June 24th board retreat

This afternoon, the board held a Special Board Meeting dealing with the goals of/for the Superintendent, Dr. Judy Wiegand. Outside of the Unit 4 employees and the Board Members, I think NG staff writer Meg Dickinson, Chuck Jackson and I were the only others in attendance. There was a NG photographer who swung by, so depending on which pictures are made available, you will see that there were about 32-34 people total.

I appreciated that both Board President Laurie Bonnett and Dr. Wiegand made it very clear that public participation was very much welcome and that there would be a free-flow discussion. I like that format a lot; it probably would be a bit more challenging to adhere to that format if more community members (and more vocal ones *grin*) were in the room.

I was only able to stick around for the first hour. I believe that in that first hour, we only covered the first of the five goals outlined in the one public document made available online. Which reminds me, there were a number of handouts available for the public, but I do not know where they are online (maybe they are not posted? Yet) {updated} Documents now posted on BoardDocs – see the full slide deck for more details on what was covered. In that first goal, the Assistant Superintendents and the Superintendent spent a lot of time covering the “Achievement Framework.” I am still trying to wrap my head around it, and I cannot possibly do it justice here. At least, not yet. There was a lot of talk of utilizing more metrics and constant monitoring, of being very intentional and mindful of key waypoints (ie, Kindergarten, 3rd grade, 5th grade, 8th grade), and implementing Common Core with the idea of ultimately making all kids “college ready”.

Also, in a brief chat with the tech guys before the meeting, I learned that the “screen” (the computer monitor to display the various presentations) would be recorded, and Mr. David Hohman tells me that audio is going to be synchronized after the fact. I do not see either online, yet, but will keep my eyes open. My biggest concern, especially in regards to involving everyone who could not make it, is that the audio might be a bit lacking at times; they had technical difficulties with one microphone and ended up passing another one around which sounded a lot different; many times the mic cut out, and sometimes the speaker (ie, from the audience) was not near a mic. I hope the end result is enough for folks to bite into.

More later. I would love to get feedback from board members as well – we will have to see if anyone wishes to share their thoughts.

 

UPDATE: Vimeo video now available:

http://vimeo.com/69751582

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41 Responses to “June 24th board retreat”

  1. pattsi Says:

    This is interesting–maybe the time of day was the major deterrent; maybe not. If not, ought not the administration and board take a step back and ask why so little apparent citizen involvement when it comes to the education of their children and those of others along with the use of taxpayer dollars?

  2. Jackie Says:

    I think this was a retreat planned and intended for the board of education members. I have the impression that the the board members for whom this event was planned WERE able to attend and be present. I am not a board of education member, hence the retreat was not something I chose to attend. As a public meeting, members of the general public are of course able to be present. But this event wasn’t intended to be a “retreat for the general public.” If it were, it probably would have been held at a different time and place and I may have attended. But that wasn’t the primary purpose of this board retreat.

    I am extremely involved in the education of my children and others and the use of my taxpayer dollars. The fact that I did not attend a board retreat should not be at all “equated” with lack of involvement. There are many ways to be an involved citizen–not all of which involve attending a board retreat. It seems presumptuous to assume that members of the public who did not attend are not involved or concerned.

  3. pattsi Says:

    Ah, was not part of the stated purpose of the retreat to hear from the public. This was further indicated by the planned interlacing of public comment during the retreat as a form of conversation rather than just a 3 minute, one-direction statement.The fact that only two citizens chose to attend if for no other reason than to listen to the decision makes have a conversation about Unit 4 in an informal setting is worth further discussion. It is at a retreat type setting that the course of an entity gets set.

  4. Jackie Says:

    I reviewed the agenda for the retreat and it did not at all seem to have a primary purpose of hearing from the public. The topic was stated as “Superintendent’s Goals” and the following background provided:
    “Each year goals and indicators are agreed on between the Board of Education and the Superintendent as part of her contract. This retreat will serve as a means to discuss the goals in the contract and determine the metrics for evaluation”
    So, it seems to me that the “big idea” was bringing board members up to date on the metrics currently in use and begin providing the board with sufficient background information and data that it might be able to appropriately identify future goals and metrics for reviewing the Supt’s job performance. It seems reasonable and transparent to me that it was done in a format that allowed for public audience and participation, but this still seems to me to be discussion intended to be between the board and the superintendent it employs. We in the general public elected these board members to represent us in these kinds of situations.

