News from Springfield, silence from D214 on a stealthy and damaging education bill

In the news today, “House, Senate pass first leg of Black Caucus legislation.”  That’s the headline at the State Journal-Register, and it sounds innocuous enough:

The 21-page bill focuses on improving the education of minority students, including creating new programs to support early childhood education, creating a task force to support equitable environments in Illinois schools, revising the state’s standards for high school students, establishing a six-week summer program to help students in poverty, and enhancing programs to keep Black students from leaving the state to go to college.

I’ve listed the full details of the bill’s provisions at the bottom of this article, and many of them are clearly focused on schools in areas of high poverty, such as requirements to remedy elective curriculum deficits, for instance, or “Freedom School” summer school programs.*

But there are two changes which are substantial and concerning.

First, the bill adds new high school graduation requirements, specifically, for students entering 9th grade in 2024:

  • Two years of “writing intensive” courses; i.e., two of the four years of language arts (or some other subject) must focus on writing;
  • Two years of laboratory science rather than just “science”; and

Beginning with students entering 9th grade in 2029, 2 years of foreign language in addition to the year of foreign language, art,  music, or vocational education; and, finally,

Beginning with students entering 9th grade in 2022, “one year of a course that includes intensive instruction in computer literacy, which may be English, social studies, or any other subject and which may be counted toward the fulfillment of other graduation requirements.”  It is not at all clear what this requirement includes, as the connection to others subjects suggests that it is not “computer science”  which is more rigorously defined elsewhere.  The closest the bill’s text comes to a definition of “computer literacy” is in a statement that instruction in computer literacy should begin in elementary school.  Do the bill’s author’s intend merely that an English course include writing a paper using word processing software and researching it using internet search tools?  Or did they intend something more specific?  In any case, the rationale for these requirements is that this will enable any student in Illinois to meet the course requirements at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign flagship — but, it turns out, UIUC does not have any requirement of “computer literacy.”

Now, it’s laudable to study a foreign language, and to be computer literate, whatever that should turn out to mean.  But consider this:  the school district is currently pushing “career pathways,” that is, encouraging students to enroll in courses which prepare them for careers after graduation or a head start on their college studies towards such.  My own sons took classes in engineering, manufacturing, and computer science.  As a result, in order to participate in the fine arts (band), neither of them took foreign language courses during the school day.  Something’s got to give.  There are limits to how many classes a student can take, and at some point, there are choices that have to be made.  The legislature appears on its way to taking away those choices without a peep from anyone.

Second, the bill aggressively pushes AP and Honors classes.  It requires that by November 1, 2022, each school district “shall develop a plan to expand access to its accelerated placement program and to ensure the teaching capacity necessary to meet the increased demand.”  In addition, the State Board of Education is required to adopt procedures to collect data on rates of participation in and success at AP classes, in particular assessing for each school district the split out by demographic group.  And most concerningly, the bill requires that by the 2023 – 2024 school year, each school must default into AP/honors classes any student who “meets or exceeds State standards.”

Again, to “meet State standards” means that a student is performing at grade level.  Honors classes are intended, by their nature, for students able to learn well above grade level.  To push kids into those classes who are manifestly unsuited for them will either result in students who need extensive tutoring to learn the course material/are simply unable to learn the material, or result in courses which become watered down.  And it is even more inappropriate to push kids who perform merely at grade level into AP classes, which are, by their definition, the equivalent of college-level work.  (It is already problematic that, some years back, the state legislature mandated that public universities in the state accept a “3” as a sufficient grade for AP exams, which gives students the unpleasant surprise of arriving at college and discovering that their 3s are worth a small number of “elective” credits and 4s are required for meaningful credits to fulfill course requirements.)  Yes, there are periodic inspirational movies of inspiring teachers whose students ace the AP exams despite seeming academic unpreparedness, but this requires highly skilled teachers and motivated students, and the far more likely consequence of this requirement is a multitude of students who are mismatched.  At District 214, students are already pushed into Honors and AP classes with extra aggressiveness in order to be able to laud themselves for the number of students involved.

