A daily round-up of education news and views for the Prairie state. To add a recipient please click here
11th June 2021

A daily round-up of education news and views for the Prairie State.

To add a recipient please click

Masks to stay on in Illinois schools
Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced on Thursday that, although Illinois will today move to a full reopening, mask mandates and social distancing will remain a mainstay in the state's schools. He said it is critical that schools and day cares use prevention strategies to the greatest extent possible. “I invite all Illinoisans to feel the hope and joy of this moment while also recognizing that this pandemic is still very present for the world at large – not to mention those here at home who have not been or cannot be vaccinated,” Pritzker said.
ISBE delays vote on more standardized testing
A proposal to require Illinois public schools to give standardized tests three times during the next academic year instead of once - intended to better track students’ progress post-pandemic - has been put on pause to allow time for educators and parents to offer feedback. The Illinois State Board of Education was tentatively scheduled to vote June 16th to issue a request for proposals to design and deliver new interim assessments for elementary students. Dan Montgomery, president of the Illinois Federation of Teachers, has spoken out against the plans, commenting that they are "not the way to best serve our students." “When assessments happen like this, good teaching comes to a halt,” he said yesterday. “Test prep in the classroom would not just happen once a year, in the spring, but throughout the year. We’re saying, ‘Hey, time out.’ Our students and teachers are exhausted.”
Majority of fourth graders now back in classrooms
For the first time since the pandemic began, the majority of 4th graders nationwide have finally made it back to classes in person full time, according to the latest federal data. The National Center for Education Statistics says that by April, nearly all K-8 schools offered at least some in-person instruction, with 56% providing full-time instruction on campus. “Today’s data reaffirms what we’ve been seeing and hearing for months—that we’ve met and exceeded President Biden’s goal of reopening the majority of K-8 schools, and that as a nation we continue to make significant progress in reopening as many schools as possible before the summer,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona in a statement on the data. A separate report from Burbio, covering 1,200 districts, including the 200 largest, found that in general, conservative-leaning states reopened schools faster than liberal-leaning ones. There was strong variation among the latter, however; those in the  Northeast and the Midwest reopened a lot faster than the West Coast, which has the highest concentration of remote learners. White students were the least likely of any racial or ethnic group to be learning virtually; Asian American students were the most likely. 
Biden spending plan aims to narrow financial disparities between schools
The Biden administration's latest budget proposal includes a $20bn program for high-poverty school districts. States would get additional funding if they “address longstanding funding disparities” between rich and poor districts. Zahava Stadler, a former policy director at EdBuild who currently focuses on education funding at the civil rights organization The Education Trust, said the new funding in the Biden plan “wouldn’t just add money where it’s needed; it would also offer an important push for states to change the policies that create inequity in state and local funding.” The administration has not specifically said how the new funding formula, billed as part of the long-established federal Title I program that is meant to support high-poverty schools, would work. Michael Dannenberg, vice president of the nonprofit advocacy group Education Reform Now, suggests that "They should either pump all the new money through the current Education Finance Incentive Grant formula." Failing that, he says, officials should devise "an entirely new formula that is more targeted to the highest-poverty school districts and includes even stronger incentives to create equitable state funding systems."
Waukegan school board approves $13m in summer construction projects
More than half of Waukegan Community Unit School District 60's public school buildings are scheduled for different kinds of construction this summer as part of an ongoing, five-year-old project to make the structures safer and a better educational environment for students. On Tuesday, the Board of Education unanimously approved more than $13.1m in work to be done this summer at 17 of its 24 school buildings. More than $4m will be spent removing asbestos and installing new windows at Glenwood, Oakdale, McCall, Clark and Greenwood elementary schools. Just under $2.8m will go to replacing roofs at Glenwood, McCall and Little Fort elementary schools. The largest contract approved was for just over $5.6 million to Waukegan-based Boller Construction Company for a variety of work at seven buildings, including both the Washington and Brookside campuses of Waukegan High School
New assistant principal announced at Plank Junior High
The Oswego Community Unit School District 308 board has announced that Plank Junior High School is getting a new assistant principal, Kathleen Jones, effective July 1st. Ms Jones most recently taught third grade students at Westchester Intermediate School and began her career as a paraprofessional for the Special Education Summer School program in Orland Park. 
U.S. state legislators move to restrict teaching about racism and bias
Over the last several months, officials nationwide have raced to enact new laws and introduce new policies meant to shape how students discuss race and bias in both the past and the present. Some have focused on restricting the use of critical race theory, a framework that examines how policies and the law perpetuate systemic racism. In other states, lawmakers have tried to restrict specific kinds of antiracism training or the teaching of “divisive” concepts. Chalkbeat has drawn up a map showing which states have introduced efforts to restrict education on racism, bias, the contributions of specific racial or ethnic groups to U.S. history, or related topics; ranging from Texas, where Gov. Greg Abbott is expected to sign a bill banning elements of critical race theory in the classroom, and potentially prohibiting classroom simulations and community service projects, to Michigan, where a bill introduced by senior lawmakers in the stat Senate last month would cut funding to districts that teach critical race theory, the “1619 Project,” or a list of “anti-American and racist theories.”
How unions in America's largest districts are handling school reopenings
The 74 looks at how teacher unions in the United States' four largest school districts have handled school reopenings. Unions in New York and Miami-Dade County reached agreement on reopening last fall, while Chicago’s union didn’t come to terms until March. The Los Angeles union didn’t come to terms until April, and most LA schools won’t reopen until this fall. Some asked for additional staff to address mental health issues and learning loss, while others went further afield, wanting an end to standardized tests. Some demands, however, are universal. Each union wants smaller class sizes, which means more teachers, and more support employees to occupy various new programs.
Chicago Heights woman makes WIU history
Nineteen year-old Esmeralda Portillo has made Western Illinois University history, becoming the youngest woman in the school's history to graduate from the higher education facility. Ms Portillo earned degrees in law enforcement and justice administration (LEJA) during the University's Commencement weekend on May 14th-16th. According to the university, the graduate will begin working toward a master's degree in fall 2021 at Michigan State University.
Record number of students set to attend summer school this year
Millions of children this summer will participate in what's expected to be the largest summer-school program in history, powered by more than $1.2bn in targeted federal post-pandemic assistance from the American Rescue Plan. This year's programs face the task of teaching not just about math, history and English, but also addressing widespread mental health challenges among students, and in some cases, dealing with nutrition issues for children who missed out on weeks or months of school meals. Such demands have seen warn these enrichment programs aren't an instant panacea; among the concerns is that students who previously had trouble focusing on classroom work will have lost some of their coping skills. But experts also said this is a rare opportunity to focus on mental health and the underlying causes of disproportionate discipline, by training teachers to even more closely focus on the whole child. Help support quality local journalism like this. "All of us, even adults, have fallen out of practice in being in the world with each other," said Matthew Soldner, chief evaluation officer for the federal Department of Education. "I think this would be wrong to think of this as a one-and-done sort of thing." Echoing his comments Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said: "We need summer school to be really something different than it has been before. It can't just be about remediation. It has to be about helping kids get their mojo back. We have to think about the entire next year for academic recovery, and we have to think about summer school as a shot in the arm."

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