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Chicago Schools Strike

Few Illinois third-grade students can read at grade level. Even fewer low-income and minority students are at grade level in reading. Research shows this is a warning sign for Illinois students’ academic success and adult earning potential.

Hannah Schmid

Just over one-fourth of all third-grade students in Illinois can read at grade level. For low-income and minority students, reading proficiency is even worse.

A student’s “academic success, as defined by high school graduation, can be predicted with reasonable accuracy by knowing someone’s reading skill at the end of third grade,” according to the National Research Council.

By this measure, the outlook for Illinois third-grade students is grim. Even more troubling is the outlook for Illinois students from low-income and minority families.

What’s at stake isn’t just poor grades on report cards in third grade, but what poor reading proficiency means for students’ futures. As noted in the research to follow, the poor rates of reading proficiency plaguing Illinois threaten to condemn a portion of the state’s future adults to poverty. The price will be paid not just by the children our education system fails but also by society at large.

Third-grade literacy in Illinois

Statewide in 2022, only 27.4% of all students could read at grade level by the end of third grade. A startling 89% of the 734 school districts for which the Illinois State Board of Education recorded proficiency rates among third graders had a higher percentage of third-grade students failing to read at grade level than reading at grade level. There were 12 school districts in which no third-grade students were proficient at reading.

Read more here.

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As the new school year is well underway, a parent’s rights advocacy group is urging Illinois families to know what their options are concerning sex education being taught in some schools.

The vast majority of Illinois school districts are not opting into controversial sexual education curricula, according to Awake Illinois. But the districts with the largest student populations are.

In 2021, Gov. J.B. Pritzker enacted a law aligning the state’s public schools with the National Sex Education Standards, saying the measure will modernize the subject with age-appropriate content for grades K-12.

Among the standards for grades K-2 are defining gender expression, different kinds of families and types of sexual abuse. Grade 3-5 goes into anatomy, gender identity and sexual orientation. Grades 6-8 will learn about different types of sex, different types of sexual exploitation and trafficking. Grade 9-10 will learn about the history of “reproductive justice.” Grades 11-12 will learn about power and privilege within sexual relationships.

“Modernizing our sex education standards will help keep our children safe and ensure important lessons like consent and internet safety are taught in classrooms,” Pritzker said in a statement announcing his signature.

The law was praised by sex education advocates.

“As a sex educator who has personally been targeted by misinformed critics for providing those necessary tools, I understand the urgent need to expand access to sex education that is medically accurate, LGBTQ+ affirming, culturally inclusive, and age-appropriate,” Justine Ang Fonte, an intersectional sex educator, said in 2021.

Opponents said the law goes too far.

Awake Illinois found through the Freedom of Information Act that of 758 school districts surveyed by the Illinois State Board of Education, 206 have opted in during the last school year. Awake Illinois founder Shannon Adcock said parent advocacy is working.

Read more here.

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“At the Sept. 19 Board meeting, the Board heard a presentation about implementing full-day kindergarten in Barrington 220. Full-day kindergarten would extend core instruction (math, science, literacy, etc.) throughout the school day, and allow teachers time to encompass the whole child in exploration and personalized learning, as well as social-emotional development.

Currently, Barrington 220 offers a half-day option, however, the majority of students are enrolled in a fee-based Kindergarten Enrichment Program that runs a full day. One might assume that since the district currently accommodates the full-day Kindergarten Enrichment Program, it could easily accommodate full-day kindergarten. However, there are many factors to consider prior to implementing full-day kindergarten. For instance, over the past decade, there has been an enrollment increase each year of 40 to 60 students between kindergarten and first grade. Anecdotal evidence is that many of these students are attending private full-day programs, which leads to the assumption that a full-day program in the district will result in an increase in kindergarten enrollment. This would require an increase in staffing, as well as classroom space.

The district is currently reviewing options to renovate two or three classrooms at BHS to house a kindergarten lab program, or build classroom additions at elementary schools.

A final recommendation will be presented to the Board in October. Click here to listen to the Board presentation.”

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220 Admin

The District 220 Board of Education meets this evening at 7:00 PM at the District Administration Center, 515 W. Main Street. Topics on their agenda include:

  • Second Reading of Board Policy
  • Consideration to Approve 2023-24 Budget
  • Consideration to approve settlement in pending litigation filed against the District and various District employees in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois relating to a 2017 incident.
  • Safety and Security Update
  • Full-Day Kindergarten Update

A copy of the agenda can be viewed here. The meeting will be live-streamed on the district YouTube channel.

