You probably wouldn’t know it, but I’ve been in a movie.

My non-existent IMDb page will be no use for you, and I never appeared in a Hollywood blockbuster.

What I did star in was Stand’s Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) recipe video that we released last fall. See if you can spot me in my starring role!

I’m not sending this around to highlight my acting career, but to make sure you have a good idea of what is in Illinois’ school accountability plan.

Last week, in the run-up to Election Day, the state released the new Illinois Report Card. This updated format features new ratings and an increased level of data transparency at the school level. It also reflects the ideas featured in our recipe video – something that’s really a win for Illinois parents.

One piece that the Report Card highlights is how schools are funded compared to their funding adequacy target. This compares to the target set in last year’s school funding formula revamp.

My colleague Jessica said it best when she spoke with Chalkbeat Chicago last week: “This changes the conversation from one that blames schools for shortcomings and instead lets families see that, well, we’re not doing great in our school but we only have 60 percent of funding we need.” Go read the entire article; it’s quite comprehensive but still easy to digest.

And when you’re all done with that, I would appreciate if you checked out our recipe video again. It’s the only movie I’ve ever (or will ever, honestly) starred in. See if you can spot me.

As a mentor and education advocate, I can say that a year ago, much of the content that’s in Stand’s “Stop Illinois Brain Drain” report was over my head. I didn’t really understand much of it, but I was interested in learning more and finding ways to fix the educational problems in our state.

The 2017-2018 Policy Fellowship helped me do just that. For the better part of a year, parents, educators, and community leaders like me – from all across the state – joined calls to discuss the issues impacting high school success in our state. We learned the issues. We talked to the experts. We picked their brains and asked them the tough questions. We discussed amongst ourselves recommendations to help put a plug in Illinois’ brain drain.

One issue that piqued my interest was individualized coursework. It might not sound like much, but we learned that courses tailored to students’ individual needs and career pathways are one of the best ways to bring Illinois high school education into the twenty-first century.

Next, competency-based learning allows students to advance towards graduation by demonstrating they have mastered the knowledge or skills to meet benchmarks instead of following the traditional approach of passing specific classes. Dual credit and Advanced Placement share a common goal of giving students a jumpstart on their post-high school education by earning college credits while still in high school. Dual credit courses establish partnerships between a school and an individual college or university. Although courses and costs vary, they allow students to earn credit in a particular career pathway. AP courses are more difficult than regular high school classes, and students become eligible for college credit by taking a standardized exam at the end of the school year.

In order to improve high school education for all Illinois students in this area of individualized coursework, Stand fellows suggested in the Stop Illinois Brain Drain report to:

  • Build more cross-community partnerships and expand course access. Districts and community colleges should pool their resources and offer more specialized courses to students. Partnerships don’t have to be 1:1; they can join forces with neighboring districts and community colleges. Check out the report for numerous examples of successful partnerships already in existence throughout Illinois. Good models exist – we just need more of them.
  • Utilize the Illinois Virtual School to increase access to dual credit, AP, and other advanced courses. IVS was established to supplement – not replace – the education provided by schools. Each IVS course is taught by a licensed teacher, aligns with statewide standards, and offers credit to students. IVS offers 12 AP courses and several advanced courses. However, for rural schools that don’t offer one AP course, IVS could open the door to AP classes for their students. To clear that path, a few hurdles need to be addressed:
    • Policymakers need to address the inequity of IVS enrollment by requiring IVS tuition to follow a sliding pay scale based on a district’s funding adequacy levels.
    • Increase access to broadband internet for every school.
    • Offer more dual credit courses through IVS.
  • Increase the number of teachers for dual credit courses. Districts and community colleges should take two important steps to accomplish this: maximize their professional development plan agreements to provide a pathway for teachers to become qualified to teach dual credit; and develop a model partnership agreement between high schools and community colleges for dual credit programs.
  • Encourage innovation. Our state policymakers can incentivize districts to test competency-based learning approaches by funding small grants for participating districts. After that, districts should explore alternatives for students who aren’t suited for the traditional approach. Learning – and earning high school credits – shouldn’t be bound by four walls and the school calendar.

