August 18, 2018

The (Springfield) State Journal-Register

Kindergarten study a good starting point

The picture that appeared to emerge from a study of the state's kindergarten students wasn't pretty.

The study released by the Illinois State Board of Education found less than a quarter of the state's kids were fully prepared to enter kindergarten in 2017. Called the Kindergarten Individual Development Survey — or KIDS — the study is the first time the state has attempted to take a snapshot of kindergarten readiness. About 81 percent of kindergartners (106,000 students) were included in the study.

Just 24 percent of Illinois kindergarten students measured were rated as ready in the three development areas being observed: social and emotional development; language and literacy development; and math. Forty-two percent were not ready in any development area, 17 percent were ready in one and 18 percent were ready in two.

Those are sobering, discouraging numbers. But before anyone proclaims that our children are doomed, we need to take a deeper look at the study.

The state is right to seek information about how ready students are for kindergarten; doing so can more tightly focus where early childhood education resources should be spent. Yet the results — especially from the first year, when there is nothing to compare them to — should be assessed cautiously. As ISBE notes, these percentages are a snapshot of how a cohort of students is doing. It is not to be looked on a child-by-child basis.

We feel the way the data is collected is subjective. Teachers — whom we already ask a heck of a lot of — were asked to observe their students for the first 40 days of the 2017 academic year and collect data for 14 required measures as the kids went about their day. To us, that says one teacher could think a child was proficient in a given area while another teacher could evaluate that same child and come away with a different conclusion.

ISBE notes observational assessment is common in kindergarten. The agency says it provided in-depth free training to about 8,300 kindergarten teachers on how to consistently use the instruments used in the KIDS process; additional support also was made available. And the detailed tool teachers used to survey their students included examples of what might constitute having met a certain measure.

The state education board also noted to us that the study provides, at an aggregate level, the means to "begin to understand in a general way the learning and support needs of an incoming cohort of kindergarten children."

Given their ages, we realize it would be hard to gauge kindergarten students by using a written test that would provide more certainty of what a child does and does not know (either a child knows 2 + 2 = 4, or they don't). And we can't stress enough that children entering kindergarten have had a range — from none to private schooling — of child care and educational experiences. Their home lives vary widely too.

We encourage the community to take the study, as several area education officials said they intend to, as a chance to start conversations about how to best serve all kids. It can assist school districts in pinpointing areas where their students may need some extra focus, as well as help guide professional development training for educators.

ISBE should continue to assess kindergarten students annually. Each subsequent year of observation will provide a growing body of data that will help educators draw more accurate conclusions on how to best serve students. As they do that, we encourage the state to also continually refine and better define the yardstick students are being measured against.

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August 17, 2018

Chicago Tribune

A driverless streetscape? Plan on it.

To find a prism into how cities and suburbs will evolve in coming years and decades, look no further than the lowly curb.

That concrete barrier between street and sidewalk has always been that place where we park cars, alight buses and hail taxis. During parades, it's that makeshift bench that gives our tired legs a moment of rest.

Now, fast-forward to, say, 2050. What will the curbside world look like? Will segments be set off as pick-up/drop-off points for driverless Ubers and Lyfts flitting in and out with clockwork precision? Will Divvy or scooter docking stations take up more space along the curb, as we embrace ways to get off our duffs and out of our cars? Will there be any room for the holdouts among us who refuse to let go of SUV steering wheels?

It's that kind of imaginative yet necessary conceptualizing that regional transportation planners are undertaking right now, and urging municipalities to undertake on their own.

Like every American metro area, the Chicago region faces head-spinning changes to the way people get around in coming decades. Driverless car and truck technology will be one part of that transformation. It won't change just the way we get to and from work — it will change the movement of goods and freight, our streetscape infrastructure, even our choices of where we live.

The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning has begun mulling these concepts, and its input will appear in its "On to 2050" Plan, a blueprint for tackling the region's myriad challenges three decades from now.

The plan's research and guidance will help steer decisions about how and where local county and state governments spend your tax dollars. Transportation projects in Chicago's seven-county region that are vying for federal funding must be endorsed by CMAP's plan to be eligible for that money.