That such a bill was pushed through in a single day, is yet another reminder of the ways in which state government is broken.  But did our school board and administration know this was in the works?  Did they speak out?  Or will they simply, when these requirements make their way to our schools, tell us their hands are tied and that there’s nothing they can do?

* I’ve reworded this sentence, to remove a statement that was perceived to suggest blindness to poor families in district 214. To clarify, there are many poor families in our district, there are many students who are behind in learning, and this is strongly correlated, and it’s a real problem which the district sweeps under the rug all too often.  However, the district as a whole is high-income, in terms of the school district’s finances, ranking 18th out of 98 high school districts, with per-student spending of $21,000.  In addition, many of the bill’s provisions are “anti-racist” but the intent is specifically Black children, and there are so few children of this demographic in the district that their academic performance is not even included in the state “report card” data for statistical significance reasons.

 

List of provisions of HB2170.

Requires standardized kindergarten-readiness tool.

Requires that Early Intervention children be eligible to continue receiving services until the beginning of the school year after their 3rd birthday.

Creates a Whole Child Task Force, with the goals of

  • creating a definition of “trauma-responsive” school/district/community;
  • outlining training and resources needed to be trauma-responsive, and recommendations for state’s role in such, including recommendations re: shifting funds “from school resource officers to classroom-based support”;
  • identifying or developing a process to evaluate organizations training in implicit bias, anti-racism, etc.;
  • making recommendations regarding data-collection to be sure all schools/daycares are anti-racist,

Requires certain changes regarding billing/diagnostic codes for pre-kindergarten students with behavioral health issues.

Review of university admission coursework. Every high school must provide access to each course identified as a requirement by a state university.   (p. 45)

New graduation requirements (see above) (p. 47ff).

New AP/honors class requirements (see above) (p. 66ff).

The Illinois P-20 council (an advisory group) to make recommendations on closing the digital divide, evaluating impact of school closures and remote learning on student outcomes disaggregated by demographics, providing additional resources such as tutoring or summer programs, providing more anti-racist resources, considering extended school day/year and more teacher planning time.

Creation of a “Freedom School network” with a 6-week summer program with an “organization with a mission to improve odds for children in poverty that operates Freedom Schools in multiple states.”  p. 81.  Also funding for grants to public schools & non-profits “to facilitate improved educational outcomes for Black students in grades pre-kindergarten through 12 in alignment with the integrity and practices of the Freedom School model.”

Additional components regarding state school funding formula: more consideration in the formula to be given to

  • Schools’ funding needs to add foreign language;
  • Funding needs to “support students living in poverty or who have traumatic background”;
  • Funding needs “to better promote racial equity and eliminate structural racism within schools.”

Some changes to provisions for the Minority Teachers of Illinois scholarship program, including an explicit prioritization of funds, within the portion earmarked for male applicants, specifically for Black male applicants.  Special provisions for recruiting Black male applications to the program.

Mandates that universities in which 49% or more of students received a Pell Grant, must match 20% of the Pell funds with their own money, on a direct grant (non-loan) basis.  With less than 49%, must match 60% of funds.

Requires that “On or before July 1, 2021, the State Board of Education must adopt revised social science learning standards that are inclusive and reflective of all individuals in this country.”

Creation of the Inclusive American History Commission, to advise the State B of E on revising social science standards to be nonbiased.

Addition of requirements in the pre-existing mandate of a “a unit of instruction studying the events of Black History”  the requirement of a study of “the pre-enslavement of Black people from 3,000 BCE to AD 1619” and “and the study of the American civil rights renaissance.”

Requirement of a feasibility study for the consolidation of all workforce development programs.

Expansion of incentives for National Board certified teachers and mentors to include not just rural schools but “diverse” (non-white) teachers.

Illinois capitol dome https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Illinoiscapitoldome.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

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