy organization working toward a health public education system that enables all students to achieve success in college, career and civic life. Since its founding in 2008, Advance Illinois has become a nationally recognized thought leader in education policy advocacy. To learn more visit

Statement on the Appointment of Illinois’ State Superintendent of Education and ISBE’s Board of Directors

“We are thrilled by the announcement that Dr. Carmen Ayala has been appointed as Illinois’ State Superintendent of Education. Dr. Ayala will be our state’s first female superintendent, as well as the first Latina to take the helm of the state’s schools. She has been a trailblazer on behalf of kids throughout her career, most recently ensuring equity for all students through her leadership in passing an equitable school funding formula. We have also seen remarkable progress made in student outcomes during her tenure as superintendent at Berwyn North.

We are equally pleased to hear the selection for the Illinois State Board of Education’s board. Together, these new members have spent decades upon decades championing a high quality education for Illinois’ students. We look forward to working with Dr. Ayala and the board during this period of transition and for the next four years.”


Advance Illinois is a bipartisan education policy and advocacy organization committed to ensuring all children have access to a world-class education from birth to postsecondary and/or career. For more information please go to or follow us on Facebook @AdvanceIllinois or Twitter @AdvanceIllinois.

Anna Schneider, Senior Communications Associate

Statement on the Governor’s Budget Address

The below statement can be attributed to Robin Steans, President of Advance Illinois:

“Gov. JB Pritzker’s address today solidifies his promise to invest in all students statewide. We applaud him for ensuring that investment in public education is the state’s top priority.

Investing in the entire continuum of education— early childhood through career— will begin to restore our state’s devastated economy and ensure that our communities across the state can thrive.

Gov. Pritzker proposed increases over last year’s funding to early childhood, K-12, and higher education. His proposal includes:

  • an additional $100 million to early childhood education
  • an additional $375 million to K-12
  • a 5 percent increase for community colleges and public universities
  • $50 million for MAP grants

This step towards equity for our most underserved students and communities is a huge step in the right direction, especially for children birth to 5 years old. But, we know there are difficult challenges ahead including the need for broader fiscal health to sustain these important and necessary investments. We hope the Governor and legislators will tackle these issues in a serious way.

We are ready for this new path forward and are eager to work together toward achieving the world-class public education system we know our Illinois students deserve.”


Advance Illinois is a bipartisan education policy and advocacy organization committed to ensuring all children have access to a world-class education from birth to postsecondary and/or career. For more information please go to or follow us on Facebook @AdvanceIllinois or Twitter @AdvanceIllinois.


Anna Schneider, Senior Communications Associate

Advance Illinois Announces Leadership Transition

January 24, 2019

Chicago, IL – Advance Illinois announced today that Robin Steans will be returning to Advance Illinois as President effective Friday, January 25. Robin succeeds Ginger Ostro, who has served as Executive Director of the organization for the past three years.

Robin was the founding Executive Director of Advance Illinois at its inception in 2008 and was instrumental in building it into one of the most recognized and well-regarded education policy and advocacy organizations in the state and across the country.

“Under Robin’s leadership, Advance Illinois will continue its important work, building on recent progress and helping us shape an equally dynamic set of priorities as we head into our next ten years,” wrote John Edwardson and Marin Gjaja, co-chairs of the board of directors at Advance Illinois in a recent letter to stakeholders. “You can expect us to continue to work on fully funding the new formula, focusing on quality instruction, ensuring all children get a strong, early start, and finding new and innovative ways to create a culture of continuous improvement.”

Robin, a former public school teacher in Boston, San Francisco, and Chicago, has been a driving force in public education for over 25 years.  A Chicago public school parent herself, Robin has worked with stakeholders, families and community leaders to advocate for policies that improve student outcomes for all children from birth through college or career. Among other notable accomplishments, Robin was instrumental in the state’s recent success in creating a more equitable K-12 school funding formula.

About Advance Illinois:
Advance Illinois is a bipartisan education policy and advocacy organization committed to ensuring all children have access to a world class education from birth to postsecondary and/or career. For more information please go to or follow us on Facebook @AdvanceIllinois or Twitter @AdvanceIllinois.


