January marks a new phase in our journalism. Due to the merger between WUIS and Illinois Issues, we now have a number of journalists that enable reporting on a beat model. A beat allows a reporter to learn events and people more thoroughly than general assignment reporting. Each reporter is focusing on key issues in the state. We're calling it the "Illinois Issues Initiative."
The two main reasons I wanted to be an education reporter are Milo and Evan. Yes, they’re both my sons (one homemade, one adopted), and because they’re so different in age and innate abilities, they’re providing me with an unusually grand tour of the education landscape.
Here’s an anecdotal snapshot from that tour, taken when Milo was a high school junior and Evan was just in third grade. Milo had taken his ACT test, and — without a prep course, a healthy breakfast or even a good night’s rest — he had scored a 33. I braced myself for the onslaught of junk mail from colleges that I assumed such a high score would attract, but nothing ever came. I finally asked Milo what address he had listed, figuring maybe his dad (my ex-husband) might be drowning in glossy brochures.
“I left it blank,” Milo said. “I don’t know our home address.”
And just as I was smacking my palm to my forehead, wondering how this brilliant boy could be unaware of such a basic fact, I heard his little brother chirp, “I know it! It’s 1258 West Maplewood Lane!”
I had never made a point of teaching either child our home address (obviously, I’ve never been nominated for Mom of the Year), but somehow Evan had picked it up by osmosis, while Milo had not. That’s one example but I could give more. I remember having to make up songs to get Milo to learn the days of the weeks and months of the year; I also remember being amazed that by the time Evan was 3, he knew the birthdays of everyone in the family — also by osmosis.
Milo reads voraciously but cannot spell; Evan spells like a champ, but refuses to read. I had to trap Milo in the car to force him to memorize the presidents in order; Evan, on his own, memorized all the state capitals and aced the test where he had to pencil them in on a blank map. Milo never did homework; Evan would call me at work, crying, because he’d left a worksheet on the kitchen table. And of course there’s Milo with his Ivy League-level ACT, but ask Evan to take a standardized test — you won’t find any hint of how smart he truly is.
Between these two kids, I’ve experienced Montessori schools, charter schools, magnet schools, gifted schools, IEPs and 504s. I can empathize with those parents arguing that the entire budget should go to beefing up the curriculum, and I can empathize with the parents who would rather hire a better coach instead. With Evan, who’s African American, I’m also getting the perspective on school discipline policies and procedures that white parents don’t normally see.
As Illinois tackles putting Common Core standards in place — while also considering an overhaul of the way schools are funded — there are no easy, obvious answers. The need is urgent, the money is tight and the politics are passionate because we’re all fighting for our kids — our vastly different, uniquely special, precious kids.
Illinois Issues, January 2015