SOURCE: Illinois Education Association

October 14, 2009 10:10 ET

Embracing Education Innovation Now Will Bring Rewards for Students and All of Illinois

SPRINGFIELD, IL--(Marketwire - October 14, 2009) - A diverse group of education advocates, public officials and civic and labor leaders today unveiled a set of strategic goals for Illinois education policy that will equip students for the 21st century's top jobs and help position Illinois to access a $4.35 billion pool of stimulus money -- the U.S. Department of Education's "Race to the Top" fund.

"The Dialogue Group" urges immediate changes in how Illinois education does business.

Setting aside strongly divergent political and policy concerns, the volunteer group drafted the report in a series of meetings over a two-year period. The report, entitled "Burnham 2.0," proposes changes designed to benefit urban, suburban and rural schools.

The 22 page report calls for education policy to be driven by student outcomes, with the state "articulating clear results and giving local districts the resources and autonomy required to accomplish them."

"Doing the right thing, right now, can level the playing field for the students of today and tomorrow as they compete with students from other states and throughout the world for the best jobs. In addition, committing to innovation based on proven strategies could bring more federal education dollars to Illinois," said current Illinois Math and Science Academy head and former Illinois State Superintendent Glenn W. ("Max") McGee, a founding member of the group.

The report spells out bold reforms incorporating proven strategies to raise student achievement.

--  Standards and Assessments - The report urges "the State Board [of
    Education] to aggressively pursue a complete upgrade of our assessment
    program, using federal funds wherever possible to drive Illinois toward an
    assessment system that measures growth and gives parents, educators, and
    policymakers an accurate picture of student preparedness."
--  Effective Teachers & Leaders - At-risk students need great teachers
    and principals but are the least likely to have them. The report calls for
    "improvements to our evaluation of classroom instruction, and the content
    of our teacher and principal training programs." A stronger growth metric
    would anchor those improvements, "so money spent on professional
    development, mentoring, and induction can be spent much more effectively
    than it is today."
--  Turning Around the Lowest Performing schools - The state should define
    a strategy for helping the lowest-performing schools and use available
    resources as necessary to bring needed improvement. "This will involve more
    clearly defining school success, and developing capacity inside and outside
    the Illinois State Board of Education to tackle the challenge of
    transforming chronically struggling schools."
--  Data Systems - While developing and implementing its data system, the
    Illinois State Board of Education is urged to focus on how instructional
    and operational data can be used by parents, educators, policymakers, and
    others, to begin crafting a culture of data-driven decision-making.

"Burnham 2.0 represents, bold, creative thinking on what should be policymakers' paramount concern -- educating our children," said Cook County Assessor Jim Houlihan. "I have long believed we need to make education a priority -- as the report states -- identifying best practices and making sure they are funded."

The presentation of Burnham 2.0 coincides with the release of recent test scores showing Illinois students falling behind the global competition. These relative drops in performance, and the opportunity for federal stimulus money, make the "situation urgent," argued the Burnham signatories. To end the 2010 legislative session without passing bold reforms could lessen our chances for stimulus dollars.

"The IEA mission calls for us to advocate for excellence and equity in public education. The Burnham Plan addresses both these goals; there can be no equity in education until every school has access to excellence in the form of well-supported teachers and administrators. It is crucial that our state take action at the earliest possible opportunity," said Ken Swanson, President of the Illinois Education Association.

"We stand squarely in support of school improvement measures that foster genuine teacher collaboration. We must have assessments that inform instruction, a sharp focus on what students learn and the revenues necessary to achieve the goals set forth in the Burnham Plan," said Ed Geppert, Jr., President of the Illinois Federation of Teachers.

The group intends that the report serve as a framework for legislation aimed at achieving the Burnham 2.0 goals, with a near-term focus on the criteria for a strong "Race to the Top" application.

"The Burnham Group is rightly calling on Illinois' education system to shift its focus to student outcomes and away from compliance mandates from Springfield," said Robin Steans, executive director of Advance Illinois. "The principles set forth here lay the groundwork for bold, system-wide reforms that are the right thing to do and which are needed to help position the state for federal stimulus funds."

The report was also signed by Bill O'Connor, former State Representative and Dialogue Group founder; Ron Huberman, Chief Executive Officer, Chicago Public Schools; St. Rep. Roger Eddy; Michael Jacoby, Executive Director, IASBO; Elliot Regenstein; James Franczek, Jr.; Miguel DelValle, City Clerk of Chicago; Dr. David Bonnette, Interim Superintendent, Riverside Brookfield High School; Ron Messina, Executive Director, Tax Policy Forum; Dr. Jose Torres, Superintendent District U-46; Peg Agnos, Executive Director, Legislative Education Network of DuPage and Legislative Director, South Cooperative Organization for Public Education; Diane Rutledge, Executive Director, Large Unit District Association; Erika Lindley, Executive Director, ED-RED; and Sylvia Ewing, Interim Executive Director, Illinois Network of Charter Schools.

The Dialogue Group had its first meeting in February 2005. Illinois education stakeholders formed it to examine long-term policy and possible improvements. In May 2007, the group published "The Burnham Plan for a World-Class Education: Reforming School Quality and Accountability in Illinois." That plan resulted in passage of significant reform legislation. Burnham 2.0 is named for Daniel Burnham, whose visionary plans helped transform Chicago into a world-class city.

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