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posted: 1/2/2015 5:01 AM

Editorial: Actions in 2015 could affect suburban schools for years to come

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  • Educators and legislators are actively developing ideas that could have a dramatic impact on the quality of suburban schools.

    Educators and legislators are actively developing ideas that could have a dramatic impact on the quality of suburban schools.
    Daily Herald File Photo

The Daily Herald Editorial Board

We've talked a lot in the past week about the importance of paying attention to government activities next year and, in particular, voting in the spring local elections. But the tasks of democracy facing suburban residents in 2015 extend well beyond the reaches of the municipal building or even the state legislature.

It's imperative when thinking about issues affecting the suburbs in 2015 to remember local schools.

High-quality education has always been a hallmark of the suburbs. While the quality of our schools is not necessarily under an imminent threat, there is much on the horizon that will determine their direction in the future.

Although far from purely suburban, a coalition of Illinois school administration and school board associations had that horizon in mind in a report issued in November entitled "Vision 20/20 -- Fulfilling the Promise of Public Education."

The report outlines four areas on which it thinks policymakers, local and statewide, should concentrate -- highly effective educators, 21st Century learning, shared accountability and equitable and adequate funding.

Like most things in the Illinois education debate, these broad topic headings are generally self-explanatory, broadly appealing and detail-challenged. The Vision 20/20 group makes a valiant stab at offering some detailed recommendations -- as in calling for such things as changes in licensing and mentoring that could deepen the pool of the best teachers, high-speed Internet connectivity for all schools, consistent educational standards, adjustments to unfunded state mandates and cooperative arrangements among school districts to better manage funds -- but the unspoken conclusion that lurks on the edges of its message is that more everyday people need to be thinking about these things.

The same could also be said for another late-2014 report on education -- this one by the nonpartisan foundation Advance Illinois -- which provides a somewhat encouraging assessment of progress made to improve education in Illinois during the past two years.

Reports like these are valuable guideposts for shaping local education, and they bear reflection. Average citizens, we know, are not likely to turn to them for a little light bedtime reading, but if you wish to know where your schools are headed -- and if you want to closely examine the candidates you'll be selecting for school board this spring -- it's good to have a basic awareness of the key points they address.

All of which, by the way, have a major stake in imminent discussions in the legislature about the most fundamental educational issue -- funding. Wisely, sponsors of a plan overhauling the state funding formula took a breather last fall and opted to spend more time studying an ill-conceived proposal to bolster the finances of low-funded schools in the city and downstate by siphoning even more away from suburban districts.

But those discussions are sure to revive in the next legislative session and all people concerned about the quality of life that good schools promote need to stay in touch with local leaders and their state legislators. It's important that, in the parlance of the Vision 20/20 group, the notion of adequacy is not lost in the drive for "equitable and adequate funding."

So, 2015 offers the prospect of issues in education that will fundamentally change how children are taught in Illinois. Efforts are under way that aim to assure that Illinois schoolchildren learn the skills they need to know in a 21st Century economy, and it's incumbent on all of us to help shape those activities to create the maximum benefit for kids.

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