There is a plethora of information in the Illinois State School Report Cards that were released Thursday, and if you're concerned about education and our schools, we encourage you to spend some time examining it.
To help you do so, we've created a new digital tool that should make your review faster, easier and more insightful. The Daily Herald School Checker can be found at http://reportcards.dailyherald.com, and we invite you to use it as a first step in assessing your schools and others.
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The reports provide a treasure chest of information on standardized test scores, class sizes, student demographics and school finances, but it's not just a glimpse at the most recent numbers.
As importantly, it also helps you gauge the progress -- or lack of it -- that our schools are making.
Unfortunately, information about teacher and administrator salaries -- as well as faculty and administrator demographics -- hasn't been released yet and probably won't be ready until at least January.
We are not by nature conspiracy theorists. But you don't have to be JFK assassination investigator Jim Garrison to wryly note the coincidence that at the same time legislators are meeting to try to reach some sort of accord on the emotionally charged public pension reform issue, the state School Report Cards omitted the salary information that traditionally had been part of the data.
Pensions and salaries are not the same things, of course, but there are connections, both real and psychological.
Certainly, any cynical heart might wonder whether those who would want to slow or water down pension reform efforts would prefer that salary levels not be front and center at the same time those efforts are being resolved.
Mary Fergus, spokeswoman for the Illinois State Board of Education, says that's not so. She says the information has been delayed because a new system was implemented this year for gathering data and that the amount of information collected contributed to the delays.
"We're undertaking a lot of different things at once for this report card," Fergus told Daily Herald Political Editor Mike Riopell.
Indeed, the report card this year includes new information on college preparedness, which is an important addition.
And it's important to put this into perspective. After all, the shortfall in School Report Card information isn't nearly the debacle that the federal government's less-than-successful introduction of a health care website has been.
At the same time, the School Report Cards are not a recent phenomenon. They are released every year. We assume a lot of planning goes into them.
And as any educator knows, consequences push performance and expectations become reality.
If we require the state to turn its homework in on time, it will. If we make allowances, it won't.
It is fair for all of us to ask, where is the data on teacher and administrator salaries?