"What is Controlled Choice?"

It is interesting to watch the school district attempt to answer this question. Perhaps the biggest issue is attempting to communicate a concept that is for all intents and purposes totally foreign to most people, using loaded words like “choice” and “proximity” and “priority”. Another interesting thing is that there are SO MANY different attempts to explain choice, it’s quite crazy. For instance, the title of this blog post is taken from one of the hand-outs at the Community Forum tonight. However, I cannot find that hand-out on the Unit 4 website. Instead, I found 6 others of varying degrees of aesthetic appeal:


And you wonder why parents are confused. *grin*


I have blogged about these Choice Community Forums several times in past years (2010,  Jan 10 2012, Jan 26 2012). I am glad to see some small improvements like the FAQ (“What is Controlled Choice?”) – they capture some of the key questions, most of which were also asked tonight during Q&A. As I mentioned last year, the video is much better than the previous incarnations, but I still think we need another spokesperson to emcee. Dr. Zola got up at the end of the presentation time and did a great job of engaging the audience and basically putting on a show. I suggested to a few folks that Dr. Zola should kick off the entire thing. Even with these improvements, it is obvious to me that parents still struggle mightily with the concept of “Choice”, “proximity” and “priority”. The pro tip on the FAQ is killing me: “Let your priorities work for you!” What in the world does that mean? Don’t get me wrong, I know what it means; but a new parent?


So one big improvement waiting on the wings is the fabled integration with EduLog. Doretha mentioned this nifty little tool (the interface, not EduLog directly) at the meeting, and I could just hear curiosity being sharpened. Without a working demonstration (or at least screenshots), it seems like black magic, like “Wizard of Oz” stuff. In fact, I laughed out loud when she mentioned that folks could write down their address and that the FIC would mail them their proximity schools (keep in mind this is the current way to do it). None the less, having talked to Doretha, Dr. Zola, Stephanie and Dr. Wiegand, I hear the interface is truly almost done. And I believe it. As much as I was quite disheartened that Dr. Alves won this year’s contract to do the school assignment software, I am glad that at least we have some nice online interfaces coming out way which will help folks feel a little more at ease with “proximity”.


During Q&A there were some statements that I take issue with. Michelle Brown said that if you choose 5 schools and you do not get into any of them, you are wait-listed on all of them. It has been my understanding, and the documents listed above support this, that you are only wait-listed at your first choice. I had never heard of being wait-listed at all schools. But hey, maybe I am simply misguided and thought wrong. It wouldn’t be the first time. 🙂 Another statement was that all school AYP test scores are listed on the Unit 4 website. Really? Where? I can’t find them. They are indeed listed on the Illinois Interactive Report Card (aka, IIRC) hosted by Northern Illinois University, but Unit 4 doesn’t even link to it (that I know of). Another person asked “How do you know which schools are overchosen?” I love that one. *grin* Because the district typically gives a non-answer like “the schools change” or even the more-technically-accurate-but-equally-unsatisfying “we don’t know until the computer runs the program.” The question was asked after the parent realized that choosing a popular school without any kind of priority is “bad” (meaning, a wasted choice). The district has chosen not to make historical data easily accessible to parents in an attempt to eliminate bias. I personally disagree with this approach, but I can’t say my way is better for everyone. It is conceivable that, armed with more information, certain schools would become less chosen and thus possibly make a different school “overchosen”. My perspective is that you give all the facts to those who are seeking it.


One other major thought. There seemed to be a number of parents of various internationalites. What if some of those parents do not speak English as a first language? I wonder how much information they are able to absorb from a meeting like this.


Tomorrow morning I will attend my first “Controlled Choice Committee”; it has been running for a little while already (so I believe). I am hoping to raise these issues and learn more about where this committee is going.

Controlled Choice Committee Meeting Agenda 2 6 13

28 Responses to “"What is Controlled Choice?"”

  1. SBC Says:

    I was under the impression that a student can only be waitlisted at one school as well!

    Interestingly, the link to the AYP / Report Cards on the U4 website is under U4 Employees on the bottom left – District Report Cards. http://www.champaignschools.org/Districtreportcard/districtreportcard.html

  2. charlesdschultz Says:

    Apparently the feature of being waitlisted at multiple schools has been in place for a couple years now. Also, I was told (as you already found out) about the district reports cards on the lower left (under Employees of all places). I looked at those report cards – while they are very helpful and good information about individual schools, it is exceptionally difficult to compare schools “side by side”. I still prefer the IIRC presentation.

