High, Comparable Standards Are the Right Choice for Illinois


To hear Katy Dolan Baumer tell it, Illinois “needs to follow the lead of other states” by replacing its education standards, which are built on Common Core State Standards.

Baumer, a candidate for a seat in the state House of Representatives, contends that Illinois’ standards “eliminate project-based teaching,” which she attributes to federal overreach, the West Cook News reports. Government “needs to step out of education and let the states handle it the way it was originally set up.”

Contrary to Baumer’s position, however, high comparable education standards do not limit creativity or restrict teachers’ ability to tailor instruction to their kids’ needs. In fact, standards do not decide what teachers teach or how they teach it. They set high learning goals for what students should reasonably know and be able to achieve at each grade level. How educators help students reach those targets is left up to them and local school boards.

High, consistent standards are “not a federal takeover of our schools, nor [do they] force teachers into a rigid model for classroom instruction,” 21 State Teachers of the Year wrote previously. “Teachers have greater flexibility to design their classroom lessons – and can, for the first time, take advantage of the best practices from great teachers in other states.”

We agree states and school districts should have full control over their learning goals and accountability systems – and they do. States, like Illinois, have taken full ownership of their standards and continue to tailor and build on them to meet students’ needs. The Every Student Succeeds Act, which was passed with broad bipartisan support last December and permanently replaces No Child Left Behind, ensures states and districts are in the driver’s seat.

Illinois, like most states, is now beginning to see the fruits of its commitment to high standards. This year, the state administered assessments aligned to its higher learning goals. The results indicate that students made improvements in math, with the biggest gains coming among early-grade students who have spent most of their educational careers learning to higher standards. The scores also indicate there is a lot of room for improvements – which should reinforce policymakers’ commitment to raising the bar.

The outcome in Oklahoma – the only state to revert back to old, inferior standards – should serve as a cautionary lesson for Illinois policymakers. That decision created a great deal of uncertainty and disruption for schools, and ultimately produced a set of learning goals that will put students at a disadvantage.

By keeping the bar high for students, Illinois leaders will be doing right by students and parents – who strongly favor high, comparable education standards, no matter what labels are attached. As Jim Cowen explained recently: “The evidence speaks for itself: Policymakers should continue to raise the bar for students to be certain that, when they leave high school, they are prepared for college, the workforce, or any other path they choose.”