CMAP officials tell us that city and suburban leaders don't have to wait until 2050 to begin mapping out strategies for an increasingly driverless world. They can — should — start doing that now.

There's only so much advance planning that you can do — or need to do. Aircraft manufacturers are already working on prototypes for flying taxis, but that doesn't mean Chicago or Schaumburg should start repurposing parking garage rooftops as landing zones. Ride-share through the air is still many years away. We think.

But the advent of driverless cars is a much more realistic prospect. In a recent research report, CMAP said industry experts project sales of driverless vehicles to begin sometime between the mid 2020s and early 2030s. Driverless car testing in real-life settings has already begun. "If you think automated vehicles are 20 years away, you're living in a dream world," Randy Blankenhorn, director of the Illinois Department of Transportation, told the City Club of Chicago last November. "They are here, and they are here now."

CMAP's finished 2050 plan is expected to be published in October. When we met with the CMAP folks, one takeaway was a message for regional and local leaders: Don't wait until 2040 or 2030 or even 2020 to start thinking about how the region's streets, curbsides, and infrastructure will need to change once driverless technology rolls around.

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August 19, 2018

The (Carbondale) Southern Illinoisan

There are better ways to get voters out to polls

The spate of counties suddenly passing "gun sanctuary" ordinances immediately aroused suspicions.

For those not keeping score, by mid-summer, 26 of Illinois' 104 counties — including Hamilton, Hardin, Jefferson, Perry, Saline, Pope, Wayne, Washington and White in Southern Illinois — passed such ordinances.

The ordinances vary slightly.

Iroquois County passed a resolution declaring five bills in the Illinois General Assembly dealing with gun ownership, licensing for gun sellers and large capacity magazines to be unconstitutional. Other counties, such as Effingham County, changed the approach slightly, declaring themselves actual sanctuaries.

In some counties, the resolution directed county employees not to enforce laws that unconstitutionally restrict the Second Amendment. Yet, in the next breath, the county boards maintained the gun sanctuary designation was symbolic.

The problems with these symbolic gestures are many, but one is most basic: It does not fall upon county boards or sheriff's departments to determine whether a law is constitutional or unconstitutional. That type of determination can only legally made by the judiciary.

Sheriff's departments are likely within their rights if they decide to aggressively enforce a certain law, but they have no right, nor the ability to determine a law to be unconstitutional.

On their face, the resolutions are empty rhetoric.

But, there is something more.

They are tone deaf. Yes, the Second Amendment is currently a hot button issue. Yes, a significant portion of the population believes their rights to own rifles, shotguns and pistols are under attack. And, yes, those people have every right to contact state and local officials to protect those rights.

That is indisputable — we're not arguing against that.

On the other hand, mass shootings continue to plague the United States. So far, Southern Illinois has been fortunate. There have been no such mass shootings in the region, but our neighbors in Kentucky saw 16 people shot at Marshall County High School.

We are not immune, and we hope and pray to never feel that pain in Southern Illinois.

Finally, from the beginning, this movement felt a bit manufactured . like a political ploy.

Then, Williamson County happened, confirming what we had believed from the beginning.

The Williamson County Board considered placing a gun control advisory measure on the ballot earlier this summer. However, the matter was tabled while commissioners tried to agree on the proper wording. On Friday, it was decided that the question will not be on the November ballot.

When the proposed question morphed to "Shall the Williamson County Board of Commissioners pass a resolution that opposes any gun control legislation in the Illinois General Assembly?" commissioner Brent Gentry balked.

Ron Ellis, a Republican, received a text message from Rep. Dave Severin urging Ellis to support the resolution. The message went on to say the statewide Republican party planned to use the referendum to target Republican voters as a ploy to increase turnout.

We applaud any effort by political parties to enhance voter turnout. We believe our democracy is best served by an active and engaged electorate. However, we also believe our democracy is best served when voters are well-informed and not going to the polls because of behind the scenes political shenanigans.