For the better part of my time at Stand, a huge focus of mine has been improving the course offerings and opportunities for Illinois high school students in the most equitable way possible. From career and technical education to dual credit classes, I’ve been eating, sleeping, and breathing this stuff for years.

And today I’m proud to announce our latest project: the Dual Credit Advocacy Toolkit. Take a look for yourself!

This toolkit makes it possible for parents, educators, administrators, and community members to advocate for better dual credit opportunities in their school communities. Not only that, but it offers each person an individualized advocacy plan depending on their dual credit goal.

So whether you’re a teacher looking to get certified to teach dual credit at your school or a parent looking to make dual credit classes more affordable in your district, this advocacy toolkit has a plan for you. With just a few clicks and by telling us your goal, the Stand Advocacy Toolkit provides you with the steps and tips to help you achieve your advocacy goal.

This toolkit is the culmination of work put in by so many parents, students, and educators whose collective experience and dedication to equity made this possible. It’s through their work that we compiled these resources in a useful manner. We thank them and the Joyce Foundation for their continued support of our dual credit work and this toolkit.

It’s my hope, and the hope of all of us here at Stand, that the Stand Dual Credit Advocacy Toolkit provides the resources you need to grow your school’s dual credit programming. Working together, I know that we can improve the outlook for Illinois students across the state.

It’s not very often that we get to send happy notes like this so early in the year, but today is one of those days. Thanks to the support from education advocates like you, Illinois took a big step forward in the fight to dismantle systemic racism and move toward education equity.

Gov. JB Pritzker signed into law the Black Caucus education package. We pushed for this moment because of the impact the law will have on Illinois students. The law has a plainly ambitious goal which we support wholeheartedly: reversing centuries of systemic racism in education and significantly bolstering opportunities for Black students.

Let’s send the Governor a big “thank you!” for making this a reality.

This new law moves the needle for Illinois students in important ways. 

Automatic enrollment in advanced courses will help remove implicit bias against minority students, helping open doors that were previously closed for too many students.

Equitable access to coursework will help Illinois students access college in ways they haven’t been able to in the past – no matter where they attend high school, all students should have access to the recommended courses needed for admission into any Illinois public university.

We have work ahead of us as the legislative session continues. Crucial education funding, which the State skipped adding to the budget last year, is desperately needed to keep Illinois on track to fully fund schools. And we must support early learners who struggle with literacy skills.

Let’s take this moment to thank Gov. Pritzker for signing the Black Caucus education bill into law. These changes will reverberate for years to come.

Then, let’s recommit ourselves to the work ahead.

1/12/2021 UPDATE: The bill has now passed both chambers and will head to the Governor for his signature! Amendment 3 made a few additional changes before it passed, most notably removing the changes to the Invest in Kids Act altogether, launching a feasibility study to consider the appropriate agency home for the Workforce Investment Act program (rather than moving it to IDES), and adding a literacy focus and some parameters to the Freedom Schools section.

1/9/2021 UPDATE: Amendment 2 has been filed. The major difference is that some components have been removed: the Equity in Early Childhood Education Act, the anti-racism grants within the Evidence-Based Funding Formula (which the Professional Review Panel will now consider, instead), the provisions to lengthen the school year for learning recovery, and the driver’s license stuff (which I’m guessing found a more appropriate home in a criminal justice bill). These were all good things; they will live to fight another day. We get it that it’s a careful balancing act when deciding what all goes into a huge package like this and, at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what’s in there if it can’t get 60 votes in the House and 30 in the Senate.

There are some additions of other good stuff, most notably an Inclusive American History Commission and some fleshing out about periods of Black History that have to be taught. It adds prioritization for National Board Certified Teachers stipends to rural and diverse candidate cohort facilitators, and shift administration of the Workforce Investment Act from the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity to the Department of Employment Security.

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For months, education champion and rockstar negotiator Sen. Kimberly A. Lightford has brought together education and racial justice advocates to craft a nearly 500-page amendment to advance racial equity in Illinois schools, from birth through college. This week, she filed the legislation, compiling dozens of policy changes with the goal of reversing centuries of systemic racism in education and significantly bolstering opportunities for Black students.