There is a lot more to these issues, so I encourage you to read the full Stop Illinois Brain Drain report. Be on the lookout for more summaries like this one from other Stand Policy Fellows, to help break down the recommendations of the report.

As a former teacher who recently left the classroom, I know I will never leave behind the education issues I care about. So when I began to explore my role as an advocate outside of the classroom, one program that jumped out at me was Stand’s Policy Fellowship. The detailed policy discussions, the conversations with advocates from across the state, and the chance to advocate and influence policy discussions all piqued my interest. The Fellowship has expanded my understanding of civic and political advocacy.

The 2017-2018 Fellowship focused on student college and career readiness in Illinois. While the majority of my previous work centered around elementary education, this experience allowed me to explore the opposite end of the education system.

Stand’s policy team provided regular informational workshops surrounding the impacts of the Post-Secondary Workforce Readiness (PWR) Act and the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Additionally, we engaged with community members, elected officials, and experts in the field who deepened our understanding of the postsecondary landscape in Illinois – and where advocates like us could make a difference.

One conversation that I particularly enjoyed was with Katharine Gricevich of the Illinois Student Assistance Commission. Her discussion on higher education access and affordability resonated with my interest in advancing opportunities and outcomes for students from underserved areas.

I also had the opportunity to visit the Illinois Capitol with other Stand Fellows. While in Springfield we spoke with legislators about student college and career readiness. During these conversations, I was excited to learn that legislators were interested in hearing my perspective as a former educator. These discussions further encouraged my passion for advancing teacher voice and influence within political discourse.

As I reflect on these impactful conversations and experiences as a Stand Fellow, I am excited and motivated to continue my advocacy efforts.

Before participating in the Stand Fellowship, I was unsure of how to scale my advocacy impact. Now I am eager to continue my civic and political engagement efforts in support of educational excellence and equity.

I also hope to stay connected with Stand’s work in Illinois and the Fellows across the state. Their passion for education has deeply impacted my own work and approach to advocacy. I know that my advocacy will continue and that I will remain engaged with these issues in the future.

Advocates march at the Stand for Children rally in Washington, DC on June 1, 1996.

In our office are photos taken over the last couple of years of Stand members holding rally signs with messages like “Our Students Our Future” and “Illinois Kids Need Fair Funding.”

Nearby are pictures taken 22 years ago today of Stand for Children Day, the largest rally in support of children’s rights in the history of the United States and the event that started this organization.

The juxtaposition of these images reminds me that great things can happen when everyday people stand together.

Thanks to advocates like you who stepped up over the years and let Springfield know how important fair funding is for our schools, Illinois just took another important step in the direction of equity.

Yesterday, the General Assembly approved a budget package for the upcoming fiscal year that includes another $350 million for the school funding formula enacted last year. By adding more funds to the formula, the school districts that are the most under-funded receive new money first and no district loses money. That’s good news for students in every corner of the state.

What could Illinois do with that new $350 million in school funding? That decision is up to the school districts, but the possibilities are exciting to think about. $350 million could hire about 4,000 more teachers; that’s at least one for every school. It could go a long way in providing high school students with more guidance counselors – Illinois has the second-worst guidance counselor-to-student ratio in the country, and this needs to be addressed.

Illinois still has work to do to get every district to funding adequacy, but these new resources are an important boost to districts across Illinois.

We at Stand will remain focused on amplifying the voices of students, parents, and families who are fighting for equal and high quality public education, just as we have for 22 years.

Please help us celebrate 22 years of impact and consider a gift to ensure we can continue for at least another 22.

Give $22 today in honor of Stand’s 22nd Anniversary!

I’m proud to be standing with you as we continue that journey.

Last month, Stand for Children Policy Fellows Cymone Card, Abby Schultz, Dovie Shelby, and Kayla Valenti joined Stand staff on a visit to the state capital. This was a prime opportunity for the Fellows to meet up and make a difference together at the Capitol and also attend an insightful event that evening. While in Springfield, the group toured the Capitol building and had a chance to meet with several legislators to discuss education policy. That evening, the group attended a forum on school improvement hosted by Advance Illinois in partnership with other organizations, including Stand. At the forum, Rockford Public Schools, having received national recognition for developing community-aligned career academies, joined a panel discussion to share lessons from their own success.

