ISBE, Local Superintendents Weigh In on New IL Graduation Requirements

By Benjamin Cox on January 29, 2021 at 5:18pm

Members of the Illinois State Board of Education are voicing concerns about new high school graduation requirements. ISBE members say that the new requirements will be too cumbersome for schools to enforce.

ISBE members made their comments during an ISBE board meeting Wednesday, one week after the General Assembly passed an omnibus education bill pushed for by the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus, which included the new requirements.

The bill calls for 3 new courses to be required: computer science, laboratory science, and foreign language. Both laboratory science and foreign language will be required for high school graduation. Schools will have until the 2024-2025 school year to offer laboratory science content, and until the 2028-2029 school year to implement foreign language instruction.

ISBE member Sue Morrison says the Illinois high school class day is already too full to include the new mandates on students and high schools: “Somebody has decided that two years of a foreign language class are more important than art, more important than music, more important than career & technical education courses in a school day that is already so full and so very limited with time.”

Dr. Chrisine Benson, also a member of ISBE, says that lawmakers simply didn’t do their homework, especially on foreign language education: “What’s the best time to teach a foreign language? It is not high school. What is the second worst time to teach a foreign language? It’s junior high. They did no research on this. They just added it on.”

According to a survey conducted in 2019, 89% of Central Illinois districts have issues with finding qualified teachers. Foreign language and science-certified teachers are two of the most difficult content areas to fill all across the state.

Jacksonville School District 117 Superintendent Steve Ptacek says the ideas are on the right track but districts and the state are going to need time to figure out the teacher shortage: “I don’t have any major problem with [the new requirements], but I think what people are going to try to do is tell [the General Assembly] is that we don’t have enough people to teach. We don’t have enough teachers to teach foreign language in the state right now to add that in as a requirement. They are going to need some years to figure out how to do that with maybe alternative license certificates. Who knows? Some of the other stuff, the computer programming expertise, even at the lower levels, I don’t have any issue with that. I think there are parts of that which are very good ideas as we move into the future with our 21st Century technology.”

Triopia School District Superintendent Adam Dean says that the idea of some of the new requirements are good, even for smaller districts like his, but time is needed to figure out the teacher shortage: “There are trying to instead of just having science classes by 2024-2025, they want them to be lab sciences. They want computer literacy starting with the grade school, and you can kind of tie that into your regular curriculum. Another thing that is kind of concerning with the teacher shortages is by 2028-2029, which is forever away it seems like, they want foreign language as a graduation requirement for all of our students. I know districts [like mine], where we are lucky enough to have an excellent foreign language teacher, but there are some districts in our area that don’t have one. Like I said, we do have some time to try and get that one figured out.”

Other ISBE members contend the new requirements may stand in the way of Illinois’ push to emphasize career-and-technical education in Illinois schools. A trailer bill is expected to be filed during the spring session in order to make revisions to the passed omnibus bill. One possible revision may include moving up the deadline to add foreign language courses from the 2028-2029 school year stipulated in the bill. Despite the concerns, Governor J.B. Pritzker has indicated that he intends to sign the bill.