Recent News

Advance Illinois Responds to Governor Pritzker’s Proposed FY22 Budget

Contact:
Advance Illinois Communications
communications@advanceillinois.org

CHICAGO, IL – Illinois faces serious budgetary challenges, which have been exacerbated by the dramatic impact of COVID-19. It will not be easy to address the many and varied issues that pre-existed the pandemic and have been compounded by it. 

Governing is hard, and we do not envy the governor or members of the General Assembly who have difficult decisions to make. While we understand the competing pressures on the state’s limited resources and applaud additional funding for MAP grants, it is nonetheless disappointing that the proposed budget contains cuts for some early childhood programs, and, for the second year in a row, calls for mostly flat funding across the education continuum, including no new funds for the Evidence-Based Formula (EBF). 

There is nothing easy about the coming year’s budget, and we believe Governor Pritzker is committed to increasing education funding for early childhood education and care, K-12 and higher education. And this we know: education is the single most important investment we can make in our children and our future. It’s why we passed the Evidenced-Based Funding formula five years ago, and it’s why we committed as a state to put at least $350 million new dollars into that formula every year for ten years. 

No one could have foreseen COVID-19 and the growing impacts of the pandemic, and it has unquestionably made it harder to keep this commitment.  It also has made the road ahead harder for all children and deepened already unacceptable racial, economic, and regional disparities. 

Federal funds meant to facilitate school reopening and early recovery will help. But make no mistake, relief dollars are needed to address immediate and ongoing COVID-19-related issues such as health and safety measures, closing the digital divide to permit all children access to virtual learning, and short-term efforts to provide additional academic, social and emotional supports. These one-time federal funds are not meant to support the deeper ongoing staffing and programmatic investments that are needed to drive student success into the future. The same holds true for early childhood education and care, universities and community colleges. 

We are heartened to hear that legislators plan to prioritize education funding. Our children’s futures require dependable and growing investments, and they are counting on us to keep our promises now more than ever. As circumstances continue to evolve, we urge the General Assembly to exhaust every means possible to uphold the state’s commitment to not only maintain education funding, but to continue to grow it for children birth through career. 

###

About Advance Illinois
Advance Illinois is an independent policy and advocacy organization working toward a healthy 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 advanceillinois.org.

From the Desk of Robin Steans – 2021: A Year of Building Back Better

From the Desk: 2021: A Year of Building Back Better

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

Like many of you, I was glad to say goodbye to 2020. However, even as vaccinations are underway and we can begin to imagine returning to a new “normal” in the year ahead, it is clear 2021 will present its own challenges. COVID-19 is still surging, civil unrest continues, and data is emerging that confirms the impact this pandemic is having on students, especially our youngest learners and across lines of race/ethnicity and income. As we consider the year ahead, Advance Illinois has a number of interconnected priorities. 

We must invest in B-20 education continuum and we must do so equitably 

There is no question, 2021 will be a tough budget year for Illinois. In addition to ongoing fiscal challenges, Illinois now faces a confluence of events and issues that will place enormous stress on our finances. 

The reality is that education in Illinois is deeply underfunded, and our needs just went up. As challenging as it will be, it is time to treat our educational system – early childhood, k-12, and higher education – as one interconnected structure that will adequately and equitably serve all Illinois students. 

We have an opportunity to reimagine early childhood education and care. 

In recent years, the state has been working to address and improve access to high-quality and affordable early childhood programs. We applaud Governor Pritzker for creating the Illinois Commission on Equitable Early Childhood Education and Care Funding to take a hard look at how we fund and operate our early childhood system and to develop recommendations to make Illinois the best state in the country for raising a family. When the commission reports out in March, we expect it – for the first time in the state’s history – to calculate how much the state should be spending to ensure equitable access to quality care and programming. That’s a necessary step, and we expect the gap to be in the billions. With that information in hand, as sobering as it may be, we will have an obligation to put ourselves on a path to meet those needs and to implement other commission recommendations on how to more strategically and equitably support families and providers.   

We have an obligation to live up to our commitments to support equitable K-12 funding. 

