Advance Illinois Examines Statewide Education Progress, Ongoing Challenges in New Report

Posted on October 15, 2019

CHICAGO, IL (October 15, 2019) Advance Illinois continues its work as a leading independent, research-based education policy and advocacy organization with the release today of The State We’re In 2019: A Report on Public Education in Illinois. The report—which includes a first-ever regional breakdown and analysis—acknowledges gains across the education spectrum, particularly in K–12, but warns that ongoing gaps in access, affordability and achievement in early childhood and postsecondary, as well as persistent inequity due to outcome gaps based on students’ race and income, threaten Illinois’ economic progress and its workforce.

The report was presented at a luncheon held at the City Club of Chicago that featured a panel discussion with Advance Illinois President Robin Steans, Illinois Deputy Governor Jesse Ruiz, State Representative and Assistant Majority Leader Will Davis (D-30th) and Chicago Board of Education President Miguel del Valle.

“While we are pleased that Illinois has posted K–12 academic gains, reduced some achievement gaps that are rooted in racial and economic disparities, and more funds are going to school districts that need them, there are still serious deficiencies throughout the system that require immediate focus and deliberate action, especially in early childhood and postsecondary,” said Steans. “We know what success looks like when we work together to make systemic change. We hope this report can inspire continued movement up the educational ladder from cradle to career.”

Sylvia Puente, Advance Illinois board member and executive director of the Latino Policy Forum, added, “The world that awaits today’s students demands more of them. By 2025, 70 percent of jobs in Illinois will require a college degree or industry certification. Postsecondary attainment remains a key to employment and a living wage.”

In order to meet the state’s workforce demands, education stakeholders are committed to ensuring that at least 60 percent of adults attain a high-quality postsecondary credential by 2025. As shown in The State We’re In 2019, Illinois has its work cut out to reach this milestone. Currently, we’re at 45 percent.

“Our state boasts the fifth largest economy in the country, but our data shows that we have early childhood deserts in communities that need these and other family supports,” said Marin Gjaja, co-chair of the Advance Illinois board and senior partner and managing director at Boston Consulting Group. “And while more students are entering and completing college, students of color and economically challenged students still face many barriers to persistence and completion. The troubling fact is that childcare and college in Illinois are among the least affordable in the nation. ”

Now in its sixth edition, The State We’re In examines publicly available data to provide a comprehensive view of Illinois’ public education system. In order to put Illinois’ performance in the context of our nation, the report ranks how well the system serves students relative to other states in three areas: learning conditions, student learning outcomes and equity in student learning outcomes. Illinois ranks in each of these areas from 15th place to 42nd place. 

The report tracked approximately 80 metrics grouped into three categories: early childhood, K–12 and postsecondary. Among the findings in the report:

Early childhood: Fewer children in need of additional supports participate in preschool and childcare services compared to a decade ago. And there are several areas in Illinois where there are no publicly supported early childcare and family services. Only 26 percent of our children are kindergarten ready. Illinois ranks 27th nationally for learning conditions. Data for outcomes and equity in outcomes does not exist but is needed for future reporting and action steps.

K–12: Illinois is near the top of the nation in academic growth. We have seen important gains for Latinx students, however, overall progress is uneven for black students and students from low-income homes, and is insufficient to make up for racial and income gaps that begin in early childhood. The teacher shortage and the lack of teacher diversity also has a significant impact on student outcomes. The Evidence-Based Funding model has infused much needed resources into school districts, but more needs to be done to bring all districts to full funding adequacy. Illinois ranks 25th nationally for learning conditions, 22nd in outcomes and 31st in equity in outcomes.  

Postsecondary: Enrollment rates of Illinois high school graduates continue to improve, however, overall enrollment rates in Illinois institutions are down across all sectors, particularly among black students. More work must be done to improve access, affordability, persistence and completion. Illinois ranks 28th nationally for learning conditions, 15th in outcomes and 42nd in equity in outcomes. 

For the first time, The State We’re In includes a regional analysis with district-level data to support community-based conversations about progress, outcomes and opportunities for improvement. More insights by region/district are available at

This edition of the report recognizes innovative strategies in three community spotlights: Vienna High School District 133 and its strategy to improve college readiness; Rockford District 205’s handling of its teacher shortage; and the Illinois Equity in Attainment Initiative and its member institutions’ commitment to ensuring that more students of color and economically challenged students thrive in and complete college.   

For the full The State We’re In report, including interactive features, visit More interactive features, including interactive maps and charts, will be available online in winter 2020.

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