  5. pattsi Says:

    Jackie, I understand your perspective. That said, now that I sit on the other side of the desk and see how early policy begins taking shape and when this early shaping happens how hard it is to turn the “ship around.” So I always encourage citizens to put an oar in the water at the very beginning. For example, this evening the Community Justice TF will be presenting the final report to the CB at a study session. I attended each and every TF meeting. I know no one from the public attended. I also already know that there will people speaking this evening during public participation who will take to task what is missing in the report. I always respect public input, but now is almost after the fact. And the county could not have afforded to pay for this report when one considers the citizens who gave time and expertise to work on community justice. Change only occurs when there two-way engaged conversations. This simply never happens at any board meetings.

  6. charlesdschultz Says:

    Thanks to the both of you for bringing different perspectives; I value that. I think Jackie is technically correct in that board meetings are for board members to conduct business, and I also want to explore what it looks like with greater community involvement. When the administration and the board says that part of their job is to collaborate (engage, involve, communicate, etc) with the community, what does that mean? And as Jackie points out, it isn’t that every single person shows up at a board meeting. 🙂 But what is it? I think we are trying to discover that, much like three blind men describing an elephant.

    • charlesdschultz Says:

      Just stumbled upon this quote from the IASB:

      The local school board grew out of the town meeting, dating back more than 200 years to the original Thirteen Colonies. Times have changed, but the basic function of school boards today remains the same: to provide local citizen control over education at a point as close to the parent and child as possible. This means that the school board should represent the citizens of the school district — not just some of the citizens, but all of them. Because different citizens have different ideas about schools, this responsibility always presents a challenge

      http://www.iasb.com/pdf/YourSchoolBoardandYou.pdf

      The page goes on to describe the governmental responsibilities of the board, how board meetings are OMA but not public meetings, and how boards should engage the community. It is a really good read – very tempted to quote more here, but that would make for an excessively long quote. Go read it in context.

      • pattsi Says:

        I do not understand the contradictions within the first sentence of the last paragraph–OMA, but not a public meeting, but boards are to engage the public??????????????

      • charlesdschultz Says:

        Did you read the document, yet? Boards must conduct business, and they must conduct business in open session. But the author makes a point to relate how board (business) meetings are not town hall meetings from which they supposedly descended.

        I am not saying that the IASB has it 100% correct. My own point is that we are collectively trying to figure this thing out. It seems to me that the board should have business meetings and separate “town hall meetings”, which can occur in just about any medium and format (ie, social media, online forums, brick-and-mortar forums, “office hours”, actual town hall meetings, etc). Maybe I am wrong. But this is what I read out of the IASB document

  7. charlesdschultz Says:

    The full slide deck has been posted on BoardDocs:
    http://www.boarddocs.com/il/champil/Board.nsf/files/98ZNSK55B9B7/$file/06%2024%2013_Monday_Noon_Revision7_Changed_Font.pdf

    79 slides, covers a lot of stuff. The slides attempting to explain the Achievement Framework are heavy with numbers and details; there are also slides explaining statistics on enrollment and suspensions.

  8. charlesdschultz Says:

    Some very eyebrow-raising stats:
    – 1132 total suspensions in 2012-2013 (732 kids suspended, 7.7% of total student population)
    – 485 (43%) of those suspensions were for K-5
    – 342 (30%) of total suspensions were for 89 individuals who were suspended 3 times or more
    – 818 (72%) of the total suspensions were for African-American students
    – 34.9% of the total student population is categorized as Black (from the District’s 2012 “Fast Facts”)

    The number of total suspensions is actually on a downward trend from previous years (good in and of itself, but still a shockingly high number as it is). It blows my mind that we suspended 485 students in K-5 in 2012!! Really?!? Wow. Of the 1132 suspended, we are told that 342 are for repeat offenders (3 times or more) and that 72% are African-American, even though they only make up 35% of the population.

