A Dream Deferred: The Future of African American Education

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CHICAGO URBAN LEAGUE students visiting Fisk University during a 2016 college tour.

A Crusader Exclusive

Part 2 of 3

By Danielle Parker

Nearly 63 years after Brown v. Board of Education, educational equity remains one of the most pressing issues of our time.  The work of eliminating demographic disparities in educational access and achievement requires broad collaboration. We must work together across business, government, nonprofit and philanthropic organizations, in a collective effort.

The Chicago Urban League recently partnered with Advance Illinois and 34 other organizations to present the Legislator Forum 2017: What the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) Means for State Leaders and Communities. Now in its sixth year, the forum brings together legislators, thought leaders, practitioners and others to discuss the main legislation governing K-12 education policy in the United States.

Presenters included Ryan Smith, Executive Director of Education Trust – West; Dr. Tony Smith, State Superintendent of Education; and Cynthia Taylor-Cutler, a 7th grade honor student from East Saint Louis, Illinois – a reminder that we need to give young people a voice in decision-making that affects their futures. Attendees explored how Illinois can create a school accountability system that sets fair, clear and ambitious expectations for all schools and one that ideally supports improved learning experiences that meet the needs of all students, particularly low-income, students of color, students with disabilities and English language learners.

This expansive discussion was held at a critical time given that the Illinois State Board of Education was actively seeking feedback from stakeholders on its plan for ESSA. Additionally, the Senate’s recent decision to throw out regulations that bolstered ESSA’s accountability and public reporting provisions had just taken place. The regulations that were removed, including the addressing of school ratings and the identity of a timeline for the intervention of struggling schools, were essential and clarified the key provisions in the law designed to protect vulnerable students.

From school segregation to the advent of ESSA, the League has always emphasized a need for everyone to have a vested interest in and to make investments in the educational success of our children. Students, parents, teachers and community members must hold our state government accountable for increasing access to high-quality education for all students.

After more than a year of planning, nearly 100 public meetings and three previous drafts, the Illinois State Board of Education unanimously approved an ESSA State Plan for Illinois in mid-March. The plan will be submitted to the U.S. Department of Education in April for review. If accepted, Illinois plans to create a support system for struggling schools called “IL-Empower” where pre-approved vendors will assist in the quest for elevated student achievement.

“IL-Empower” would be a game-changer because 75 percent of each school’s evaluation would be based on academic indicators including test scores and high school graduation rates. The other 25 percent would be based on school quality indicators such as climate, chronic absenteeism, fine arts and the percentage of 9th grade students on track to graduate.

Under the State’s proposed rating system, growth will be weighed twice as much as proficiency. This would truly  be a win for Illinois because it takes into account that students begin at different starting points and allows schools to earn credit for helping students grow year over year.

ESSA is more than an acronym; it’s the foundation upon which we, as keepers of our children’s trust, implement effective practices to ensure a thriving future for our youth, our city and our state. The Chicago Urban League acknowledges the Illinois State Board of Education’s commitment, but knows that the real test is in the implementation of our state’s plan to ensure that all students are prepared for academic excellence and post-secondary success.

The League is committed to working with the Illinois State Board of Education and stakeholders state wide to ensure that equity is achieved for all Illinois students while preparing them for college, work and life.

Danielle S. Parker is the Director of the Center for Student Development for the Chicago Urban League.

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