Monday, July 17, 2006

A Call to All - The state of Illinois public education is poor.

The following article appears on the Illinois Policy Institutes website.

A Call to All

The state of Illinois public education is poor.  Some schools excel, no doubt.  But writ large, the public education system is failing parents, students, and educators.  This does not have to be so - there exist reforms that can immediately improve the education system in Illinois.  But first, Illinois needs reformers.

Far beyond a capital development plan, far beyond decreased class sizes, a paradigm shift in the approach to public education is essential.  Nowhere is this more apparent than in rural Illinois.  The state’s most squalid schools are in urban areas, and on average rural schools outperform urban schools.  Rural students read better, and they perform better in math.  But beyond Cook County and the Metro East areas, the districts struggling most to even graduate high school seniors are overwhelmingly rural in number.

Of rural high school graduates, fewer attend college than their urban counterparts.  And even then, they remain in college for less time.  This pattern, more than any other phenomenon, is destroying the economy of rural Illinois.

While reform has been slow in coming to rural Illinois schools, so has research.  In this matter, however, Illinois is not alone in the dark.  Nationwide, there is a dearth of rural education data.  We know that the status quo is failing rural America, but there are few figures to suggest what can be done.  A report commissioned by the United States Department of Education put it plainly: “there is almost no rural education research that is rigorous enough to guide important decision making with the necessary level of certainty. For all practical purposes, the knowledge base about important rural education issues is nonexistent.”  And so, it is left to reformers to hypothesize as to which measures can best improve the lot of parents and students trapped in a failing school system. 

In this spirit, the Illinois Policy Institute will, in the coming days, weeks, and months, issue a series of policy briefs outlining a number of choice-based reforms that aim to bring immediate, positive change to rural Illinois schools.

However, the reform of rural Illinois schools cannot come through the work of a single organization.  State and federal lawmakers, local governments - especially school districts – must all look beyond the prevailing, convenient wisdom and look closely at innovative approaches that literally ‘re-form’ the delivery of public education. 

To view the rest of the article go to the Illinois Policy Institutes website.

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