Several recent conversations have me thinking about “big issues” in Unit 4. The kind that really matter. I am not saying I know what they are or that I have found all of them, but I am beginning to see that Literacy is a big deal. More so because it is not isolated to Unit 4 and definitely crosses over into community responsibilities as well.

First I would like to paint a background picture of what is framing my thoughts.

I. Great at 8 (Voices for Illinois Children): Project Director Madelyn James has indicated to me that the “Great at 8” initiative aims to raise awareness and strives to get more people involved in the political machine. Especially in light of the significant decrease in State dollars coming into Education and Community Support buckets. She is also working with Community Engagement Associate Jessica Roberts to start community dialogues. You can imagine that perked my curiosity. 🙂 Voices has sponsored a “Kids Count” data book and now an upcoming Symposium in Chicago; from what I have seen so far, they seem paint a somewhat grim picture of reality and attempt to elicit passion and sympathy for our children’s potential. Yet I have not really found much to sink my teeth into – where are the practical steps I can take right here and right now?

II. Recently, Dr. Wiegand has indicated that Literacy is one of the top things on her radar. She mentioned this during a recent phone chat, but more prominently in the Winter “To The Point“:

Literacy—Foundational literacy skills are critical and it is our goal in Unit 4 to have all students reading at their grade level by third grade. We are committed to early intervention and accelerating all students to ensure their future academic success.

Obviously, she recognizes and acknowledges that this is an issue worthy of our attention. I am curious what form “early intervention” takes and how it helps, practically speaking, to accelerate all students.

III. This morning, I had a most excellent talk with the Carrie Busey Principal (Jeff Scott) and another parent. We talked about issues in the learning environment, and especially how some children do really well while others do not. It seems like those that struggle have a significant challenge in the classroom because of what happens outside the classroom; some kids are not ready to learn, others are willing but the material is slower to sink in. There were personal accounts of how some 2nd graders were still struggling with learning their letters. While I believe it is entirely possible for these very children to be “Great at 8”, they were not yet on that path. Which leads me to this post.

How do we get all children to be “Great at 8”, to have achieved 3rd grade reading levels by the end of 3rd grade? How do we adjust and adapt for those students that do not learn well in the current instruction models?

Some ideas we talked about involved getting more parents involved. [Put on Cap of Utiopia +5] Even if your child (or children) is doing great, what would it look like if more parents were helping in the classrooms with small groups of kids that need special attention? What if parents could rearrange their schedules to help other families after school; even if it was not focused on providing “instruction” or going over homework, but just living. What if a family was not able to pay the power bill and the child was having trouble sleeping because it was too cold? Or how about this; what if you are a parent at a totally awesome school that has “too many” volunteers – could you volunteer at a school that was less fortunate? At Carrie Busey, we will debut a program called “Helping Hands” modeled after a program at Heritage Elementary in the Huron Valley School District (Michigan), a program that links resources with needs in the school community. Just one step among many possibilities.

We can shake and shuffle the 6 hours that a child is in school – we can change the pace, we can focus on different things, we can do a lot. But there is so much more going on outside those walls that play a part of the picture. And this is where I start thinking Social Justice. I am not saying, by any means, that our schools are perfect and we should just let them do whatever they are doing. No, let us work to improve things both inside and outside the classrooms. But we need more people. The few that are doing it now are in trouble of burning out.

Like Madelyn James, I also want to raise awareness. I think once people realize what the situation is, it makes it easier to start forming action plans and taking steps. I hope.

UPDATE: I should add that I have had many similar conversations over the years and I know folks (looking at you, Chuck Jackson) have had literacy on the mind for quite some time.


14 Responses to “Literacy”

  1. Molly Says:

    Thanks for your deep involvement with Unit 4 and for your role in communicating information to the rest of us. I hope that Unit 4’s early intervention will include widespread screening for dyslexia, which affects almost 1 in 5 people to some degree and which can be identified as early as preschool. Kids with dyslexia need–and respond to–specific reading instruction that differs from standard instruction, and the earlier they get it, the more likely they are to meet the district’s goal of “reading at their grade level by grade 3.”

  2. Karen Says:

    How far should schools be expected to go in ‘raising’ children? And other parents–they *do* give give give of time, donations, money, etc. and it seems like it’s still not enough.

  3. charlesdschultz Says:

    @Molly: thanks for raising that topic. I must admit I had not thought of dyslexia that much. How hard is it to screen? What do the specific needs involve?

    @Karen: First, schools should not be raising kids, IMO. Parents, family and community should be raising kids. I believe schools should augment the learning that is already going on in the “raising”, not substitute it.

    And yes, I know that some parents give give give. I could name names. It is an illusion, and a very negative one, to say it is not enough. True, they cannot solve the entire problem by themselves, but they are providing role models, not only for kids, but for other parents as well. They are leaders. They are trail blazers.

