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Ill. state schools supt. isn’t the problem

Paul Horton, in a August 21 op-ed commentary in Chicago Sun-Times, finds fault with just about every important aspect of Chicago and state education policy, and, also, with the people charged with setting and executing those policies. While we certainly feel his frustration at times, we want to set the record straight with regard to one aspect of his many criticisms that we know to be badly misguided.

Horton faults Dr. Christopher Koch, the state’s superintendent of education, for taking trips to educational conferences that he says were “paid for, in part, by the non-profit arm of a major education testing vendor…” In so doing, he tries to make it appear that Dr. Koch has done something improper. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Dr. Koch is a tireless and effective leader on behalf of Illinois education and especially of underserved segments of the community. With the General Assembly’s knowledge and approval, he traveled overseas during the period from 2009-2011 for the Council of Chief State School Officers in his capacity as that organization’s president-elect and then president. CCSSO is a not-for-profit professional organization dedicated to generating and sharing best practices in educational improvement among state directors and superintendents of education. As an important leader of this significant group, Dr. Koch, totally at CCSSO expense, investigated in person those critically important aspects of the successful school systems of Finland, China and Brazil. The insights gained from discussions with school leaders in nations that consistently do well and improve their student test performance can and do have a direct bearing on systemic improvements in our country and, because of Dr. Koch, in our state. Funders for these trips included Harvard University, the Asia Society, the National Education Association and the Pearson Foundation, among others.

Dr. Koch’s record as state superintendent has been excellent. He is a fiscally responsible administrator who has found ways to bend policy pronouncements from Washington to better fit the sensibility of the Illinois education system. He has been inclusive in everything he does and routinely asks all education stakeholders — parents, teachers, administrators, community representatives advocacy groups and others — to participate in formulation and implementation of beneficial policies.

Chris Koch is not, in any way, a problem for Illinois education. Just the opposite is true. We commend him for the work he has done and are delighted that he continues to serve our state and its 2 million students. We encourage anyone who thinks otherwise to look at the real record to learn what an outstanding, respectful, thoughtful and honest public servant he is.

Linda Chapa LaVia is state representative for Illinois’ 83rd district and chair of the House Elementary & Secondary Education Committee

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