FOX 32 News Special on Education: Chicago at the Tipping Point

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In a FOX 32 News special report, we explore K-12 education in Illinois - what's good with it, what's bad with it, what's fixable, and maybe not fixable. We read every study we could find, and every analysis and opinion of the studies that we could find.

After all that research, here's our conclusion: The challenges in our schools reflect the challenges of our communities, and America as a whole. They are symptoms of our larger problems, but our schools are also in a unique position. They can be the solution to our problems if we start doing things right.

In terms of our performance let's put it how a teacher might to put it: There's a ton of potential. But we're not living up to it.

The latest numbers from national assessments that allow for state-to-state comparisons show that 34 percent of Illinois fourth graders are proficient in reading. That's 32nd out of the 50 states.

Thirty-six percent of eighth graders are proficient in math - 23rd out of 50. Illinois' high school graduation rate is 82 percent - 22nd out of the 48 states reporting data.

The independent education policy group Advance Illinois projects just 34 percent of Illinois public school students will end up graduating from a two or four year college.

The international comparisons are more humbling.

Out of 34 industrial countries, the United States ranks 26th in math. Even the top U.S. state, Massachusetts, is two full grade levels behind Shanghai, the largest city in China. In reading, America is average, ranking 17th out of 34 countries. In science, 21st out of 34.

In education, Illinois has become a near-average state, in a below-average country. This will have real world consequences.

The proof is in the payroll. From 2007 to 2012, Americans with four-year college degrees gained 2.2 million jobs while those without a four-year degree lost six million jobs. It's a disaster for them and weighs down all of us. Jobs mean self-reliance.

Unemployment means dependence on the government. Now more than ever, so do low-wage jobs.

Worse yet, where jobs are out of reach, gangs, drug dealing and violence are more apt to take hold.

The phrase "global economy" used to mean products could be shipped all over the world. Now it means jobs can be shipped anywhere.

Remember all the factories that left Chicago? It can happen with the jobs of the future too.

High-paying employers can, and will, go wherever people have the advanced skills they need.

The founder of Apple, Steve Jobs once told President Obama the U.S. should give permanent residency status to any foreign student who has a degree in engineering.

America has such a shortage of engineering skill, reforming immigration to allow in more tech workers is one of the few things republicans and democrats agree on.

Jobs and technology mean economic and world power. It's how America won the 20th century and how other countries are trying to win the 21st.

We're spending more money on education than most countries.

America, over the past decade, was the fifth highest education spending country of 34 industrial nations: $11,500 per student, per year. Our performance was on par with Slovakia. It spent $5,300 per student, less than half what we did. The top academic performer, South Korea, spent $8,500 per student.

Within America, the latest state-comparable data shows Illinois spending ranks 22nd highest out of the 50 states.


Mike Flannery: Ill. school funding system produces vastly disparate levels of spending

Dane Placko: School inequity: Does education quality depend on where you live?

Robin Robinson: CPS implementing `five essentials` to create better schools, seeing results

Dawn Hasbrouck: How technology is changing the way children learn