Since 2014, the Northern Illinois P-20 Network has brought together community college presidents, school district superintendents, key state leaders and NIU faculty and staff to improve college and career readiness for K-12 students through regional collaboration. In the summer of 2020, the network changed its name to the “Illinois P-20 Network” to reflect its expansion throughout the state and renewed focus on statewide collaboration. The network currently consists of four state agencies, 55 K-12 school districts and 25 postsecondary institutions throughout Illinois.
Jason Klein, director of P-20 initiatives for NIU, says the P-20 Network has worked with partners throughout the state since its inception. “For several years now, we’ve been working on statewide projects, such as supporting the implementation of the Postsecondary & Workforce Readiness Act and conducting statewide educational research through the NIU P-20 Research & Data Collaborative,” Klein says. “Given that there are no Central or Southern Illinois P-20 Networks, we believe we can support educational organizations throughout Illinois with a statewide expansion of the P-20 Network.”
The P in P-20 stands for pre-kindergarten, and the network’s name reflects its commitment to supporting education from the preschool years through college or professional school, career development and continuing adult education. The network’s goal is to improve educational attainment “from cradle to careers” through collaboration across all levels of education.
The network currently has three main areas of focus: Research & Reporting, Equity & Opportunity, and College & Career Readiness. But, as Klein notes, these areas of focus are driven by the needs of the members of the P-20 Network as well as by the political and legislative landscape of education policy in Illinois and at the federal level. “We are consistently re-evaluating these areas of focus with input from the Illinois P-20 Network members, so it’s likely that these areas will continue to evolve,” he says.
However, even as the network’s focus may shift over time, what will not change is its commitment to supporting teachers and school administrators and, ultimately, learners of all ages in Illinois.
“The work of the Illinois P-20 Network is designed to be useful in classrooms immediately,” says Klein. “Even when it comes to the high-level research that takes place among NIU faculty members with the involvement of the P-20 Network, we work to ensure that the results of the research are useful to educators working in school districts and postsecondary institutions today. Examples of these include our recently completed statewide studies of successful early childhood education programs, our current work focusing on the academic performance of high school students and the allocation of funds across schools as described by the state’s new site-based expenditure reporting data.”
The Illinois P-20 Network also works to amplify the voices of teachers and school administrators to promote effective educational policy. “When policymakers listen to the voices of those working in the classrooms daily, the state is able to create policy that leads to more learning for students rather than inadvertently creating obstacles to learning,” Klein says. “Examples of this have been apparent in the work of the P-20 Network in partnership with state agencies and other statewide organizations on the PaCE Framework, Transitional Math and Transitional English, and now with the P-20 Network’s Dual Credit Think Tank.”
Klein says he is looking forward to working with partners across the state to continue to support learners and educators. “We’re particularly excited about a number of initiatives that require collaboration across the various ‘levels’ of education in Illinois, all the way from preschool to adult. Especially at this challenging time, we’re looking forward to sharing success stories from schools and districts across the state so we can all spread those solutions widely and quickly to benefit students.”
Learn more about the Illinois P-20 Network at p20network.niu.edu.