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By Jean Lotus
Last month educators and administrators from across the state unveiled Illinois Vision 20/20, a public school manifesto designed to reshape the future of Illinois public education. Forest Park District 91 Superintendent Lou Cavallo is one of the architects of the report. Cavallo traveled to Springfield for a year and a half to craft a policy document to "fulfill the promise of public education in Illinois."
Dr. Nettie Collins-Hart, superintendet of Proviso Township High School District 209 also took part in the advisory process for the report.
The report was created as a push-back against ever-changing state legislation that mandates "top-down rules and regulations in education," Cavallo said. The idea, he adds, was to draw on expertise of educators and school finance officers, and to present tools for legislators that "gave educators a voice."
"Instead of complaining about new rules we don't like, we said let's create a proactive document that shows how we think problems in education can be addressed," Cavallo has said.
The report tries to combat narratives that have led to such top-down educational laws passed in Illinois. The first myth, the report charges, is that Illinois public schools are failing.
Schools, according to the report, outperform national averages, despite being ranked last in state education funding, and poverty affecting one in four students, as well as "unfunded mandates" like tech upgrades for new tests. Illinois public schoolchildren perform better than the national average on college/career readiness tests, the report asserts.
The report also focuses on inequities in education opportunities for minority students, students with disabilities and English language learners. Finally, the report charges that education is inadequately funded in Illinois.
Cavallo said Chicago-area and downstate districts have been "pitted against each other" in state legislation, but the truth is, they have more in common than their differences.
"We are putting together a plane to see what would it take to work for all. It was a lot of hard work and robust discussion."
The group got input from two superintendents in all 21 state regions, as well as surveying another 600 superintendents. The group also included school board members, diversity experts and principals. More than 3,000 stakeholders were asked to contribute.
Cavallo said technology updating is a common worry of districts. But some districts near Chicago, he said, wonder how they'll have adequate bandwidth for computerized assessments, while other rural districts are "just getting wired."
But Cavallo maintains that political groups and education privatization companies were behind many politicians.
"Some legislators don't even know they're being manipulated by groups saying we've got to fix failing schools."
The report calls for "shared accountability," Cavallo stressed.
"Local control is important and it has been in Illinois for a long time," he said. "We're asking to have a seat at the table; seek our input before drafting the bill, make rules that make sense."
Cavallo said Senate Bill 16, which is currently stalled in the state legislature, is an example of legislation meant to address a problem: financial inequities between districts. Cavallo said the bill put a spotlight on the fact that school districts have unequal funding, but that it will ultimately fail
"It's going to die and it should die. It made districts into winners and losers, and some of the losers can't afford to lose," he said. "There were flaws in the legislation, and districts that are struggling certainly shouldn't be giving up funds."
Vision 20/20 was unveiled with much fanfare in November at the Illinois Assn. of State School Boards "Triple I" conference in Chicago, an national conference for school board members and school finance professionals.
Local politicians are interested in the Vision 20/20 report.
It was presented to a legislative breakfast at the West 40 Intermediate Service Center in Hillside last week.
"There are legislators who care about education and care about kids," Cavallo said. "They've gotten into that business because they know education is important and want to make it better."
This article has been updated to include the fact that PTHS D 209 Superintendent Dr. Nettie Collins-Hart also participated in the Illinois Vision 20/20 Committee.