    I learned quite a few things this morning at the Choice Committee. Dr. Wiegand has impressed upon Dr. Zola, who then impressed upon the committee, to have a working demo of the EduLog interface by the next Community Forum (Feb 19th). That’s good news I think. We spent a bit of time talking about some ideas to improve the entire experience, and one of the positive things (IMO) was simply using different words instead of “proximity” and “priority”. I think even if you said “the school you are closest to” is easier to digest, and Dr. Zola spun off an entire example using simpler language. Also mentioned consolidating Proximity A/B into one category (somehow – interesting idea but no details on implementation yet). Lastly, we talked a little about capacity, especially since DeJong has predicted another very large incoming Kindergarten class. The district is certainly going to be challenged to come up with adequate rooms and teachers. Good thing they are talking about it now. 🙂

    As an aside, I also brought up the topic of rewriting the RFP and making it more friendly for local software companies. I was encouraged to talk to Tom Lockman, the new school attorney. I have scheduled an appointment with him for Friday, Feb 15th. In the meantime, I will be hunting for legal precedence and possibly even case law about inviting potential vendors to the RFP-writing table. If you have knowledge and/or expertise in this area, please let me know. I still think it sounds fishy (how can that not be a conflict of interest).

  3. pattsi Says:

    It is a screaming conflict of interest. And no potential vendor would engage in such an exercise and if one did, bells and whistles ought to go off.

  4. charlesdschultz Says:

    Having said that, how does one write an RFP? For example, let’s say I want to hire a software company to do x, y and z. I don’t know squat about x, y and z hence the reason why I need to contract out. If I don’t know jack, then my RFP is going to be full of vague and possibly even maligned ideas.

    Interestingly enough, google found a pretty good hit for me:
    How to write a request for proposal for a web project

    Guess I’ll read that as part of my homework before meeting with Tom. Having said that, I think I’ll also be polling you all for ideas for goals. My overall vision is to have a software company that spends a bit of time initially producing a piece of software, and then a minimal amount of time in maintenance for the next 10 years. Hmmm…. yeah, that was way too vague.

    More to follow.

  5. pattsi Says:

    Whhy not contact folks at UIUC in the pertinent disciplines who can help you build the cognitive scaffolding for what you are trying accomplish? Folks in Education, CS, Business, etc. What about help from one of the state or national education ogranizations? Last choice is to hire a consultant to help write the RFP. One could hire one of the local businesses that you have mentioned, but that business then could not bid. And you talk about what you want. This is a good first step. It is excellent that you plan to engage others, BUT not people who might eventually respond to a RFP.

  6. Karen Says:

    That said, will there ever be consideration of neighborhood schools again?

  7. charlesdschultz Says:

    Well, as far as neighborhood schools go, what does that look like? I draw your attention to a map of the school district and the schools:

    Compare that to the student density map:

    Most students live near Garden Hills, Stratton and Centennial (the icon for Centennial and Jefferson are not quite correct). If we want true neighborhood schools, we would have to add a bunch of strands in the denser areas and figure out what to do with all the extra seats in the schools of less denser areas.

    The Choice Committee is considering the consolidation of Proximity A and B, effectively moving a little more closer to neighborhood schools. Keep in mind that with the current system (in effect for 2013-2014), Proximity A students get to fill a 80% reservation list, leaving 20% for Proximity B.

    I think one of the biggest bonuses to neighborhood schools is the massive reduction in all this crazy busing we do. I remember Scott talking about mapping out how far each student is bussed, but I am not finding a chart or data reported on that. So I have asked further about it. The tricky part with neighborhood schools is that they have to be planned carefully and maintained well so we avoid the problems of the 1990’s (and the 50 years prior). That probably goes without saying, but as Pattsi beats her drum, the school really has no planner, thus I am not sure an ongoing plan for neighborhood schools is practical at this point in time. But I could be wrong. But keep in mind we are kinda close to it already. Other than this crazy bussing we do.

  8. Jackie Says:

    Because the neighborhoods in this community are generally/predominantly stratified by both socioeconomics and race, neighborhood schools create and maintain over generations systemic inequities in the education received by students. In our community pre-Consent Decree, it was clearly the families on the north side of town whose children consistently received the short end of the stick. I have experience in Unit 4 both pre- and post-consent decree (pre- and post- controlled choice) and I would NEVER want to go back to neighborhood schools because of the institutionalized racism I believe it exacerbates. Density is one of the issues at the heart of this situation. Building new schools away from central areas of the community also makes it worse.