    Is it just me or is something very wrong with this picture.

    • Vav Says:

      I’m guessing that you think that there is something wrong with the disparity between percentage of black students and percentage of black suspensions.
      If suspensions are based on the behavior of the students, U4 is properly assessing suspensions. Based on my understanding and experience, U4 is properly assessing suspensions.
      Going back to the disparity, the problem is then that black children exhibit bad behavior at a rate higher than that of other race children. I contend that the bad behavior is likely not something that U4 is causing, rather they are having to deal with it. While we are focused on what the schools are doing, if we want to solve the disparity problem we need to look to the cause of bad behavior and fix it.
      Alternately, If there are suspensions that are based on something that is not the behavior of the children there is something wrong and action should be taken immediately.

      • charlesdschultz Says:

        Vav, I hear what you are saying, but I do not agree 100%.

        First, the fact that 485 K-5 children are being suspended from school just flabbergasts me. We do not have the correlating information to know what offense in particular these children are exhibiting, but they are less than 12 years old for crying out loud. 485 children. We also do not have the data to know if these are out-of-school suspensions or in-school.

        Second, the part that I most disagree with is that folks are being punished because they deserve it. From personal talks with you, I think I know where your heart is, but when I look at our mis-named “criminal justice system” and “correctional facilities”, I see a disproportionate number of minorities who, instead of being “college ready”, are “prison ready”. The current method of “punishing” these citizens is not working.

        I have no doubt that bad behavior does in fact occur, and I have no doubt that Unit 4 does in fact “have to deal with it.” But in my heart I disagree that suspensions is the most holistic way to “deal with it.” If the motto of the school district is to prepare kids for college, then school is failing these particular kids. Again, I know you say there are problems outside school – no one is arguing against that. But if the officials say their goal is to prepare kids for college, well then that is what I expect them to do. Period.

        And let me be clear; I am very impressed with the intentions, stated goals and direction of our current administration and school board (not that I agree with every single thing). In my opinion, the largest obstacle is that of “traditional education”, “the way we have always done it.” Change is exceptionally difficult, and unfortunately never happens fast enough. 🙂

        Should justice be blind?

      • Karen Says:

        It would be a difficult case to make that Unit 4 is responsible (in a cause-effect sense) for a statistic that repeats nation-wide. I wonder what would have happened had Unit 4 not entered, voluntarily, into the consent decree. As a parent I am not sure there has been much tangible improvement ‘behind’ the numbers. There seemed to be shifting around of programs to result in a better ‘numbers’ impression at particular buildings, but, if Culver credits himself with narrowing the achievement gap, why is there no ‘formula’ (for lack of a better term) for that? What type of model program did he implement that can be repeated, successfully, across the nation? Numbers game or a real program that results in change.

    • AlisonC Says:

      It appears that you’re confusing number of suspensions with number of students suspended. Some students were suspended more than once, so, for example, most likely fewer than 485 K-5 students were suspended. Your “12% of the total student population” is probably incorrect–one of the slides brags that 93% of students have never been suspended. The actual number of students suspended in 2012-2013 is 732.

      How long has the PBIS program been used in Unit 4 schools? Is it helping to decrease suspensions? I really like what I have seen of it, with the strong emphasis on giving every child the training he/she needs on correct behavior and social skills. I would like to hope that students who start and stay with Unit 4 are more likely to do well, with the more transient population being more difficult to work with and more likely to get suspended. However I have no experience with the middle school or high school population to judge this.

      The African-American statistic (along with the district population for comparison) is definitely worth noticing.

      • charlesdschultz Says:

        Alison,

        Excellent point about the actual number of suspensions, thank you for correcting the numbers (I am going to go back and update the original post). The counter-effect is that the other percentages will go up. Even at 732, the number of children being suspended is way too high for me.