This bill is jam-packed with good policy ideas, many of which Stand for Children supported as individual concepts and which we are now pleased to support as an overall package. The summary below walks through everything that is in there as of today, starting with a few of my favorites and eventually getting to everything. (If things change substantially, I’ll pop back over here with some updates over the next few days as well.)

ACADEMIC ACCELERATION

Based on a Washington state law that tripled the percentage of Black high school students in advanced courses, this policy requires schools to automatically enroll students who meet or exceed standards into the next most rigorous course. Students who are automatically enrolled can choose to opt out if a different course better fits their goals. It does not remove any of the existing pathways for enrollment into advanced courses, but it removes any element of implicit bias and opens doors for more students to eventually access courses that earn them early college credit. (pages 62 – 67. See our factsheet here.)

EQUITABLE COURSEWORK FOR COLLEGE ACCESS

No matter where they go to high school, all students should have access to the recommended courses needed for admission into any public university in Illinois. This provision requires the Illinois Board of Higher Education (IBHE) to report college admission coursework recommendations. Students must have access to these recommended courses. Schools can fulfill the requirement to provide it by offering it in house or partnering with a neighboring district, community college, or other course provider. The bill also adds a requirement that the science courses required for graduation be laboratory sciences, and, with a long implementation period to allow teacher pipeline reforms to work, adds two years of foreign language to the graduation requirements. (pages 42 – 49. See our factsheet here.)

EQUITY IN EARLY EDUCATION ACT

Deleted. But stay tuned for this spring… We’ll be working on this! See our factsheet here.

COMPUTER SCIENCE AND LITERACY

The bill defines computer science and directs ISBE to create computer science standards. It requires high schools to offer computer science to student who want it. The graduation requirements are modified to require one course to include a focus in computer literacy. Schools must provide students with opportunities for developmentally appropriate computer literacy skills beginning in elementary school. (pages 49 – 62)

EVIDENCE-BASED FUNDING

The monumental 2017 overhaul of the school funding formula also included a provision creating a Professional Review Panel (PRP) to monitor the formula throughout implementation. HB 2170 would charge the PRP with reviewing the adult-to-student ratios specified in the cost factors to determine whether it accurately reflects staffing needed to support students in poverty, changes in cost factors to promote racial equity, the impact of investing $350 million each year, an overview of alternative funding structures, and potential efficiencies within the system, appropriate funding levels for re-enrolling students who previously dropped out, and evidence-based practices that reduce academic achievement gaps for Black students. (pages 149 – 151)

LEARNING RECOVERY

HB 2170 charges the P-20 Council with considering long-term and short-term learning recovery strategies, including a plan to address the digital divide; evaluate the impact of school closures and remote learning on student outcomes; establish a system for the collection of data; and ensure more time for students’ academic, social emotional, and mental health needs. (pages 67 – 77)

SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL HEALTH

The Whole Child Task Force is created to establish equitable, inclusive, safe, and supported environment in all schools, taking steps to ensure every child has access to educators and social workers trained in evidence-based interventions and restorative practices. (pages 26 – 34) The Freedom Schools fund would provide grants, subject to appropriation, for enriching programs that affirm Black identity. (pages 77 – 81)

DIVERSE EDUCATOR PIPELINE

Four components address the shortage of teachers generally and Black teachers specifically (pages 179 – 208):

  • It removes the 3.0 GPA requirement to get into alternative licensure programs.
  • The Minority Teacher Initiative scholarship program is amended to increase priority funds for Black males, change the prioritization from first come/first serve to those who received scholarships the previous year and have demonstrated financial need, and create a set-aside for bilingual teachers as the appropriation for the program grows.
  • AIM HIGH is amended to reduce universities’ match requirement from 100%, with institutions with more low-income students kicking in 20% and those with fewer low-income students contributing 60%.
  • Finally, the Transitions in Education Act encourages ISBE, IBE, and ICCB to establish a task force for a Major Panel in Education, which would identify courses that would be accepted upon transfer.
  • The National Board Certified Teacher program would prioritize in awarding stipends to NBCT Candidate Cohort Trainers who work with rural and diverse candidates. (pages 252 – 258)