  9. charlesdschultz Says:

    I am confused, how does neighborhood schools affect the education a child receives? I understand that this did happen pre-Consent Decree and in fact was the catalyst for John Lee Johnson et al to sue. But in my mind’s eye, it is not the location of the school that is the major factor, but rather the way the administration handles it. Right now on our school board, Jamar Brown is tackling the issue of discipline, which is big in an of itself. Laura Taylor is opening the doors of conversation and talking about race via the Social Justice Committee. I see these as positive steps, but only steps. We still have further to go.

    Yes, we have significant gentrification which has torn us apart, and even to this day is a significant problem. I get that. I want to continue to fight against it. Which is one reason why I very much appreciate the different view points being shared here. We are exploring the question of “what is best?”. DeJong is also asking that question but in a significantly different way.

    The way I see it, we must fight against systemic inequities and institutionalized racism from within, where the root of the problem is. I don’t see the location of the school being the root of the problem, but I am open to hearing arguments. Are there children right now who are receiving the short end of the stick? If so, please elaborate; is it isolated to a school, a program, or a demographic?

  10. Jackie Says:

    This issue is much more complex than location of a building. Administrative “handling” of a school does certainly make things better or worse, but I believe that schools segregated by socioeconomic status and race (which is what we would have with neighborhood schools in our community) are inherently unequal. I have a work deadline in a couple of hours so I can’t expand personally, but here are some links to get you started :



    As an aside, the author of these two pieces is currently on faculty at Harvard. He lived in Champaign for a number of years and is certainly familiar with our community.

  11. Jackie Says:

    oops. . . goofed–this author is currently at UCLA, He had been at Harvard for a number of years before moving to UCLA

  12. pattsi Says:

    Jackie, I do not see an author mentioned in your post. I assume you are referring to Gary Orfield

  13. Karen Says:

    @Jackie, are you suggesting that lower-SES and non-caucasian students need to sit next to higher SES and caucasian students in order to be successful in school? If so, why do you think that, particularly as it relates to social justice concepts of oppression by the dominant culture? If the dominant culture were ‘flipped,’ so to speak, wouldn’t that result in less oppression (via more ‘culturally relevant’ curriculums, learning environments, behavior expectations, discipline, etc.)? State/Common Core standards do not seem to preclude the ability to tailor content within ‘demonstrates ability to…’ frameworks. In recent years Afro-centric schools have made a go of it in some areas. I don’t know how they have fared though.

  14. Karen Says:

    ‘African American and Hispanic students learn somewhat more in schools that are
    majority white than in schools that are predominantly nonwhite. This appears to
    be particularly the case for higher ability African American students;
    ” The earlier that students experience desegregated learning environments, the
    greater the positive impact on achievement.’
    Why is that?
    And, how can it be that the ‘dominant culture’ is not, overall, oppressing the achievement of non-dominant persons?

  15. Karen Says:

    To break a cycle it’s a very useful thing to look beyond one’s own environment, so to speak. That is why I am not a fan of arguments of ‘relevance’ with respect to curriculum. Why the push to *limit* knowledge to what’s currently the stuff of a child’s life context. To me, that is oppressive. More of the same can perpetuate just that. But, when I hear time and again disparagement of the ‘dominant’ culture I sometimes think that if you feel that strongly about how oppressive the current system is and don’t want to participate in that pathway (despite seemingly good success rates), then do what you feel is not oppressive (what is culturally relevant to you, what you think is fair, etc.) and take the responsibility that comes with making that (any) choice and it’s reasonably predictable outcome. What concerns me is that adults are ‘advocating’ for children with complaints such as ‘physics isn’t relevant to their life’ (really?! the laws of physics apply to all, learn about the science of your everyday life–what could be more relevant?); ‘(talking tough/being aggressive) is going to serve her well…in her world’ (why expect that? how about expecting her to end up in an environment in which she doesn’t need those skills). Then when things don’t turn out well, there are complaints that expectations are too low. Can you have it both ways? Where’s the happy medium…

  16. Karen Says:

    @ Charles, is Jamar Brown posting updates on his work on discipline? I would be interested in knowing much more about that.

  17. charlesdschultz Says:

    @Karen, I have asked but have not heard back from him. As far as I know, he doesn’t put much out there in the public sphere. He does tweet from time to time, but not about discipline issues; mostly relaying what Stephanie Stuart puts out.

  18. charlesdschultz Says:


    Thanks for the links. After reading both papers, I have several thoughts.

    1. This is nice theory-crafting, but how do we know what is best for Champaign? I am convinced that what works for Boston or Chicago is not necessarily what will work for Champaign. There might be helpful elements, but each school district is essentially unique with its own issues and community.

