Illinois gets low grades for education

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Illinois received a ‘D’ for the quality of its K-12 schools and still
has one of the largest achievement gaps in the country, according to a
new report card on education released today by the reform group Advance
Illinois. The state received slightly better grades on two other educational
measures: an ‘Incomplete’ for early education and a ‘C’ for
post-secondary attainment. Illinois received a ‘D’ for the quality of its K-12 schools and still has one of the largest achievement gaps in the country, according to a new report card on education released today by the reform group Advance Illinois.

The state received slightly better grades on two other educational measures: an ‘Incomplete’ for early education and a ‘C’ for post-secondary attainment. (The full report is on the Advance Illinois website.)

“Frankly, the news is terrible,” said William Daley, former commerce secretary and brother of Mayor Richard Daley, who co-chairs Advance Illinois along with former governor Jim Edgar.

Referred to by Daley as a baseline for measuring academic progress, the report card assessed student achievement; learning conditions, such as teacher quality and school climate; and adult post-secondary attainment. The report is billed as the first complete assessment of the state’s education performance from birth through higher education.

“Data tells us that roughly one-third of our kids are getting where we want them to go,” Daley said.  “For the rest, the majority, the system is not working.  In a world where our civic and economic future depends on our educational health, that’s simply not good enough.”

Both Daley and Edgar cited Illinois’ short school day and year—among the shortest in the country—and stressed the need for more classroom time to improve education.

The report is based on five critical questions, Daley noted: Are children “kindergarten ready” when they start school? Can they read and do math at proficient levels by 3rd grade? Are they prepared for high school work by the end of 8th grade? Do they complete high school equipped with the skills needed for college and career training? Do they complete some form of post-secondary education? 

The bright spot in the report is in early childhood education. The state ranks first in available preschool slots, enrolls more 3-year-olds than any other state, and has more highly qualified early education teachers in comparison to many other states.  But the state needs a way to measure whether children are “kindergarten ready” and has too little data on bilingual access to preschool and so received a grade of ‘incomplete.’ (Illinois recently became the first state in the country to mandate bilingual education in preschool.)

Illinois ranks in the bottom two-thirds of states on the achievement gap between white students and students of color. For example, 83 percent of white students graduate from high school, compared to 53 percent of African American and 57 percent of Latino students.  Among 8th-graders, 44 percent of white students demonstrate math proficiency on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, compared to only 9 percent of African American students and 17 percent of Latino students.

Illinois received a ‘C’ for post-secondary attainment because of high college costs and low graduation rates, and needs better data on remedial enrollment and data on the overall cost of post-secondary education to both families and institutions.

The report did not grade the state on school funding, an area in which Illinois routinely ranks at the bottom of the national scale. Illinois relies heavily on local property taxes to pay for education, and has one of the largest spending gaps in the country between rich and poor districts.

Edgar acknowledged that the spending gap may never be eliminated. “But we do have to assure a minimal amount to pay for quality education,” he said. “That doesn’t mean everyone will have a Cadillac, but they must have an education that will allow them to go on to post-secondary education.”