HIGHER EDUCATION ACCESS

Nearly half of full-time community college students are placed in developmental education courses, which do not earn college credit, upon starting college. For Black students, the number is even higher: 71% are funneled into developmental courses. Only 8% of Black students who are placed in developmental education courses will go on to graduate. The Developmental Education Reform Act creates a multiple measures approach to placement in credit-bearing college courses. Students who successfully complete a high school transitional course, earn a specific GPA, or meet certain thresholds on placement exams or standardized tests would be able to bypass developmental courses. Institutions must publicly post their placement policies, and ICCB and IBHE would consolidate the information into reports disaggregated by demographic data and by developmental course model. (pages 155 – 164)

The Equity in Higher Education Act outlines the General Assembly’s support for the IBHE strategic plan to close equity gaps, increase post-secondary degree attainment, and improve affordability. It encourages IBHE to prepare an array of policy changes needed for implementation of the plan by May 1, 2021. (pages 151 – 155)

EARLY CHILDHOOD

Many components of the bill deal with expansion of early childhood, increasing compensation for early childhood teachers, and improving the quality and equity of programs, including provisions to:

  • Codify the requirement for an annual valid, reliable, and developmentally appropriate kindergarten readiness assessment. ISBE currently uses the Kindergarten Individual Development Survey (KIDS) for this. (pages 1 – 11)
  • Allow children to continue receiving early intervention services after their third birthday until the school year starts and they have access to preschool. (pages 11 – 16)
  • Support the goals of the Commission on Equitable Early Childhood Education and Care Funding, which is working to create a more equitable and efficient system, consolidate programs into a single adequately staffed agency, ensure equitable and adequate funding, redesign payment mechanisms, and consider data collection needs. It would also encourage a timetable for the work with a designated body to implement recommendations. (pages 16 – 20)
  • Amend the Infant/Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation Act to encourage increasing availability of consultations, developing materials for providers and parents about the value of mental health consultations, and increasing funding for training and support. It also remedies a problem with diagnostic coding to remove barriers to developmentally appropriate assessments. (pages 34 – 39)
  • Create the Early Childhood Workforce Act to increase the early childhood teacher pipeline and its diversity. Under the Act, DHS, ISBE, and IBHE would each have a role in providing outreach and access to financial supports to increase the diversity of the pipeline, analysis on scholarship recipients, and barriers for early childhood teachers to complete coursework to earn credentials. (pages 40 – 42)
  • Encourage DHS to re-examine the definition of “at-risk” and the diagnosed medical conditions that typically result in a delay, charge the Early Intervention Training Program to create a plan for outreach, develop a plan for the State to launch early intervention specialized teams, and work in a public-private partnership to establish at least two demonstration sites with hospital neo-natal intensive care units. (pages 216 – 220)

INVEST IN KIDS

The Invest in Kids tax-credit scholarship program currently provides donors tax credits for donating to program, which provides private school scholarships to students in families below 300% of the federal poverty level. HB 2170 would add the ability for scholarships to be used at technical academies for Career and Technical Education programs. (pages 164 – 179)

DATA COLLECTION TO SUPPORT RACIAL JUSTICE

data collection provision, which requires the Governor’s Office and the Department of Innovation and Technology to jointly administer a governance to catalog data supporting major programs, identify similar fields in datasets, improve data quality, collect racial and ethnicity data, develop common process and legal approaches for data sharing, establishing common codes across datasets, and generally catalyzing the process to better interagency data analysis. (pages 20 – 26)

INCLUSIVE HISTORY CURRICULUM

The bill requires ISBE to adopt social science learning standards that are inclusive of all individuals in the country. An Inclusive American History Commission is created to review available resources for use in schools that reflect the diversity of the State, provide guidance on each learning standard on how to ensure instruction and curriculum are not bias to value specific cultures or experiences over others, and provide guidance on professional learning on how to utilize and locate non-dominant cultural narratives and sources. It also amends the Black History study requirement to add the pre-enslavement period and the American civil rights renaissance, and a study of the reasons why Black people came to be enslaved. (pages 208 – 214)

WORKFORCE INVESTMENT ACT ADMINISTRATION

The responsibilities and funding connected to the Workforce Investment Act are transferred from the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity to the Department of Employment Security. (pages 214 – 252)

The Illinois Constitution makes clear a “fundamental goal” of the State is the “educational development of all persons to the limits of their capacities.” It continues that the State “shall provide for an efficient system of high quality public educational institutions and services.”

