Important meeting with Dr. Wiegand, Trevor Nadrozny and Dr. DeStefano

Tomorrow, a couple other stakeholders and I will be meeting at the Mellon Center with Dr. Wiegand, Trevor Nadrozny (Unit 4 Director of Curriculum) and Dr. DeStefano (Professor of Educational Psychology and Director of I-STEM at the University of Illinois). The topic is a discussion about TASAP (Targeted [sic] Assistance Student Assignment Plan – should be “Technical”); I asked for the meeting on December 21st to talk about School Assignment on several different levels, and also to get an update on Dr. DeStefano’s research (of which I signed a NDA so I can’t say much about what I know).

 

As I have prepared and gathered together my thoughts on this, I find myself coming back to one major problem I have with the way Unit 4 has gone about this; Dr. Michael Alves of Enrolledu (based in Massachusetts). But before I get too deep in my own thoughts, allow me to make it clear that I am very receptive to what readers are thinking and I will take any appropriate feedback from you with me to the meeting tomorrow. What’s on your mind? Any burning questions about the Lottery?

 

So here is where I am at.  The District is paying over $85,000/year to Dr. Michael Alves (this information can be obtained via FOIA – my latest snapshot was in 2010). The TASAP grant (with Sandra Duckworth’s name on it) is a two-year grant and I know Dr. Alves was paid out of that grant money. It is not yet clear to me if we have had on-going TASAP grants and if his money always comes out of that bucket or not. What value are we getting out of that? I mean, seriously. Where is the accountability? Where is the oversight? When I sent a proposal to the BOE about granting every resident a Proximity A to a school, the BOE and Culver passed the buck to Alves who gave me a very technical 5-page lecture on how bad my idea was. And I believe he charged us for that as well. I get the impression that we have very little local control over this thing, which does not make a lot of sense to me. And why are we sending our money to Massachusetts? (you are welcome, Minutemen) I have a glimmer of hope that this is why Dr. DeStefano (and last year, Dr. Burke) is involved.

 

Perhaps the bigger question is, what do we want school assignment to do? What really is “fair”? I have to be careful about using that word, because as we say so often to our daughter, “Life is not fair”. Perhaps a much better word would be “right”, but then we get ourselves tangled in a web of morality. Despite that possibility, I am going to stick with “right” since that seems like the most wise choice with the best long-term results.

 

My take on how we “do right by our society” is to start off by teaching our kids how to be effective community citizens. I disagree that we should focus primarily on turning them into money-producing worker bees, while I do grant that being productive should be a very important secondary goal. And note how this has nothing to do with the lottery system. 🙂 I say that on purpose. Because what is most important to me is that our children are provided with free, accessible quality education that shares the same primary goal. Personally, I don’t really care about AYP, and I personally do not think that any one Unit 4 school is particularly better or worse than any other – we are constrained (think handcuffs) in so many different ways that it is challenging for any one school to stand out, to be unique for its own merits. And yet some schools are doing just that. The Magnet programs are introducing another incentive along that route.

 

And one more maybe out-of-my-freaking-mind thought about different learning styles and/or cultures; what if we had a school that specialized in teaching and educating those children that do not learn well in “traditional” classroom settings? What if, as some research suggests, there was an option for an entire strand that focused on a “minority” culture? We could argue both sides of that ’till the cows come home – my point is even saying this in the first place is that I am tired of the bread and butter.

 

To wrap this up, when I go to the meeting tomorrow, my focus is going to be:

  • Move away from Dr. Alves and Enrolledu; engage the College of Education in a much more intimate fashion
  • Bring the community on-board with the school assignment process (transparency through open documentation/communication, community forums, commitment to place value on stakeholders’ perspectives)
  • Continue to simplify the school assignment process and improve the image of Unit 4

 

 

 

 

 

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9 Responses to “Important meeting with Dr. Wiegand, Trevor Nadrozny and Dr. DeStefano”

  1. Sena Cooper Says:

    Wonderful! I hope something truly meaningful comes from your meeting with them. I think your three items of focus are spot on. I think we all respect the knowledge/expertise of others (Dr. Alves and Enrolledu) but the district should not plan to depend on them forever. You can give a man a fish and feed him for a day; or TEACH a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. I find it unfathomable that with all of the intellect around here, no one will be capable of bring the school assignment process in house.

  2. pattsi petrie Says:

    Sena, bravo comment.

  3. Papaathome Says:

    As you speak about engaging the College of Education, it occurs to me that it is a pretty unequal relationship to the casual observer. Our kids are taught by inadequate teachers (or so I believe student teachers to be) so that the college of ed can get tuition and graduate students. The local districts are used for research all the time as well. It also seems like new programs are tried more frequently in local schools than elsewhere because of the U (which I perceive as detrimental).

    For all that, what do the students of the local schools get? Chancellor’s Academy is a good program – but only if those newly energized teachers stay local. There is no obligation to do that (not that there should be, I’m just saying). Relationships are supposed to be reciprocal, but I don’t see much flowing back to the students, or even to the district(s) more generally.
    Does someone know more about this – and if the district is just “nice” to provide what the college needs or of there is tangible reciprocity?

  4. charlesdschultz Says:

    I intend to ask about a comprehensive list of all Unit 4-related research. Does such an index exist? Probably not, but then how many people do I have to talk to in order to get that comprehensive picture?

    At this point in time, I am merely curious. I do not know how practical such information will be.

  5. charlesdschultz Says:

    We had a good meeting; so much so that we all agreed to meet again. I am quite encouraged.