    2. I have read research papers both for and against segregation. The ones against segregation make more sense, but the ones for segregation highlight the fact that sometimes, in special cases, the students need a highly specialized environment (or perhaps the administrators are totally mucked up). I am reminded that we cannot foist our solutions upon an unsuspecting population – we must ask the students and parents what the root issues are and then address them.

    3. Both papers reminds me of Dr. Alves’s work, which leads us back to the premise of this thread. It seems to me that the primal problem is highly segregated housing patterns, especially in terms of economic status which has a high correlation to ethnicity. However, I will repeat that we must identify what our students need. Perhaps neighborhood schools is exactly what we need. Perhaps that is the worst thing for us. I feel very strongly that we do a disservice to our children and our community if we try to make the problems fit into our squarely boxed-up solutions.

    Having said that, the next question is “So what are the problems?” That is probably a great topic for another post. To wet the appetite, I would say the biggest problems are when public schools fails to prepare a student for life after school. This is exemplified by the catastrophic “school to prison pipeline” and the myriad of discipline we have. It is hinted at by the amount of remedial education high school seniors require before they can even attend the community college in our own backyard. There is also the amorphous element of community engagement, which I believe is crucial to a successful system.

  19. Karen Says:

    ‘…catastrophic “school to prison pipeline” and the myriad of discipline we have.’ What myriad of discipline are you referring to?

    I know Unit 4, Orlando Thomas have seemingly ostracized the ‘punish and exclude’ method that protects other students’ rights to a safe learning environment/education. So, t a fair extent we are left with a tendency towards permissive discipline with students emboldened to decide for themselves if they have done right or wrong (despite alleged district policy), who routinely play by different rules (because they can), and who routinely have disrespectful behavior of an extreme nature ‘excused’ (lauded?) as ‘cultural’ (and even encouraged a la Mark Abers’ recommedation of ‘resistance’ in the context of ‘white privilege.’ Ultimately, how well does that serve students in the world outside school walls? If it’s asking too much to refrain from things like physical assault and battery at school (after repeated encounters with school disciplinary procedures), then, I think educational opportunities need to be addressed in a different environment. On the flip side of concerns about depriving ‘troubled’ students a right to education is the rights of all other students to the exact same thing. Should the rights of the troubled students trump those of the rest of the student population? There seems to be an assumed level of collateral damage that is found acceptable to some despite equal protection issues.

    ‘funneling of students out of school and into the streets and the juvenile correction system perpetuates a cycle known as the “School-to-Prison-Pipeline,” depriving children and youth of meaningful opportunities for education,’ Ultimately the depriving begins with the behavior. A choice for most (with accountability increasing with age). Teach it early and often that, for most, behavior is a choice. That there is a locus of control that comes from within. That is power. If you choose not to control that you are surrendering the control of it to somebody else. What current school rules and/or district policy are unfair (relative to the rights of all students to a safe learning environment) and contributing to the ‘School-to-Prison-Piepline’? I would actually like to see actual BARJ efforts in the Unit 4 District.

  20. charlesdschultz Says:

    In terms of BARJ, we have a somewhat local chapter (http://www.ibarji.org/); I have spoken to Sara Balgoyen and Leigh Courtney a few times and really appreciate their involvement in local issues.

    Karen, I appreciate your point on this, and after reading your comment I think perhaps we are speaking at different levels of the issue. I know there is a lot of controversy surrounding “spare the rod, spoil the child”; I do not want become embroiled in a discussion about how to exercise discipline specifically. But let me attempt to bridge what I think your focus is with where I am coming from.

    The online Merriam-Webster has some interesting definitions of “discipline“. When I use that word in this post, I am going to emphasize the 4th definition:

    training that corrects, molds, or perfects the mental faculties or moral character

    In this sense, I think discipline is a very good thing and something we should all be engaged in, including allowing others to train, mold and perfect our own selves. When I read your comments, Karen, this is the kind of discipline I think you are arguing for (although you seem to also infer some kind of implied punishment).

    The picture you paint of allowing “undisciplined” children to run amok, or even exercise some form of anarchy, is a bit too extreme. No, I am not arguing bullies be allowed to come up with their own rules, or that the district be “permissive” and soft on them. That’s not my point. Rather, I look at how punishments are meted out, how the implementation of student discipline has affected our students. Based on the in-class research facilitated by Ellen Dahlke while she was in Urbana, it seems like the white dominant culture favors the iron will and strong arm of some kind of punitive justice. Even when I talk to Jamar about general expulsion and suspension issues in Unit 4 (never any specific cases), I am given the impression that black kids are more often than not on the receiving end of an extremely critical eye. And this same practice proves out day in and day out in our very own adult community; the number of blacks arrested for “jaywalking” is maddeningly ludicrous.

