Re-visioning Illinois Vision 20/20

By Theresa Kelly Gegen
Theresa Kelly Gegen is editor of the Illinois School Board Journal.

In 2013, amid a school funding crisis and an education environment that was growing increasingly divisive between educators and policymakers, a group of state education organizations began a visioning process that became known as Illinois Vision 20/20, to unite the education community behind a long-range plan to improve public education in Illinois.

Realizing that the way to meet current challenges and create lasting change required cooperation, and led initially by the Illinois Association of School Administrators (IASA), a partnership was formed with IASA, IASB, the Illinois Principals Association (IPA), the Illinois Association of School Business Officials (Illinois ASBO), the Superintendents’ Commission for the Study of Demographics and Diversity (SCSDD), and the Illinois Association of Regional Superintendents of Schools (IARSS) to create a plan to improve education in the state.

In introducing Illinois Vision 20/20, the organization said, “Vision 20/20 asks not just for state action, but also for local action and the support of educators across the state to fulfill the promise of public education.”

New Priorities

Vision 20/20’s original scope of work was developed around four pillars: Highly Effective Educators, 21st-Century Learning, Shared Accountability, and Equitable and Adequate Funding. Having achieved success upon each of these pillars (see below), the founding organization began, in 2018, to review and renew its priorities.

“While the pillars of Vision 20/20 remain unchanged, our work continues to ensure positive outcomes for Illinois school children,” said IASB Executive Director Thomas Bertrand. Vision 20/20 has established new priorities within the same four pillars. These include the following, with the Vision 20/20 motivation for each pillar.

Highly Effective Educators

“The quality of teachers and school leaders is the greatest predictor of student achievement schools can influence. By attracting, developing, and retaining our state’s best educators, we can have a profound impact on student learning.”

Increasing the availability and equitable distribution of high-quality educators is a top priority, not only because of the teacher shortage situation but because research shows the best thing Illinois can do to improve public education is attract and develop highly effective educators. Continuous, high-quality, job-embedded professional development and opportunities for educator collaboration are a necessary part of an effective continuous improvement process.

“The educator shortage looms large as we know that teachers and administrators have the largest in-school impact on student outcomes,” Bertrand said.   “We also know that our neediest districts have been hit the hardest by the shortage. We will continue to support legislation aimed at recruiting and retaining high impact educators. Solutions to the shortage should include more flexibility regarding licensure reciprocity and alternative licensure, as well as support for loan forgiveness for aspiring educators, ‘grow your own’ programs, professional development, and mentoring.”

21st-Century Learning

“For success in life, students need more than knowledge of math and reading. It is time to expand the definition of student learning, commit to the development of the ‘whole child,’ and invest in policies proven to link all schools to 21st-century learning tools.”

Vision 20/20 believes that all Illinois students deserve 21st-century instruction that provides equitable access to modern learning environments, and that allows them to learn and apply knowledge, think creatively, and be well-prepared for a global citizenry. Learning is not limited to the classroom or school day. Illinois’s public education must provide a pathway from high-quality early childhood education to beyond grade 12; preparing students for college and careers, both known and unknown, as well as for global citizenship.

Shared Accountability

“A quality education for all Illinois students cannot be ensured without the collaboration, compromise, and hard work of both educators and legislators. With that in mind, it is necessary to expand educator responsibility in the legislative process, create a shared accountability model, and restructure mandates to allow more local district flexibility.”

Student learning should be the number one priority of the education system. Providing greater flexibility in local decision-making will allow for innovation and a direct impact on student performance. Ultimately, accountability for student learning rests in the local school district. As such, educators’ experiences and voices are essential to crafting effective education policy.

Equitable and Adequate Funding

“All students in Illinois are entitled to a quality education. It is our duty to ensure our students have access to all necessary resources by improving equity in the funding model, appropriating adequate dollars for education, and allowing local school districts the autonomy needed to increase efficiency.”

The General Assembly made great strides toward financial equity with the adoption of an Evidence-Based Funding Model, a Vision 20/20 initiative (enacted as Public Act 100-0465, the Evidence-Based Funding for Student Success Act). Now, it is imperative to fund more than the minimum funding level required by statute to ensure all students have equitable access to high-quality educational programs and safe educational environments. In addition, local school districts must have autonomy and flexibility to match resources most effectively with local needs.

