The New Year brings with it a sense of new things to accomplish and new places to engage. I hope you’ll take this time to engage with an important survey from CPS.

The district continues gathering community feedback on how they measure school quality. They need to hear from you today!

This survey is voluntary and responses are all anonymous. Not only that, but it should take you less than 10 minutes to complete. CPS recently extended the deadline to complete the survey, but act fast – the survey closes on Tuesday, January 18.

Parents and community members have important insights to share, so I hope you’ll take a few minutes from your busy day and add your voice to the discussion. Let’s take this opportunity to engage in a meaningful way!

I recently crossed off an item on my to-do list, and I hope you’ll join me by making sure your voice is heard as CPS gathers community feedback on how they measure school quality.

This helps the district know what’s working, find and fix things that aren’t, and be transparent with our Chicago community.

Add your voice by completing this short survey today.

The survey is voluntary, and responses are anonymous. It should take you less than 10 minutes to complete. The survey closes on Thursday, December 23.

After completing the survey, you can enter to win a $50 Amazon gift card!

Parents and community members have important insights to share, so I hope you’ll join me in speaking up as part of this important process.

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.


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.)


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.)


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.)


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


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)


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)


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)


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)


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)


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)


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)


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 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)


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)


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)

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.

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.

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.

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.

Today, the Illinois State Board of Education announced the preliminary statewide results of PARCC, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. The new state assessment measures whether students are learning the math and English Language Arts skills they will need to prepare them for college and career success. 

Preparing students to succeed in college and compete in an increasingly competitive career world is the fundamental responsibility of our public schools. Unfortunately, for years, too many Illinois high school graduates entered college unprepared and were forced to spend precious time and money in college on instruction we should have given them in high school.  PARCC and the higher standards it measures represent a major step forward in ensuring our children receive the education they deserve. Unlike the old ISAT tests it replaced, PARCC asks students to apply their knowledge and demonstrate critical thinking. For the first time, we’re honestly measuring the skills students will need to be college- and career-ready. 

Illinois students will inevitably find higher learning standards more challenging than our old standards that were clearly not preparing them for the future. At the same time, PARCC is an opportunity to accurately identify where students need to improve and help them learn the skills required to reach their full potential.