At the end of the 2006-2007 school year, educators, administrators and legislators gathered to discuss policies and recommend strategies for the Illinois Schools. The focus of the forum was to discuss educational reforms that have shown the greatest results, and to create specific recommendations for the Illinois Schools.
Policies That Could Work for Illinois Schools
The forum for Illinois Public Schools was partially sponsored by privately funded groups like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Chicago-based Joyce Foundation, and the Chicago Community Trust. The areas identified as holding good potential for the Illinois Schools were: improving educator quality, performance rewards, data-driven improvements, and further support and creation of public charter schools.
According to Ellen Alberding, president of the Joyce Foundation, “More money alone won’t create successful schools. We need to link any new funding with high-impact reforms that work, particularly when it comes to teacher quality, which research shows has the most impact on student achievement.” Support for this position led to the following recommendations for teacher quality in the Illinois Schools. First of all, the group would like to implement a two-year mentoring program for new teachers in the Illinois Schools. Second, they recommend a pilot compensation program to reward excellence in teaching. Support for both practices comes from data showing that 40% of teachers in Illinois Schools leave in the first 5 years, and that in-school support greatly increases the likelihood that they will stay.
Other recommendations were that Illinois Schools create a system to collect data on student performance, and that teachers use data to improve instruction. There is a strong correlation between high performance and data-driven schools. To become a data-driven system, the Illinois Schools would need to look beyond test scores to things like attendance, grades, extra-curricular activities, and discipline rates.
More Charters for Illinois Schools
Finally, the forum recommended increasing the number of, and support for, charters in the Illinois Schools. Many of the Illinois Schools’ charter programs have good track records, and even waiting lists for attendance. However, charter schools are not universally embraced, as their independent accounting has resulted in some issues. There are also some concerns over admission guidelines among second language learners and delayed learners. But the Illinois Schools have had many successes with this system.
Overall, the recommendations the forum made for Illinois Schools are based on results tested over time, and from other districts and states in the country. The big decisions at this point will be where to use and how to spread out the funding from private and state organizations. Some decisions have already been made. For instance, the Gates Foundation is funding 11 new small schools in Chicago as part of that city’s High School Transformation Program. So Illinois Schools have some good prospects, and now some solid recommendations. Parents, teachers and administrators of the Illinois Schools are just waiting to see the results of implementing those actions.