Press Release: Pritzker-Stratton’s Educational Success Committee


Contact: Anna Schneider
Senior Communications Associate

 Ginger Ostro of Advance Illinois to Serve on Pritzker-Stratton’s
Educational Success Transition Committee

November 27, 2018

 Chicago, IL — Today, Governor-elect JB Pritzker and Lieutenant Governor-elect Juliana Stratton announced that Ginger Ostro, executive director of Advance Illinois would serve as a member of the Educational Success Transition Committee.

“This committee is the first step in ensuring education is made a top priority in the state. I am excited to be a part of— what I expect to be— the beginning of educational transformation for all kids, especially the historically underserved, from birth on to career,” said Ginger Ostro, executive director of Advance Illinois.

“With so many diverse experts and advocates serving on this committee, real and positive change will happen. We are thrilled that so many champions of the equitable school funding campaign are also serving on the committee,” said John Edwardson, board co-chair of Advance Illinois.

“I am confident that the Pritzker administration will invest in our public education system. We have a tremendous opportunity in front of us to adequately and equitably support our state’s next generation of citizens, thus supporting the improvement of Illinois’ economy,” said Marin Gjaja, board co-chair of Advance Illinois.


Statement on ISBE’s Recommendations to Address Teacher Shortage

Statement submitted on behalf of the Teachers for Illinois’ Future Coalition


“The Teachers for Illinois’ Future coalition is committed to ensuring students statewide have access to the teachers needed to prepare them for their future. We are pleased that the Illinois State Board of Education linked funding for districts using the evidenced-based funding formula to finding a long-term solution to this challenge. While the State Board today approved drafted recommendations, we reiterate our statements at today’s meeting. We are in favor of making the ACT and SAT the only test of basic skills, but we urge ISBE to engage in broad stakeholder engagement when it comes to deciding on the competencies teachers need on day one. The same stakeholder engagement, plus robust research is necessary as ISBE begins to propose statutory changes.

We want neither systemic barriers to teachers of color nor loop-holes around rigorous training of teachers, wherever that training comes from.

We must work together and remain focused on our goal: ensuring that our children have the qualified teachers they need on the first day they begin school, especially low-income students, students of color, and rural students.”

Signatories to the Statement

Advance Illinois

Association of Illinois Rural and Small Schools

Berwyn South School District 100

Council of Chicago Area Deans of Education (CCADE)

East Saint Louis District 189

Equity First Superintendents

Faith Coalition for the Common Good

Illinois Association of Regional Superintendents of Schools

League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC)

Northeastern Illinois University

Northern Illinois University

Roosevelt University

Stand for Children

Teach Plus

Statement on ISBE’s Solutions to Address State’s Teacher Shortage Crisis

Sept. 13, 2018

The Teachers for Illinois’ Future Coalition supports ISBE’s proposed recommendations to end the state’s teacher shortage crisis, as stated in their “Teach Illinois: Strong Teachers, Strong Classrooms” report. The recommendations align with our coalition’s core principles which we use to evaluate proposals.

Our principles are as follows:

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

We think action on these recommendations will make progress toward eliminating the state’s current teacher shortage crisis. We are pleased to see ISBE’s emphasis on working with partners to achieve these changes. We look forward to future conversations on the specifics of the strategies, how the recommendations will be prioritized, systematically implemented, and equitably and adequately funded.
We appreciate ISBE’s thorough analysis and thoughtful recommendations brought forward in the “Teach Illinois” report. We urge the State Board to continue to bring together experts and advocates from across the state to ensure a comprehensive and integrated solution is developed.

Signatories to the Statement:
Advance Illinois
Association of Illinois Rural and Small Schools
Center for the Study of Education Policy at Illinois State University
Council of Chicago Area Deans of Education
Equity First Superintendents
Faith Coalition for the Common Good
Illinois Association of Regional Superintendents of Schools
League of United Latin American Citizens
Northern Illinois University
Roosevelt University
Stand for Children Illinois
Teach Plus Illinois

About Teachers for Illinois’ Future
Teachers for Illinois’ Future is a coalition made up of diverse education experts and advocates who work to ensure all students, especially those who need the most, have access to the teachers they need to prepare them for college and career.

Postcard from Singapore: Elevating teaching in a well-funded, aligned system

By Jim O’Connor
Project Director
Advance Illinois

Full funding. Alignment from the early grades through career. An elevated and modernized teaching profession. These are all aspects of the education system in Singapore, where I visited late last year with a group from Teach For All’s Education Policy Community of Practice. While there, we met with teachers, agency leadership, and even futurists who work for the Prime Minister’s Office whose job it is to advise political leadership on the needs of the future workforce and economy based on current trends (see their latest report here—page 40).

