Illinois officials have spoken out against standards set out by the federal No Child Left Behind Act after it was determined that 98% of the state's high schools fell well short of meeting them in 2012. Despite applying for a waiver from NCLB, until Illinois' waiver is approved, its schools continue to be bound by the law's provisions — which means even the state's best-performing schools are currently carrying the "failed" classification.
Only 11 of the state's 671 high schools met the Adequate Yearly Progress benchmark as measured by the results of the Prairie State Achievement examinations. Six of the 11 are located in Chicago.
Among those high schools failing to make the federal standard are several renowned for their academic prowess: New Trier, the Lincoln-Way high schools, the Hinsdale schools and Stevenson.
Under No Child Left Behind, all public schools must have 100 percent of tested students meet state standards in reading and math by 2014. In the interim, states must set gradually increasing targets. If even one subgroup of students does not meet a target, the school does not fails to make the federal standard.
Gery Chico, the chairman of the Illinois State Board of Education, called the law "severely deficient" because it forces the state to categorize some outstanding schools as underperforming. He added that classification of the schools under NCLB gives parents the wrong idea about the quality of their local schools. It puts school heads in a difficult position by forcing them to explain why a school that has been serving their kids so well is being labeled a failure.
Only 51 percent of high school students passed their standardized tests, yet 82 percent of elementary students did, Chico said.
"The PSAE scores continue to reflect the discrepancy between elementary education and high school, where standards and tests are more rigorous," he said.
Next year, scores are expected to drop further as new standardized tests will measure the Common Core learning standards being taught in classrooms statewide for the first time this year, he said.
The delay in the waiver approval caps a very difficult year both for Illinois public school system — and for Chicago in particular. After contract negotiations with the Chicago Teachers Union went awry, union leadership called a strike that shut down Chicago schools for nearly two weeks. School closures served to frustrate parents and forced teachers to rush to catch their students up once the schools opened their doors again.
Further adding to the state's woes was a recent report that Illinois Teachers' Retirement System could be in danger of insolvency unless the government ponies up around $3.4 billion to the fund by 2014.
Dick Ingram, charged with overseeing the Illinois' TRS, says that the shortfall is the result of the state shirking its funding responsibility over more than three decades. He says that while the fund can continue to meet its obligations to retired teachers in the short term, its long term health continues to be in grave danger. He added that the only way that the fund's future could be assured would be for the state to start meeting its obligations soon, and in full.