        I also very much like what I seen of PBIS (and the related PBF training). Even though our daughter goes to a school that embraces PBIS (Carrie Busey), I am not in the classrooms to see how it is implemented. I’ll have to ask around to see what kind of effect it has had on suspensions. I am also now curious to find out what the distribution of K-5 suspensions is like among the 11 elementary schools.

  9. pattsi Says:

    It appears that this is an early rendition of the statistics we have pertaining to the adult jail population. There was a comment at the CB study session after the Community Justice TF report that the report did not include much concerning juveniles. This is accurate because that particular charge was only given to the given to the TF in Jan 2013, leaving not much time to cover this important topic. Based on these posted statistics, it might be time for Unit 4 to join with the CB to look at the juvenile issues within the county and what programs might be useful rather than going alone. There are programs administered by the RPC, the county is responsible for the juvenile jail, the county is responsible for the criminal justice budget, which is the largest expenditure of your tax dollars.

  10. pattsi Says:

    Charles, a quote from your posting “It seems to me that the board should have business meetings and separate “town hall meetings”, which can occur in just about any medium and format (ie, social media, online forums, brick-and-mortar forums, “office hours”, actual town hall meetings, etc). Maybe I am wrong. But this is what I read out of the IASB document”

    Your ideas are great, but probably can’t happen under OMA.

    The BOE can meet alternately as a committee of the whole.

    • charlesdschultz Says:

      I beg to differ; the whole board can meet together and talk if they have announced their agenda ahead of time and published it. The Wheaton school district has created what they call “Conversational Meetings” which are basically meetings with one very vague agenda – just talk. They make it clear that no decisions can or will be made during such meetings. They are for conversations. When I presented this idea to Unit 4 (both administrators and board members), I received a mixed response that eventually the school’s legal representative of the time rejected. Other ways to get around OMA – limit board member participation to two members. Online forums where shareholders can publicly present ideas does not go against OMA.

      There are lots of ways, we just have to find out what works for us.

      • pattsi Says:

        The Wheaton example is a committee of the whole, basically. Limiting board member participation to two emulates an example in this community that has caused a lot of conversations as to how decision get made. Online forums are not two way conversations. Why is this any better than turning up at a meeting and presenting an idea or writing a white paper that opens up conversation or a guest editorial. What you want is conversations–only the Wheaton example gives this a chance. But even an idea of a conversation can get shut down depending on who is running the meeting, watch the CB study session of last night.

  11. Karen Says:

    ‘They are less than 12 years old.’ Exactly. The sooner you deal with behavior issues, the better chance you have of destabilizing them vs. giving a ‘they’re just kids’ pass thereby passively/tacitly giving ‘approval’ of the behavior issues. IMO we do no favors to send children on to middle school with well-rooted behavior issues that are going to work against their success in school. Can you fix everything in elementary? Of course not. But, whatever is workable-on should be relentlessly worked at so it becomes default/second nature for a kid. Unit 4 is left to do some of the parenting that sometimes doesn’t happen in the home (for whatever reason/s). All students. too, have the right to a safe learning environment. If kids physically assault others, what is a just and fair consequence to address the damage done the target of the physical aggression/violence? Somebody at a board meeting once said something like: ‘Can’t we get to them before…’ they are making it to the high school level with high levels of suspensions. The intention, as I see it, is not to come down on young kids to be ‘mean.’ It’s done because people want VERY much to see the full potential of all kids realized. Privacy issues would prevent you from reviewing details of elementary cases to determine if you felt a given suspension were ‘justified,’ but, my impression is very much that they do not happen at the drop of a hat. I really don’t think tehy happen at the drop of a hat even though poicy could potenially permit that, so to speak.

    • Vav Says:

      I agree with Karen, better to work the problems earlier.

      We focus on the suspensions because they are important and we focus on the punitive aspects. Remember that there is positive value to suspensions. Suspensions free the classroom from children who are choosing bad behavior so that the kids who choose good behavior are allowed an opportunity to learn in an improved environment. Suspensions are never taken lightly and are to be consequences for bad behavior.