Having taken a “pause” in growing the state’s K-12 funding last year, it is essential that the state renew its commitment to putting at least $350 million into its Evidence-Based Funding formula.  Doing so permits districts to create strong, sustainable educational programs and to use federal relief funds for their intended purpose: to safely reopen schools for in-person learning and support students socially, emotionally, and academically as they recover from the many ways in which COVID-19 has disrupted their development and learning.   

We are overdue to revamp higher education funding. 

As for higher education, not only must we reinvest, but we must do so with a commitment to equity.  Disinvestment in higher education over the last few decades, particularly during difficult budget years, has forced institutions to more than double tuition and fees in order to stay open, and students from low-income households bear the brunt of this burden. That must change. We are encouraged by the Illinois Board of Higher Education’s strategic planning process, which has spotlighted the need for funding reform, appreciate the suggestions coming from the Partnership for College Completion, and applaud the support and urging of the Illinois Black Caucus and General Assembly. We intend to work with these and other leaders to articulate a clear understanding of the cost and develop an equitable funding mechanism for higher education that not only drives resources where they are needed most, but can serve as a national model. 

After 12 months of disruption, we have a responsibility to support students and educators – socially, emotionally, and academically – and to build back better. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted education in every community, exacerbating systemic racial/ethnic and socio-economic inequities and creating unprecedented challenges for children and families as well as educators. Research suggests that the disrupted schooling over the past year, if left unaddressed, will impact students’ educational outcomes and reduce their lifetime earnings. We must act boldly and collaboratively to make sure our students and educators have the supports and tools they need to recover and thrive beyond this crisis, recognizing that recovery and renewal will take years and acknowledging the equity imperative at the core of this work.   

We are heartened that the Illinois P20 Council is working with leaders, practitioners and experts from across the state to coordinate research-based practices to inform short- and long-term recovery and renewal efforts from preschool through postsecondary. Through a combination of guidance, statewide programs, and partnership on locally-driven efforts, leaders are working to craft and employ a multi-year plan to that prioritizes research-based strategies. While work is still in process, priorities include: increasing access to mental health supports, along with trauma-informed training; creating mechanisms to identify and re-engage students who have dropped out or had limited access to education throughout the pandemic; providing students and teachers with additional in-person instructional and planning time; and strengthening digital access and virtual teaching and learning. 

While we all look forward to going “back to normal,” the hard reality is that recovery and renewal will likely take years. We need to support local efforts, even as we recognize the state has a unique responsibility to ensure an equitable recovery for all. We hope the tensions that have challenged communities over the past year will not prevent us from coming together to support the next generation. 

Never have we needed data more to help understand how children and students are doing and to inform the path forward. 

As we begin the new year, we are starting with a number of unanswered questions: How are our children and students faring academically and socially during COVID-19? Who has needed supports and services? What is happening to the students that didn’t show up for school or programs? Are the impacts of COVID-19 playing out differently by geography/race/income/age? What is happening to our educators and workforce? Are teachers and leaders getting the training and supports they need to address unprecedented levels of trauma and/or the vagaries of remote instruction? While some national, state, district, and/or school data exists, it varies by locality and very little is available at the state level to answer these and other pressing questions. 

We know enrollment in PreK and kindergarten is down – but by how much and in what communities? We know we have lost postsecondary students. Is there a pattern that might shed light on how to re-engage students? And with 852 different districts measuring attendance in 852 different ways, what do we know about student engagement and learning as we work to ready ourselves for what’s ahead? This is not just an Illinois problem, but a national one, too

We must take advantage of every opportunity to better understand how students are doing – academically and beyond. We know student learning and development has been disrupted, but we cannot address serious issues without basic information about what has happened, recognizing that this pandemic has not affected all students and communities equally. As importantly, we will not know whether we are making necessary progress without critical data points along the way. While this need has become more acute with COVID-19, having quality and comprehensive data is true at all times to help inform and improve educational supports and services. 

The need to strengthen and diversify the education profession is more critical than ever. 

Teachers are the most important in-school factor impacting student learning. Every parent understands that even more keenly now! Unfortunately, Illinois is struggling to maintain a strong and diverse educator pipeline. In SY20-21, Illinois had over 1,700 unfilled teaching positions in public schools, and while 53 percent of Illinois students are non-White, just 18 percent of our teaching force is of color.  