Those are high-minded ideas, but the truth is that an effective, equity-driven strategy to move Illinois closer to this Constitutional goal exists. It’s on us to ensure it happens.

Working together, we can remove the deep disparities in access to college-level coursework by expanding dual credit opportunities. Dual credit courses give high school students a jump-start on community and four-year college and the chance for significant tuition savings.

Expanding equity in dual credit courses is the focus of Stand’s latest report. We dive deep on dual credit policies, what is working in school districts across Illinois, and what the State can do to improve equity for all students in these important classes.

This report is the culmination of a year of study and discussions by Stand’s 2019-20 Class of Policy Fellows. Working together before the pandemic hit and after, they connected with dual credit leaders up and down Illinois. Many of those stories are profiled in the report, which highlights a number of steps districts can take to improve dual credit opportunities for their students.

The report also spotlights a number of actions that policymakers at the State level can take to improve equity in dual credit. These are achievable, impactful ways for policymakers and advocates to expand equity for all dual credit students across Illinois

We’ll be in touch with ways to stay involved with dual credit. In the meantime, dig into the report. Read the stories and learn how your district can improve dual credit opportunities for all students.

Last week in Springfield, the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) hosted its third meeting for the statewide Support and Accountability Listening Tour. This series of meetings is intended to collect feedback on Illinois’ Every Student Succeeds (ESSA) Action Plan which uses key learning metrics to assess school quality.

You may remember Stand’s video, A Better Recipe, that we created back in 2017. In that video, we talk about the importance of using multiple measures like student performance and academic growth in key subjects, college and career readiness, and access to high-quality courses including the arts to evaluate school quality. Based on these ingredients, schools are then assigned a rating of Exemplary, Commendable, Underperforming, or Lowest-Performing.

A year after launching the new designations, ISBE is traveling the state to hear about what’s working and what can be improved. The Springfield event was well attended and many of the participants echoed Stand’s opinion that the state’s focus on academic growth was critically important for recognizing schools that are improving student learning. Other participants brought up concerns about the state’s Exemplary designation, fearing it’s too closely correlated to schools that are adequately or above adequately funded. Some supported the idea of broadening the Exemplary category to include mentions of schools that showed above average student growth.

You can read Stand’s full comments here, but there is still time if you would like to provide us with additional feedback! You can comment directly to ISBE here, or if you’d prefer you can simply tell us at Stand and we can work your comments and concerns into our ongoing conversations with ISBE.

We’ve been saying for a while now that elected officials need to stop our state’s atrocious Brain Drain problem, and last week, we got a wakeup call that puts the crisis into stark relief.

New data from the Illinois Board of Higher Education show that in 2017, nearly 50% of Illinois public high school graduates enrolled in four-year universities attended out-of-state schools. 50 percent!

I’ve asked you before to stand up and help Stop Illinois Brain Drain, and I’m asking you again today.

There’s legislation currently in the Illinois Senate that would help address an aspect of this problem, and now we need legislators to act. Tell your state Senator to support SB1212, a bill that would expand equitable access to advanced courses for students in every region of the state.

We need leadership to reverse the exodus of students before it gets worse.

Illinois students should have opportunities for success after high school, right here in the Prairie State.

Let’s fight to give them those opportunities.

We’ve told you about the many problems facing Illinois high school students that have led to our state’s chronic brain drain. Today is the day for action, because now we have actual legislation to support that will help solve many of the problems facing our students.

Are you with us? Tell Springfield: it’s time to stop Illinois Brain Drain.

We need to fight to tap the potential of all students. The legislation introduced today works to do just that.

Strengthening our high schools is critical not only for those who go onto college, but also for those who pursue career training or careers after they graduate from high school.

We need policymakers to show their support for Illinois high school students by co-sponsoring these bills. Tell your legislators: it’s time to step up for Illinois students.

We have a perfect moment in time to fix these issues that contributed to the brain drain problem.

