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posted: 11/15/2012 11:02 AM

Editorial: Commitment key to education reform

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The Daily Herald Editorial Board

Two weeks after the release of comprehensive data on the performance of Illinois schoolchildren, a statewide public interest group released its own assessment this week and in the process, decried the thinking that some "silver bullet" can put an end to the state's persistent mediocrity.

That latter fear may be as important as the statistics the group presented.

Advance Illinois, a public interest group focused on improving education in the state, noted that Illinois schools continue to lag in key subject areas and students often don't learn just how far behind they are until it is too late. Significantly, the group -- which gave the state a C-plus in post-secondary performance, a C-minus in K-12 performance and an incomplete on early education -- also discussed the importance of regular measurement, teacher quality, family involvement and income to test outcomes. Meaningful reform, authors of the report said, must address all these factors.

That -- as a state and nation that have regularly bounced from one education reform to another over the past three decades know only too well -- is easier said than done. But there could be reason for hope this time, if the state, its teachers and its families are willing to stick to some specific commitments.

In an interview with the Daily Herald editorial board following the release of the Advance report titled "The State Were In," Robin Steans, Advance's executive director, and Timothy Knowles, Dewey Director of the Urban Education Institute at the University of Chicago, stressed that the impending implementation of Common Core State Standards provides a rare opportunity for the education community in Illinois to adopt a slate of commitments proven successful in other states.

Among them:

• Focus on the rigid Common Core standards and measurement process;

• Provide consistent funding and resources;

• Emphasize meaningful teacher evaluations tied to specific learning objectives; and

• Emphasize appropriate teacher training.

In particular, the group stresses that we have to expand beyond the abysmal 33 percent rates for fourth-grade students who are proficient in reading at the end of the school year or students who complete eighth grade ready for high school. In fact, Knowles acknowledged that, as the results of the more rigorous Common Core results begin to show, test scores alone may be a misleading indicator of how well the schools are preparing children for success in adulthood.

Importantly, the Advance report identifies a variety of activities already scheduled or under way to address these aims. The key is to remain skeptical of that "silver bullet." In fixing Illinois' schools, the hard part isn't finding out what's wrong; it's sticking to an approach even when the silver-bullet salesmen come along. Improvement may start with a willingness to think differently about the metrics that define education success -- and then committing to them.

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