The education advocacy group Advance Illinois has issued a "report card" on the state's public schools. It says things are improving -- but not nearly enough.
Some of the findings are scandalous: only one-third of Illinois fourth graders can read proficiently, and for African Americans, that number is just 12%.
Advance pulled those numbers from a federal study known as the National Assessment of Educational Progress.
One of the few bright spots is that Illinois is a national leader in making sure that three and four year olds have access to pre-kindergarten education.
But Robin Steans, Director of Advance Illinois, pointed out state-funded pre-K is serving less than one-third of eligible children.
"While it's terrific to be ahead, you sort of feel like you're the tallest midget, instead of feeling like you're really serving as many children as you need and you want,” Steans said.
The number of dropouts is also addressed in Advance Illinois’ report card. Governor Pat Quinn has suggested raising the dropout age to 18. The Legislature rejected the idea and instead created a commission to study the issue.
Steans said a big fight over the dropout age would be a distraction. She said forcing kids to stay in school won't be enough to help them succeed.
"Whether you raise that level or not, the key is: Are we engaging students? Are we giving them effective instruction? And are we making school a place they want to be?"
Unlike many groups that agitate on behalf of schools, Advance Illinois said the state’s education problems are not primarily due to a lack of funding.
"We don't want to run to the money and the difficulties of looking at additional sources as though that's the solution to this," said Bill Daley, co-chair of Advance Illinois and former US Commerce Secretary.
The report urged Illinois to follow the example of changes made to education in another state: Massachusetts.
Thanks to Illinois Public Radio