Three of the Fellows, Abby, Kayla, and Cymone, shared their stories from the day. We hope you enjoy them and learn more about their advocacy and commitment to improving education in Illinois.

The atmosphere of Springfield was abuzz with the adrenaline and the anticipation of state government. We Fellows entered the stoic Capitol building with one eye on the décor and the other on the policy makers. Aimee and Jessica [ed note: Stand’s Policy & Government Affairs Manager and Government Affairs Director, respectively] guided us through the building, trying to connect us to our representatives and answering our many questions. With their help, I had the absolute pleasure in meeting State Senator Biss, whose down-to-earth approach to an (admittedly) giddy citizen (i.e. me) only increased my admiration of him. Meeting him, along with other elected officials, put a human side to politics. After all, the names behind policies are people, like me and like you. State government can be so accessible to Illinoisans if we know where to look–and if we take the time to reach out.

After touring the Capitol and meeting some inspirational people, the legislator forum on cradle to career education only added to this wonderful experience. Rockford has felt the effects of urbanization in its community, especially with Chicago so nearby. What their school board has done is quite innovative: investing in time, money, and community-centered opportunities in their high school students. By investing in their younger citizens, Rockford is giving students the incentive to stay in the area and use their talents to build their community as they delve into their post-secondary education and career. I hope to see other communities all around the U.S. do the same. By investing in education, by giving youth opportunities to start their post-secondary lives through accessible and affordable means, communities will thrive. Let’s hope Rockford is only the beginning of the ripple in connecting students to community.

–Abby Schultz

As a former fifth-grade teacher, I often wondered about how decisions regarding education were made. There were many political decisions and initiatives that had a direct impact on my classroom, however, I felt unsure of how to navigate conversations surrounding the complexities of the policy-making process. My experience as a Stand Policy Fellow has allowed me to develop the confidence to participate in an area that once felt overwhelming and intimidating. Traveling to Springfield and meeting with legislators at the Capital has motivated me to be a more active citizen and voice my opinions and concerns regarding education. I look forward to continuing my engagement in political discourse and advocacy-work that supports policies that best serve students. Whether that means setting up an appointment to meet with a representative, or further developing my own understanding of specific policies, I feel more confident to advocate for high-quality education in Illinois.

–Kayla Valenti

My time in Springfield was eye opening. I have been losing hope about the progress our country is making around education. However, my time in Springfield left me energized and excited. I was able to listen to wonderful speakers discuss how they collaborate to better the outcomes for children. Rockford is using an impressive model that brings different parts of the community together. One thing I have learned is that there is not a one size fits all solution for education. For example, what might work in New York City or Chicago may not work for Rockford or East St. Louis. Members of a community should learn from other communities that are successful. From there, a community can have a real conversation on what will work for their specific community. Collective impact can regenerate a community, and have very real and lasting impacts for children.

–Cymone Card

One of my favorite desserts is a piece of good chocolate cake.

Plenty of ingredients go into making a cake. And plenty of ingredients go into grading schools. As a new parent, it’s important to me that those ingredients make our schools better.

But for too long, Illinois schools have basically been graded on a single ingredient: how many students meet a specific standard. All the other ingredients that go into making a strong school were ignored.

Now, a law called the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) allows Illinois to create a better recipe for school quality. And our state did just that.

Learn more about Illinois’ improved recipe for grading schools through our fun (and delicious!) ESSA recipe video. It will only take two minutes!

No more ignoring important ingredients like school culture, graduation rates, and English learner progress. Many parent suggestions were included in the approved plan, so it is good to see this positive policy development.

As parents, educators, and community members, we deserve to know how our schools are doing. Just like using a full recipe gives you a delicious cake, this new and improved recipe gives us a more complete picture of how our schools are doing and where they need improvement.