The Illinois Legislative Black Caucus made important strides for our state’s educator pipeline this January, passing HB2170, also known as the Education Omnibus bill. Among the bill’s many highlights, it updated Illinois’ Minority Teachers of Illinois scholarship to better support teacher candidates of color, removed state-mandated GPA entrance requirements that restricted alternative program participation, and laid out a path for better educator preparation course alignment and articulation. In early childhood education and care, it encouraged agencies to provide targeted scholarship funding and coaching and to address barriers to accessing higher education. These are important steps in the right direction.  

If Illinois wants all students to have educators who are prepared to support their academic, social, and emotional learning, the state needs an ambitious and coordinated pipeline strategy to recruit, prepare, retain, and continuously support highly effective and diverse educators. This includes: 

  • expanding high-quality high school pathways 
  • ensuring our educator preparation programs are affordable for candidates 
  • investing in proven program, including alternative certification programs 
  • maintaining licensure expectations that are focused on evidence-based critical skills and practices supporting mentoring and induction programs (particularly for teachers and leaders of color) 
  • combatting bias in hiring and promotion 

As we look ahead, exhausted from a long, hard year, there is more to do. COVID-19 and its aftermath have presented a once-in-a-century set of challenges, and all of us at Advance Illinois remain deeply grateful for the heroic efforts of so many across the state to tirelessly and creatively meet extraordinary needs.   

We hope you had a chance to renew at least a bit over the new year and look forward to working together to ensure this pandemic does not cast a shadow over our children’s futures and that we build back better in 2021 and beyond. 

Sincerely and in partnership,

Robin Steans
President

Advance Illinois Applauds Passage of HB2170, Education Omnibus Bill

Contact:
Advance Illinois Communications
communications@advanceillinois.org

CHICAGO, IL – Advance Illinois applauds the leadership of the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus in passing HB2170. HB2170, also known as the Education Omnibus Bill, represents an important step in advancing racial equity in Illinois’ education system. As a whole, the bill is designed to increase educational access and opportunities for Black students, other students of color and students from low-income households throughout the state. 

As part of the Black Caucus’ ambitious agenda, which also tackles criminal justice reform, health care and human services reform and expansion of economic opportunity in Illinois, HB2170 focuses on policies that address the longstanding racial injustices in our birth to career education system. Under the leadership of Senate Majority Leader Kimberly A. Lightford and Representative Carol Ammons, members of the Black Caucus, along with education and racial justice advocates, worked together to develop a comprehensive legislative package to advance racial equity in Illinois’ early childhood programs, schools and higher education institutions. From supporting the goals of the Commission on Equitable Early Childhood Education and Care Funding to automatic enrollment for qualified students in advanced courses to amending the Minority Teachers of Illinois (MTI) scholarship program to prioritize Black male candidates and diversify the teacher pipeline, this legislation seeks to ensure that high-quality education is the norm and not the exception for all students, especially Black students. 

“The passage of HB2170 serves as an important step toward educational equity for Black students in Illinois,” says Robin Steans, President of Advance Illinois. “I am heartened the Illinois Senate and House passed this legislation, taking action on issues that will foster significant change and advancement for our students.”   

Steans continues, “We congratulate Sen. Lightford, Rep. Ammons and the ILBC for their leadership. Their tireless work was key in galvanizing support and input from advocates and experts and carrying the bill over the finish line. While there is still work to be done, the measures it contains are a critical step to ensuring students of color and students from low-income households will have access to the high-quality education they deserve.”

Advance Illinois prepared a summary of key articles within HB2170 and other education-related bills passed by the general assembly. 

###

About Advance Illinois
Advance Illinois is an independent policy and advocacy organization working toward a healthy 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 advanceillinois.org.

Illinois Students, Parents and Caregivers Share the Challenges of Learning During the COVID-19 Pandemic

A new report from Advance Illinois highlights the various experiences of students and their families during the pandemic and how state leaders can better serve them in the years ahead.

Contact:
Taryn Williams
José L. García
communications@advanceillinois.org

CHICAGO, IL – Today, Advance Illinois released its report, Education in a Pandemic: Learning from Illinois Students & Caregivers to Plan for the Road Ahead. The report encapsulates what Illinois’ school communities – including students, parents and caregivers – are experiencing during the COVID-19 pandemic and what they will require in the long term to recover and rebuild.

