Illinois Loop
Your guide to education in Illinois
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The Illinois Loop website is no longer updated on a a regular basis. However, since many of the links and articles have content and perspectives that are just as valid today, we are keeping this website online for parents, teachers and others researching school issues and solutions.
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Finding "Good" Schools

"Our School Is Good Enough"

    The greatest enemy of meaningful school reform is parents who wind up spending countless hours teaching their kids to read or do math, or filling in the other knowledge gaps left by their school, or working late hours to help a child on fluffy homework projects, but who then announce that their school is "pretty" good.

    If you really believe that mediocre is good enough, then read this poem:

    "Pretty Good," by Charles Osgood

Illinois, 1936

Overview of K-12 Education In Illinois

  • Illinois' Opinion on K-12 Education (PDF), Milton and Rose D. Friedman Foundation, December 2007. This scientifically representative poll of 1,500 likely Illinois voters measures public opinion on K-12 education issues. Here are some highlights from the Executive Summary:
  • Illinoisans are disappointed with the current system of regular public schools -- 57% rated Illinois' public school system as "fair" or "poor." ... This sentiment is most acute among 36 to 55 year-olds (69%), African-Americans (65%), Asians (69%), women (61%), and those who live in the Chicago area (62%).
  • Illinoisans are content with the level of public school funding ... Almost two-thirds of likely Illinois voters (63%) said the current level of public school funding is "about right" or "too high." A majority of Illinoisans (61%) actually underestimate Illinois' per student spending by nearly $2,000.
  • About 68% of respondents believe the average Illinois public school teacher salary is "about right" or "too high." A majority (63%) underestimate the average Illinois public school teacher salary by about $5,000.
  • A majority of Illinoisans (56%) favor allowing parents the option of using public funds to send their child to a private school. Favorability jumps to higher levels for 36 to 45 year-olds (63%) and 46 to 55 year olds (64%).
  • Fact Sheet on Education in Illinois, Heartland Foundation:
    For a comprehensive roundup of stats on education in Illinois, as well as recent news and developments regarding charters and parent choice in Illinois, see this page from the Heritage Foundation.

Schools In Illinois

What Choices Do I Have In Illinois?

    Illinois presents a mixed bag in finding the right school for your child. Here are your options:

  • School districts: Illinois' school districts vary widely by criteria such as teacher quality, physical facility, stability and order, funding, and many other factors. There is far less variety available in educational philosophy, content standards, and the kinds of teaching methods that teachers are encouraged to use.

      Quick Facts About Illinois Public Schools
      K-12 Students:2,097,503
      Student/Staff ratio:? to 1
      Funding (2004-05):$20,641,600,000
      $ per student:$9,841
      Source: ISBE Annual Report 2005

  • Intra-district transfers: If you don't much care for your child's assigned school, it may be possible to request an enrollment or transfer to another school in the same district. However, this policy is determined by individual districts. (The city of Chicago presents a special case, offering a wide range of specialty schools; however, access and capacity are extremely limited. For more, see the section below on Chicago.)

  • Charter schools: While Illinois does have a charter law, it is heavily rigged to give virtually all authority to the existing education bureaucracy and to the powerful education unions. The net effect is that in Chicago (the single district that actively welcomes charters) there are a few very interesting choices. Everywhere else, charters are extremely rare. For more, see our page on charter schools. To explore the lack of choices in the suburbs, see our page on suburbs.

  • City of Chicago: Surprise! There are some excellent public schools in the city of Chicago. In fact, parents in Chicago have options that aren't found anywhere in the suburbs. See our page on Chicago for more information.

  • Suburbs: Is moving to the suburbs the ultimate solution for panicked parents? For some, this may be the case. For others, suburbs are no panacea. See our page on suburbs for more information.

  • Private schools: The Illinois constitution is marred by the presence of a "Blaine amendment" (a relic of 19th century bigotry) which prevents student-centered funding and full parent choice. However, certain specific expenses (in-district bus transportation, textbook funds) are covered for Illinois students attending private schools. For more on "Blaine amendments," see our discussion about this on our page about parent choice. For more on your choices in private schools, including Catholic and Lutheran schools, see the section below on "Private Schools" and its additional links.

  • Homeschooling: Illinois is widely considered one of the best states in the country for homeschooling, with very few intrusive regulations. For more, see our page on homeschooling.

