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For immediate release
February 4, 2004

Schiller: “Our schools are not failing”

State Superintendent presents accurate picture of schools and plan to support continued success

(SPRINGFIELD) – Illinois schools are not failing, State Superintendent Robert Schiller told members of the Senate Education Committee Wednesday.

Schiller presented to the Committee the Illinois State Board of Education’s 2003 Condition of Education report and its long-term plan to support continued achievement.

“The fact of the matter is, not all of our schools are failing – many are excelling.” Schiller said. “The Board’s plan will help all of our schools reach their goals.”

Schiller highlighted some of the successes of Illinois public schools, as outlined in the report.

  • Illinois graduating seniors who took the SAT scored 76 points higher in verbal skills and 77 points higher in math skills than the national average.
  • State assessments illustrate continued improvement in math.
  • Hispanic student achievement in state tests is increasing in reading, mathematics and science faster than any other student group.
  • Illinois saw its lowest dropout rate in the last five years at 4.9 percent in 2003.
  • The graduation rate is up at 86%.
  • More than 3,800 students who were expelled or dropped out came back to attend Regional Safe Schools in 2003.

Schiller also discussed the changing population in Illinois schools, including how the percentage of Hispanic students continues to increase; the number of white students continues to decrease and the number of our low income students is on the rise – accounting for nearly 38 percent of our student population.

While the State Board is proud of the strides that our schools have been making, it is equally concerned with the challenges that lay ahead, Schiller said.

The plan proposes implementation or expansion of the following programs over the next decade that would truly improve performance in the classroom:

  • Early Childhood education for at risk students.
  • Universal Early Childhood Education for all three and four year-olds to assure they can read.
  • Expand kindergarten by a month for at risk students. The initiative would be carried on through first grade as well.
  • Offer an extra month of service in the middle grades for students performing below math and reading standards.
  • Reading Comprehension Initiative for grade 5 -8.
  • Upper middle grades Mathematics Initiative including upgrading algebra and geometry requirements.
  • Upper middle grade Science Initiative including upgrading requirements for biology, chemistry and physics.
  • Make a second language a requirement in the upper middle grades.
  • High School – raise the bar for graduation, including tougher requirements. Illinois has the lowest graduation requirements in the country.
  • Better preparation for the Prairie State Achievement Examination.
  • Make the Prairie State Achievement Examination a requirement for a high school diploma.
  • Expand the Standards-Aligned Classroom training.
  • Provide sufficient resources for an effective System of Support.
  • Make after school and extended year (summer school) programs available to all.
  • Expand learning opportunities and quality instructional programs for the increasing numbers of students learning English as a Second Language by increasing the level of funding for this program.
  • Assure adequacy of services for children with disabilities.

The plan further addresses efforts that will streamline government to benefit parents and children, including:

  • Reducing paperwork for teachers and administrators.
  • Supporting our Regional Offices of Education as intermediary agency offices and expanding their capacity.
  • Expanding the use of learning technology in the classroom.
  • Developing a network of community support.
  • Establish an interagency state collaborative to coordinate and leverage the resources of multiple agencies to best address the needs of children and parents.

“The longer we put off these reforms, the longer it will take before we see improvement,” Schiller said. He presented an overview of the FY 2005 recommendation and how the current funding limitations restrict the state’s ability to sponsor programs that will improve achievement.

The recommended FY05 budget for education in Illinois includes a $609 million increase over the current fiscal year; however, the largest portion is distributive aid to school districts. More than $6 billion or 74.6% of the FY05 general funds budget is for General State Aid, General State Aid Hold Harmless and reimbursement for mandates categorical programs.

Schiller said that the ISBE budget recommendation recognized that more than 75 percent of our school districts are operating in deficits, includes the commitment to an annual $250 General State Aid increase and the need to appropriately fund the mandated categoricals.

“We need to do more than keep the lights on,” Schiller said. “This plan recognizes that and proposes programs that will do just that.”

Illinois State Board of Education
100 North First Street
Springfield, IL 62777