Illinois has made progress when it comes to the positive impacts made by Dual Credit courses. Demand for students continues to rise, and many districts across the state are seeing the benefits of forging strong partnerships with community colleges and local employers.

To help foster those partnerships and get a better understanding of what folks think about Dual Credit courses, we decided to ask them. Together with our partner organizations, we surveyed students, parents, educators, administrators, and professionals in the secondary and postsecondary fields to get their thoughts.

Over 1,000 individuals responded, giving us clear insight into the opinions of folks directly involved with Dual Credit. We learned a lot, and that information will help inform our advocacy for better policies moving forward.

  • 97% of student respondents said they benefitted from participating in Dual Credit
  • 73% of postsecondary respondents believe that colleges benefit from offering Dual Credit
  • 83% of respondents said that Dual Credit courses are high quality and rigorous

One secondary faculty member said that, “[Dual Credit is] a win win! Students are challenged yet the amount of credit hours received are not based on one test like AP courses so if a student works hard and displays throughout the semester they are learning, they are rewarded.”

A parent of a Dual Credit student added, “My son has the opportunity to dive into Engineering before he gets into college. This is invaluable!”

You can see more input like this in our Survey Briefs. They provide data and feedback from the Dual Credit community, as well as suggestions for improving Dual Credit programs in classrooms across Illinois.

We hope you’ll dive into the results and learn how all of us can continue building on the progress we’ve made for improving Dual Credit outcomes.

Get the full details in the survey briefs:

In March 2020, during the early stages of the pandemic, prior to the lockdown and school closures, something happened at my child’s school that changed the trajectory of my life forever.

My then four year old son, Jett, was the victim of a discriminatory policy that disrupted his schooling and caused social isolation, something I understood as a threat to his mental well-being. Jett was told that if he didn’t change his hair style associated with his culture and heritage, he would be suspended from school.

That day, Jett had worn his hair in braids, something that made him proud and happy. That hair style somehow broke school policy, but it also ignited me to fight to eliminate policies that can hinder children’s achievements and negatively impact their social emotional development.

The incident with Jett forced me to refocus my advocacy efforts. I became my own press secretary, my own coach, and my own self-motivator. After Jett’s situation gained some local recognition in the media, I partnered with Illinois State Senator Mike Simmons as he sponsored a bill that bans hair discrimination against children in all schools – public and private – in our state. We fought every step of the way until that bill, the Jett Hawkins Act, passed the General Assembly and was signed into law. It took effect on New Year’s Day this year.

That was a watershed moment for me, but I also knew it was just the beginning. Now, I’m partnering with Stand for Children as a Payton Parent Fellow, deepening my community engagement and carrying forward the legacy of Kim Payton. I am also working with Stand’s Community & Family Partnerships Director, Tommorrow Snyder, and other stakeholders, pulling together tools and resources for the State Board of Education to help schools implement the law.

As I look to make the most of this opportunity, I’m branching out and working as a professional speaker. My typical audience is at schools and educator convenings, where I aim to activate and elevate student voice and engage them around issues related to self-esteem and confidence – things reflected in Jett’s love of his hair, identity, and culture. Additionally, I plan to continue working to eliminate policies and procedures that threaten the academic achievements of children, cause emotional disruption, social isolation, and adverse mental health outcomes.

Not only am I a fierce advocate for my five children, I’m also a social entrepreneur, parent advocate, and a North Lawndale native. I’m a walking, talking testament to why you should not count anyone out. My parents struggled with addiction but thankfully my extended family stepped in to raise me. Despite being a teen mom, I completed high school in the top five percent of my graduating class. Today, I know that the multitude of adversities that I have faced are what motivates me to make a difference and inspire others to step into their power.

During the pandemic, I became very reflective and introspective. That internal reckoning was the catalyst that compelled me to extend my advocacy reach even further, which led me to create my business: Ida’s Artisan Ice Cream and Treats. During the civil unrest of summer 2020, although I was disheartened and overwhelmed by racial injustices and ignorance, I refused to sit silently on the sidelines; I did not intend to be a victim of my circumstances. I was determined to be a facilitator of positive change. That was the moment that I stepped into my power.

