Recent News

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.


Employment Opportunities


As we complete our 10th Anniversary Year, Advance Illinois is poised to launch a new decade of impact in 2019. To contribute to that effort, we are seeking exceptional individuals to serve in the following roles:

Communications Director

Policy Research and Analytics Director


Founded in 2008, Advance Illinois is non-profit, non-partisan organization with an independent, objective voice promoting a healthy education system that prepares all student for success in college and career. Since its founding, Advance Illinois has become a nationally recognized thought leader in education policy advocacy.

We believe that through advocacy, partnership, and understanding and using data well, we can drive changes that elevate the quality of Illinois’ education system for all. We champion equity and excellence in education to improve lives, communities, and society.

We are known for:

  • Partnering with communities, education leaders, businesses, and government to deliver on our shared responsibility to serve the students that need us the most.
  • Making data and research accessible through clear, compelling communications, and linking it to action. We seek to be a go-to source for unbiased insights and what it takes to ensure excellence in Illinois’ education system.
  • Our passion to give every student an opportunity to succeed. We won’t stop until the system produces better results for historically underserved students.
  • Thinking about the whole system and taking on big challenges. We seek bold opportunities to make a difference in the lives of Illinois’ students from birth to career.

We have sought and achieved higher statewide student learning standards and aligned assessments; a new accountability system that is designed to be fair, clear, and supportive; an improved teacher evaluation system; a statewide school-level report card accessible to parents; new requirements for teacher and principal preparation; and statewide adoption of new strategies to reduce college remediation. We have helped foster a statewide network of communities, bringing business, education, and community organizations together to improve education outcomes locally.

Most recently, we celebrated the success of our five-year effort working collaboratively with partners and stakeholders to change the school funding formula that was designated worst in the nation for equity. Since the implementation of the new funding formula and with two years of state investment, we have seen the number of schools operating with less than 60% of the resources they need drop from 183 to 14. We will continue to advocate for additional funding each year until every district has 100% of the resources it needs.

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.

Another Sterling example of education-workforce collaboration

Editor’s note: Gail Wright, College and Career Readiness Coordinator at the Regional Office of Education #47, which serves Lee, Ogle and Whiteside Counties, wrote to provide us an update on Workplace Wednesdays. The initiative is another in the burgeoning MORE (Making Opportunities Real for Everyone in the Rock and Mississippi River Valleys) regional effort to ensure that students are ready for life after high school (we wrote about a another nearby effort in our postcard from Sterling two weeks ago about our 10th anniversary Listening Tour). Workplace Wednesdays bring teachers into postsecondary institutions and area workplaces to consider real-world application of their teaching.

Teachers tour industrial equipment manufacturer Astec Mobile Screens as part of Workplace Wednesdays.

“Educators visited two to four businesses each Wednesday over a seven-week period this summer.  The visits focused on Agricultural, Manufacturing, Health and Human Services career pathways, a bank and the Whiteside Area Vocational Center and area post secondary institutions (Sauk Valley Community College and Morrison Tech) available to our students making that Pre-K through 20 linkage. Our teachers learned about the programs and certificates their students could earn in the career pathways to prepare students for jobs in the businesses visited.

“It has been a real success based on the feedback from the teachers participating and businesses, who indicated they would like to participate in Workplace Wednesdays next summer. Our teachers participating have come up with a list of places they would like to visit next year and bring some friends from their schools. This will help to provide more change in those schools, having more teachers see the need for integrating real-world workplace skills and content (math and English, speaking and listening) and using Career Cruising and Inspire [software that connects kids to workplaces]. They have made contacts with businesses to take their students on field trips to see the practical application of what they are learning as well as the classroom activities and problems. The visits have helped us increase the numbers of businesses in Inspire as well as awareness of the need for collaboration between classroom teachers and businesses.”

Postcard from Sterling: Closing the gap between the education system and employers

Editor’s note: This is the second in a series as Advance Illinois travels the state during its 10th anniversary year. Read the previous installment of the series, from North Chicago, here.

By Bob Dolgan
Communications Director
Advance Illinois 

Jake Knapp was just out of high school when he started his job assembling hair clippers and trimmers at Wahl Clipper Corporation in Sterling. Eighteen years later, he is returning to school and gaining critical new skills thanks to an apprenticeship program through his employer.   

Jake Knapp

“I had thought about going back to school,” said Knapp, a 37-year-old Rock Falls resident. “But once you’re out of that phase and have a family and a fulltime job, it’s hard to do that.” 

Advance Illinois visited 30 Illinois communities in the past several months as part of a Listening Tour to inform our 10th anniversary agenda and to chronicle the pressing education issues facing the state. In talking to more than 400 people and collecting at least 1,400 data points, we heard repeatedly that there are jobs available in the state but that there are too few qualified candidates to fill them. The reasons for the gap range from a lack of math skills to a lack of technical skills and soft skills. Wahl Clipper, a growing company that employs close to 1,200, has about 60 openings for assembly line operators, machinists and more—fulltime jobs with benefits. 

“We have good jobs, well-paying jobs, and can’t get quality candidates to fill them,” said Deana Jones, who oversees manufacturing hiring at Wahl Clipper. “We expect basic computer knowledge coming into the door. It’s not people being mindless robots by any stretch of the imagination.” 

Wahl Clipper headquarters in Sterling

When we visited Sterling, in the scenic and vibrant Sauk Valley region, we heard about a number of efforts under way to improve coordination among business, community and education partners. One of them is Making Opportunities Real for Everyone (MORE) in the Rock and Mississippi Valley Regions, part of the Illinois 60 by 25 Network, which includes Advance Illinois as a network organizer. And employers like Wahl are taking steps to grow their own talent, too. Wahl Clipper has had an open tool-and-die job for almost two years. That’s where the apprenticeship program comes in, which covers education costs and enables employees to take time out of their work day for classes. Knapp’s story inspired one of the many themes in Advance Illinois’ new 10-year agenda, which will be formally announced at a luncheon on Dec. 3. 

“It is really a two-pronged approach, in getting the skill level in the classroom and the hands-on day-to-day work in the tool room,” Jones said. “We’re bringing guys in here, giving them an education so they can get a journeyman’s card that will be portable.” 

Knapp is taking courses at Sauk Valley Community College and is on track to fill a higher-paying and more technical tool-and-die job in the next three years. Wahl’s program and efforts like MORE could help to close the gap between Illinois’ business sector and its education system.  

“I love my job now,” said Knapp, father to a 14-year-old daughter. “I used to dread coming in day to day. Now I’m coming in doing something different every day, and it’s actually fun.” 

Contact Bob Dolgan at or 312-734-1446. 

Teaching Summit a day of learning and creating

Nearly 100 teachers, advocates and policymakers came together on June 2 in Oak Park for the Elevate Teaching Summit: Ensuring an Effective Education in Every Illinois Classroom. The Summit was aimed at informing Teach Illinois, a year of inquiry into the teaching profession launched by the Illinois State Board of Education. The event was presented by Advance Illinois and the Joyce Foundation.

We now have a full recap of the event, available here. In addition, Stephanie Banchero of the Joyce Foundation was inspired to write the following op-ed for the Chicago Tribune.

Contact Jim O’Connor, Project Director, at 312-235-4537 or, for more information about Advance Illinois’ work toward ensuring an effective educator in every Illinois classroom.