The Dilemma of Controlled Choice – community dialog requested

[warning: super link heavy]

In responding to Pattsi’s suggestion that I repost my many posts on the topic of Controlled Choice and Dr. Alves, I am remembering and re-learning various aspects of this program that had gathered dust in my own mind. After clearing away cobwebs, I am left with a quandary. At the bottom of this post, I will present an outline of earlier posts; major points will be post tags or general categories, with minor points covering a brief description of individual posts. I did think about doing them chronologically as suggested, but I think that gets a little too confusing. But all that is later. First we need to uncover a little history. [note: Brian Dolinar also provided a great historical piece via IMC]

The United States District Court contains a wealth of historical context for the Consent Decree. Relevant to where we are at now, pages 3-6 of the Controlled Choice Memorandum states 29 distinct goals for the Controlled Choice Plan. There are a number of eye-opening statements in this 1997 document, and it is clear that if those goals were stood up today, we would not have met all of them. Some, maybe even most, sure – but not all. However, the document is sufficiently thorough such that it pretty much spells out the details of the Lottery system we have today, with the exception that Dr. Alves does a bit more behind-the-scenes to quantitatively evaluate “low SES” (even before the Supreme Court struck down the “racial profiling” that was in use prior to 2008). It is further interesting to note that the Court opted to go with Dr. Alves’s “Controlled Choice Plan”, a plan that was jointly developed with Dr. Charles Willie over the course of a couple decades and fully spelled out in their 1996 book on desegregation.

Reading the 2002 Consent Decree and the follow-up 2006 speech by Judge McDade, it is glaringly obvious that from 1967 – 1995 the District allowed such an environment to arise that patent, notable and provable discrimination was placing an inordinate burden upon the Black community. And while the Latino community is completely ignored in all these reports, it would seem to me that there was a fair amount of discriminatory practices and policies towards them as well. Judge McDade clearly understood that the law and the school system can only address certain areas of discrimination, and as such specifically mentioned that the Consent Decree (and the lawsuits) were targeted towards “unwarranted disparities” within the existing school district practices and policies (page 8). In fact, Judge McDade had many great things to say in his 2006 speech, but I am not going to quote all of them. I do wish to highlight the following statement from page 15:

For example, I would suggest that the statistical disparity in educational performance between African American students and Caucasian students, should be a societal concern and that actions to the extent practical should be taken to remedy this disparity in the form of educational reform.

In some ways, this guy was ahead of his time. 🙂 I have the sad feeling, however, that it is the archaic and draconian system which is lagging its feet in the muck of centuries gone by. Even today, we struggle to overcome the racial boundaries that continue to segment and segregate our community as a whole.

With that brief background (there is so much more – I have but scratched the surface), I will mention in passing the proverbial Lost Dead Sea Scrolls of Schedule One. When I read his book on school diversity, I was very much impressed by Dr. Alves’s understanding and passion for the oppressed and those of less fortunate circumstances. When Luke Skywalker saw good in the Sith Dark Lord Vader, he was seeing his father, a former Jedi Knight who had fought against evil. I make this analogy because I believe there is good intent somewhere in this whole miasma we call “Controlled Choice”, it is just rather hard to see at times.

The Plaintiff Class has argued that we have not yet met all the goals of the Consent Decree. If the overarching goal is to make things “Fair”, then I would agree. But what is fair?

At this juncture, I wish to put these points to public discussion. I firmly believe we need more community dialogues; Chuck Jackson and I are making meager attempts to get people talking, and we have plans for “bigger and better”. Others are also getting the ball rolling. Judge McDade has noted the important element of community; I think with all focus on lawyer fees, busing issues, overchosen schools, etc, we forget this most critical piece.

Before I close off, I am going to make some statements concerning what I want to see in school assignment and how the RFP should look. And then I’ll give you a nice long list of blog posts as a sort of index into this area of my head. I am hoping the html anchors I use will help others create bookmarks to these particular sections.

Proposed goals of an RFP to secure services for school assignment in Unit 4

  1. The Vendor must clearly spell out, in common, everyday language, the goals it has set forth to achieve and place said common-language goals is easy-to-find locations like a well documented website. Furthermore, the goals will align strictly to Unit 4 District goals as agreed upon.
  2. The Vendor shall provide an easy-to-understand graphical interface for school assignment data. Such an interface shall be simple, easy to navigate and updated as often as possible given the high mobility rates of Unit 4.
  3. Preference shall be given to local vendors for the purposes of
    1. local investment
    2. local understanding of environment, climate and context
    3. easy accessibility to key contacts for the sake of transparency, accountability and knowledge transfer
  4. The Vendor shall provide an Application Programming Interface (API) such that independent parties can access public data (ie, not Personally Identifiable Information, nor anything else that violates modern laws of privacy)
  5. The Vendor shall create, provide and maintain methods that simplify District involvement such that District personnel do not require significant training nor significant time in administration of Product
  6. The Vendor shall maintain a technologically modern interface for Users to input and view data

And now my monster list/outline

[note: most posts have multiple overlapping tags – each post is listed only once below]

12 Responses to “The Dilemma of Controlled Choice – community dialog requested”

  1. charlesdschultz Says:

    Sheesh, this was exhausting work.

