Every Student Counts—A New Report on Public Education in Illinois

The state of Illinois has a goal of 60% of Illinoisans with a post-secondary degree or credential by the year 2025. Today, thatnumber is 50%. Advance Illinois just released a new report, Every Student Counts—The State We’re In, that documents where public education stands in Illinois on several key measures related to that goal.

every-student-counts-report-coverThe report looks at important steps along a child’s education path, including:

  • Kindergarten Readiness (currently no data)
  • 4th Grade Reading (currently 35%)
  • 8th Grade Math (currently 32%)
  • College Readiness (currently 38%)
  • Post-Secondary Enrollment (currently 64%)
  • Post-Secondary Completion (currently 28%)
  • Adults with Post-Secondary Degrees/Credentials (currently 50%)

Each of these steps is an indicator of how prepared a student is for the next step up the education ladder. For example, 8th grade math scores correlate with ACT scores, a measure of college readiness, so a student with meeting the 8th grade math standards is on track to do well on the ACT and be ready to go to college or get a post-secondary certification after graduating high school.

The report also documents the poor job Illinois has done as a state in funding education overall as well as the inequitable distribution of the funds the state does provide. This is especially significant because, as the report notes, students from wealthier families do much better on every step listed above than their peers from low-income families.

In 2015, 43% of Illinois school districts had over half of their students living in low-income homes, up from 13% in 2005. Research shows that educating low-income students costs more because they often start school academically behind their more wealthy peers. Yet, as the report notes, Illinois is last in the nation by far in providing funding for low-income students. Ohio, which ranks firsts, spends $1.22 on a low-income student for every $1.00 spent on a non-low-income student. For Illinois, that figure is $0.81 spent on a low-income student for every $1.00 spent on a non-low-income student. This means that poorer students are too often faced with larger class sizes, older textbooks, less access to classes like art and music, and higher student activity fees—all the opposite of what they actually need.

High-quality preschool education can help low-income students come to kindergarten on track for long-term academic success. As recently as 2007, Illinois was a national leader in early childhood education with its Preschool for All initiative. The recession and state budget issues now mean that Illinois now has only 75% of the students in pre-K programs that it had five years ago, with many areas of the state needing to double their pre-K seats to meet the needs of families.

You can check out Advance Illinois’s website summarizing the report and download the full report. The Illinois General Assembly’s fall veto session ends today, and the stopgap spending measure expires before the new session convenes. Contact your legislator today to advocate for a comprehensive, fully-funded budget, and if a budget is not passed, plan now to contact them again when the General Assembly meets in the spring.

Open eBooks Provides Free Books to Children in Need

A critical part of a child’s academic success is learning to read and developing a love of reading. For many children, developing this love is hindered by a lack of access to books in their home. Now, Open eBooks is helping educators, librarians, and program leaders working with children from in-need families get free access to thousands of age-appropriate books through a phone app.

The initiative is a collaboration of literacy, library, publishing, and technology organizations that joined together to create the app (Android and iOS). The app requires someone working with children—teachers, librarians, after-school counselors, early childhood educators—to sign up for the program for free. They then request the number of free codes they need for the children they serve. Students then enter the code in their app to access the Open eBooks library.

The Open eBooks initiative began with the realization of the increasing access that students at all income levels have to technology at school. In addition, research has shown that 85% of families with children ages 6 to 13 living below the poverty level have access to mobile devices. The Open eBooks program has the ability to put far more books in the hands of children than could ever be accomplished with physical books.

Parents cannot sign up directly for Open eBooks, but they can encourage their child’s teacher or their school’s librarian to sign up for the program. The Open eBooks site walks educators through the process of signing up and getting free codes for children. The initiative also provides a flyer that you can share with your school about the program, as well as a flyer the school can send home with children with their access code once they sign up. Help every child develop a love of reading—encourage your school to sign up with Open eBooks.

 

Illinois Releases New School Report Card

The Illinois State Board of Education released its state report card for the 2015-2016 school year yesterday. Illinois PTA has shared how to navigate the report card, and this year’s version offers some new tools and new information. This year’s report card is also mobile-friendly, an important feature since many families in Illinois only have internet access through their mobile provider. Much of the report card is translated into Spanish by clicking the “Español” at the top or bottom of the page, though some parts remain in English, primarily descriptions and embedded text on charts and buttons.

Among those new tools are a series of short videos to help you navigate the report card and use the information available. These videos are all on the main page at IllinoisReportCard.com. New information is being collected are reported this year as well, including teacher attendance and the number of high school students earning college credit through dual credit, Advanced Placement (AP), and International Baccalaureate (IB) courses.

The 2016 Illinois Report Card will serve as a benchmark as school accountability changes under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). ISBE is currently drafting its ESSA Implementation Plan, due in March 2017, which will define how school success is measured. Illinois PTA has covered ESSA and accountability in an earlier One Voice Illinois post.

Despite Illinois’s budget and education funding issues, the report card notes improvements in some areas of student performance, though many indicators remained fairly steady. Those improvements include:

  • An increase in students earning a 21 or higher ACT composite score from 45.6% to 46.4%
  • An increase in students meeting or exceeding PARCC math proficiency standards from 28.2% to 30.5%
  • An increase in statewide student attendance from 94.2% to 94.4%
  • A decrease in the high school dropout rate from 2.3% to 2.0%

Be sure to check out the report card to see how your child, your school, and your district are doing.

First Lady Michelle Obama Launches Campaign to Help Students Go to College

bettermakeroomImproving student success depends on a lot of different variables—poverty, accountability, school climate, teachers, curriculum, and more. One piece of the puzzle that doesn’t get much attention is access to college advising.

The Economic Mobility Project notes that in schools serving predominately low-income students there are more than one thousand students per counselor. Those counselors are responsible for walking each student through high school to graduation and onto college or career, and the lack of access to student counseling is a contributing factor in the gap between students’ goals after high school and their attainment. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 59% of students from the lowest quarter of household income expect to graduate from college, but eight years later, only 14% have done so.

First Lady Michelle Obama, herself a first-generation college graduate, has launched the Better Make Room initiative to help families navigate the path from high school to college. One important part of the Better Make Room initiative is Up Next, a national mobile messaging tool that provides assistance with college searches, applying to college, federal student aid, and student loan repayment. This advising is designed to supplement school counselors and to provide extra support for students who may not have any access to counseling in their schools or communities.

To sign up, students or parents simply text COLLEGE to 44044. Better Make Room takes it from there.

The initiative also provides families with tools and resources to help make informed decisions about college and adulthood, including:

  • Napkin Finance: A financial education and resource site to help students with all of life’s major decisions.
  • Financial Aid Shopping Sheet: A document that students can fill out to break down the costs of going to college.
  • Net Price Calculator Center: A tool that links to each college or university’s online calculator. This calculator lets students enter information about themselves to find out what students like them paid to attend the college after taking grants and scholarship aid (aid that students receive that they do not have to pay back) into consideration.
  • Federal Student Aid (FSA): An information site to help students learn what types of aid are available, how to become eligible for aid, and how to apply and manage loans once they’ve been accepted.
  • College Navigator: A tool to help students locate colleges and universities that meet their needs and career goals, including distance from home, type of college, degrees offered, and more.
  • College Scorecard: A tool covered previously on One Voice Illinois that provides information on college costs, graduation, student debt, and post-college earnings.

Any family trying to help their child go to college will find these tools and resources from Better Make Room useful in navigating what can often be a confusing process.