“The findings in this report make it abundantly clear that in the years to come, students will need unprecedented academic, social and emotional supports to master the knowledge and skills to succeed in college, career and beyond in the wake of this pandemic,” said Advance Illinois President Robin Steans. “Our state must craft and employ a long-term plan that equitably addresses these needs. We are looking forward to working with advocates and state leaders – including legislators, the governor’s office and the Illinois State Board of Education – to ensure student needs are met.”

With the help of community partners, Advance Illinois organized focus groups and conversations with over 120 students, parents and caregivers from cities, suburbs and rural areas across Illinois. 

“It was important to hear from those who have been directly impacted by school disruptions, as our goal was to put together a report that has the potential to inform and shape policies intended to combat the challenges brought on by the current public health crisis,” said Advance Illinois Director of Community Engagement Jessica Ramos. “It was truly a village effort.” 

THREE KEY THEMES EMERGED FROM FOCUS GROUP CONVERSATIONS 

As students, parents and caregivers shared their experiences and expectations for the years ahead, three themes emerged throughout the conversations:  

  • Significant support to address students’ social-emotional needs — All focus groups shared worries about the impact of isolation and trauma and called for increased school-based counseling and mental health supports. 
  • Dedicated time and resources to ensure strong academic progress in the coming years — Parents asserted the importance of knowing how their students were performing and progressing in relation to grade-level standards, while students worried about whether they will be academically prepared for what’s next. 
  • Lack of resources will cause students to fall behind — Participants expressed concern that inequities in access to resources will cause some students to fall behind in their classes, damaging their chances of gaining the skills and knowledge necessary to continue on to college and career. 

RECOMMENDATIONS TO MEET THE NEEDS OF ILLINOIS’ STUDENTS 

These conversations can help provide actionable recommendations for education partners and state leaders to consider as the work to equitably serve the students and families of Illinois in the wake of this pandemic. The recommendations are: 

  • Invest in Resource Equity  Investing both state and federal dollars equitably will be key to ensuring Illinois public schools have the resources and supports needed to address the increased academic and social-emotional needs of students in the wake of COVID-19.   
  • Treat Academic and Social-Emotional Learning as Two Halves of the Whole Child  A state plan and distribution of resources to enable recovery from the current crisis must meaningfully address both subject-matter mastery and building trauma-responsive schools. 
  • Create a Comprehensive Recovery and Rebuilding Approach that Takes the Long View  Because this crisis will require focus and decisive action over the next several school years, state leaders should work with diverse stakeholders to develop a bold and comprehensive long-term plan for educational recovery and building back better.  
  • Prioritize Clarity and Consistency — State leaders and advocates must understand the impact of this pandemic on student learning and well-being in order to effectively support Illinois’ students and families in the process of recovery. 

Make Up for Lost Time— As Illinois schools and communities renew and rebuild, students deserve additional time and supports to address this unparalleled social-emotional, mental health and academic crisis in a thoughtful, research-based manner.

This report is part of Advance Illinois’ commitment of keeping students at the center of the organization’s policy and advocacy work. Advance Illinois stands ready to collaboratively work with state leaders and education partners to help ensure a successful future for every Illinois student.

For more details and insights, download Education in a Pandemic: Learning from Illinois Students & Caregivers to Plan for the Road Ahead. Follow us on Twitter

###

About Advance Illinois
Advance Illinois is an independent policy and advocacy organization working toward a healthy 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 advanceillinois.org.

Advance Illinois Statement on the New Illinois Educator Preparation Profile System

Contact:
Advance Illinois Communications
communications@advanceillinois.org

CHICAGO, IL – Starting in 2015, ISBE leadership brought together a diverse set of stakeholders to create a tool that would, for the first time, shed light on the workings and impact of Illinois’ teacher and principal preparation programs. While much is known about the outcomes of our PK-12 system and is publicly available online, there has not been a central source for information about the diversity, systems and outcomes of our state’s teacher and principal preparation programs. After years of hard work, this week ISBE launched the Illinois Educator Preparation Profile (IEPP) interactive tool. This new interactive tool provides a comprehensive window into all approved educator preparation programs across Illinois. Better still, it presents a range of relevant data in a user-friendly format.    

