Illinois moving ahead on Race to the Top, but governor has yet to name key oversight council

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Even among its emerging strengths, Illinois has loose ends to tie off before the US Department of Education closes the door on applications for incentive grants under the Race to the Top initiative.

 

For one, Gov. Pat Quinn has yet to select members of a “P-20 council” that will oversee the development of a longitudinal data system to track individual student outcomes from pre-school through post-secondary education. The system will link students to teachers and to the preparation program the teacher attended—giving Illinois an advantage in the federal funding race over some states that legally restrict such links.

 

More generally, the council will also direct traffic as the state’s educational institutions try to better align teacher training and standards for student learning.

 

A spokesperson for the governor says the council has an important role to play in the race for the state’s share of the $4.3 billion in federal funds, and that stakeholders are expressing a lot of interest in signing on. The council was part of legislation passed more than two years ago, but Quinn’s office would not say when council members would be selected.

Even among its emerging strengths, Illinois has loose ends to tie off before the US Department of Education closes the door on applications for incentive grants under the Race to the Top initiative.

 

For one, Gov. Pat Quinn has yet to select members of a “P-20 council” that will oversee the development of a longitudinal data system to track individual student outcomes from pre-school through post-secondary education. The system will link students to teachers and to the preparation program the teacher attended—giving Illinois an advantage in the federal funding race over some states that legally restrict such links.

 

More generally, the council will also direct traffic as the state’s educational institutions try to better align teacher training and standards for student learning.

 

A spokesperson for the governor says the council has an important role to play in the race for the state’s share of the $4.3 billion in federal funds, and that stakeholders are expressing a lot of interest in signing on. The council was part of legislation passed more than two years ago, but Quinn’s office would not say when council members would be selected.

 

Seating the council would provide a public face for the P20 initiative and add a little more weight in Illinois’ bid for federal funds. Any advantage has a certain financial luster. Insiders believe just 10 to 20 states will win Race to the Top grants, ensuring hefty payouts that could amount to $200 or $300 million apiece.

 

In a Race to the Top overview in September, The New Teacher Project ranked (PDF) Illinois’ bid as “somewhat competitive”—tied with 14 states but ranked behind 17 others. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has yet to release official guidelines for Race to the Top proposals, but he has spelled out a clear reform agenda and established a set of basic requirements. Among them, that states must allow student test scores to factor into teacher evaluations—a central component in Illinois’ emerging data system.

 

Even without a council, Judy Erwin, president of the Illinois Board of Higher Education, says top educators and state administrators have been anything but inert. Among other developments, the board of higher ed and the Illinois State Board of Education have been hammering out data-sharing agreements, and will be convening a forum on Nov. 17 for researchers to discuss priorities and design aspects for the new data system.

 

“It’s not as though we’ve been sitting on our hands and waiting for the governor to appoint the council,” Erwin says.

 

Those invited to the forum include national experts on longitudinal data systems and faculty and researchers affiliated with the Consortium on Chicago School Research, the Illinois Education Research Council, the Center for the Study of Education Policy and the Forum on the Future of Public Education. Representatives from state agencies, foundations, think tanks and other organizations will also be included.

 

Erwin notes that there’s a tendency for educators to talk to educators, and says the P20 council will offer an important way to engage the larger community.

 

One outgrowth of more data-sharing will be a high school report, due out next spring, that will inform parents and communities on how well their graduates fare in community colleges and public universities. Adding private schools to the mix is an important next step.

 

“That requires more data-sharing agreements than I even want to think about,” Erwin adds. “It was not easy to accomplish. Frankly, people don’t want to give you data because they are afraid it will make them look bad.”

 

Parents are outraged, Erwin says, when they find out their children need to take remedial math and language arts classes at the college level. Educators need good data to intervene earlier and save families from spending money unnecessarily on college tuition.

Duncan is expected to release official guidelines for Race to the Top applications in the coming weeks and the first round of applications are expected to be due near the beginning of the year. A second round of vetting is scheduled for later in the spring.

Illinois educators met in August to begin shaping their application (PDF). Their plans hint at several looming policy fights, including potential changes to the way teachers and principals are evaluated and paid—issues that Catalyst will be covering in future Notebook installments.