But we can’t let this recipe for school quality just sit on the shelf. It must be used for the best results! And I know you will help us in this next phase of the ESSA campaign.

Join us to help Illinois make the most of this new recipe. Visit our ESSA resource page to learn more and sign up to stay in the loop on important education initiatives in our state.

Illinois’ plan under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) was submitted to the federal government for review. The plan, which was adopted by the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) a few weeks ago, includes plans to close opportunity and achievement gaps.

Importantly, it ensures the state’s accountability plan will be inclusive, transparent, and informative to parents. Some of the changes included:

  • Weighting growth more than proficiency so we can reward schools for how much students are learning, not what they knew before starting.
  • Counting students from historically underserved subgroups, demonstrating our state’s commitment to educating all students.
  • New school ratings that are simple and easy to understand for parents so they know how their children’s schools are doing.

The U.S. Department of Education now has 120 days to review the state’s ESSA plan for approval or to provide feedback.

We usually write about developments in the legislature, but there is critical activity involving the State Board of Education with profound implications. Frankly, we’re worried about the direction they are headed.

We are worried the Board is about to take major steps backward for Illinois kids by undermining the system that lets parents and educators track school performance, instead of improving it.

You’ve probably heard about the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the federal law that requires States to create plans for their accountability systems. ESSA replaced the well intended but poorly executed No Child Left Behind Act. In Illinois, responsibility for the accountability plan falls most heavily on the State Board of Ed and State Superintendent.

We were so alarmed when we saw the latest draft plan that four Stand members spoke up at the Board meeting last week. The Governor voiced similar concerns.

We need your voice to join ours so that Illinois continues to move toward a smarter, informative accountability system, not one that lets schools hide poor performance under the rug. We believe that:

  • Growth matters more than proficiency. We should measure how much our children learn in school, not how much they knew before they started.
  • Students from historically underserved subgroups should count. Overall ratings need to take into account that all students matter. With one of the largest academic achievement gaps in the country, Illinois cannot afford a system that turns a blind eye to this.
  • School rating labels should make sense to parents. Families deserve user-friendly information about how their children’s schools are doing.
  • Getting it right is more important than getting it done fast. ESSA plans are very complicated, and the state’s draft has a long way to go. We aren’t sure what the rush is to submit a flawed plan by April, when all states have until September.

Tell ISBE that we need to improve this plan for all of our students!

As the Illinois State Board of Education gets closer to finalizing regulations implementing the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), Stand for Children Illinois submitted comments offering feedback to strengthen the next draft of the plan. Stand’s suggestions include:

  • More clearly incorporating subgroup scores in school ratings. This should be an integral part of school ratings: the new system should never allow a school to get the highest rating if it is failing any of its student populations.
  • Weighting student growth more than proficiency or any other indicator.
  • Prioritizing the diversity of Illinois teachers, including racial, gender, and linguistic diversity.
  • Expediting the timeline so that we can get a jumpstart on identifying schools more quickly and working to support their students immediately.
  • Improving the supports and interventions process for struggling districts.
  • Supporting summative ratings alongside an easy-to-understand dashboard of information that clearly shows families how their schools are doing overall and in key areas.

Stand and its ESSA Fellows remain committed to continuing to work with ISBE as the ESSA implementation process continues.

Last December, Congress replaced No Child Left Behind (NCLB) with the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The shift gives states significantly more flexibility about how to identify schools that are succeeding and support for schools that are struggling.

Remember how NCLB labelled virtually every school as failing? That’s right, in the last few years, schools had to have 100% of students meeting or exceeding standards, regardless of where students started or how much they learned in that school. The flexibility to design a more meaningful and achievable system could be a great thing for Illinois schools…. But it also means that it is up to parents and community members to be vigilant and speak up for a fair system that provides clear and transparent information to families, appropriate attention to closing achievement gaps, and individualized supports for struggling schools.

The Illinois State Board of Education has been engaging communities about ESSA early and often. They came out with their draft plan and are making revisions in response to stakeholder feedback. (Our feedback letter is here.) Next month, we anticipate a new version coming out with more concrete details, followed by another listening tour.