Illinois Seeks to Bolster Research-Based, Multicultural Programs Through Freedom Schools Network

The Illinois State Board of Education plans to establish the Philip Jackson Freedom School Grant program, which will award $17 million in federal relief funds as grants to the Freedom Schools network. The network establishes a research-based, multicultural school program and curriculum during the summer and school year. 

The Freedom Schools curriculum used around the country brings in civil leaders across generations to improve civic engagement, critical thinking, and social and emotional skill development. The state grant will also aim to empower and strengthen the teacher workforce and teacher pipeline by creating pathways for local teachers. The Phillip Jackson Freedom Schools Grant program is open to public schools, public universities, community colleges, and not-for-profit community-based organizations.

We are spotlighting this because the Phillip Jackson Freedom School Grant initiative addresses key challenges that were exacerbated by the pandemic: student engagement with peers and teachers, in-person instruction, and teacher empowerment. These funds will ensure that low-income students who were disproportionately impacted by school closures have opportunities to receive additional instruction in identity-affirming environments.

Reviewer Analysis

The Education Trust

We are encouraged that Illinois is centering multiculturalism in their effort to address unfinished learning. We hold this up as a best practice for balancing rigorous and culturally responsive instruction.

The Rural Alliance

This sounds like a great program opportunity. We like the face2face with students and Teachers and the opportunities for low income students.

Leslie Villegas

With any new school program, it is imperative that those pursuing those efforts ensure that it is accessible to ELs. It would be helpful to know the linguistic aspects of this new school programs and how ELs will be meaningfully incorporated.


We commend IL for targeting accelerated learning opportunities for Black and other students of color who have been disproportionately burdened by the pandemic even as they’ve been historically marginalized throughout the education system. The development of a 6-week summer program that supplements school learning while simultaneously creating job opportunities and teaching experience for youth of color is an innovative approach to diversifying and strengthening the teacher pipeline. We appreciate the state’s rubric for awarding grants, which all work in support and alignment of what our own research has demonstrated needs to be true to improve the educational experience and outcomes for students: grade-appropriate assignments, strong instruction, deep engagement, teachers with high expectations for students, and authentic student and family partnership. The recognition of community assets within this initiative also deserves applause. We hope the Illinois State Board of Education is considering how they will support implementation, lessons learned in the process, and the capture of data to help codify the impact of this initiative.

New Leaders

Investing funds to develop culturally responsive and identify-affirming curriculum and instructional practices is a step towards engaging all students and creating safe, inclusive learning communities for everyone. The focus on strengthening teacher pipelines from local communities is also encouraging. How might this program also focus on pipelines for leadership from those same communities?

Results for America

We appreciate that this program is attentive to the need to strengthen the teacher pipeline, as well as the incentive to partner with community based organizations. We also love that grantees will plan and carry out evaluations that are clearly related to the intended outcomes of the project and that will produce both quantitative and qualitative data.

National Parents Union

The Freedom School model speakers to the fact, parents have consistently asked for more diverse learning opportunities. This will benefit youth with various learning styles.

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