  • Part-time homeschooling: Is your child struggling, or not being challenged, with some particular program at your school? Or, are you generally satisfied with what your school offers, with the exception of, say, math or reading instruction? Illinois parents have an option that is almost unknown: part-time homeschooling. Illinois state law permits parents to withdraw their children from specific classes, with the subjects to be covered through homeschooling instead. In some cases, the student leaves the school during those times; in other cases, this becomes an extra study period. For more, see the section on part-time homeschooling on our homeschooling page.

City of Chicago

Flossmoor, District 161

    Here are some links on one public school district in the Chicago area that has set itself on a course for REAL academics. That district is Flossmoor, district 161. A few years ago, the people of Flossmoor voted for school board candidates who pledged their commitment to high educational standards and proven academic methods. The president of the Flossmoor District 161 school board is David Carvalho, who has led the district towards these goals.

    For those who pine to have a school in their own area that is committed to high standards, engrossing and engaging teaching, and effective instructional methods, Flossmoor sets the standard -- literally and figuratively. See for yourself: Take a look at the website for the Flossmoor school district.

    In particular, here are some truly amazing documents from Flossmoor:

    Compare these to the fluff statements from most of our local schools!

    Flossmoor also has other goodies on their website that could serve as a great model for other districts. For example, the complete minutes of board meetings are posted. There is also a very nice write-up of how the meetings work and how the public can participate. A page on the Flossmoor website on "Education Links" points to such highly respected pro-academic organizations as the Core Knowledge Foundation, the Center for Education Reform, the Fordham Foundation, Mathematically Correct, the National Right to Read Foundation, and the Association for Direct Instruction.

    It's not perfect, and it may not yet be up to the level of Core Knowledge. But something GREAT is happening in Flossmoor!

Non-Government Schools

    Are private schools necessarily better than public schools? Some are, some aren't.

    If a public school (or a charter public school) offers a decent academic program and dedicated teachers, it might provide a better education than a private school that faithfully observes all the latest progressivist teaching fads. In fact, many independent schools are among the most extreme progressive/constructivist schools available, so be careful if that is not what you are seeking! (We are even aware of one independent suburban private school that describes itself as a "classical" liberal arts school, but which in fact embraces most of the worst excesses of constructivist theory.)

    This just says that there are no automatic guarantees, and you have to look very carefully at the schools you're considering.

  • Here is a complete list of Illinois' private, nongovernment schools (Excel spreadsheet) provided by the Illinois State Board of Education.

  • Private School Review: this independent website might be helpful in identifying the schools in a certain area or specified distance from some zip code which match your desired characteristics.

  • The Illinois Coalition of Non-Public Schools (ICNS) is an umbrella organization of private schools in Illinois, including religious schools (parochial and non-parochial) of all religions, plus other private schools. See their website for extensive information and lists about the various opportunities available.

  • Independent Schools Association of the Central States (ISACS): An excellent source of information on operation of independent schools, plus detailed lists of independent schools in the midwest. It includes information on private religious (non-parochial) schools.

    Catholic schools

    For quite a bit of information, see our extensive page on Catholic schools.

    Lutheran schools

    For a listing of Lutheran schools, go to the website of Northern Illinois Lutheran Schools Directory. A shorter list but with better website info is Bobcat's Lutheran Schools on the Web. Chicago Parent magazine also provides a good listing of Chicago-area Lutheran schools

  • St. Paul's Lutheran School in Brookfield, IL:
    Rev. Joel A. Brondos, headmaster at St. Paul's, wrote to tell us about the excellent curriculum program they're offering:
    We use Saxon Math, the Spalding Writing Road to Reading, the Shurley Grammar method, and teach our history timeline and daily oral Latin to students as young as Kindergarten. We have a literature-based reading program (no basal readers) so the children read unabridged versions of classical works like those written by Homer, Chesterton, Plutarch, and more.
  • Consortium for Classical Lutheran Education: "CCLE encourages and serves families, teachers, and schools working to restore the classical arts of learning and the best traditions of Lutheran education. The CCLE cultivates this restoration through educational conferences, online resources for teachers and parents, and accreditation for classical Lutheran schools. We heartily agree with Martin Luther that 'You parents can provide your children with no greater gift than an education in the liberal arts.' The Consortium's goal is to give every family the opportunity and tools to follow Luther's advice."