Having helped shepherd the planning along the way, Advance Illinois is delighted that the new profiles are now available to students, policymakers and leaders of preparation programs alike. With more than 50 Illinois colleges and universities offering more than 700 teacher preparation programs, IEPP will serve as a significant tool in recognizing and supporting programs that produce the diverse and learner-ready teachers that our students deserve. It will also permit policymakers to better understand areas of strength and growth, as we work as a state to make deeper and smarter investments in our educator pipeline. We congratulate ISBE and the many educators, principals, teachers, higher education leaders and others who put in years of work to launch the Profile, and ultimately, make it a success. Used wisely, the IEPP is an additional tool to build an educator pipeline in Illinois that continuously improves to become stronger, more diverse and equitable for all.

At Advance Illinois, we would like to extend our gratitude to parents, educators and workers on the front-lines as they have gone above and beyond to serve their students and their communities. Together, we will work to help ensure a successful future for each student.  

###

About Advance Illinois
Advance Illinois is an independent policy and advocacy organization working toward a healthy 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 advanceillinois.org.

Advance Illinois Statement on Illinois P-20 Council and EdSystems Framework Report

Contact:
Advance Illinois Communications
communications@advanceillinois.org

CHICAGO, IL (November 19, 2020) – Students and educators across the state continue engaging in various methods of learning and adjusting in real-time as the COVID-19 pandemic ravages through our communities with no end in sight. And, it is clear that the circumstances have made information gathering much more difficult for the state, districts and educators at a time when it is most needed.

The recent report A Framework and Resources for Measuring Student Needs and Development During Remote and Blended Learning by the Illinois P-20 Council and EdSystems provides insight and resources from local and national practitioners and thought leaders on what information schools and districts might find helpful at this time and strategies for gathering it in a way that meets the very different circumstances on the ground. We hope this is a timely resource for our state during these unparalleled times. The report compiles input gathered by the P-20 Council’s Data, Assessment and Accountability (DAA) Committee and is informed by focus groups and roundtables with teachers and administrators. Many thanks to EdSystems for their support in researching and preparing this resource.

Our students are counting on us to give them the best educational experience possible, and we must deliver. The social, emotional, health and academic impacts of this crisis are significant and will undoubtedly be felt for years to come.

At Advance Illinois, we would like to extend our gratitude to parents, educators and workers on the front-lines as they have gone above and beyond to serve their students and their communities. Together, we will work to help ensure a successful future for each student.  

###

About Advance Illinois
Advance Illinois is an independent policy and advocacy organization working toward a healthy 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 advanceillinois.org.

Advance Illinois Statement Regarding the Illinois State Board of Education 2020 Illinois Report Card

Contact:
Advance Illinois Communications
communications@advanceillinois.org

CHICAGO, IL (October 30, 2020) – Today, the Illinois State Board of Education released its 2020 Illinois Report Card. On behalf of Advance Illinois, president Robin Steans shares the following statement: 

“First, I want to applaud ISBE for its transparency and honesty in this year’s report card. We all can agree that 2020 has been a year unlike any other. We know that regardless of best efforts, COVID-19 has made gathering essential data an uphill battle. Advance Illinois commends ISBE for compiling, analyzing, and reporting as much data as possible from the disrupted 2019-2020 school year and for laying out so clearly what data is missing and/or compromised.  

There are notable accomplishments in this year’s report card. We applaud the state on its ongoing efforts to integrate new data elements such as Kindergarten Individual Development Survey (KIDS) and another year of school-level financial data.  

As disruptions to in-person learning are ongoing, there is an urgent need to gather the data necessary to understand the pandemic’s effects on Illinois students. In the 2019-20 school year, the state received a federal waiver and understandably did not administer the end of year state assessment this past spring. Looking ahead, we run the risk of another year of massive social, emotional, and academic impact and an even greater need for information we can use to understand how students have been affected and how we can most equitably respond to their needs. We appreciate ISBE’s ongoing work to gather as much data as possible under the circumstances and salute them in their efforts.” 

###

About Advance Illinois
Advance Illinois is an independent policy and advocacy organization working toward a healthy 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 advanceillinois.org.