That shift in mindset allowed me to think freely and creatively about how I show up to improve outcomes for my community and beyond. Obstacles aside (social isolation, at an economic disadvantage, physical limitation based on proximity to resources), I have found a way to marry my passion for advocacy with my business.

I see, my handmade ice cream as a great uniter, not just a product for sale. I leverage it as the conduit to engage and interact with diverse populations throughout the city of Chicago. Creating Ida’s Artisan Ice Cream and Treats elevated my platform and expanded my local advocacy reach to one that is now worldwide, with contacts across Africa and the United Kingdom. This ice cream social campaign has granted me access to a vast network of community members and like-minded folks who understand and embrace the power of collective impact. My ice cream socials create a safe space for hard but necessary conversations.

I love my neighborhood community, but the reality is it is an economically disadvantaged and disenfranchised place. It lacks resources and investment. The more we work together the more impact we can make for our communities. We can improve education outcomes, improve economic security for our fellow Illinoisans, and we can make the world a better place for our children to inherit.

I hope you’ll join me in this work.

19 children and 2 adults were shot dead yesterday at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. The children were second, third, and fourth-graders. Both adults were teachers at the school.

In the nine and a half years since 20 first-graders and 6 teachers were massacred at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, there have been 900 incidents of gunfire on school grounds and nearly 3,500 mass shootings.

A week and a half ago, a white supremacist opened fire at a supermarket in a predominantly Black neighborhood in Buffalo, N.Y., killing 10 people who were grocery shopping on a Saturday afternoon.

The United States is the only country on earth with frequent mass shootings. The only one.

Why do we stand for this carnage?

After mass shootings in other countries, elected leaders put an end to them by passing common sense laws.

Here, despite overwhelming public support for common sense gun safety laws, lawmakers are unwilling to stand up to the gun lobby.

Will this time be different? Or will Republican members of Congress once again block broadly popular legislation that would prevent mass shootings?

It depends on whether we — the overwhelming majority of Americans who support universal background checks and oppose the sale of weapons of war — insist this time be different.

It’s that simple.

Please sign up with Everytown for Gun Safety today and keep using your voice and your vote until politicians prioritize lives over the gun lobby.

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Me too. Let me walk you through my journey to better understand this complicated topic, featuring a heavy dose of honesty, the Dunning-Kruger Effect, and a debt of gratitude to the many kind souls I’ve met along the ride who pour their hearts into literacy work every day.

This is the Dunning-Kruger Effect:

Early in my professional life, when I was a legislative staffer diving into lots of topics that were new to me, I remember having a revelation that the more I learned about a subject, the more I realized how much I still didn’t know. Over a decade later, I discovered that this phenomenon has a name: the Dunning-Kruger Effect! My journey to learn about literacy instruction is following this trajectory, from knowing nothing to progressing along the “slope of enlightenment.”

But let’s go back in time about two years. Lots of states have undertaken literacy policy work, but Illinois hasn’t made any big, splashy literacy reforms. Our literacy rates, like literacy rates nationally, are frighteningly low. (One-third of fourth graders don’t meet “basic” reading standards.) “Someone should do something about that,” I thought. But I’m not a practitioner and this is so deeply embedded in pedagogy. It was around this time that a friend of a friend connected me to a local teacher who was having similar thoughts from the opposite direction (i.e., “I know the practice, but I don’t know policy and advocacy.” Here she is, talking about reading instruction in a TedX Talk.)

There is clearly a problem here:

  1. One-third of fourth graders don’t meet “basic” reading standards. Two-thirds don’t meet “proficient” standards. The picture looks about like that whether you consider national or State assessments. Within that statistic, there are deep inequities. A strong majority of incarcerated adults and court-involved youth are struggling readers.
  2. Tutoring is a booming business, but it’s cost prohibitive for most students. If a family can afford it, they will shell out tens of thousands of dollars to get their kid the literacy instruction they need. It is a tremendous inequity.
  3. Lots of other states have taken action. Some are getting great results. Some don’t seem to be moving the needle. But policymakers in these states have said enough is enough and prioritized literacy on their policy agenda.