These bills are a solid start to helping Illinois students. Springfield needs to support them.

My path to college wasn’t easy. I got expelled from high school and spent my junior and part of my senior year at an alternative school.

When I finally graduated, I had no idea what I wanted to do. So, I took out a federal loan and enrolled in a private two-year college, where I had to take remedial English and math classes just to catch up. Then I withdrew.

I took a semester off and tried again. I enrolled in a public community college where I still had to take remedial courses, but there were resources available to help me get through them and people encouraging me along the way. That support system helped me graduate in three years with my associate’s degree. Now I’m working toward my bachelor’s degree.

It didn’t have to be like this for me. If I’d had a College and Career Coordinator at my high school, and better access to tools and resources to avoid remediation, I could’ve graduated prepared to attend a four-year college or enter the workforce on day one.

Too many Illinois students have stories like mine. But it doesn’t have to be that way. We can write better stories for new generations of Illinois students. Tell your leaders in Springfield to get moving with thoughtful solutions to help high school students succeed.

My path to college wasn’t easy, but I’m making the most of my opportunity now. I know that students like me across Illinois can succeed in the classroom and in their careers if we better prepare them for the future. Together, we can make sure students are ready for college and career.

A thriving Illinois means a thriving workforce. Let’s make it happen, together.

Advocacy and teaching go hand-in-hand for me. My teaching career has taken me around the world, from Morocco to Chicago, but my commitment to education advocacy has remained with me on my global travels.

One thing that has stuck with me during my time in the Stand for Children Illinois Policy Fellowship is the breadth of experience that fellows brought to the program. My colleagues reflected communities and backgrounds from across Illinois, and these perspectives helped guide our exploration into policy challenges facing students throughout the state. Stand for Children connected our cohort with education leaders, including principals, researchers, and policy crafters, and the conversations we engaged in helped push us to approach complex issues critically and constructively. Regardless of where we all were from, the Fellows banded together and worked to produce ideas to drive high school success.

Dovie and Nicole have already highlighted the recommendations from the first two sections of Stand’s “Stop Illinois Brain Drain” report. As a teacher, one of the sections that really stood out to me was the third, which focused on modernizing the approach for supporting students.

This means tackling some big challenges in order for more students to graduate with a plan and a competitive edge. Investing in resources like counselors and student tracking will often face some hurdles, especially when budgets are tight. Ultimately however, it will return greater dividends in the classroom for Illinois students and teachers.

Currently, school counselors and support systems for students vary greatly by district. If Illinois could improve those support structures and give school counselors the tools they need to effectively do their jobs, it would have a major impact on students and their post-graduation successes.

Before I go much further, it’s worth noting that Illinois recommends a counselor-to-high school student ratio of 1:250, and directs counselors to spend at least 80% of their time on student services. Those are not the most inspiring guidelines to begin with, but the real numbers are more disheartening. On the ground, the counselor-to-student ratio in Illinois high schools is 1:664! This is the sixth-worst in the nation. Perhaps even more startling, 21% of Illinois high schools have no counselors at all, meaning that 850,000 Illinois students don’t have even one counselor at their school.

Looking past the abysmal staffing numbers, we found another problem. Counselors can often end up with a wide range of roles and responsibilities, getting pulled into other decidedly non-counseling jobs, like lunchroom duty and substitute teaching.

This sort of setup flies in the face of research that affirms the value of investing in counselors: studies show that high-poverty schools that meet the recommended ratio of counselors-to-students have higher attendance and graduation rates and fewer disciplinary infractions. It also ignores the reality that adding a separate position to support students in their post-secondary planning – a College and Career Coordinator – would provide more bandwidth to counselors to support students. These kinds of positions advance student outcomes immediately, which is essential if we want Illinois public schools to remain an attractive option for new and current residents.

