Illinois’ plan to support schools hinges on the IL-Empower system.
The state plans to approve external providers and the prices they can charge schools, but it’s not exactly clear how the state will determine if low-performing schools are choosing interventions that are truly evidence-based. The state’s plan provides very little detail about its needs assessment/equity audit tool, approach for ensuring evidence-based practices, or plan for intervening in schools that do not demonstrate adequate improvement.
In particular, Illinois’ use of IL-Empower also appears problematic for several reasons:
- Schools that use it will need to self-identify areas for improvement even though these schools would seem to be the least likely to have the wherewithal to do so.
- Schools have four years to improve (i.e., a planning year plus three years for implementation), which was a stakeholder recommendation.
- Under IL-Empower, schools and districts (i.e., “exemplary” and “commendable”) are eligible to serve as providers and receive funding to do so. This could be promising, but it raises a host of logistical issues.
Notably, Illinois states that a “lowest performing” school would not be able to remain in the network indefinitely. The state would then work with the school to identify any necessary supports or resources, but the plan does not identify any specific actions that schools would be required to pursue or approaches that have proved to be effective in the past. The state would do well to beef up its approach with its most distressed schools.
Illinois will issue its school improvement funds through a formula.
The state appears to be planning to issue all of its money for school-improvement funds – 7 percent of its Title I funding – through a formula rather than running a competition to identify the most promising district plans. In addition, Illinois should consider using the 3 percent Direct Student Services set-aside to reinforce school-improvement efforts.