    I have realized that I have a number of older documents (and even some that are a tad more recent) that are not tagged. Not sure what to do about those. When I have time, I’ll try to index those as well.

    I have emailed my RFP goals to Dr. Wiegand. I very much would like to know what your own goals are.

  2. Chuck Jackson Says:

    WOW, What a labour! Nice job.
    A few comments on your RFP:
    1. Perhaps it doesn’t make sense in the context of the RFP but we don’t know what the goals of Unit 4 are and so I would like those to be transparent as well.
    2. School assignment data? Does that mean the results? Often as possible gives loads of wiggle room, I’d suggest something tied to updates in the data, for instance “no less frequently than quarterly or when 10% of the assignments have been altered.”
    3. Perhaps we could say that the goal of a local vendor is worth a 15% premium in cost. In other words, operationalise the preference. How much is it worth to us that the vendor is local? Similarly, how can a non-local vendor overcome the geographic bias.
    Overall, well done. For me, seeing the purpose behind it is how we get to the conversation about whether that purpose serves the community’s goals. If schools of choice are not serving the goals of the elimination of bias or increased student achievement then we need to start dismantling it and finding a better solution. The API serves the purpose but perhaps I would also include something about data being available for analysis in evaluating the results in terms of the goals that have been established.

  3. charlesdschultz Says:

    Thanks for the comments, Chuck.

    1. Good point. I should probably spell that out a little more.
    2. Perhaps again I need to clarify a little more. What is always frustrating to me is that even though I FOIA the Lottery data, I only get a snapshot and it quickly becomes out of date. What I would like to see is a daily snapshot after March 30. Why? On the one hand, it is data and easy to put into a simple little chart (as I have done many times). On the other hand, it helps to answer a lot of questions and provide a layer of something a little tangible when the thing already feels like a black box. I want parents to have the means to put their hands (and heads) around school assignment in such a way that it is not longer an enigma. I am thinking “sunshine”.
    3. Hmm… another good point. I’ll have to think about that. Perhaps instead of an outright incentive, maybe build goals such that being local is significantly easier. Goals like “hold a weekly office hour at the FIC” or “present findings at each Regular Board Meeting” or “allow for a Unit 4 representative to meet with a Vendor representative face-to-face twice a week for the purpose of answering questions”. Or maybe combine both the incentive and the latter.

    And lastly, your statement about not meeting the goal of increased achievement rings very much with what Pattsi has been saying; does Unit 4 evaluate the effect of Controlled Choice while controlling for other variables? Personally I am not even sure how that would be done – there are so many variables to account for. But it seems like it would be a worthy exercise.

  4. charlesdschultz Says:

    Oh, and here is a parent in Wake County who also wants to reform school assignment:

  5. pattsi Says:

    First, thanks for the history lessons. Always good to review and reflect because we continue to learn and evolve new ideas.
    I am beginning to wonder if school choice is the answer as much as equalizing the educational experience per school, thus reducing the logistics and costs of transportation and implementing school choice. Just imagine how these monies could be spent.
    Question–is choice actually improving the children’s learning experience?

  6. Jackie Says:

    Because the neighborhoods are largely racially and economically segregated, we cannot have “equal” or even equitable neighborhood schools. Neighborhood schools in high poverty, racially segregated neighborhoods become high poverty, racially segregated schools. THere are very, very few exemplars successful, high poverty, racially segregated schools–and those that are require extraordinary infusions of funding to make that success happen. I don’t know whether it’d be a financial gain by the time the “fair” (meaning each get what is needed, rather than each gets the same) funding and supports were put in place. In addition, as a taxpayer and parent in Unit 4, I want my children to know and grow up with the diverse students in our community, not just those like them who can afford and prefer to live in the same neighborhood as we do. Controlled choice is one of THE BEST assets in our community–perhaps not perceived as such by those who are afraid to have their children attend schools with students of different races and socioeconomic statuses, but it is for the vast majority of the community, I believe it’s a good thing.

  7. charlesdschultz Says:


    Thanks for dropping by and giving Controlled Choice such resounding praise. 🙂 Your words hearken me back to Alves’ book on desegregation. To be honest, both my wife and I also love the diversity at Carrie Busey and that is one of the biggest reasons why we will be keeping our daughter there. Plus the teaches are just fantabulous, but I may be biased….

    A quick note on what you said; I don’t think parents are afraid per se of schools with different children, but rather some parents tend to focus on things like “academic excellence”. This is a tricky conversation because I think what it comes down to is what one values most, and invariably we all have different values. What is truly most important? We would probably all answer that differently.