  • The Classical Education Movement and Lutheran Schools by Gene Edward Veith and Erik Ankerberg, Lutheran Education, (Journal of the Faculty of Concordia University, River Forest, IL), November/December 1999.

  • Anatomy of a Takeover: The Progressive Assault on The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod Education System by Karen Holgate, President, Parents National Network, Lutheran Educators Conference, November 23-25, 1997. Holgate's article is a fine analysis of how fuzzy methods can invade even supposedly structured school environments. Her observations are equally as applicable to Catholic schools.

    Other private schools

  • Chicago Parent magazine also provides listings of private Chicago-area elementary schools and high schools

  • School's In - Chicago: This is a comprehensive 160-page spiral-bound guide to the Chicago area's private schools. Go to their website for more info or to purchase. Online, they provide these basic listings of schools:
  • Chicago Area Independent Schools: This organization provides information on its member schools

  • We have heard good things about the level of academic substance at these schools in particular:

  • Across the border, here are some private schools of note in Wisconsin:
    • Madison Country Day, Waunakee, WI, northeast of Madison. Expensive "country day" schools sometimes are bastions of constructivism, but this one seems different. We're intrigued by the praise the school's website gives to its success with Singapore Math and its basing of its history and geography program on Core Knowledge. Could be promising!

  • Council for American Private Education

    Illinois Tax Credits

    Illinois offers a tax credit for parents who are paying private school tuition. For more on this, see our discussion on Illinois tax credits on our page about parent choice.


    Cornerstone Christian Academy in Sycamore, Illinois, implements the principles and curricular guidelines of the Hillsdale Academy Reference Guide, along with such appealing programs as Saxon Math and Shurley Grammar. We are not aware of any other schools in Illinois that observe the Hillsdale model. (For more, see the item on Hillsdale in the next section, "Curricula That Work.")

Schools That Work!

Classical Education

    Classical Education: click to jump to our page on this highly respected and very successful approach to education.

Core Knowledge

    Core Knowledge: click to jump to our page on this highly respected schoolwide curriculum.

National Heritage Academies

    National Heritage Academies manages 32 charter academies in Michigan, North Carolina, New York, and Ohio, serving 17,000 students. (Why not Illinois? See our page on charter schools to better understand why Illinois is so far behind.)

    The National Heritage Academies use a curriculum that is largely derived from the Core Knowledge Sequence. However, they go even further by outlining a program of effective teaching practices in order to deliver that content. For a real eye-opener, take a look at their page on their "Academic Program" -- this description will leave many Illinois parents drooling with envy.

    Note: "National Heritage Academies" is NOT related to the Christian Heritage Academy in Glenview.

Hillsdale Academy Reference Guide

    The fiercely independent Hillsdale College of Michigan also has a K-12 academy that emphasizes very rich content taught using teacher-led, research-based methods. In some respects, the curriculum at Hillsdale is more structured and more detailed than that of Core Knowledge. A key difference between the Hillsdale approach and Core Knowledge seems to be that Core Knowledge specifies content and allows teachers to use the methods that they find most effective for their classes and their own teaching styles.

  • A terrific treasure at the Hillsdale website is the complete Hillsdale Academy Reference Guide which is a wonderful resource for anyone planning or supplementing a K-8 or high school 9-12 curriculum. The guide includes detailed curriculum standards by grade and subject, with extensive reading lists and resources.

  • Overview of Hillsdale Academy, including its philosophy and insights into its curriculum. Excerpt:
    Hillsdale Academy's curriculum features a traditional, well-balanced core of essential subjects: phonics, reading, penmanship, writing, spelling, grammar and mechanics, rhetoric, literature, history, geography, geology, classical and modern foreign language, arithmetic, mathematics, science, music, art, and physical education.

    All subjects are presented cumulatively, with each lesson building on previously acquired knowledge and understanding. Arithmetic and mathematics, for instance, are presented in increments and include practice and review between lessons. Memorization, drill, and repetition are emphasized to enable students to understand and then apply what they have learned. Calculators and computers are introduced as computational aids only after basic mathematical understanding has been achieved.

  • Go to this page to see a short video about Hillsdale Academy.

  • Hillsdale Academy Frequently Asked Questions

More Options!

    Those still aren't enough choices in how to design a school?

    Then go to our page on Whole School Reform Models, which identifies over fifty different approaches!

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