Advance Illinois’ Jim O’Connor in Singapore, where he visited late last year.

Since Singapore began participating in the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) in 2006, it has consistently ranked in the top 5 countries for reading, math, and science. [1] However, they are the first to note the advantages that they have as a country. With 5.6 million residents in an area barely larger than the City of Chicago, Singapore is relatively small and compact. [2] It has had the same political party in power for 53 years, which has led to a level of policy stability.

Come with me to Singapore for five observations about its education system.

Singapore supports school systems with sustained, adequate funding levels.  Education has been one of the top three governmental expenses in Singapore for at least the past 15 years, demonstrating a consistent commitment to adequately funding the education system. [3] In comparison, where Singapore dedicates 17% of its spending to education, only 2% of the U.S. federal budget goes to education. [4]

Singapore prioritizes regular school review, curricular reform, and support for teachers in times of transition. Every six years, the School Appraisal Branch of the Ministry of Education (MOE) conducts an external review of all schools in the country to identify areas for improvement.[5] Following each review cycle, the MOE creates stakeholder committees of agency and school representatives, who accordingly design, test, and gather feedback from schools on proposed new curricula. Rather than rushing reform, teachers are also informed of curricula changes over two years before full implementation. This in-depth and regular review for school improvement, involvement of diverse stakeholders, and careful implementation of policy over time serves students well.

Singapore tightly aligns collaboration between different education agencies. The MOE, National Institute of Education (NIE) for teacher training and schools have a strong collaborative relationship that improves efficacy and quality. The ministry develops policy, and the NIE conducts research and provides pre-service training to educators.[6] When asked about Singapore’s strengths, researchers at the NIE point to fact that no education policy is announced without a plan for building the capacity to meet it. [7] The tightly shared responsibility and accountability between the MOE, NIE, and schools allow Singapore to carry out reform initiatives that effectively reach both schools and teacher preparation programs.

Singapore works hard to attract, select, train, and grow teacher talent. The MOE advertises teaching on a variety of platforms to ‘sell’ the profession as an attractive career. Tuition for teaching candidates is completely free. If a candidate commits to teaching for at least three years, they also receive a stipend equivalent to 60% of a teacher salary while in training. The many individuals attracted to teaching then undergo the highly selective entry process to attend the NIE, the nation’s only teaching college. Successful teacher candidates must be in the top third of their secondary school graduating class, pass a literacy test, and demonstrate evidence of interest in education and serving diverse student bodies, communication skills and the potential to be a good role model.  Finally, the NIE only accepts candidates for areas where there is a need.  For the most recent year, they decreased the number of math and science entrants according to decreased need. Imagine that!

Singapore invests heavily in teacher development. Teaching candidates spend 22 weeks of their training as student teachers practicing in front of K-12 students alongside a master teacher. Early-career teachers then receive two years of induction support while teaching only 80% of an experienced teacher’s load. Throughout their careers, Singapore teachers receive 100 hours off for professional learning each year and can access funding for study leave. As teachers become more experienced, they can advance their careers in established teaching, leadership, or specialist tracks that allow them to personally develop and improve the system with their expertise.

We can look to other countries like Singapore for both inspiration and ideas on how to move forward to create a system – from recruitment, to preparation, to teacher learning to career advancement – that complements and supports its different parts.  The result will be a highly capable teaching staff who deliver effective instruction each day.

Jim O’Connor wrote about his recent Teach for All experience in Finland in a previous postcard.

[1] OECD 2006 participating countries:

OECD 2009 rankings:

OECD 2012 rankings:

OECD 2015 rankings:

[2] The City of Chicago is 234 square miles:

Singapore is 721 square km, or 278 square miles:

[3] See “Summary Tables of Revenue & Expenditure Estimates” from, 2003-15

[4] CBPP, “Policy Basics: Where do our Federal Dollars Go?”,

[5] OECD, “Singapore: Rapid Improvement Followed by Strong Performance”



Statement on the Release of Preliminary School Discipline Data

The following is a joint stakeholder statement on the Illinois State Board of Education’s release of preliminary school discipline data.