    Let me tackle this in a different way. What if no child were ever expelled or suspended from the public school system? I know, you think I am crazy! All those violent kids who beat up others (and sometimes adults), those who are excessively abusive – you are saying “Get those criminals away from my child!!” Again, I am not advocating that we just slap them on the wrist and tell them to shape up. Rather, what if they could be transitioned to an entirely different educational setting. A la the Novak Academy? Jamar recently spoke of the relatively high number of kids who are graduating from the Novak Academy. This is but one example of an alternative to removing a student from public education.

    Again, my focus on “discipline” is to train, mold and perfect. Not punish. Not exclude. We as a society have lost the art of discipline, so it is exceptionally difficult for us to ponder a good, healthy way to exercise discipline that perfects the moral fiber of another. We don’t do this well for ourselves, and we don’t do it well for each other. Granted, there are some wonderful exceptions, but by and large, we are way too isolated in our engineered domains.

  21. pattsi Says:

    Another robust conversation on this blog–so intriguing. Before I write my post, I want to set the tone of the post. I have reached a tipping point of not tolerating many more “no’s, can’t do this, no concrete move forward suggestions” mainly from issues at the county level. This stated I am finding a similar frustration with most of the postings on this blog and Unit 4. There is a whole lot of listing of problems, what isn’t done, doing things without any part of the process for formative and summative evaluation, and very little here is something might be possible to try as a pilot to see if it works here. If not, adjust, eliminate, reconstruct, whatever is needed. Charles stated what Gary Orfield writes won’t work here. How do you know? Why do you make this statement? And what alternatives do you have to suggest? As I have previously posted, where are the white papers, guest N-G editorials, etc. proposing alternative, write about why what is in place does not work, showing if “A” is tried, this might be a result, etc. Lots of posting very little action.

  22. Karen Says:

    ‘I look at how punishments are meted out, how the implementation of student discipline has affected our students.’ I do too, only I get a view of the flip side of the coin, as well (as a parent). I know for a fact that kids continue, to this day, to miss school because of anxiety over what would be defined as harrassment/bullying, per alleged district policy. Might seem like no bid deal to those in charge of discipline (and is often treated as such), but, it’s certainly brisk business for local mental health professionals who treat kids on the receiving end of the ‘no big deal’ stuff. ‘They don’t do anything’ is not uncommonly true per firsthand experience of my own as a parent as well as per the accounts of experiences of other parents. What do I suggest be done? Follow policy or revise your policy to reflect what actually goes on in-practice even if if flies in the face of the Illinois School Violence Protection Act. I don’t think I am unable to freely address the ‘extreme’ characterization and ‘critical eye’ issues, so I won’t. As I have said before, I think it infringes on the rights of other students to assume them/their well-being up as necessary collateral ‘damage’ in efforts to mold and shape the character of others. I did not suggest in my comments to deny any kid a public education because of their behavior. I said if they repeatedly (years?) meet with top tier disciplinary procedures, their education might best (for all) be delivered in a different environment than the general population public school one. Behavior-consequence. Basic to principles of learning. ‘Discussion’ is not a ‘consequence’ for some, so you are correct in detecting that I support consequences for behavior. It’s an integral part of accurate implementation of PBIS, NH, etc. I guess I am curious now about what students in Unit 4 are expelled for if it is being suggested that so many of these cases are potentially due to ‘critical eye’ issues?

    As for the ‘art of discipline’ I like the ‘community’ approach of BARJ and the inclusion (when not contraindicated) of the victim. But, it seems the the privacy of the offender is highly protected these days, which would preclude such an approach (despite the potential for really ‘reaching’ people via this method).

  23. Karen Says:

    Left out that it’s great to have options like the Novak Academy vs. seemingly going-through-the-motions of something that isn’t working for all. I know that alternative and special ed are often resisted as ‘negatives’ (even though specialized help is often critical to success) , so I hope that things like the Novak Academy are on the table of options before complete expulsion out of the public school system.

  24. Karen Says:

    Forgot (imagine that!) one more thing. I don’t think the molding of ‘values’ and character ‘education’ (or however you phrased it) and ‘consequences’ for behavior are mutually exclusive things.

  25. you Says:

    amazing how thinly veiled racism is when people feel threatened. if you don’t believe choice is relevant to equity, then you should be indifferent to having a system with choice. or, is there something else about choice that fundamentally upsets you?

    • charlesdschultz Says:

      Just curious, to whom are you responding/replying?

      Your point about feeling threatened is a good one; the problem is that folks are going to think with their lymbic system more frequently when the adrenaline starts to run.

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