“We will also continue to advocate for full funding of the Evidence-Based Model and for more support for school security and social-emotional supports for our students,” Bertrand said.

ECRA Group, a research and analytics consulting firm that partners with Vision 20/20, has developed a new online dashboard that will update this work in progress, including the four pillars (link below).

Previously

In 2014, the Illinois Vision 20/20 partnership stated, “The uniting purpose shared across zip codes and political party lines in Illinois is the overwhelming belief that public education plays a defining role in ensuring equal opportunity. It is our collective duty to do all we can to guarantee every student, no matter his or her demographic or geographic identity, has equal access to a quality education.”

Here, again with the four pillars, are the notable accomplishments of Vision 20/20, according to the organization.

Highly Effective Educators

Vision 20/20 worked towards the enactment of Public Act 99-58, regarding licensure reciprocity. The Act is designed to streamline the licensure process for teachers and administrators and establish reciprocity with other states in order to increase the pool of qualified candidates for positions in Illinois.

Additionally, by amending the Educator Licensure Article of the School Code, Public Act 100-0596 makes changes to provisions concerning the licensure powers of the State Board of Education and other licensure agencies and activities, with the purpose of improving recruitment of teachers into the profession.

21st-Century Learning

The Postsecondary Workforce Readiness (PWR) Act (Public Act 99-674) was signed into law in 2016 to help link students to college and careers. It takes a student-based and competency-based approach to helping students achieve college and career readiness.

Additionally, Vision 20/20 supported efforts to invest in early childhood education. The FY 2019 funding for the Early Childhood Block Grant is on the right path to support the greatest number of children who may otherwise not have access to high-quality early learning opportunities.

Vision 20/20 also introduced HB 5750 to expand equity in technology access, including funds directed to school district broadband expansion. Although vetoed, Vision 20/20 considers the support of this legislation through the General Assembly a victory and will work to support this legislation again in the future.

Shared Accountability

Public Act 99-193, implementing a Balanced Accountability System, makes changes concerning references to adequate yearly progress based on ISBE’s recognition standards for student performance and school improvement and system of rewards for school districts and schools. The terminology was changed, including removing academic early warning and watch status and related provisions. Instead, the Act requires ISBE to establish a “Multiple Measure Index” and “Annual Measurable Objectives” for each public school to address the school’s overall performance in terms of academic success and equity and sets forth provisions concerning priority and focus districts.

Also, Public Act 100-1135 amends the school code to require that three of the members of the Illinois State Board of Education must represent the educator community. The law sets forth the qualifications for these members and makes other changes with regard to the qualifications of members of the board.

Equitable and Adequate Funding

On August 31, 2017, the Evidence-Based Funding for Student Success Act, or Public Act 100-0465 became law. Five previous grant programs are combined into a single grant program and distributed as evidence-based funding. Those grant programs are General State Aid, Special Education — Personnel, Special Education — Funding for Children Requiring Special Education Services, Special Education — Summer School and English Learner Education. In this new system, districts receive the same receipts from each of those five programs again in FY 2018 as a hold harmless provision. An additional $650 million dollars have been invested in education as a result of this legislation, being directed toward those districts farthest from adequacy.

Additionally, The Districts of Innovation proposal (HB 4902) would allow school districts in Illinois to become Districts of Innovation and encouraged to develop new instructional and administrative practices or alternatives to existing ones with the intention of improving student learning and performance. Although this bill did not get through committee, Vision 20/20 will continue to pursue this initiative.

IASB and Vision 20/20

IASB’s mission statement requires that it build excellence in local school board governance through, among other activities, providing “A platform for a strong collective voice on common interests and concerns.”

Vision 20/20 is one such platform. The work to review and renew Vision 20/20 included representatives from the founding organizations who met in 2018 to review legislative accomplishments and determine areas of focus going forward. Representing IASB and its member school boards at the meeting were President Joanne Osmond (Lake Villa CCSD 41), Vice President Tom Neeley (Morton CUSD 709), division directors Linda Eades (Northwestern CUSD 2), Simon Kampwerth (Peru ESD 124), Denis Ryan (CHSD 230), Barbara Somogyi (Elk Grove CCSD 59), and Mary Stith (Geneva CUSD 304), and Executive Director Bertrand.

Note: Links to the resources in this story can be accessed at blog.iasb.com/p/journal-resources.html.