New Data Show Statewide Snapshot of Kindergarten Readiness Encouraging Progress on Kindergarten Readiness: Still A Long Way To Go

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact:
José L. García
jgarcia@advanceillinois.org

CHICAGO, IL – Data from the statewide Kindergarten Individual Development Survey (KIDS), released today by the Illinois State Board of Education, provides a snapshot of the skills of beginning kindergarteners in Illinois in the fall of 2019 and reflects the second consecutive year of increases in kindergarten readiness scores. Given KIDS is a relatively new tool, teachers are gaining expertise in observational data collection each year of implementation – making data and trends more conclusive every year.

Over 6,300 teachers observed nearly 120,000 kindergarteners (91 percent of all IL kindergarteners) with the KIDS tool in the fall of 2019. From fall 2018, the number of students scored as demonstrating readiness to learn at a kindergarten level increased from 26 percent to 29 percent, and fewer students were scored as having not reached readiness in any area – down from 39 percent to 37 percent. However, the third year of statewide KIDS data continues to reveal systemic inequities. For example, 23 percent of Black and 17 percent of Latino children demonstrated readiness, compared to 35 percent of their white peers. Significantly fewer children with IEPs (14 percent), English Learners (14 percent), and children qualifying for free/reduced price lunch (20 percent) were scored as “kindergarten ready,” indicating that Illinois has important work to do to close gaps in opportunity and outcomes.

Although it is encouraging to see overall kindergarten readiness numbers grow, it will take more data to draw definitive conclusions about readiness trends in Illinois.

KIDS provides a consistent indicator of readiness across the state, which is a critical starting point in efforts to support and promote more equitable outcomes for children, particularly among communities with the fewest resources. The most recent KIDS data underscores the need for deeper investment in high-quality early childhood services for children before they enter kindergarten, with a specific focus on equity – particularly improving access and quality for children from Black and Latino communities, children from low-income households, English Learners, and students with special needs.

KIDS data also highlights the critical need for the Governor’s Equitable Early Childhood Education and Care Funding Commission. Appointed in December, the Commission is tasked with taking a fresh look at the state’s early childhood education and care system and establishing funding goals and mechanisms to provide equitable access to high-quality early childhood education and care services for children from birth to age five. The Commission’s recommendations to the Governor in January will represent a critical milestone towards ensuring all children are ready for kindergarten. 

Having standardized kindergarten readiness data has already catalyzed significant systems change across the state. Examples abound of how use of KIDS  has prompted shifts from half-day to full-day kindergarten, driven a move toward more developmentally-appropriate play-based instruction, informed adjustments to curriculum, galvanized community-wide attention to critical impact of experiences of children prior to kindergarten, and fostered stronger relationships between preschools and public schools.  

Looking forward, now more than ever, educators will need to understand what their students know and are able to do, as children enter school with disrupted preschool experiences due to COVID-19.

We applaud the continued collaboration between educators, ISBE, public policy makers, advocates and researchers as they work through the challenges presented by COVID.  In the meantime, we are glad to have information that can be used to strengthen and connect the systems, investment and learning that happens in early childhood programs through transitions into kindergarten and the early elementary grades.

The 2019-2020 Illinois Kindergarten Individual Development Survey (KIDS) Report: A Look at Kindergarten Readiness provides additional information about the KIDS fall 2019 data. Visit https://www.isbe.net/kids to learn more about KIDS.

This statement was released in collaboration with other partner organizations. For a full list, click here.

###

About Advance Illinois
Advance Illinois is an independent policy and advocacy organization working toward a healthy 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 advanceillinois.org.

From the Desk of Robin Steans – Under Impossible Circumstances, Let’s Do Remote Right…

From the Desk: Under Impossible Circumstances, Let’s Do Remote Right…

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

…But first, thank you. As we write, schools across the state are beginning to open. They do so amidst the most challenging set of circumstances we are ever likely to face and with only imperfect options. We want to begin by thanking administrators and educators and parents who are working tirelessly to make the best of an impossible situation with ever-changing information, insufficient resources and in the midst of serious health and safety concerns. We salute and admire your dedication. Please know that our effort to understand and share best practices comes from a shared sense of purpose – to help mitigate the negative impact of this crisis on the next generation. 