    I confess, I am not an Professor of Education. I have not studied what is best for children, parents or communities. I have not worked in this field for 30 years (let alone 1). I am not a teacher, nor an administrator. I have no credentials. But I am searching for answers.

  4. Chuck Jackson Says:

    The truth is, if a kid can’t read what else matters?
    All of school is based on reading. You have to red and that’s not going to change. Even with increased technology, everyone will still have to read it. Might be a screen rather than a book but reading is still the cornerstone for education.

    I have wondered aloud for some time, why not have everything in education focus on reading until it is accomplished. We can certainly present content in multiple fields but it is all reading, all the time until some level of mastery (there’s gotta be research, right?).

    on a slightly different note…
    Just today I was thinking about the hustle and bustle of every life. Do I know what my own kid is learning in second grade day to day? No, I don’t. Why? Because life doesn’t slow down. When is there time to spend such concentrated effort on helping a little kid remember what happened six (or more) hours earlier. So many of us, assume the school is handling it and we get the highlights from the kids, but that’s hardly rigorous, agreed? What to do?

    “Getting parents more involved” is ridiculous. That sounds like blame the victim all the way. Parents aren’t involved because of a million reasons NONE of which are that they don’t care. We have to change how and why they’re interested. I am absolutely convinced that people are smart and make intentional decisions. When they see a reason to be involved, they will be there. When they see onerous business meetings or topics that don’t interest them, they don’t come. So what are those reasons? Is it Lighthouse Schools like Arne Duncan constantly talks about? Is it parent training? Is it knowing how to (and being comfortable enough) to advocate for their own child? What can we offer a busy adult, many of whom are just trying to survive, that is enough incentive to come to the school and play an active role? That’s a major question for Champaign schools and PTA both here and around the country.

  5. charlesdschultz Says:

    I have been reading A Match on Dry Grass, a fascinating read that addresses those issues, Chuck. It gives some amazing stories (and the inherent challenges they overcame) of school districts and communities coming together in really powerful ways. I have not read the entire book; I find myself putting it down in frustration (often) because I want to get up and do something. I feel like I am doing too little.

    Some of things that really struck me over the head is the importance to form relationships and in the process go out and find out what people really want, what they really need. So for this situation, it means to me to go to parents in my school and ask these questions. And I have to be sure to ask all different kinds of people. I have already been asking these questions of the Board, the Superintendent and our principal. And I have a number of ideas. Now I need to turn my attention to the stakeholders, the parents, the community members. A part of me really loves the idea of community forums for this very reason, because you get some small picture of what people are thinking. But the book emphasizes the importance of smaller settings (“one-to-ones” and “house meetings”).

    I agree, Chuck, it is not that parents don’t want to be involved or don’t care – we are just plain busy. I think (and I could be wrong) that Dry Grass advocates building personal relationships so that you can earn trust and start to organize and catalyze a common interest. We do not have shared common goals in our Champaign community. Yes, we all care and are concerned, but we are like two-man armies all fighting our individual battles, staking out our claim in little lots of life. We lack cohesion.

    Unfortunately, I see this in our school, our PTA (sorry guys), our neighborhood (yup, sorry there, too)… all over the place. My perspective is that we do not march to a mutual beat because we don’t hear it. We get stirred up from time to time on contentious issues, but then we go back to our man-made universes of relative peace and calm and call it good.

    Sorry, I rambled. I’ll go back to reading.

  6. Karen Says:

    Darn. I just botched a (long) entry in this discussion. Will try again later.

  7. pattsi Says:

    Glad you are reading A Match on Dry Grass. I continue to overlay this with the ABCD Institute materials, previously posted and mentioned.