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How Illinois public school measures fail to add up

Contradictory metrics statewide point to poor accountability and grade promotion standards in Illinois. Low-income parents seeking alternatives are hamstrung as lawmakers weigh ending Illinois’ only school choice program.

In 2021, just 33% of Illinois’ 11th grade students could read at grade level. Only 29% could perform math proficiently.

One school year later in spring 2022, 87.3% of that cohort of students graduated. Illinois also celebrated its highest graduation rate in a decade.

Something is wrong here.

Illinois public schools continue to receive more funding despite producing poorer academic proficiency among its students. That as poor school accountability allows record graduation rates despite dismal proficiency rates.

Illinois parents frustrated by the academic failures of public schools deserve options. But Illinois’ only school choice program, which allows low-income families the choice to send their children to private schools on donor-funded scholarships, is set to end at the end of 2023, unless state lawmakers move to save it during their fall veto session.

Contradicting metrics for Illinois’ class of 2022

The four-year graduation rate in Illinois hit a decade high in 2022 at 87.3%. That doesn’t mean student performance was at a decade high.

The final state test administered to the graduating class of 2022 was the SAT in spring 2021 during their 11th-grade academic year. On that exam, only 33% could read at grade level and 29% could perform math proficiently.

The first year Illinois implemented the SAT to measure 11th-grade student proficiency was in 2017 when almost 40% of students scored at proficiency in reading and over 36% in math. Proficiency among high school juniors has declined each year since then, in 2022 resulting in the lowest percentage of students proficient since the SAT became the standard.

Record-low proficiency. Record-high graduations.

Adding to poor proficiency measures, many students in the class of 2022 missed 10% or more of their school days during their senior year. Nearly 44% of the graduating class of 2022 were labeled chronically absent during the 2021-2022 school year.

Read more here.

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A pile of challenged books appear at the Utah Pride Center in Salt Lake City on Dec. 16, 2021. Attempted book bannings and restrictions at school and public libraries continue to surge, according to a new report from the American Library Association. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

Officials from Illinois’ major political parties are making clear one issue they’ll be taking sides on heading into the 2024 election cycle.

Illinois still has a primary to get through in March. But, heading into November next year, things are expected to heat up. One issue Illinois Secretary of State Alexi Giannoulias put in the national spotlight during testimony to a U.S. Senate committee this week was that of access to controversial books.

“Tragically, our libraries have become the thunder domes of controversy and strife across our nation, the likes of which we’ve never seen before,” Giannoulias said.

The Democratic statewide official promoted the Illinois measure he spearheaded to withhold taxpayer-funded grants to public and school libraries that he said “ban books.”

“This right to read legislation will help remove the pressure that librarians have tragically had to endure over the last couple of years,” he said.


Illinois Secretary of State Alexi Giannoulias during a U.S. Senate committee hearing

Giannoulias was read obscene materials* some say should be allowed in school, which he acknowledged was offensive.

Illinois GOP Chairman Don Tracy said he was baffled by the Democrat’s position.

Read more here.

*Senator John Kennedy from Louisiana did not hold back during today’s Senate Judiciary Committee in which there was a hearing on so-called ‘book bans.’

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A report issued by the National Opportunity Project (NOP) has revealed that public school districts across America have been creating ideological qualification standards to hire teachers, as well as diversity quotas in order to ensure the perfect identitarian and ideological makeup in their classrooms.

Last month, NOP released a report which detailed a survey of 69 different school districts in which NOP requested documents related to job postings, qualifications, hiring documents, screening tools, and interview questions.

NOP learned from the documents they received that school districts were conducting ideological and identity screening of teacher applicants.

These screenings include loaded application questions, such as one from Edina Public Schools in Minnesota asking “describe a time when you experienced or witnessed an inequity. What steps did you take in response to the situation?” Another question from Denver Public Schools asked “do you think the classroom is an appropriate place to discuss race? Culture? If so, what do those discussions look like?”

Other methods of screening included parameters like those from Chicago’s Oak Park 97 district, which recommends considering “whether a candidate demonstrates interests and skills that reflect the district’s equity policy” and from Spokane Public Schools in Washington, which considers “cultural competency” of candidates as part of their hiring process. Written response prompts have also been used, such as one which requested the candidate to draft a response to a parent upset over a Critical Race Theory-influenced curriculum, while the response rubric dictated “‘assure there is at least one person of color and one woman or gender-fluid person’ involved in scoring the response.’”

