socastcmsRssStartBy Cole Lauterbach | Illinois News NetworksocastcmsRssEnd
Illinois has 852 public school districts, and according to a firm that audited the state’s education plans, that’s a good thing.
Except when it isn’t; then it poses a “high risk.”
HCM Strategists, a Washington, D.C.-based public policy group, spent four months auditing Illinois’ public education system and its plan to improve low-performing schools. Liz Ross, director of K-12 state policy at HCM, praised the Illinois State Board of Education’s new measure of rating schools based on student improvement instead of measuring by test scores, graduation rates, and other metrics.
“They have maintained the focus on equity, as it’s very apparent throughout their IL-EMPOWER framework,” she said.
The state’s large number of school districts, the report said creates a lack of oversight issue that is “considered high-risk.”
“Illinois deserves credit for this structure, yet the fact remains that so far there appears to be little state involvement directly with districts, and the responsibilities of the state, district, school, and partners are not articulated,” the report said. “There is concern that without more support from the state, districts will not be able to use their autonomy to maximum effect.”
The report poses the autonomy as a sort of double-edged sword.
“There’s this kind of balance between how much autonomy we give districts and also how do we make sure that they’re choosing the right strategies and implementing them in the right way,” Ross said. “The ability and capacity of the agency to support all of those districts is limited.”
In a response to the audit, ISBE officials said local discretion is what ensures improvement plans authentically address students’ needs in a variety of districts.
“The design of Illinois’ support and accountability system deliberately includes more choice and voice for schools in the improvement process,” spokeswoman Jackie Matthews said. “We are doing with schools, not to schools. The aim is to embed continuous school improvement planning practices into the culture of every school in the state.”
The four-month audit was completed at the end of August, before ISBE released its changes that went into effect this year. The report gives Illinois a number of “incomplete” ratings regarding maintaining oversight, but Ross said that those were addressed in the state’s new metrics.