I went “down the rabbit hole.” First, I binged the Emily Hanford documentary series, a convenient entryway into the literacy conversation. I signed up to the “Science of Reading—What I Should Have Learned in College” national and Illinois Facebook pages. I studied findings of the 2000 National Reading Panel report, and the 2006 National Literacy Panel Report for Language Minority Children and Youth. My podcast queue is heavily literacy-focused, as are most of the personal conversations with whomever I cross paths.

Around the same time as my immersion in the world of literacy, the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus was hard at work negotiating several reform pillars, including education, under the leadership of State Sen. Kimberly Lightford (D—Maywood). Rep. Rita Mayfield (D—Waukegan) had filed an early literacy bill for years, and she was committed to seeing it through. It was in the ILBC bill at one point, but it came out so that it could be worked on further. After that, we started networking more, finding lots of committed parents and advocates, introducing folks to each other, and jointly establishing the Illinois Early Literacy Coalition.

At this point in my journey, here were my top three takeaways:

  1. Reading is not natural. It literally re-wires our brains as we make connections between the sounds in language, to the letters on a page, to meaning of the text. Some children make the inferences they need to figure it out no matter how they are taught, but most need direct, explicit instruction to “crack the code.”
  2. Phonemic awareness gets shortchanged, and phonics is often added as a side dish that isn’t well integrated with the rest of the lesson. The five pillars of reading are phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary development, and comprehension.
  3. Emerging readers should decode words while reading books with phonics patterns they have learned, rather than being encouraged to figure out the words from looking at pictures or memorizing repetitive text.

I was watching my then-kindergartener go through remote schooling, where his phenomenal teachers delivered instruction from a poorly rated curriculum that “cues” students to look at the pictures in their books when they come to an unknown word. (With the type of books they use, it’s really the only option, since most kindergarteners haven’t learned the phonics patterns to decode “scientist,” or “elephant,” or “porcupine.” These books typically feature a repetitive text pattern on every page, like “I went to the playground and played on the [insert equipment here],” and a picture that hints at that type of playground equipment. More advanced versions might have something different on the last page, like “I love going to the playground.”) I noticed his struggle to remember letters and their sounds, and his adorable language quirks, like saying “tremote” instead of remote, “pagic” instead of package, and “garjib” instead of garbage. This was the first time it occurred to me: he is one of the kids for whom explicit and systematic phonics and phonemic awareness instruction will be absolutely critical.

When I was figuratively at the top of the first peak (“Mt. Stupid”), I think my biggest misconception was that there are two clearcut “sides” to this debate. A term of the 1990s, the “Reading Wars” still seemed to be going strong – with one segment of the population advocating for structured literacy and the other for balanced literacy. (As it turns out, neither is a silver bullet, both can be interpreted in multiple ways, and both actually support a lot of the same principles.) So came my fall from Mt. Stupid into the Valley of Despair.

I thought, “Explicit, systematic phonics instruction is everything.” It’s super important, but… Here’s what I oversimplified:

  1. It’s not more important than other elements (fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension), and there are more elements to throw into the mix, like oral language development and writing.
  2. Different students will need different dosages of instruction of these elements. Some might not need much phonics, others will need many repetitions of the phonics patterns they learn, and all should receive the instruction that meets their needs. Students learning English will need a greater focus on oral language development, while students with dyslexia will need a heavy focus on phonemic awareness and phonics.
  3. Phonics is not an end destination. It is like training wheels. The goal is for word recognition to become so automatic that all of a reader’s attention can be focused on comprehension and analysis.
  4. Integration of the elements is important, so kids learn phonics patterns, have opportunities to re-integrate those skill into meaningful content, and apply those phonics skills when they read.
  5. Decoding should be the first step to tackling unknown words, but looking at context clues after word identification can support comprehension. The “three-cueing” approach suggests that multiple, equally good strategies can help students read an unknown word. (What word would make sense? Does it sound right? Does it look right?) Relying on pictures and context as a primary way to identify a word defies what we know about how the brain learns to read. But these clues can be helpful to understand at the word level (vocabulary) and at the text level (comprehension).

Springfield is lucky to have a Children’s Dyslexia Center that provides an annual, free structured literacy training derived from Orton-Gillingham. I signed up. It’s not a small commitment; this will mean tutoring 100 hours over the year in addition to the classes and homework. But this issue has become so professionally and personally relevant, it makes absolute sense for me carve out the time for this. (I’m pretty close! I’ve got about 10 hours to go.)

