New Illinois standards target diversity in schools


statement taken from @ISBEnews

Haley Maser, News Editor

To address growing concerns over diversity in the classroom, the Illinois State Board of Education has proposed new standards for educators. Teachers will be trained to maintain ISBE’s culturally responsive teaching and leading standards, which have faced criticism for their potential effect on schools’ curriculum. Locally, these updated policies could affect the Joliet Township High School district.

The new culturally responsive teaching and leading standards were proposed in December 2020 and officially passed on February 2, 2021 to improve minority students’ school experience through educators’ training. According to the Illinois State Board of Education’s website, “More than 52 percent of Illinois students identify as students of color and English Learners make up the fastest growing student population, but Illinois’ teacher workforce remains more than 82 percent white.” The standards aim to promote inclusivity and cultural identity affirmation in classroom environments. 

“The draft standards will assist Illinois educators to plan for meaningful learning for all of our students,” stated Dr. Gibson, the principal of Joliet West High School. “The standards will help educators to understand how [to] teach through Black and Brown voices for a more historically accurate and relevant picture of our history.” According to data from 2019, 50.1% of students identify as Hispanic and 20.6% identify as Black within the JTHS district. 

The standards’ goals do not only focus on racial equality, however. The ISBE also hopes to promote a safe environment for students who identify as members of the LGBTQ community. According to a 2019 Trevor Project survey cited by the school board, 71 percent of LGBTQ youth surveyed reported experiencing discrimination due to their sexual orientation or gender identity, and 39 percent considered attempting suicide in the twelve months prior to the survey. In a statement, the ISBE explained, “Culturally responsive practices can be life-saving for Illinois’ LGBTQ+ youth.”

While they aim to promote inclusivity in the classroom, the new policies have garnered criticism for their anticipated effects on schools’ curriculum.  “These new standards would require teachers to incorporate highly sensitive and politically-charged topics into the classroom curriculum elevating social activism over the mastery of basic skills,”  commented Steven Reick, a member of the Illinois House of Representatives, in an online discussion. With some students being out of classrooms for nearly a year, critics question whether these standards should be educators’ focus. As representative Tom Demmer, a Joint Committee on Administrative Rules member, pointed out in a press release, “In Illinois today, just 37% of third-grade students perform at grade level for English language arts.”

After these concerns were vocalized, State Superintendent of Education Dr. Carmen I. Ayala released a statement further explaining the culturally responsive teaching and leading standards. “Our state produces a 30-point achievement gap between Black and white students and a 22-point achievement gap between Hispanic and white students,” she explained. “As we help students recover from learning loss due to the pandemic, giving our teachers opportunities to learn about effective, equitable, and research-based strategies like cultural responsiveness could not be more important.”

In spite of statewide concerns, the Joliet West community may not have to worry about any drastic curriculum changes. “While I am very happy that the ISBE has developed and published these standards, I don’t believe they will have an immediate or dramatic impact on the curriculum West,” explained Mr. Conant, the district’s curriculum director for English and fine arts. “We have already been working pretty thoughtfully and carefully to make our schools more culturally responsive since we made this work a part of our strategic plan during the 2016-2017 school year.” He explained that English teachers have been working to use diverse content in lessons and professional development time has been devoted to improving cultural responsiveness.

Despite being passed by the Illinois State Board of Education, the culturally responsive teaching and leading standards face an uncertain future. Illinois lawmakers will review and vote on whether to suspend the rule on February 16. Unless the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules votes against the standards, Illinois educator training programs will have to adopt them by October 1, 2025.