In the series of stories the Daily Herald published last June under the heading Generations at Risk, 10 years' worth of numbers showed a distinct correlation between low-income students and low test scores throughout Illinois.
The series pointed out that among the greatest obstacles to providing an equally stimulating education for all students, no matter their income level, is opportunity -- or lack of it. Students with means have greater access to learning opportunities outside of school as well as in it -- students without means have less.
So when the 21st Century Learning Center was launched on iTunes University this week, we couldn't help but see it as, well, a great opportunity.
The Learning Center was brought about by Vision 20/20, a consortium of six of the top education associations in Illinois; the Illinois Association of School Administrators, Illinois Principals Association, Illinois Association of School Business Officials, Illinois Association of School Boards, the Superintendents' Commission for the Study of Demographics and Diversity and the Illinois Association of Regional Superintendents of Schools.
This week the focus was on the launch of the Learning Center, hosted by Apple on iTunes U. At its inception, the Learning Center offers lesson plans and resources for high school courses in algebra 1 and 2, geometry, chemistry, biology, physics, English and economics. The material aligns with Illinois standards.
These are resources available to all high school teachers, students and parents in Illinois, both public and private, and even adults pulling together home-school curriculum. There's no fee.
The goal is simple -- "to provide equity across the state," says spokeswoman Rosemaria DiBenedetto.
More is coming. Other high school courses will be added. The group's next major ambition is expanding the Learning Center to include kindergarten through eighth grade.
Essentially, the Learning Center was launched inside of a year, for little cost. Educators from 22 school districts in Illinois volunteered, and aggregated the best material they could find. They vetted their content with curriculum specialists.
Vision 20/20's goal is to improve education in Illinois long-term. By using professionals and staying "kid-focused" it has so far avoided partisan minefields, a wise course.
The Vision 20/20 concept has so far been endorsed by 500 out of about 800 public school districts in Illinois and the state PTA, and it has been supported by Illinois State Superintendent of Education Tony Smith and Illinois Education Secretary Beth Purvis.
"A collaboration of professionals like this is a model for the state and the country about how we can all come together to do the right thing for our students and our families," Purvis said at the launch.
Education, in its purest form, is meant to be the great equalizer. In that spirit, Vision 20/20's Learning Center takes a good step toward breaking down barriers of income for students in the suburbs and throughout Illinois.