People who have dedicated their lives to studying how children learn to read are still somewhere on that slope of enlightenment. There’s no end to it. Experts who seem aligned with each other and have decades of experience between them still get into heated debates about nuances of specific instructional methods. The research will keep going, and the curriculum will keep developing, and we will refine our beliefs about what works best over and over again for as long as we stay committed to this subject. It’s OK that we don’t have all the answers.

But it’s not OK to ignore this issue any longer. There are policies that Illinois should enact to improve equitable access to evidence-based, comprehensive literacy instruction for all students. None of them are silver bullets. None of them are easy. None of us individually have the only recipe for a policy solution.

After the Right to Read Act (SB 3900 (Lightford/Mayfield)) sparked interest from many groups, the State Board of Education (ISBE) announced that it would sponsor a convening of state, local, and national experts to dig into literacy best practices and policies for Illinois. This is exactly the sort of action we should be looking for. ISBE will be the agency to implement whatever changes are enacted, so it makes perfect sense that it will lead the conversation and assume ownership of this important issue. In fact, one of the things I have discovered is that ISBE has already adopted some pretty great literacy standards!

I am hopeful to see comprehensive and inclusive conversations about this going forward, with an eye toward adopting a literacy plan for the state that can truly support Illinois children – no matter where they live – to develop foundations to become strong readers.

P.S. – If you like puzzles, literacy, and the Illinois legislature, try your hand at this crossword we created for Stand’s newsletter. The more people solve these things, the more I can justify continuing to make them!

As Stand for Children Illinois’ Community & Family Partnerships Director, I am thankful for the connections and relationships I have built in the communities that we serve. Also, I feel very strongly that it is my job to share resources with our communities and families. So, it was both a privilege and honor to lead our COVID Safety Care campaign.

I felt it necessary for folks in the community to hear directly from me because I am a COVID survivor and COVID long hauler who continues to live with the long-term effects of this virus. Having COVID was terrifying, and, some days, the terror is still there. For sure, the physical effects linger, and this is not a disease I would wish on my worst enemy. You can hear more of my story in these videos we created while in the field during the campaign.

Thanks to a grant from the Chicagoland Vaccine Partnership, Stand volunteers and staff embarked on a door-to-door campaign in some of the hardest hit areas of the South Side of Chicago. Over the course of three weeks, the COVID Care team went to over 2,000 doors where we shared resources about COVID variants, passed out individually wrapped cloth masks, and distributed information about vaccine and testing sites. I will never forget the conversation I had with the gentlemen seated outside the CHA complex in Washington Park. Admittedly, there were challenges running a door-to-door campaign during a global pandemic, but I would do it again, because we authentically connected with communities hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.

To me, the COVID Safety Care campaign was different than other “shots in arms” campaigns. Although, I am vaccinated and personally, I would prefer for folks to get vaccinated, I understand that there is still a lot of hesitation about vaccines. So, our team worked hard to get the most up-to-date information about both vaccine and testing sites. Like me, every volunteer of the COVID Care team had either survived COVID themselves, had loved ones with diagnoses, or unfortunately lost a loved one from COVID. Therefore, I knew it was vital that folks most impacted by this pandemic needed to stand alongside with me to share resources with communities most impacted.

To the members of the COVID Care Team, I truly appreciate you. Thank you for braving the elements, prioritizing safety, and sharing your COVID stories with their communities.

Growing up in Northern Virginia, we often took our out-of-town visitors to Mount Vernon and Monticello. What I remember most about being ushered past the red velvet ropes through the crowded, 18th century-styled rooms is how the guides refused to answer my questions.

In response to the guide’s prideful exclamation that “The General” always wore perfectly starched shirts, I asked how much the women who ironed them were paid. I was keen to know because my mother paid me $5 each Sunday night to iron five of my father’s shirts for the upcoming week. I sincerely wondered how George Washington’s help was compensated.

No wonder I understood so little of our country’s foundational history; slavery was literally a sidebar in my K-12 history books.

