Today the newspaper announced the release of a “new report grading public education in Illinois…” (Daily Herald, Nov. 20, 2014). The report, titled “The State We’re In: 2014”, was published by Advance Illinois. The report said it looked at 55 metrics and, after comparing the metrics those from the other 49 states, found that Illinois got a grade of “C”. Using their logic, that means Illinois ranked in the middle of all 50 states overall. Not bad really, considering the terrible shape our finances are in (of course none of the metrics included the degree to which states fund schools – isn’t Illinois at the bottom there?).
I always look at reports like these from well-funded education think-tanks with jaundiced eyes. Who is Advance Illinois? What’s their agenda? Where’s the money coming from?
Of Advance Illinois’ 18 board members, one is listed as an “Instructional Support Leader” for Chicago Public Schools – the only K-12 educator on the board. At the end of the report Advance Illinois acknowledges 25 “education experts” for their help – only three appear to be from K-12 public schools. The Executive Director of Advance Illinois is Robin Steans. Look at the list of supporters below. Yep, the Executive Director is the daughter of one of Advance Illinois’ contributors. Is that a conflict of interest?
How about Advance Illinois’ mission? In part it says it will be “an independent, objective voice to promote public education in Illinois…” One of their eight mission statements says, “Students and families should have choices in how to meet their educational needs.” Is it objective to promote charter schools as a solution?
A look at Advance Illinois’ supporters:
- The Boeing Company Charitable Trust
- Brinson Foundation
- CME Group Foundation
- Finnegan Family Foundation
- Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
- Gorter Family Foundation
- Grand Victoria Foundation
- The Joyce Foundation
- The John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
- Robert R. McCormick Foundation
- JPMorgan Chase Foundation
- Morrison Family Foundation
- Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors
- State Farm
- Spencer Foundation
- Steans Family Foundation
Wonder why support for charter schools is part of Advance Illinois’ mission? The Gates Foundation has given them almost $2.5 million since 2008. The Gates Foundation supports charter schools. The Joyce Foundation recently gave Advance Illinois $1.05 million. It also recently gave $700K to support the formation of charter schools in Illinois.
The report said that Illinois’ “C” grade was based on the comparison of 55 metrics. It was only 24. Seven of the 55 were just facts (i.e. number of schools in Illinois). Of the remaining 48 metrics, 24 had no data available for Illinois. So the “C” grade was given with half of the data missing.
I actually like some of the things the report says (i.e. “Illinois is notorious for its inadequate, inequitable method of funding public schools”). But you have to be careful when reading reports like this from private organizations – you don’t know what their agenda is. And with well-heeled supporters, there is always an agenda.