After listening to health and safety concerns of students, families and educators, Chicago Public Schools and many of the 851 other districts across Illinois plan for full or partial remote learning this fall. For many districts, this has been a gut-wrenching decision made amidst strong feelings and shifting information. Under normal circumstances, in-person instruction is best for most students, and most educators, students and families crave a return to normalcy. With that said, it is clear that remote and blended learning are here to stay for the immediate future. Accordingly, we must unite behind our schools and find creative ways to ensure that remote learning does not prevent students and families from getting the social, emotional, mental-health and academic supports they need to be successful.

Sadly, we don’t have much insight or data into how remote learning went across the state this past spring, though survey data of the nation at large show vast inequities. The percentage of students logging in to remote learning differed significantly by race/ethnicity. Students at majority-White schools received graded assignments at a higher rate than those in majority Black and Latinx schools. Similar disparities appear in surveys on the hours teachers spent instructing and on other metrics of student engagement. Left undressed, these inequities may have lasting impacts for our students’ academic and long-term financial success.

To better understand the Illinois context for this fall, Advance Illinois reviewed a sampling of districts’ spring remote plans against known best practices. While only a proxy for what actually happened, these plans highlight areas of strength, attention and need as we dive into fall semester.

What can we learn from remote learning plans posted this past spring?

As COVID-19 hit Illinois, districts were forced to adapt to remote learning with little time to prepare. While the Illinois State Board of Education released remote learning recommendations by March 27, 2020 – just ten days after remote learning was announced – it is unclear to what extent districts were able to incorporate best practices into remote learning this past spring. To explore this question, we identified commonly-recommended best practices in remote learning, then compared remote learning plans from a sample of 100 of Illinois’ 852 school districts. [1] [For an actionable summary of national best practices, click here.]  Our examination found that:

  • The vast majority (89/100) of sampled districts published easily accessible remote learning plans, demonstrating admirably clear and transparent communication with families. At the same time, many plans reflected the pressures under which they were created. Specifically, most plans would have benefitted from greater specificity. While most districts noted that remote curricula should be aligned with state learning standards, fewer provided additional curricular support. And while the vast majority of districts noted that all students that receive EL, ILP, IEP or 504 plans would continue to receive accommodations​, very few districts were able to provide specific details on remote learning tactics and assistive technologies. Looking ahead, districts will want to provide as detailed guidance as possible for accessing and using the digital infrastructure needed to participate in remote learning; have effective, standards-aligned instruction and the ability to track student engagement; and social-emotional and mental health supports for students and educators.
  • The level of need in a district did not determine the quality of remote learning plans. While significant variation in district learning plans existed across the state (as one might expect), it is heartening to see that amongst our sample, the level of need in a district was not correlated with the detail or thoroughness of remote learning plans.
  • Larger districts located in cities and suburbs tended to have more thorough and detailed remote learning plans. This finding likely reflects the particular challenges of rural districts in the face of COVID-19, including fewer staff to respond to rapidly-changing circumstances and disproportionately poorer internet access.

Districts deserve acclaim for their quick pivots to and transparent communication of remote learning plans – a considerable lift under difficult circumstances. Now, as remote and blended instruction continues, we have the opportunity to learn and improve. Parents are playing an increasingly significant role in their students’ day-to-day learning, and they need support and information. While remote and blended learning plans are only a proxy for actual practice, they prompt and reflect district planning and care, and they provide an important roadmap to help parents, educators and school leaders provide the best supports possible in challenging times.

SIDE-BAR [District Spotlights]

Bloom Township 206: Prioritized standards and course content developed by PLCs

Bloom Township’s remote learning plan prioritized learning standards that had been determined by teachers in PLCs; teachers were expected to teach course content in alignment with these prioritized standards.  
Champaign Unit 4 SD: Bilingual Parent Liaisons

Champaign schools’ plan noted several supports for bilingual students and families, including: Requiring that weekly messages to families from principals be translated into French and SpanishDesignating Bilingual Parent Liaison roles to ensure continued communication with bilingual students and families.  