    I met with Trevor prior to the official meeting to talk about my google map projects and he is taking quite a keen interest in them. Based on our talks, he is going to hunt down some folks at the Bus Garage to learn more about Edulog and the possibility of putting that information online. I am confident that getting it online is relatively simplistic – the hard part is getting the figureheads to agree to it. In a way, I feel bad for Trevor because this discussion (Choice/School Assignment and bus routes) is so far outside is scope of duties, but he is taking it quite seriously, and even better, running with it.

    The larger gathering involved a lot of great discussion; if you were there, please feel free to correct and/or add to what I write here. In my opinion, both Trevor and Dr. Wiegand did an awesome job of listening and engaging with us. Here are some of the major topics we covered:

    Relationships with the University
    As director of I-STEM, Dr. DeStefano mentioned that her group is extremely involved; directly with BTW (I-STEM magnet school), but also with both Unit 4 and Unit 116 (Urbana) in more indirect ways. She mentioned that they occasionally do pro bono work, which I was very glad to hear. I did make a few noises about what other departments and Professors are involved with Unit 4, but I think I might have failed to directly ask for all those relationships in writing. Dr. Wiegand did indicate that there are many things going on (with the University), and I am kicking myself for not pursuing that further.

    Dr. Alves
    While his name came up quite a bit, Dr. Wiegand did state that she is going to look into his contract with Unit 4 and review the service(s) he provides. I am anxious to learn about that line of inquiry. 🙂 This discussion also involved the program and algorithm for assignment itself, and I expressed the desire to have it done locally. We all understand and agree that we have to be careful about undue influence (the University and Illinois in general have set a bad precedent for bad accountability in that area) – yet, if it is a well-documented and open program, is there much room for shenanigans? Some of us really want more information at our fingertips (ie, web), and what Alves currently delivers falls far short of the mark.

    Proximity
    The stress and confusion surrounding Proximity is perhaps one of the biggest negative factors in the Assignment process. Dr. DeStefano shared that parents feel they do not have control due to this confusion; if we remove that confusion, we suspect there would be a substantial improvement of perception. So one goal is to clarify and document the entire process in “common language”. Even when talking among ourselves, nobody at the table knew all the answers. Which is scary. One thought came up which is quite a paradigm shift; what if we just got rid of Proximity altogether? I am not sure they (Unit 4) are ready for such a large leap, but at the very least we have the question on the table and we can chew on it. I expressed that we really need to simplify, and at the same time, put as much online as possible for those who crave more information. For instance, put Edulog online. If folks can immediately find out what their proximity is, you have removed a ton of questions.

    I did ask how Unit 4 determines exactly what the problems are, from the community’s perspective, given that not everyone communicates online or goes to Board Meetings. My question got lost in the shuffle as Dr. DeStefano raised another question/point, and I forgot to go back to it. I want to be very careful about defining a solution to our own perceived issue. However, Dr. DeStefano did add a bit of weight based on her own research. Which is pretty much what we are going with at this point.

    As I stated, I was very glad we had this meeting. I did not expect to solve many problems with this first go-round, but I see doors opening.

  6. charlesdschultz Says:

    I forgot to mention something else. We did a little daydreaming about what a better (online) registration might look like. What if your first choice school was your “Proximity” school? What if you could filter by school features such as start time, balanced calendar, time on bus from your house, “theme” or Magnet focus, etc. In general, there are lots of things that can be done to make things more user-friendly for incoming parents. Someone else also mentioned having optional survey questions like “why did you choose the schools you did?” to be used for the purpose of internal discussions and feedback.

  7. Chuck Jackson Says:

    I agree, a very encouraging meeting. I recall a few other notes but Dr. Wiegand recounted them as she summarized her notes so I’m not worried about the group forgetting them.

    I love problem solving, it really gets my juices flowing so I had a great time with all the ideas and good listening. Don’t know when it’s appropriate but any time Unit 4 is working to solve problems they should call in community people and let us go to work on it. Fun!

    There are a lot of things that we couldn’t cover. We talked about the University – School relationship and that it is strong. Perhaps but I’d like to explore that more and see how to make it more systematic. Not so we can create a bereaucratic hassle but so that there is access for all. I also wonder about a system where there is collaboration and evaluation all happening between the same partners. When does the relationship hamper the objectivity? Sometimes what the community thinks is best for the school will cause rifts in the relationship. How (or who) does the university respond (to)?

    Obtaining more information on the district’s relationship with Alves will certainly be interesting. Expert or not, it doesn’t seem like what he’s offering needs to be in expert hands. Perhaps he does more than what is obvious, but that’s where the research comes in.

    There were really three possible solutions to proximity as an issue. It doesn’t seem like eliminating it as a consideration (outside of a consideration for parents as they rank their schools) is a likely solution (though an elegant one IMHO). Putting a geographic service on the web might be easy but at least as it came up in the meeting, putting Edulog online is expensive.

    Another thought that seemed to get easy agreement was to develop an FAQ to serve as a parental orientation. Things from easy questions like “What door do I come in?” to something more complex like “How do I best advocate for my child in this system?” Wonder what Qs parents want answers to? Especially novice parents (those totally new to the experience)?

  8. 2012-2013 Kindergarten Lottery data released « A citizen’s blog about Champaign Unit 4 Says:

    […] that my request to standardize the data was not satisfied – my hope is that we will stop using Alves and thus the standarization temporarily becomes a moot issue. I need to follow up with Dr. Wiegand […]

  9. The Dilemma of Controlled Choice – community dialog requested « A citizen’s blog about Champaign Unit 4 Says:

    […] 6 February 2012 – Meeting with Wiegand, Nadrozny and DeStefano (Lottery “Evaluator”) […]


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