Are the Illinois public schools that serve many middle-class children performing well? Their parents may think so. But many of these schools are not as good as they think.
Thats according to a new study from the Pacific Research Institute, which analyzed school performance in Illinois, including Peoria County, using several different methodologies and found evidence of widespread underachievement.
The study looked at the 1,156 Illinois public schools where 33 percent or fewer of students are classified as low income. In 140 of these schools, or 12 percent, half or more of students in at least one grade level failed to meet or exceed the proficient level on the 2013 state reading or math test.
At Elmwood High School, just 13 percent of students are classified as low income, yet 50 percent of 11th graders there failed to meet or exceed proficiency on the 2013 state math test. At Limestone Walters Elementary School, only 13 percent of students are classified as low income, yet on the 2013 state reading test, 42 percent of seventh graders were not proficient 21 percentage points below the average performance of schools with the same proportion of low-income students. In all, the schools students scored below the average performance for schools with similar demographics on nine different grade-level math and reading tests.
Statewide, among the 1,156 regular public schools with predominantly non-low-income student populations, 817 more than 70 percent have at least one grade where subject-matter proficiency is below the average performance of peer schools.
Illinois did raise the benchmark for proficiency on its state tests in 2013, but its still easier to do that on Illinois tests than it is on the more rigorous National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP). On Illinois eighth-grade reading exam, 75 percent of non-poor students scored at proficiency. Only 50 percent did on the NAEP reading exam.
For middle-class parents seeking schools that better meet their childrens needs, school choice may be the answer. No less an authority on the challenges facing the middle class than former Harvard law professor and current U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has recommended a universal public-school voucher for middle-class parents.
Illinois policymakers should heed the words of Per Unckel, the late Swedish education minister and architect of his countrys successful voucher system. He said: Kids should never ever have to stay in a school if the school is lousy. The right of the kid is to get a good education. If the public sector cannot offer it, he or she should have the right to go somewhere else.