Looking to the year ahead

As the continued threat of COVID-19 forces many parts of our state to continue remote or blended learning this fall, high-quality remote learning plans and implementation will be key to effective instruction. We know that, regardless of best efforts in the face of unprecedented challenges, student academic learning has suffered. While remote and blended instruction is certainly an immensely difficult transition for our teachers and schools, there is a real danger that this period will deepen disparities across income, race, language and learning style. As we look ahead, we have a shared goal of ensuring all students have access to high-quality instruction and support in these difficult times. For our state, this means providing:

  • Supports for educators. Across the state, educators need resources, training and feedback to effectively serve students in this new context. This is especially true for new teachers, who will need particular coaching and support due to disruptions in their own preparation.
  • Resources to close the digital divide. In order to access and deliver effective remote and blended instruction, students and educators need devices, internet connectivity, technical support and high-quality platforms and curricula designed for digital delivery. While Illinois has invested over $80M in new funds for devices, connectivity and professional development, this covers less than 15 percent of Illinois students, and a huge digital access gap remains.
  • Rigorous and quality content expectations. Remote and blended learning environments mean entirely new methods of instruction. As 852 districts sift through an array of curricula, digital platforms and other resources, the state should work to ensure that every student is in a classroom with high-quality, culturally relevant instructional materials that are aligned to grade-level learning standards.
  • Focus on the social-emotional and mental-health needs of our students and staff. Educators need training and support to identify and address trauma, including their own. 
  • Intentional and meaningful family engagement. As remote and blended learning continues, family engagement is more crucial than ever. Collaboration between schools, communities and families is necessary to improve our students’ learning experiences over the next year.
  • Data. We need to know the impact of COVID-19 on student learning and engagement in order to effectively address challenges. As remote and blended learning environments continue into the fall, the state and districts need new ways to understand student learning and engagement. We then must use this information to make real-time, mid-course corrections to our plans. We are in a fluid environment and must equip ourselves to adapt and improve.

We know that COVID-19 is impacting all students and families, but it is disproportionately hurting our communities of color and families of lower income background. This fall and beyond, we need to take an equity lens to our work and provide additional supports to highly-impacted student groups.

We are all in this together

It will take us years to recover and rebuild from the impact of COVID-19. Sadly, there is no vaccine for disrupted learning and missed opportunities. While it is essential to double down and focus on making the best of our current situation, we must also continue to plan true and meaningful recovery in order to continue to close gaps in opportunity across Illinois’ educational system. It will take all of us working together to make that happen. If we bring half the energy, dedication and spirit to longer-term recovery work that educators and families are bringing to this moment, then we are already on our way.


[1] Our sample consisted of a weighted sample of IL’s large, medium, and small school districts, while still including the 24 largest school districts. The final sample of 100 school district does closely reflect Illinois’ percentage of White students and percentage of low-income students, although we did oversample both large districts and those classified as cities.

Sincerely and in partnership,

Robin Steans
President

Advance Illinois Statement on Education Trust’s “Segregation Forever” Report

CHICAGO, IL (July 23, 2020) At Advance Illinois, we know that the future viability of our state relies on an education system that works to overcome historic inequities by providing exceptional opportunities for all students. However, a recent report published by the Education Trust reveals a persistent and severe underrepresentation of Black and Latino students in higher education. The report, “Segregation Forever,” shows that the representation of Black and Latino students in the country’s top public colleges and universities has decreased or remained disproportionately low in the past 20 years.  

We are deeply concerned to learn that, according to the report, the enrollment of Black students at some of Illinois’ top public universities has decreased over the last 20 years. According to the report’s methodology for evaluating student representation, both the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) and the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) earned grades of ‘F’ for Black enrollment. And while UIC should be commended for maintaining its ‘A’ rating for Latino enrollment, UIUC earned an ‘F’ rating for Latino enrollment.  

While we have stellar public institutions in Illinois, these scores are a clear reminder that they, as well as public education advocates and policymakers, have much more work to do to ensure that these campuses reflect the diverse population of the state. Using this study and other tools as guideposts, Advance Illinois will continue to work with our partners in education and civil rights to advocate for greater access, enrollment, retention and completion of Black and Latino students in state-funded colleges and universities. Together, we must do all that we can to increase the presence of diverse students on our college campuses.

###

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 advanceillinois.org.

Contact:
Roderick K. Hawkins, Communications Director
rhawkins@advanceillinois.org

José L. García, Communications Associate
jgarcia@advanceillinois.org