      My experience is that the bar for behavior is already set much lower than it should be. There is too much disruption and bad behavior that is permitted in the classroom. Suspension is one of many arrows in the quiver and I expect that all of the smaller arrows are shot at the problem behavior first and when those don’t work, there have to be consequences.

      • pattsi Says:

        I just can not resist–I have not been in a Unit 4 classroom in years so what I write is mostly rhetorical.

        Question one–what is not happening in the classroom that children act out? What is lacking across the board to fit all the children in a particular classroom?
        Question two–if there are so many suspensions in Unit 4, is the question being asked and answered as to why? Charles is correct that the data needs to be broken down, which does not invade privacy.
        Question three-when a young child is suspended, what accompanying programs are in place so the child is being guided toward behavior that is needed to be accepted in Unit 4?
        Question four–what behavior types trigger suspension?
        Question five–as I previously stated, I am not aware of Unit 4 reaching out to RPC and the county to engage in the programs that are available for intervention. We are very aware of the school to prison pipeline that exists.
        Statement–just because there might be a parallel in the Unit 4 to national numbers is absolutely no justification.
        Statement–there is a list longer than your two arms of people who did not find school to be a place of comfort for them; yet, today are lauded as creative and some very wealthy individuals. This is a bifurcation and one to be looked at in that are we expecting all children to conform to a prescribed norm?

  12. Karen Says:

    ‘In my opinion, the largest obstacle is that of “traditional education”, Maybe there are other issues at play here, but, how does a current-day public education result in this: http://abcnews.go.com/US/george-zimmerman-witness-read-letter-wrote-shooting/story?id=19504826
    Is this a good thing? I am old school. Will cursive become obsolete? Are the schools ahead of the game in not teaching cursive (if that is in fact the case)? New Math’ and it’s incarnations have not been terribly successful, it seems. I worry about the ideology marching on, without much accountability/’fact-checking.’

    • AlisonC Says:

      FYI, cursive is still taught in Unit 4!

      • M@ Says:

        I like citations with my facts — it adds fiber to a discussion. So here’s (PDF) the Unit 4 Fifth grade ELA (English Language Arts) curriculum, created/approved in 2006 and reviewed in 2010.

        http://www.champaignschools.org/EnglishLA/Elementary/Fifth%20Grade%20Writing%20Curriculum2010-11.pdf

        The applicable text string that Google yielded “Cursive Handwriting (Zaner-Bloser): Review lower case letters”

        Now I can’t vouch for how much emphasis they place on it, given it’s not on the testing standards that I’m aware of and my kiddos attroucious longhand… of course that may be genetic and an intentionally developed trait to make her signature look like Dad’s…

  13. Karen Says:

    Should I reply to Tim Wise supporters now or later…

    • charlesdschultz Says:

      Now would be just grand. 🙂 Why stop when you are on a roll…

      At some point, I’ll try to respond to your questions and thoughts. There are no simple solutions, and lots of different ideas going forward.

      PS – I had to look up Tim Wise

  14. pattsi Says:

    See below a comment sent to the CB by one of the CJTF members. This is related to juveniles and responds to comments made during the TF report presentation..

    “TheCounty Board also expressed some sympathy for work in prevention with juveniles. It is worth noting that the Access initiative funded by SAMSA is building an infrastructure of community support. While this building process is not yet obviously visible, this coordinated approach is nationally understood to be the best shot at making a difference. However, in order for it to continue after the SAMSA support ends, it will be necessary for this community to find ways to sustain the efforts. This is another place the County can take leadership.”

  15. charlesdschultz Says:

    I thank each of you for the ongoing discussion, even though we have traveled a bit from the original topic. This just tells me where the “really important” issues lie. 🙂

    I get the feeling it is going to be exceptionally difficult for all of us to agree on what the “best” method of addressing discipline is. Even the experts who research this stuff cannot agree.

    There are some ideas I do think we can agree on. For example, addressing the issue of discipline sooner than later; great idea. I think we would all also agree that there are many fundamental issues that arise outside the schools and get brought in.

