How Low Can the Bar Go for Illinois Teachers?

AP Photo/Mark Lennihan

On February 17, the Illinois Joint Committee on Administrative Rules will consider the Illinois State Board of Education’s (ISBE) newly proposed Culturally Responsive Teaching and Learning Standards.

In simple terms, the newly proposed standards would transform Illinois educators from focusing on teaching fundamental academic skills to pushing activism in the classroom.

According to the new standards put forward by ISBE, Teachers will, “Recognize how their identity (race/ethnicity, national origin, language, sex and gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, physical/developmental/emotional ability, socioeconomic class, religion, etc.) affects their perspectives and beliefs about pedagogy and students.”

Teachers will, “Assess how their biases and perceptions affect their teaching practice and how they access tools to mitigate their own behavior (racism, sexism, homophobia, unearned privilege, Eurocentrism, etc.).”

Teachers will, “Know and understand how a system of inequity creates rules regarding student punishment that negatively impacts students of color” and “Know and understand how a system of inequity reinforces certain truths as the norm.”

Teachers will also, “Employ authentic and modern technology usage inspiring digital literacy through an equity lens.”

Sadly, ISBE’s newly proposed standards would do little to make Illinois teachers better prepared to educate students. But this is part of an ongoing pattern in the Land of Lincoln.

In 2019, Gov. Pritzker abolished the Basic Skills Test for Illinois teachers. The Basic Skills Test consisted of three exams would-be teachers were required to pass before being eligible for a teaching license in Illinois.

The tests focused on three areas: basic skills in math and reading, classroom practices, and content related to the teacher’s specific subject.

The Basic Skills Test was a difficult test. I took it years ago, when I applied for my Illinois teaching license after completing my master’s degree in secondary education social studies.

In the months leading up to the test, I studied assiduously. Without a doubt, I was a more prepared teacher because of this test.

Yet, that was then, this is now. In 2019, State Superintendent of Education and ISBE member Carmen Ayala described the now-defunct Basic Skills Test this way, “The test of basic skills did not advance teacher effectiveness.” This is laughable on its face.

Ayala added, “Rather, it created a financial and practical barrier that prevented highly skilled and passionate potential teachers from beginning their careers in Illinois.” That is even more preposterous. The entire point of the Basic Skills Test was to ensure that all incoming teachers had a mastery of their subject area, as well as a firm grasp of reading and math and classroom practices.

What is actually happening in Illinois, and in many other states, is that teacher college programs are being transformed for the worse. No longer is there an emphasis on teaching students how to think. The new emphasis is on teaching them what to think.

Wokeness and critical race theory have overtaken teacher education programs. Teachers are being trained to become activists as opposed to impartial imparters of truth and knowledge. The “everybody gets a trophy” mentality has leaped from middle school classrooms and landed in teacher preparation programs.

This does not bode well for Illinois students, who are already struggling academically. In 2019, only 37.4 percent of Illinois students passed the state’s English language arts test. Even worse, only 32 percent of Illinois students passed the state’s math proficiency test.

However, this seems lost on Ayala, the very person in charge of ensuring that Illinois students receive a quality education.

As Ayala recently said, in defense of ISBE’s newly proposed standards, “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.”

Ayala has it wrong. The most important thing for all teachers is to properly educate their students for success in life. That means focusing on the basic skills and knowledge that students will need to function in today’s hyper-competitive society.

By eliminating the Basic Skills Test for teachers and pushing for progressive teaching standards, Illinois teachers will be less competent in academic instruction while becoming experts at teaching activism. Sadly, the biggest losers in this equation will be Illinois students.

Chris Talgo ([email protected]) is a former public school teacher and an editor at The Heartland Institute.