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Open Letter to the Educational Success Committee from Illinois Policy Fellows

December 14, 2018

Dear Members of the Educational Success Committee:

We are a group of current Illinois classroom teachers and Teach Plus Policy Fellows that reflects the full diversity of Illinois’ school districts: we come from as far north as Round Lake and as far south as Carbondale; from large cities like Chicago and Champaign to small rural districts like Oblong and West Prairie; from district and charter schools; and from diverse backgrounds, as our cohort of 22 teachers reflects the diversity of Illinois’ students: 55% of us are educators of color.

We have identified four key areas where the new administration can act now to improve outcomes for Illinois students: increase funding, diversify the profession, address teacher shortages, and provide supports for students facing trauma.  Here are the priorities we would like to see for the new administration:

Push for funding adequacy
While Illinois has made great strides in reforming its funding formula, too many districts remain far below adequacy. To ensure that students in Illinois have access to an excellent education that prepares them for college and career, we need to:

  • Increase evidence-based funding for schools by at least $450 million for the upcoming legislative session, while also committing to work for even greater funding in coming years. If only the promised $350 million is secured annually, it will take over 19 years to close the $7 billion gap and adequately fund Illinois schools.
  • Ensure that the voices of students, parents, teachers, administrators, and other stakeholders are listened to in individual districts and schools, and trust them to determine how funds can be used to close achievement gaps in their own communities.
  • Collect data about the most effective uses of the new funding provided by the evidence-based model to determine which strategies are most effective in closing achievement gaps.

Ensure that Illinois’ educator workforce is prepared for our diverse students
Illinois’ student population is becoming increasingly diverse -- and our teachers neither reflect nor are prepared for that diversity.  In 2001, 41% of our students were nonwhite, and only 15% of our educators were nonwhite.  In 2018, 52% of our students are nonwhite -- a jump of 11%.  However, only 17% of our educators were nonwhite, a growth of only 2%.1 Substantial research shows the positive effects of students being exposed to a diverse teaching workforce, and on the need for all teachers to be comfortable working with diverse students.2 In order to diversify the workforce and ensure that all teachers are prepared for all students, Illinois needs to:

  • Support the recruitment and retention of teachers of color: 
    • Implement targeted recruiting strategies for educators of color, like recruiting from HBCUs and developing pipelines such as Educators Rising.
    • Improve retention by providing mentoring for new teachers of color, analysis of retention patterns for educators of color by district, and implementation of exit interviews.
    • Create trauma-informed workplaces sensitive to teachers of color.
    • Create district or regional affinity groups for teachers of color.
  • Ensure all teachers develop identity based literacy (i.e. - racial, cultural literacy):
    • Require context and demographic specific professional development for all staff (i.e. culturally responsive teaching).
    • Add course requirements for pre-service and alternate certification teachers on identity based literacy.
    • Require professional development in culturally responsive teaching as part of the hours required to maintain certification through ELIS.

Address Illinois’ Teacher Shortages through Targeted Approaches that Uphold Quality
Illinois’ teacher shortage is growing but is also specific to certain districts and content areas.  Districts with high poverty rates and low funding adequacy, both in city and rural areas, bear the brunt of this shortage.  Special education, STEM, and EL teachers are particularly hard to find.3 The Teach Illinois report provides a useful starting point, yet needs more specificity and funding.  To address this issue in a way that upholds and supports teacher quality, Illinois needs to:

  • Prioritize teacher recruitment and retention initiatives in schools with continually high teacher shortages.  These initiatives could include state-funded scholarships, loan forgiveness, or paid student teaching for teachers who work in these schools.
  • Fund state-based mentor programs, aligned to high quality professional development standards, that allow for flexibility for the variety of contexts in the state (rural, suburban, and urban).
  • Create teacher leadership and career path opportunities outside of administration. This will support retaining excellent educators who may otherwise leave the field.

Ensure that schools are prepared to support students affected by trauma and at greater risk for disciplinary actions
Illinois has made strides in this area through the passage of discipline reform in 2015, and through the adoption of state standards for social and emotional learning (SEL).  However, Illinois districts have failed to adequately support staff who are increasingly working to implement these reforms.  Furthermore, research shows that traumatic childhood experiences can negatively impact students for a lifetime.4 In order to support the behavioral needs of our students, Illinois needs to:

  • Allocate grant funding for schools to train current school staff in trauma-informed practices and hire staff in positions that specialize in supporting the social emotional needs of students so that all students feel safe and valued in school.
  • Create a grant program like last year’s proposed “Safe Schools and Healthy Learning Environment” Act (HB4208) that provides funding to districts struggling with discipline.
  • Embed social-emotional learning standards, trauma-informed practices, and restorative practices across all teacher preparation programs, including alternative certification programs.

We stand ready to collaborate with the Educational Success Committee and the new Pritzker administration to ensure that teacher voices help shape the policies that affect our students -- particularly those who are most at risk.

Thank you,

Jonathan Baymon, Hillside School, SD93
Corinne Biswell, West Prairie High School, CUSD103
Vincent Cefali, Lincoln Middle School, Berwyn North 98
Violeta Cerna-Prado, UIC College Prep, Noble Network, Chicago
Melody Chiang, Edison Middle School, Champaign CUSD 4
Bill Curtin, Carbondale Community High School, CCHSD 165
Andrea DeArmas, Prairie Oak School, Berwyn North 98
Elizabeth Ojeda, Maercker Elementary School, Marcker 60
Kallie Jones, Mary E McDowell Elementary School, CPS 299
Jessica Kwasny, Field Elementary, Park Ridge CCSD 64
Hannah Moiseev, Intrinsic Schools, Chicago
Nicholas Pegarsch, Round Lake High School, RLAS 116
Elissa Rabin, Rauner College Prep, Noble Network, Chicago
Amie Corso Reed, Edward A. Fulton Junior High, O’Fallon 90
Keisha Rembert, Clifford Crone Middle School, IPSD 204
Alex Riggs, Pritzker College Prep, Noble Network, Chicago
Benjamin Rodriguez, Barrington High School, BSD 220
Yadeale Tamru, Sir Miles Davis Magnet Academy, CPS 299
Claire Trainer, Sauganash Elementary School, CPS 299
Dominicca Washington, Percy L. Julian High School, CPS 299
Lucretia Weck, Oblong Elementary, OCUSD 4
Corey Winchester, Evanston Township High School, ETHS 202


1Illinois School Report Card Data Library.  2001-2002 report card data file, accessed at https://www.isbe.net/pages/illinois-state-report-card-data.aspx, and Illinois School Report Card 2017-2018 state snapshot of teacher demographics, accessed at https://www.illinoisreportcard.com/state.aspx?stateid=IL&source=teachers&source2=teacherdemographics
2See, for example, Gershenson, Hart, Lindsay & Papageorge, “The Long-Run Impacts of Same-Race Teachers”, IZA Discussion Paper, 2017.  Accessed at: https://www.iza.org/publications/dp/10630
3Illinois State Board of Education, “2017 Educator Supply and Demand Report,” accessed at: https://www.isbe.net/Documents/ed-supply-demand-2017.pdf
4Felitti, Vincent J et al. “Relationship of Childhood Abuse and Household Dysfunction to Many of the Leading Causes of Death in Adults.” American Journal of Preventive Medicine , Volume 14 , Issue 4 , 245 - 258