Former State Superintendent for Education Glenn "Max" McGee's report on the achievement gap in Illinois schools also emphasized the importance of teachers' expectations and administrative leadership.
Many of the recommendations of former State Superintendent for Education Glenn “Max” McGee's recent report on achievement gaps among Illinois schools echo elements of the federal No Child Left Behind act, which will have broad impact on education in Illinois beginning this fall. McGee recommends that improving the achievement of low-income students must become the state's top priority, which is Title I of the federal legislation. McGee's report is also aligned with No Child Left Behind in its emphasis on the importance of developing measures of school performance and holding schools accountable.
Network 21: Quality Schools and Stronger Communities hosted a meeting on June 18, 2002 to hear the first public presentation of McGee's report, Closing Illinois' Achievement Gap: Lessons from the "Golden Spike" High Poverty High Performing Schools. The meeting also included presentations from members of the Illinois State Board of Education and Chicago Metropolis 2020.
Recent passage of the federal No Child Left Behind act made the presentations particularly timely given the consequences for failing schools mandated by the act. In Illinois, 232 schools – 179 of them in Chicago – are presently on the state’s Academic Early Warning List of failing schools.
'Golden Spike' Schools Closing the Achievement Gap
McGee defines the achievement gap as "the difference between the learning, i.e., 'achievement,' of poor students and their peers, between children of color and their peers, and between schools with a high percentage of low income families and their peers." Of the more than 900 high poverty schools in Illinois, less than 60 of them were also high performing, and approximately 400,000 of the 750,000 Illinois public school children from low-income families are being left behind.
Findings from his Closing Illinois' Achievement Gap report suggest that these schools differ in levels of leadership among teachers and administrators, have high levels of staff communication, make use of team-style professional development, institute intensive early literacy programs, have high levels of parent engagement and make more time available for learning (longer school years and longer classroom days). Further, he noted, students value the expectations of their teachers even more than their parents, and therefore teachers who hold low expectations of them have a negative effect on these students. In 'Golden Spike' schools, teachers' expectations for students are high.
The way to improve education in Illinois, McGee said, is to make the academic achievement of minority students a priority. Otherwise, he said, Illinois will continue to have a stratified academic system. His other policy recommendations included: increasing funding for early childhood education, early reading programs and early literacy programs; recasting existing professional development programs so that they include extensive training for all school employees who work with students; reallocating funds that generate inequities; and creating new revenue through a 0.5 percent income tax increase. McGee also recommends expanding school food service, community health access and parent education programs so that children are well nourished, healthy and happy when they are in school.
The implementation of No Child Left Behind will undoubtedly result in major changes for Illinois schools. With the upcoming design and implementation of Illinois No Child Left Behind programs coupled with the appointment of a new state superintendent for education and the election of a new governor, McGee's report and recommendations come at a time in which they can have a major impact. His primary recommendation — that improving the achievement of low-income students must become the state's top priority — is echoed in Title I of the federal legislation. The act also stresses early literacy programs, and McGee recommends increased funding for early literacy programs. The two are also aligned in their views on the importance of developing measures of school performance and holding schools accountable, because as McGee's report has shown, "the achievement gap is not about students who are failing; it is about the schools and the system that has failed students."
To view the executive summary of the report, click here.
To view the full report, click here.
ISBE: A Standards-Based System Aligned with No Child Left Behind
Marilyn McConachie, vice-chair of the Illinois State Board of Education, discussed the three components of the state’s current standards-based system for determining the performance of Illinois schools. Learning standards and testing are now used to assess school performance, along with a system of accountability that is designed to include consequences for under-performing schools and administrators. McConachie also reported that three years into this process ISAT scores have gone up slightly.
Lynne Haeffele Curry, director of planning and performance for the Illinois State Board of Education, declared that with Illinois nearing the end of its five-year contract with its present testing company, the State has an opportunity to revise the specifications of the tests. Two areas with room for improvement, she said, are the timing of student testing and the amount of time it takes for results to be made available to school districts.
Chris Koch, chief education officer of the Illinois State Board of Education, said that among the schools where real change had occurred, there was evidence of “strong leadership” from teachers and administrators. With the passage of No Child Left Behind, assessment and accountability are at the forefront of education reform, and Koch stressed that a standards-based system is critical to both teachers and students in Illinois. The work being done in these areas by the Illinois State Board of Education will be critical to securing federal dollars in pursuit of a high-quality education for all Illinois school children.
For more information on the Illinois State Board of Education, click here.
Chicago Metropolis 2020's Annual Index of Six-County Region Highlights Progress Toward Goals
Sara Slaughter, of Chicago Metropolis 2020, presented her organization's "2002 Metropolis Index" approach. This annual index is designed to outline progress toward 12 goals in the six-county region in six areas, one of which is education. Of particular relevance to Network 21 were tax capacity by municipality, school district operating expenditures per pupil and academic achievement. Tax capacity is defined as the amount of revenue a municipality could raise if it taxed each household at the regional average property and sales tax rates, and is a good measure of a community's ability to pay for public services such as education. Average tax capacity per household for the six-county region in 1998 — the latest year for which there is data — was $747. Sharp inequities exist in our region across municipality, Slaughter said, with numbers varying from $107 in Robbins to $6,954 in Oak Brook.
The Index also found inequities in school district operating expenditures per pupil, with a range from $4,517 to $13,366. This supports Network 21's goal of decreasing the reliance on local property taxes to break the cycle between where a child lives and the quality of the education that child receives. Suburban students are outperforming their Chicago counterparts, the academic achievement portion of the Index shows. Slaughter also noted that poverty has the greatest impact on achievement: there is no significant difference between Chicago Public Schools and their suburban counterparts in achievement when income is equalized.
For more information on the 2002 Metropolis Index, click here.