    For now, we may have to agree to disagree on how exactly to execute discipline. Having said that, I hope that we can agree that discipline must be done in a way that communicates a desire for improvement; it cannot be out of anger, pride or spite.

    As a further tangent, a brief word study on “discipline” is quite interesting. Looking at the online Merriam-Webster, wikipedia and the Free Online Dictionary all mention the more negative aspects of this word, but there is also the more fundamental idea of providing instruction, a refinement if you will. For me, this instruction or refinement should be an implicit element of education. And I fear it is not. I fear discipline is most commonly meted out as a form of (attempted) control, of rule enforcement.

    We have a lot of variables to contend with; Karen mentioned Tim Wise and the anti-racism perspective, Vav reminds us that suspensions are serious and most likely the last resort Unit 4 uses, and Pattsi prickles our thoughts with several questions and a reminder to consider what Access Initiative has done and plans to do.

  16. M@ Says:

    Interesting to see what my good friend Charles is up to! Thanks for continuing on!

    This video may be illuminating to the racial disparity of the application of suspensions:

    While bicycle theft may not initially seem to have much to do with it, notice the difference in *perception* and *expectation* of wrong doing and the *benefit of the doubt* based on race alone. This video nails the definition of white (and also pretty-person) privilege succinctly. It’s awesome in it’s poignancy.

    Further there are racial differences on how children are taught to respond to being admonishted by adults: typically a Caucasian child is taught to look directly at the adults eyes/mouth when being reprimanded in order to show that they are “paying attention” and listening. NOT looking directly at the adult shows lack of attention and possibly resistance. In other cultures looking directly at an adult like this is interpreted as defiance — “eyeballin” and the child’s eyes should be downcast indicating submissiveness… A child giving the wrong body language in an already tense situation can result in misinterpretation/misunderstanding and escalation of punishment — without either party being aware of why it happened!

    “…the systematic nature of Black student failure appears to reside, in part, with cultural incongruities between students and teachers.” – Understanding the discipline gap through a cultural lens: implications for the education of African American students, Intercultural Education,
    Vol. 16, No. 4, October 2005, pp. 317–330 (or in the PDF linked below)

    http://web.multco.us/sites/default/files/ccfc/documents/intercultural_education_-_understanding_the_discipline_gap_through_a_cultural_lens.pdf

    I’m not a prof or researcher, I just play one on the Interwebs…

    • charlesdschultz Says:

      Well, hey, it’s my good friend Matt. 🙂

      The video is quite interesting – the entire “What would you do series” often prompts a lot of introspection and outright unbelief that people would (or would not) do various things under certain circumstances.

      Your quote from the multco site is very much in line with what Dr. Laura Taylor is talking about at the Social Justice Committee and what Cheryl Camacho steered towards via the culturally aware workshops a few months ago.

      I am obligated to weave in a little bit of Paulo Freire and Myles Horton; it makes a lot of sense to me that the “teacher” is also a life-long learner. In that context, it further makes sense that the teacher is expected to learn about the students, their background, their learning styles, what works and what doesn’t. However, more often than not, what I see is that teachers are given a script, a one-size-fits-all curriculum, and told to follow it. With no support for innovative individualism, no support for developing a relationship, no support for going outside the box. I say this even though I have spoken with several teachers who have indeed gone out on a limb and done their own thing, with awesome results that speak to the power of forming relationships and immersing oneself in the gestalt of a child. But that is time consuming and exhausting work, and there is little to no support structure whatsoever.