Still today, schools teach our children to recite the Declaration of Independence while never learning about the only book Thomas Jefferson published, Notes on The State of Virginia. Our second president’s 1785 book argued that “Blacks … are inferior to the whites in the endowments both of body and mind.” To justify white supremacy, Jefferson concluded: “Nature, habit, opinion has drawn indelible lines of distinction between them.”

As Americans, we should learn from history and hold ourselves to higher standards as we teach our children the entire truth, however uncomfortable, about our founding principles. Teaching the legacy of slavery today will allow us to see the origins of racial and social inequality in order to effectively address the divisive issues that continue to weaken our country today.

Our children must understand our past to be equipped to resolve these societal challenges for the next generation of civic leaders in our communities. Let’s erase the lines drawn by our founding fathers and celebrate our common American values of life, liberty, and justice for all.

Thank you.

As a student in the 1980s, I never imagined that the history lessons I received at my well-regarded high school omitted important portions of our country’s past. But that is indeed what happened.

Filling in these missing pieces decades later as an adult left me feeling disappointed in my history education and with the realization that I had been making assumptions about the world around me from a historical knowledge base with gaping holes.

Now as a parent and community member, I understand two things: First that teaching an honest and complete account of our country’s history is essential. It’s essential to achieving our goals of helping children become adults who can think critically and who won’t repeat the mistakes of the past. And second, we can’t assume that our local schools are teaching a full and truthful history. It’s up to us as parents and community members to tell our local school boards and superintendents that we do not want our children to receive a partial or cherry-picked history of our country.

That’s why I am grateful for the Learn from History Coalition. I appreciate knowing I’m not alone, that people and groups from across Illinois and across the country are working together and sharing ideas to support our schools in teaching the kind of history that will prepare our students for the world they will enter and one day lead.

I will keep doing this work because I don’t want today’s students to become adults and wonder what they are missing, as I did.

I hope you will join us.

As a recent Illinois high school graduate, I know better than most in our community how American history is taught in schools. The history I learned was good but often focused on just the highlights – think the Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights. It wasn’t perfect or entirely complete, but it was a better curriculum than many students across the country receive.

That’s why I am proud to support the work of the Learn from History coalition. At its core, the coalition is here to support students learning a full and accurate history education. Together, we know that students (like me and my fellow 2021 grads) need critical thinking skills to be the leaders of tomorrow in a complex, diverse society.

My perspective on Illinois students learning false history is plain and simple: I don’t believe that we should be teaching students history or social studies until we can provide students with the entire truth. Students deserve to know the whole truth, the real truth of our history, not just half of it. Just like the sign I made in support of this work (pictured with this blog!), American history should not be sugarcoated.

I hope you’ll join me and lend your voice to the Learn from History coalition. Your voice, joined with others across Illinois and the country, are the strongest ambassadors we have to ensure that schools can continue teaching fact-based history to students.

Whether you’re a school system leader, a parent, an educator, or a school board member, Learn from History has a toolkit that’s right for you. These resources will help in your local community.

Students like me are joining with parents, teachers, community leaders, and concerned Illinoisans to help ensure young people can learn from history. They deserve an honest history education.

If they don’t, history will keep repeating itself.

I hope you’ll join us.

I wanted to drop a quick line and update you on our work related to the new Learn from History coalition. That coalition, and the vital work it sets out to do, was highlighted in a recent news article by the Illinois Times for some Illinois connections and national reach.

Mimi Rodman, Stand for Children Illinois’ Executive Director, noted that our state has made strides recently when it comes to how schools address race, but noted that more work must be done to ensure students learn a complete and accurate history. “Vigilance is very much called for here,” she said, pointing to the ongoing work.

Learn from History, a coalition of which Stand is a member, was formed to take a stand against efforts to ban teaching about racism and other forms of oppression in public K-12 schools. For students to create a better society, schools need a provide a thorough, accurate, and fact-based history education and teach students to reject racism and respect the equal value of every person.

This group effort includes members like the AASA, the school superintendents’ association; the American Federation of Teachers; Educators for Excellence; the National School Boards Association; Teach Plus, and many more partner organizations.

You can learn more about Learn from History and join this vital work at LearnFromHistory.org. There, you’ll find toolkits to help ensure that schools can continue teaching fact-based history. You can also add your name in support and stay updated on the latest coalition news.