  8. Karen Says:

    So, you think it’s ok to promote a political agenda in Unit 4 schools? There is a difference between objectively presenting what social justice is (it’s a political theory/point of view) vs. adopting said political agenda (for young kids) and promoting it (doesn’t Stratton list ‘promoting social justice’ as part of their mission statement?). You certainly lose me there, as a parent in this community. Tim Wise gives an endorsement blurb for another of Mark Warren’s books. Please tell me you all don’t think this alleged anti-racist isn’t a flagrant racist himself? Tim Wise, ‘white privilege’ (white=evil opressors), etc. is not about bringing people together. I know the white privilege folks like to walk out the argument that white people are fearful or anxious about something or other related to other racial groups. But, for me I don’t think any ‘culture’ is perfect/has a history of perfection (or even a close approximation to it). But, most every other culture is to be respected. No matter what. Except for ‘white culture,’ it seems. Why are the atrocious human rights violations of other ‘cultures’ kind of glossed over while Western culture is vilified (from within, no less)? How about school kids do a comparative look at the history of the treatment of women (the West vs. nonWest)? The evil West has the most impressive track record I would think. But, it’s not appropriate to ‘teach’ things that would stir up negative feelings toward a particular group/culture. Except, of course, when it come to white culture/whites. Tiresome. Radical indoctrination IMO has no place in our public schools. Sadly, though, radical writings and philosophies seem to be the substance of teacher colleges these day. It’s not even considered radical in that bubble world to adopt the teachings of Paulo Freire. What’s ‘radica,l’ now, is getting basics like reading, writing, and math down. Through direct teacher instruction, no less. The horror! I think a lot more parents would be outraged with what goes on in the schools if they knew what was really going on. Before digging a bit I would hear child-centered thrown around and used to think surely that’s a good thing for kids (not so, anymore). I think it’s assumed that children receive direct instruction. That’s it’s understood that a knowledge base is an essential platform from which to level-up. Surprise! Not exactly. Mastery of multiplication tables and the like in 3rd grade? Nope. Not taught. It would ‘disengage’ the poor dears (even though in the long-run you do far more to disengage kids by not teaching mastery of the ‘boring’ basics–the lack just snowballs with grade progression as the work required exceeds basic skill level–the skills aren’t there–never mind being able to apply them in a fluid/second-nature way. You can BANK on it, Mr. Freire.

    Wanna discuss the issue of ‘undocumented’ migrant workers next, lol? I came to this country the legal way and I fully support the laws in place that made me have to prove that I would be able to support myself here and that I was coming here to work in an in-demand profession and that I would not essentialy be taking a job away from an identically trained American. Makes sense, no? Why should I get to come here and live off of assistance, get free healthcare, etc. etc. etc.? How does that help the American economy and the welfare of American citizens (the cost is passed on—SPREAD around)? There are economic reasons for categories, priorities, and limits on the number of immigrants accepted into this country. It’s not a free-for-all. Some think it should be, but, I think as has famously been said, you eventually run out of other people’s money (case in point, Illinois?). Where is the clamoring to get more people over here who are seeking political asylum (Mexico doesn’t qualify)? Priority-wise/human rights wise, where’s the public outrage and activism? I don’t think it’s outrageous to expect that immigration laws be upheld. And I don’t think it’s awful that immigration laws look to protect the economic health of this country. Of course there is sympathy and compassion for those who come here, illegally. It isn’t personal. The problem lies far beyond the personal level. The long-term economic implications are dire (which is actually what some people get excited about, in a mission-accomplished kind of way).

    Just layin’ it out on the table. The perspectives of one parent in this community.

  9. Karen Says:

    Other link didn’t link to Tim Wise. This one includes his open letter to white conservatives (or something):

  10. Chuck Jackson Says:


    Of course all cultures are equally valid, of course. There are implications of what you are saying though that you don’t seem to fully appreciate. I would enjoy talking about it face to face, perhaps you can come to the Wednesdays at Houlihans gatherings or we can set something else up.

    The point of affirmative action isn’t to say white society is bad, just that is is privileged. I can’t think of a better metaphor than the one Leonard Pitts used, October 1, 2011:

    The story goes as follows: the GOP student group at the University of California at Berkeley wanted to illustrate its opposition to pending legislation that would allow state universities to consider race, gender, ethnicity and national origin as factors in admission. So it sponsored an “Increase Diversity Bake Sale,” in which the prices varied according to race. White men were asked to pay $2 for what Asian men could get for $1.50, Latino men for $1, African-American men for 75 cents and Native American men for a quarter. All women received a 25 cent discount off those prices.

    If I were going to use baked goods as a metaphor for affirmative action, my price scale would go like this: Black and Native American men would pay $10, Asian and Latino men $7 for brownies white men were able to buy for a buck, and the blacks, the Native Americans, the Asians and the Latinos would have to walk a gauntlet of gunfire, physical assault, name calling and legal roadblocks in order to reach the counter. Women would not be allowed to buy any brownies, but would be required to remain in the kitchen baking them, preferably while barefoot and pregnant.

    After 350 years, the black, Latino, Asian and Native American men would get a $5 discount off the original prices (do the math) but they’d have to listen to white men carp about the gross unfairness of it all. Women would also get a discount, but would have to sweep up the bakery after it closed.

    (He goes on to talk about free speech but that’s not at issue here, look here for the whole column:

    Does that history count for anything? Yes, I get that none of us living is responsible for slavery but that doesn’t mean that none of the oppressed aren’t still feeling the pain. Why is it so hard to give up a little of what we have for the sake of others. It doesn’t mean that they don’t earn it, it means that we earned our position at their expense. Social justice is just a part of justice. Why does your zeal to “fully support the laws in place” fail you when we talk about justice that doesn’t directly benefit you? On that topic, simply because a law is in place, doesn’t make it a just law. There is a long history of using power to oppress people, this doesn’t magically fail to apply when a law is passed by the US Congress.