  17. M@ Says:

    I would also like to see the suspension numbers broken down by school, and ideally by classroom though the teacher’s union might take issue with drilling it down to that level, that is what would be necessary to identify potential cross-cultural “sensitivity” training needs…

    • Jackie Says:

      Classroom level data for suspensions doesn’t sem likely to me to be a sensible way of looking at this issue. I suspect your thought is that classroom level of analysis would identify teachers with poor classroom management skills or poor cross-cultural sensitivity or some other performance issue. Teachers and principals already have available to them lots of different kinds of data that reflect the classroom management performance of teachers–suspension rates are probably not aligned directly with classroom management in many instances because the kinds of behaviors that by policy can result in suspension are very often things that are not really in the direct control of a classroom teacher.
      Examples: I know that a significant proportion of physical altercations between students, especially at secondary school levels, originate outside of school (i.e., at home, or in the neighborhood) and “come to a head” when kids are in close proximity at school. I hear most often of those kinds of fights happening at lunch, or after school while waiting for the bus. Is it a lack of classroom management skills by a teacher that is responsible for that fight when it results in suspensions?
      What about when a high school student arrives at an evening school function under the influence of alcohol or drugs–teacher’s fault? Or how about a middle school student who is cyberbullying on Facebook or Twitter posts made at home? Should a teacher be blamed for that?

      • M@ Says:

        No need to assume or suspect about my thoughts: if you want to see if there’s a problem with certain schools, grades or classrooms issuing a high number of suspensions, then you need the data on suspensions to be refined to that level. If you want to break them down by race, then you need the data to be refined to that level.

        Assumptions about what data will or will not show or claims about what is “sensible” isn’t a rousing argument for those that love data: the issue as stated is a racial imbalance in suspensions across the district along with a surprising number of elementary school suspensions. One might surmise from the statistics presented that a disproportionate number of the elementary suspensions are also African American. Therefore having the raw data on those suspensions available on the macro as well as the micro level will be the most educational about the suspension problem.

        Your examples — while stirring — are mostly about secondary school level issues, not elementary. We have a surprising number of suspensions of students at the elementary level. We can’t know the who, but it’d sure be helpful to know the what, when, where and why of the suspension action. I recall a personal example from 4th grade: I was absent the day they informed the boys about a zero tolerance rule on the playground for “being boys”: regardless of who “started it” both would spend the rest of recess against the wall in time out. One of my friends/classmates (who was aware of the rule change, and also aware that I was not) took a flying leap onto my back and I managed to twist while falling to land on him. He smugly walked to the wall, while I became incensed at being punished for something that I did not do and I bristled at the injustice and escalated by unpolitely and specifically telling the playground monitor what she could go do (while my friend took amusement). No cyber-bullying, no animosity, just a well-laid and well-played trap based on a rules change. Had my family not been well-respected in our small town, I could see how I might’ve been suspended as a 4th grader. My eldest, who is really into quizzes and “would you rather” came close to suspension by asking classmates “If you could kill any of our classmates, who would it be?” for bullying. Also in elementary school but at Unit 4’s BTW. I’m not sure why, but she received the benefit of the doubt. These examples show that it can be a judgement call whether to implement policies or let ’em slide… and the bike theft video dramatically shows white (and beautiful) people are “let slide” a lot more often than African Americans.

        To understand how I fell in love with data, I highly recommend the Freakonomics blog (and book), where they uncovered teachers cheating on high stakes testing in Chicago Public Schools, DC and Atlanta: http://www.freakonomics.com/2011/07/06/massive-teacher-cheating-scandal-uncovered-in-atlanta/ The excerpts of Chapter 1 of the book are available online here: http://www.freakonomics.com/books/freakonomics/chapter-excerpts/chapter-1/ (where they also statistically show Sumo wrestlers cheat as well).

        Having refined data is the best way to locate what you’re looking for. How you address the issue, either by assigning blame as you seemed concerned about, or by another route is another matter entirely. I’m not into the blame game, I’m into the fix it game — and you can’t fix a problem if you don’t know where and when it’s occurring.

      • charlesdschultz Says:

        Matt, I am glad you said it that way, the “fix-it game” as opposed to the blame game. While I share that sentiment, I think perhaps one of our biggest, cooperative hurdles is that we so often have a disagreement of opinion as to what exactly constitutes a “fix”. Or even a problem for that matter. Sometimes it feels like we are fixing things that are not yet broken, other times we break something in a different way by trying to fix it. Example: Controlled Choice. Schools in neighborhoods that are predominantly black become less desirable than schools in predominantly white neighborhoods, leading to a massive amount of busing for black kids. We get a possible lawsuit, and then a Consent Decree which results in even more children being bused and enforced racial quotas at each school (with rather large margins of leniency, and worse, black and white only, not even taking into account Latinos or other ethnicities). After the Supreme Court says we can’t base quotas on race, we switch to some form of SES (which is secretly defined by a consultant out in MA), still busing tons of children all over the place. While we have attempted to address the issue of racial fairness, we created a problem with busing. Are they mutually exclusive?

