Students in Illinois are not ready for success.
Those are the findings of a new biennial report published Tuesday by Advance Illinois, a nonprofit dedicated to studying public education in the state.
According to the report, too many students are falling behind in too many key areas, which could be a major problem for the future of Illinois.
The report, "The State We're In: A report card on public education in Illinois" is the second status update from the nonpartisan advocacy group. Although its end result is slightly better than in 2010 -- with the group raising K-12 education's grade from a D to a C- -- leaders said the progress is not good enough.
"Unless we do something quite significant and sustain it over time, we're going to be in the same spot 10 years from now, and we just can't afford it," Advance Illinois Executive Director Robin Steans said.
According to the report, only a third of fourth grade students in Illinois are proficient in reading, only a third of eighth grade students are ready for high school course work and less than a third of students will go on to obtain a postsecondary degree. For low income and minority students -- whose numbers are rising in Illinois schools -- the data is even worse.
The outcomes of such poor performance, Steans said, could be catastrophic for the Illinois economy.
The news isn't all bad though, she said.
"For the first time in a long time we have a broad based plan where the pieces all work together," Steans said. "The challenge though is to implement it and stay with it over the long haul."
Parts of that plan include implementing the common core state standards that will measure a wider set of skills for student achievement and growth over time, she said. The report outlines other key elements to success including raising standards for teachers and principals, developing a data system for teachers to track student performance, revising school report cards in 2013 to help families better understand how schools serve students and creating a Center for School Improvement to support chronically low-performing schools.
"The mistake we often make is to think that there's a magic bullet out there, but there's not. That would be so much easier, but the reality is that we've got a systemic problem on our hands," Steans said.
Advance Illinois Board Member and former White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley said he is optimistic that if all parties involved -- parents, students, schools and government -- work together and work quickly, there will be positive progress by the group's next report card in 2014.
"We're trying mightily, but I don't think one could go fast enough," Daley said.
Steans agreed, saying she hopes the group's latest report will get people fired up about fixing the education problems in Illinois.
"We need to move as fast as humanly possible, but as slow as is necessary to make sure it sticks -- that is the balancing act that schools and the state are wrestling with," Steans said.
The full report can be found online at www.advanceillinois.org