For Immediate Release 
August 20, 2009

State Board Moving Ahead in the Race to the Top

ISBE Begins Shaping Application in Competition for $4.35 Billion in Federal Funds

SPRINGFIELD — The Illinois State Board of Education today gave preliminary approval to staff to move forward with drafting the state’s Race to the Top Application. Board members are instructing staff to begin developing legislation to establish Illinois to be in a better position to compete in the U.S. Department of Education’s (USED) $4.35 billion Race to the Top (RT3) competition.

"We have a solid foundation to be competitive in the Race to the Top competition since the State Board began their larger reform effort nearly two years ago with a review of our learning standards and an emphasis on data," said State Superintendent of Education, Christopher A. Koch. "We know we need to work very hard to improve in some areas, particularly in our work with struggling schools, but Race to the Top is really just accelerating us in the direction the Board has already set."

The $4.35 billion Race to the Top funding is intended to drive educational innovation nationwide and the U.S. Department of Education has clearly signaled that for states to be competitive, reforms must be system-wide, innovative, and ambitious. The RT3 further requires that states demonstrate considerable reform around four areas: 1) internationally benchmarked standards and assessments; 2) data systems to support instruction; 3) great teachers and leaders; and 4) intervention in the lowest-performing schools and districts.

Illinois is well positioned in the standards and assessments area through its ongoing work with the American Diploma Project and the Common Core State Standards Initiative. These initiatives are aimed at driving student achievement and preparing them for success by developing learning standards that are comparable to those of the highest performing countries from around the world.

Additionally, Illinois is currently developing a Longitudinal Data System (LDS) that will collect and maintain high quality individual staff and student data from pre-school through college and careers that is linked with districts across the state. The state received a $9 million federal grant earlier this year, the maximum amount, to develop this system. One of the criteria that will be looked at by USED is the ability to link student performance to teachers and administrators. Lawmakers passed legislation earlier this year that will allow the LDS make those links between student data and teachers and administrators.

In the area of great teachers and leaders Illinois will need to take significant steps and will require new legislation to move forward. Illinois will need to make comprehensive changes to how teachers and principals are evaluated, and must be able to tie teacher and principal evaluations to student growth. The State Board of Education will also be examining the certification process as well as working closely with higher education on the redesign of teacher education programs. Illinois will also need to expand opportunities for alternative certification programs, and focus on ensuring highly effective teachers and principals work in the schools where they are most needed.

In the final RT3 area, improving struggling schools Illinois has made some initial gains by enacting legislation that allows for the increase in charter schools. However, more extensive reform is needed which may include strategies such as public-private partnerships to turnaround underperforming schools, using available state and federal resources to encourage districts to shut-down chronically low-performing schools and replace them with high quality options, or possibly utilizing RT3 funds to encourage districts to reorganize or consolidate.

“It’s important that Illinois move forward now because of the tight timelines involved in what is going to be a major reform movement within our state," said Robin Steans, Executive Director of Advance Illinois."The State Board can certainly set the wheels in motion, but legislators, business, labor groups and other stakeholders must be involved to ensure we have a highly competitive application that will allow us to make fundamental change in our education system."

The RT3 will be awarded in two rounds. Phase I applications must be completed by December of this year and Phase II applications must be completed in late spring of 2010. Illinois intends to prepare a highly competitive application for Phase I of the RT3 competition.