        As Pattsi and others have pointed out in the past, the problem of accessibility by income level is predetermined by housing patterns – the underchosen schools, which have strategically been converted to Magnet programs, are all in lower SES populations. Which makes one wonder, is mixed-income housing the answer? I don’t believe in silver bullets – it might help, maybe for a few years, but would it then devolve back to what we have now?

        Back to the original thread, the problem I would like to look at is that of high numbers of suspensions. I think we all play a part in that issue – in my way of thinking, it is a community, societal issue. Are the schools setting unrealistic levels of expectations for some children? Our some children being raised in homes and communities that do not properly prepare them for social interactions? Is inherent and implicit bias affecting our decision making? Quite likely these are all true. It is not an easy issue to tackle.

      • AlisonC Says:

        An easy piece of data for Unit 4 to give would be suspensions by grade level. It would be interesting to see how the elementary-level suspensions were distributed. A more difficult report would be something to show how long suspended students had been with Unit 4 before receiving a suspension, and whether this year’s students with suspensions are also last year’s students with suspensions.

  18. pattsi Says:

    One might want to know who and how the incidents resulting in suspensions get reported and based on what criteria. This can be part of the analysis.

  19. pattsi Says:

    Just to kick off the week with some thought questions:
    Charles writes about several teachers who have stepped outside the box with excellent results in the classroom. Of course, this is terrific, but what about the child who moves on to a teacher who is not stepping outside the box for the next grade? Why is there not a push for a superior reward system for those teachers who are bringing interesting aspects into the classroom that stimulate their students to high results via funding sources so they can do more, attending conferences, travel grants to visit other creative schools, etc.? What could Unit 4 aspire to if this was implemented?
    Second–maybe suspensions are the wrong focus–there has been much posting about the suspension data, including myself. Maybe the focus ought to shift to look at what is happening about the lack of available housing in this community, aka C-U Citizen Access article in last Saturday’s N-G. The housing situation here is an embarrassment and now Bristol Place residents will be displaced, put at the top of the housing list, all of which aggravates the present housing situation. We have a mind set of level and area and build new no matter what historic disruption occurs let alone human displacement. Look at the research done by Lawrence Katz, Harvard U, known as Moving to Opportunity. It appears that this work bypassed this community. Another variable that affects the home climate has to do with how many hours the adults have to work to earn sufficient monies to run the household. Right now in the present economy, this is a lot of hours away from home. What alternatives does this community offer to fill the void of “absent parents”? One more variable–adults in jail for non violent crimes–this takes them out of the home, away from work, creates other monetary issues, such as being able to pay bail, etc. Maybe some of these variables ought to be the focus as to why there is a need or perceived need to suspend a student.
    Next to my argument that one layer to work toward that would immensely improve the school integration across the board is economically integrated housing. It is done other places, why not here? Look at the plans for Bristol Place–this is not economically integrated? Think about the present school situation and how different it might be if we as a community has pushed for economically integrated housing 3 decades ago. No consent decree, no Culver, and a district with a lot more money not spent on attorneys.
    And until we can change the housing patterns, why is there not a push to make certain that each and every school in this district are functioning at the same level regarding quality of teachers, successes in the classroom, number of suspensions per school, etc. What a difference this could make.
    What would Unit 4 be like if we, as a community, focused on resolving the above?

  20. charlesdschultz Says:

    UPDATE: Vimeo video now available:

  21. quick updates | Citizen4: A citizen's blog about Champaign Unit 4 Says:

    […] Part 2 of the Board Retreat (concluding the first one in June) […]


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