Along with ideological screening, school districts were found to have implemented diversity objectives as part of the hiring process. Oak Park-River Forest High School in Illinois declared “we seek faculty and staff who reflect the demographic of our student population,” while the School District of Clayton in Missouri stated that they “use a racial equity framework to design and implement processes for recruiting, hiring and retaining a diverse workforce.”

Read more here.

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The books being made available to children in public schools and libraries was the topic of a U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Tuesday, with an Illinois law thrust into the spotlight.

Illinois Secretary of State Alexi Giannoulias testified before the committee to explain the legislation. Beginning next year, Illinois will withhold tax dollars from public libraries that limit what types of books are available.

“This legislation is important because both the concept and practice of banning books contradicts the very essence of what our country stands for and what our democracy was founded on,” Giannoulias said.

Republicans have taken issue with the definition of book bans adopted by Pen America, which said books being pulled off the shelves in schools for review constitutes a ban.

“This is not a ban. This is about schools deciding what’s appropriate for school children, and sexually explicit and obscene, pornographic material isn’t appropriate,” U.S. Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, said.

The hearing took a racy turn when U.S. Sen. John Kennedy, R-Louisiana, read passages from a couple books, including a profane paragraph from “Gender Queer,” which has appeared on Pen America’s banned book list.

“No one is advocating for sexually explicit content to be available in an elementary school library or in the children’s section of the library,” said committee chair U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois. “That is a distraction from the real challenge.”

Read more and view the video here.

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Union President Stacy Davis Gates

Chicago Teachers Union President Stacy Davis Gates PHOTO: SCOTT HEINS/GETTY IMAGES

Chicago Teachers Union President Stacy Davis Gates has called school choice racist and made it her mission to kill an Illinois scholarship program for low-income children. So how did Ms. Gates try to explain herself this week after press reports that she has enrolled her son in a private Catholic high school?

“Dear Union Sibling,” began her email to fellow teachers. She said that black students have “limited” options on the city’s south and west sides: “It forced us to send our son, after years of attending a public school, to a private high school so he could live out his dream of being a soccer player while also having a curriculum that can meet his social and emotional needs.”

Ms. Gates’s desire to do what’s best for her child is laudable. What’s not is to do that while denying other families the same choice. The school where her son is enrolled reportedly costs her $16,000 a year. What about those who can’t afford such a school? Illinois’s Invest in Kids program funds about 9,000 scholarships, and last year it had 31,000 applications. But the program is scheduled to sunset, and that’s exactly what the teachers unions have demanded.

“Here is the truth: If you are a Black family living in a Black community, high-quality neighborhood schools have been the dream, not the reality,” Ms. Gates’s email says. There’s no arguing about that. For some schools on the south side, the percentage of students who can read or do math at grade level is in the single digits. But then she insists, as the teachers unions always do, that the answer is spending yet more money to “undo the decades of systemic underinvestment.”

More here.

Related: “The Chicago Way: CTU President reportedly puts her child in private school but opposes choice for others

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Chicago Teachers Strike

Chicago Teachers Union President Stacy Davis Gates has been vehemently opposed to school choice, calling it ‘racist.’ But she reportedly put one of her own children in private school. Choice for me, but not for thee?

Chicago Teachers Union President Stacy Davis Gates vehemently opposes school choice, but she reportedly now sends one of her three children to a private high school in Chicago.

She and the CTU have been actively working to kill Illinois’ only school choice program, the Invest in Kids tax credit scholarship program. While Davis Gates apparently can choose an alternative to failing Chicago Public Schools for her child, she is actively working to kill that choice for low-income families: Invest in Kids expires at the end of 2023.

Davis Gates previously stressed to Chicago Magazine the importance of someone in her role sending her kids to public school.

“I can’t advocate on behalf of public education and the children of this city and educators in this city without it taking root in my own household,” Davis Gates said.

She also said, “School choice was actually the choice of racists. It was created to avoid integrating schools with Black children.”

Davis Gates’ child is listed on a private school athletic roster. She follows him on social media. The school’s principal declined comment and Davis Gates did not respond to media requests for comment.

More here.

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