    For myself, I am still exploring how my monotheistic worldview is supposed to influence and impact how I invest in community, education and children. The “Love God and love one another” is at the top of my list, and I want to figure out how to walk that walk (talk is rather cheap). Right now, I don’t have any concrete answers, but what I do know is that people are important. So I go listen to stories; I talk to people, I learn from them. Sometimes I have to hear the same thing over and over before I start to “get it”. And one of the big stories I have been hearing is that for the past several centuries (millenia?) people in power have oppressed and marginalized others. This bothers me greatly. So I try to figure out how to fight oppression and empower those who feel like they have no power.

    And Jackie, I think you hit the nail of the Dilemma on the head – Controlled Choice is perceived in various shades, seen through various lenses. The point of my history lesson was an attempt to put the historical context on display and hopefully convey that we have a problem and we very much need to do something about it (still loving Judge McDade’s take on the whole thing). We lose sight of what the Consent Decree and Controlled Choice are all about. I would go so far that it is my perception that even Dr. Alves has lost sight of it over the years.

    But I ramble. My apologies.

  8. pattsi Says:

    Just to stimulate the conversation further–we have no controlled studies that indicate whether or not controlled choice is the best practice option. Is it better to mix the children via bussing them from one end of the community to the other or have the children be able to walk to school with neighborhood friends with whom they can play with after school. And maybe it takes more financil infusion to shore up schools that have a higher population of lower income, but that money can come from the savings of no transportation and payment of Alves.
    And why not go before the city council and demand an economic integration of housing stock throughout the city. This is the best way to integrate schools.
    I just came back from Washington, DC. I tend to take public transportation, especially buses, giving me a chance to see a lot of the city. On the trip from the Aquatic Gardens, located in NE DC across the Anacostia River to the National Gallery East Wing, I passed 99 % of the public housing. This caused me to wonder how DC is integrating that school system since there is a major physical barrier dividing the races and economic classes.

  9. Jackie Says:

    I believe that controlled studies and “best practice option” do not necessarily have an automatic direct link in issues that are this complex. I do not believe it would be possible to directly compare models e.g., “is a magnet model better than a controlled choice model”. There are sooooo many variables to weigh that that sort of direct comparison really cannot be done. Certainly, pieces of the puzzle can be examined empirically. Best practice can be informed by a compilation of research studies, professional ethics, values & professional judgments. There are lots of data that suggest academic achievement is lowest in high poverty schools and communities. THe issues of poverty and educational outcomes are complex and wouldn’t begin to be addressed by transportation savings that might result if controlled choice were ended and the options in this community went back to segregated neighborhood schools or forced busing of non-white, non-middle/upper SES students.

    While I certainly am not opposed to continuing to work toward economic integration of housing, I think that there it is an intractable issue that cannot be thoroughly addressed by a city council, however wise or committed the council. It would certainly be lovely if it could be accomplished. However, something has to be in place for those generations of children growing up while we wait for the city council to fix this for our generally pretty racist, classist society. I’m happy to let someone else choose to spend time protesting to the city council on that issue, but in the interim, I’ll choose to focus my energies more directly on the issues faced by children in our community each day when they go to school.

    District of Columbia Public Schools are NOT integrated racially or on SES. 95% of school aged children are black or Lation/Latina and NAEP scores in Washington DC are all significantly below the national average. More than 70% of DC public school studens qualify for free/reduced price lunch. Slightly more than half of students in DC public schools graduate from high school. I’m not sure that there is a lot going on there that I’d like to copy.

    –Tan, N. (1990) . . .It is concluded that the program [controlled choice] was successful in achieving voluntary desegregation, improved community relations, and a gradual overall increase in student achievement levels.” (Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, Center for Educational Innovation)
    –Willie, Edwards, & Alves (2002). (summary quoted from site: “Diversified schools, in which students of various racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic characteristics are balanced, have a positive contextual effect on achievement for all groups as compared with schools with homogeneous student bodies that tend to help affluent, white students and harm poor students and students of color. Most studies of school reform offer single-variable solutions such as choice, autonomy, or standards. This nationwide study shows how a better and more permanent reform outcome is achieved when choice, diversity, and school improvement are introduced simultaneously”
    –Rossell & Glenn (1988). “. . . Finds that parent choice has resulted in greater interracial exposure than the prior mandatory reassignment plan, and that student achievement has increased”

  10. Who do you know who could…. « A citizen’s blog about Champaign Unit 4 Says:

    […] that an RFP will be coming out soon, and assuming the RFP encompasses these goals, whom would you recommend to get the job […]

  11. Karen Says:

    Many comments I would like to add, but, short on time.

  12. Putting things in perspective « A citizen’s blog about Champaign Unit 4 Says:

    […] software vendors who have expressed an interest, not to mention the University). [previous posts: 1, 2, 3] The first step is rewriting the RFP so it is friendly for local businesses, and perhaps even […]

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