    I could continue to write but it seems enough to process at the moment. I am eager for honest dialogue. I am not eager for vitriolic screaming as so often happens on cable TV and other places. In that manner, I welcome the chance to interact. I am not trying to rile anyone, as you say – just laying it on the table. The perspective of (another) parent in this community.

  11. Karen Says:

    You blanket me as someone who is concerned about justice only when it affects me(?) Not sure where you’re getting that from, but, it’s untrue. (Had I been *rejected* an initial visa to come here, my support of the laws applying to my category etc. would be the same. The requirements are there to protect citizens. I agree with that, period. Not because I had a positive outcome, if that is what you are implying.) Give just a little? Always have. Always will. People who know me well know that I would give the shirt off my back, at the personal level. There are things about the legal immigration process that I think are ‘unjust’ (personal experiences have not all been rosey–one lasted about 8 years before resolution, but, it’s the big picture/common-good aspect of having this type of system in place that outweighs experiences at the personal level, IMO). Here’s the more central thing for me, maybe. I do not have some special right to pick and choose what laws to follow (without repercussions, that is). You come here illegally. You take on potential repercussions of that action and associated ones (such as taking somebody else’s social security number/identity for yourself). I really don’t understand how people who’s first action in this country is criminal feel so boldly entitled to demand ‘justice’ and to take from others? It’s the ‘moral’ thing to do–to support , through social justice initiatives, people who boldly disregard certain morals? ‘To mean anything, laws have to be followed. When newcomers choose to ignore them, then the entire structure of jurisprudence crashes as well. If aliens are free to ignore federal immigration law, why can’t citizens likewise pick and choose which statutes they find inconvenient?’
    ‘Those who try to claim that the shattered families in today’s ghettoes are “a legacy of slavery” ignore the fact that, a hundred years ago, a slightly higher percentage of blacks than of whites were married and most black children were raised in two-parent families, even during the era of slavery.

    As late as 1950, a higher percentage of black women than of white women were married. The broken families of today are a legacy of our own times and our own ill-advised notions and policies. ‘

    I am rather far from being a vitriolic screamer, lol. Lunch hours are work hours for me, though. So maybe if you ever have an evening gathering I will be able to make it.

  12. charlesdschultz Says:

    This makes me think about “What is fair“. What really is best for everyone? I think we can answer what is best for the individual, but I am not going to bother with that for the time being.

    So bear with me as a relate a personal story of my own education. Knowing that I wanted to pursue some sort of field in computers fairly early on, I was cursed with a curriculum heavy in math. I absolutely hated the way math was taught; I struggled in high school (the fact that I Aced my Advanced Placement exam only shows how poor the tests are designed, nothing else). And in college, I failed every single math class I took at least once. Did I mention that I had to take a lot of math? To this day I have retained a very tiny bit of that “knowledge”, but to say that I learned it would be a crime punishable by law (). Yet I have a Bachelor of Computer Science degree from one of the top 5 Comp Sci programs in the US (was top 3 when I was in school).

    One pedagogy is never going to satisfy all minds. No one-size-fits-all “solution” is ever really truly a solution. It is my observation that what we have now is a shotgun approach, hoping to hit as much of the target as possible and call it good.

    The point is, how do we make sure that every single child has achieved some agreed-upon goal? Right now we are doing it wrong. We could re-architect the goals and make them easier to achieve (ie, lowering the standards). That is probably the easiest thing to do. The more challenging task would be to devise a method to get every student performing at the current standards. We do not have an answer for that. We have theories, ideas and good intentions. But we do not have something that works. I might suggest that we work towards an alternative – to come up with different, realistic goals (not lower standards, but completely different standards) and then focus on getting our kids all there.

    Karen, you asked “So, you think it’s ok to promote a political agenda in Unit 4 schools?” To be honest, I am not sure my definition of “political agenda” would match yours. From my naive point of view, the Government is already telling our public schools what they can and cannot teach. Is not a political agenda already being promoted? If that is an example of a political agenda, I do not think that is ok. After that, we would have to agree on what exactly “social justice” is. I could make the blasé argument that the opposite of social justice is social injustice, so if we are going to teach one it only makes sense to teach the former.

    I appreciate the perspective that you are bringing. I hope I never drive away someone who sees things differently than I do. Let me know if I totally misunderstood something that was said.

  13. Houlihans: Board President Sue Grey to join us March 21, and a recap from previous Houlihans « A citizen’s blog about Champaign Unit 4 Says:

    […] a little more, trying to find 2-3 core components to focus on. I think we might have talked about Literacy a little bit and I mentioned the “Great at 8″ event that was held last year. We then […]

  14. charlesdschultz Says:

    Molly, don’t know if you are still watching this thread or not, but I noticed a News Gazette (Meg Dickinson) piece about dyslexia this morning:

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