July 19, 2018

Yesterday, the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) took another step towards understanding our students’ learning environment with the release of preliminary data on school discipline, i.e. expulsions and suspensions. Now that the Illinois Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) plan has been adopted, we have an opportunity to analyze new data that will help us understand and improve the climate and culture of all schools across our state.

While we know school discipline is one component in understanding school climate and culture, we are hopeful that the data will help illustrate the need for increased supports for schools, rather than to punish schools or school leaders. We look forward to deepening our understanding of the methodology and underlying trends including how different districts are being added to the list. We now have work to do to understand how districts are being added to this list as well as the increasing and decreasing trends of suspensions and expulsions within districts across the state.

Our organizations are committed to working in partnership with ISBE to ensure that school discipline data as well as any other data used for school improvement is grounded in the diverse needs of our school districts. Districts are constantly in a space of trying to prioritize between counselors and teachers as well as many more resources needed for students’ success. We urge our legislature to fully fund the evidence-based model so schools won’t have to make those tough decisions. Together, we can strive to take a proactive, comprehensive approach in keeping kids where they should be– in school.

Stakeholder comments:

“This is just the first step in understanding all of the data available to us related to school climate and culture. We look forward to digging deeper into this data and collaborating with school districts and other advocates to make improvements to Illinois’ education system.” –Raul Botello, Co-Executive Director, Communities United

“We recognize the complexities at play in this data. There is more work to be done in understanding this information and how we can continue to strive for ideal learning environments for our students. It will take continued state investment in schools to ensure we have the supports for students that can help them to excel.” –Dr. Sharon Kherat, Superintendent, Peoria School District 150

Signatories to the Statement

Advance Illinois
Communities United
Educators for Excellence
Equity First Superintendents
Teach Plus Illinois
Voices of Youth in Chicago Education

Postcard from Helsinki: Understanding teaching in a high-performing system 

By Jim O’Connor
Project Director
Advance Illinois 

Advance Illinois’ Jim O’Connor during his trip to Helsinki, Finland, as part of Teach for All.

Over the last year, I was honored to be part of Teach for All’s Global Community of Practice in Education Policy.  As part of this community, we traveled to and learned from schools and education leaders in Finland, which is known for its high-performing schools and is widely regarded as having a high-quality teaching force. I was interested in understanding the key elements of their system. Here’s what I learned.  

Aspects of Finnish teacher preparation 

More than a generation ago, teacher training took place at three- to four-year teacher training colleges. Finland later centralized teacher training sites in 11 universities distributed across the country. The new system required five to six years, resulted in a Master’s degree for all teachers. There are now just eight universities charged with preparing the nation’s 1,000 teaching candidates annually, which are highly selective spots.

Admission into teaching programs 

Using one university as an example, 1,006 candidates took the test to enter the program. This entrance exam includes a multiple-choice test and an essay response to multiple education articles. The interview stage then assesses the 300 top scoring candidates and only 122 of the candidates were accepted into the program. At one of the top universities in Finland, the University of Helsinki, the teacher education program had an admissions rate of 6.8% and was harder to get into than their law school (8.3%) or their medical school (7.3%).2  One of the senior regional education leaders remarked that he was lucky to get into a teaching program, “I don’t know who I fooled to get into a Special Education teacher training program—they are the most competitive.”  

Practice makes permanent  

The Finnish education system provides teaching candidates extended practice time with students alongside cooperating teachers. Finnish teaching candidates teach for six to seven weeks in each of their last three years of their program. They also practice with master teachers in a lab school designed for the purposes of teaching students and training and developing teachers.  

Access to well-designed textbooks   

Finland has a national curriculum with a defined sequence of knowledge and skills that children ought to be taught at each grade. There is a common usage of high-quality textbooks. In her book about the world’s highest-performing education systems called Cleverlands, author Lucy Crehan, a fellow alumnus of Teach for All, notes that, “In Finnish schools, the textbook is the main tool. Experienced and skillful teachers have come together with the publisher to create an interesting, enjoyable and motivating textbook.”  While teachers report a high level of autonomy, there is much consistency in the types of lessons and the materials used.   


Our trek into the Finnish system pushed my thinking regarding teacher preparation and teacher quality, and what constitutes effective teaching.  I asked multiple school leaders what they believed is the cause of Finland’s strong educational outcomes. Extensive teacher training, a high bar for entry into the profession, intensive practice, high-quality materials and autonomy are among the answers.