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School fix could be handled in Illinois

Published: Saturday, Oct. 13, 2012 5:00 a.m. CDT

(MCT) — The Illinois State Board of Education is spending about $10 million in federal money to pay a Washington-based nonprofit group (“proven international education reform leader”) to fix what’s wrong with Illinois schools.

Here’s the background. The state board of education announced last week that it awarded a one-year contract to American Institutes for Research, which has offices in Chicago and Naperville, to provide at least one, and probably more, actual “centers” throughout the state to help address “stagnant achievement gaps.”

The American Institutes website lists hundreds of clients that include well-known government agencies, private businesses and public schools. Its board is filled with highly educated people who oversee expert-led programs in several fields. The group does work in a number of states, although the “careers” section shows only a couple of the jobs are open in Illinois.

Here’s the problem: If the state board of education has to hire an outside firm to figure out what’s wrong with the state’s schools, maybe the state board is the entity that needs fixing.

We have thousands of teachers with boots on the ground, and the vast majority of them are well-intentioned, thoughtful and caring people who want to make life better for their students.

We have one of the nation’s best teacher-prep colleges in Illinois State University, and surely those educators and their students could take a swing at determining the state’s education problem and offering solutions.

The state board of education overlooked, or ignored, a grand opportunity to use the problem as a classroom lesson of its own. We have teachers and students in Illinois who can provide insight and guidance; if the state board of education wanted an objective group, it could’ve offered the same opportunity to an out-of-state university with a strong teacher-training college.

Instead, we’re spending taxpayer money — it’s not state money, but it’s still our money — for a well-meaning group to address a problem that is best solved by people who actually spend their day in the classroom and see policy problems as well as solutions up close.

Here’s our educated guess. Little, if any, of the federal money will find its way to a classroom, either through new teachers, more teachers or to programs that provide real-world help to our students. And that’s the real shame.

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This editorial appeared in the Herald & Review, Decatur, Ill., on Oct. 10.

©2012 the Herald & Review (Decatur, Ill.) Distributed by MCT Information Services

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