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

  • Let school counselors counsel and increase the level of college and career coordinating support for students. Districts should make sure that school counselors can dedicate their time to supporting students. These duties should not compete with being pulled away to handle lunchroom duty or substitute teach. Creating a dedicated College and Career Coordinator would centralize the responsibilities of proactively engaging industry, creating workplace learning experiences, and staying updated on local labor trends.
  • Create Freshman-on-Track Early Warning Systems in high schools, especially those with low graduation rates. Research strongly shows the value of early intervention in keeping students on track to graduation. Counselors should monitor freshmen attendance and offer support for those at risk of falling off track. Freshmen are three-times more likely to graduate from high school if they meet certain on-track indicators related to attendance and not failing certain classes. If counselors keep freshmen on track, they can help them start high school on a strong footing.
  • Create individualized student learning plans that emphasize pathway completion. Guided by their College and Career Coordinator, students should be encouraged to explore careers in middle school and the early stages of high school. Their junior and senior years should be dedicated to pursuing college credit and more advanced career opportunities.
  • Guide students through post-secondary planning by using student, employment, and post-secondary data. Recently launched data would allow counselors and College and Career Coordinators to provide in-depth, personalized advising based on a student’s college and career aspirations and their history of academic achievement. This powerful tool should be expanded to help school leaders boost data-driven decision-making.
  • Be transparent about whether each Illinois high school has a meaningful college and career ready orientation. The Illinois State Report Card is a rich source for educators like me and the public at large, but it still falls short in telling us how schools are doing in providing students with the academic, technical, and professional skills they need to succeed in college and the workplace. ISBE should add a specific College and Career Readiness Indicator to the Report Card. Fortunately, most of the hard work for creating this indicator has already been done, thanks to the state’s new accountability plan required by the federal Every Student Succeeds Act. It combines several key measures of success for college and career readiness. ISBE should add this indicator to the State Report Card, and it should also list the career and technical education pathways available at each school.

This is a lot of info to digest, but there is a lot more where this summary came from. I encourage you to check out the full Stop Illinois Brain Drain report. And keep your eyes peeled for one more summary like this from another Stand Policy Fellow, to help break down the recommendations of the report’s final section.

It seems obvious to me that the best place to learn about a job is, you know, at that job. I was never hired to a new job and then sent somewhere else to learn about what I would be doing. I jumped in and did the work at the office, getting required training there to help me learn key pieces of the role.

Same goes for Illinois high school students who want to learn more about the high-pay, high-skill jobs of the future. One of the best ways we as a state can prepare them for those jobs is to expose them to high-quality workplace experiences.

Our state is headed in the right direction in many regards to workplace experiences for high school students. But during my time in the Stand Illinois Policy Fellowship, I learned that some of our neighboring states are running laps around Illinois when it comes to prepping students for the jobs of the future.

When the Policy Fellows spoke to experts in the field, we learned that Indiana approaches career and technical education (CTE) is a nimble, market-driven way: it funds CTE programs based on wage and labor market demands. It also allocates funding for CTE classes in high-wage, high-demand industries at a rate of more than three-times the funding for CTE courses in low-wage, low-demand industries.

Our state can also do a better job at helping students “concentrate” on CTE pathways by taking two or more CTE courses in a sequence. Only 5% of Illinois high school students are CTE concentrators, but 18% of students in Michigan and 37% of Iowa students are. We can do better for our students when it comes to exposing them to the careers of tomorrow.

The “Stop Illinois Brain Drain” report proposes a number of policy and practice recommendations to make a quick impact on our state. When it comes to practical workplace experiences, the Policy Fellows landed on two important recommendations:

  • Expand CTE opportunities and align them with industry needs. Districts and local industries should work collaboratively to expand CTE opportunities for students, while also ensuring that those offerings are aligned with the local job market.
  • Introduce students to CTE opportunities while they are in middle school. By doing this, we will give Illinois students more opportunities (and time) to think about career pathways that spark their love of learning. College students often switch majors. High school students may want to try different career pathways. This exposure to CTE while still in middle school gives them a jump start to thinking about what career pathways excite them. Not only that, but business groups, higher education, and local and state government should partner to form industry advisory boards that commit to provide even more career and workplace opportunities to middle school and high school students.

CTE and workplace experiences is a complex issue, but I encourage you to learn more by reading the entire “Stop Illinois Brain Drain” report. These issues cover the second set of recommendations in the report. Remember to keep your eyes peeled for more report summaries like this from other Stand Policy Fellows to help get a better grasp of the report’s recommendations.