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New Wirepoints report: Poor student achievement, near-zero accountability plagues much of Illinois’ government schools

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Just 7% of Rockford’s black, 16% of Decatur’s white and 11% of Elgin’s Hispanic 3rd-graders can read at grade level. 

CHICAGO – A new report from Wirepoints finds that the state’s policies of social promotion, inflated teacher evaluations and misleading “accountability” designations from the Illinois State Board of Education help to deflect blame from the system's failures, where in many districts a disturbingly low share of students can read or do math at grade level. Just 7% of Rockford’s black, 16% of Decatur’s white, 11% of Elgin’s Hispanic and 10% of Waukegan’s black 3rd-graders met reading proficiency requirements in 2019. 

Despite those failures, about 95% of teachers in those districts were evaluated “excellent or proficient” and many schools were designated “commendable” by the Illinois State Board of Education.

“This state’s poor student outcomes represent an absolute dereliction of duty by those who run Illinois public schools. It’s not about money and it’s not about race. It’s about a system that fails at its most basic function: to prepare Illinois children for their future,” says Ted Dabrowski, President of Wirepoints.


Wirepoints' report provides student outcome and accountability data for all school districts across the state (link below). The analysis focused on 2019 achievement data to avoid the impact the pandemic had on student outcomes in 2020 and 2021.

Below, Wirepoints highlights Decatur School District 61 as a case study for their findings. As in many districts, Decatur students are being pushed through the system with no regard for their college or career readiness:

  • Just 2% of Decatur’s black 3rd-graders met or exceeded reading requirements in 2019. Just 1% met or exceeded math requirements. 
  • Only 16% of white 3rd-graders were reading at grade level in 2019. In contrast, the statewide average for whites was 44 percent.
  • No more than 16% of Decatur students in any single grade could read or do math at grade level.
  • ISBE says 70% of all Decatur 9th-graders were “on track” to graduate despite only 9% being able to do math at grade level.
  • Nearly 75% of Decatur seniors graduate even though only 11% of 11th-graders were proficient in math and only 13% were proficient in reading. 
Despite those dismal student outcomes: 
  • Over 97% of Decatur educators were evaluated as “excellent or proficient” in 2017 by an administrator or trained evaluator. In 2018, 99.7% were rated “excellent or proficient.”
  • ISBE’s “accountability” school designations gave a third of Decatur schools the 2nd-highest rating of “commendable.”
The same story of poor student achievement and near-zero accountability can be seen in cities across the state, including Peoria, Rockford, Elgin, Quincy, Mt. Vernon, Waukegan and Chicago.

Wirepoints’ report also highlights how the lucrative nature of Illinois’ education system stifles reform. Multi-year labor contracts, guaranteed salary hikes, some of the nation’s highest pensions, one of the largest education bureaucracies in the country and the symbiotic relationship between unions and lawmakers means few in the system want to upset the status quo. 

The report includes a 50-state analysis of school district finances that show Illinois’ failures don’t stem from a lack of education funding: 

  • Illinois’ per student spending, at $16,660, is the highest in the Midwest and the nation’s 8th-highest when adjusted for cost of living. The per student total includes local, state and federal funds, per the U.S. Census Bureau.
  • Illinois per student spending on education is up 70 percent since 2007 – the largest increase of any state in the nation.

“Today, Illinoisans are stuck with a $38 billion system that demands little to no accountability from its educators. A system that prioritizes social promotion over literacy. A system that’s more obsessed with outcomes like equity and diversity than merit and competence. A system that compensates itself well and performs self-serving evaluations despite the outcomes. And a system where parents have little to no choice but to send their kids to failing schools,” says Dabrowski.

It's no wonder so many parents are demanding school choice, Wirepoints says in a press release. Nearly 80 percent of Illinois parents and 67 percent of all Illinois adults support Education Savings Accounts, or ESAs, a recent EdChoice survey found.

Read Wirepoints’ full report: https://wirepoints.org/poor-student-achievement-and-near-zero-accountability-an-indictment-of-illinois-public-education-system-wirepoints-special-report/

And to see local districts' student achievement data, check out Wirepoints' summary file of student achievement data for all Illinois school districts.

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