Seeing the trees, or a forest?

The “Keep Central Central” group, formerly known as “REWIND” (and with slightly different leadership), is making a push to argue for a site for the “new” Central to be almost anywhere except Interstate Drive. Well, anywhere south of I-74. There is a press conference advertised this coming Saturday (Jan 31) at 10:00 am at the Champaign Public Library; the doors will open at 9:15 am for the room for people to gather and mingle. And this morning, Bruce Hannon has a letter to the editor in the NG.

Even though these conversations are happening WAY TOO LATE in the game, I am glad that they are finally happening. Moreover, I wish more people were involved in those conversations, especially new voices.

But here is where I have a problem – I will use a quote from Mr. Hannon’s letter to make an example:

“Only a no vote will cause this board to work with our citizenry toward the best solution, a central city location.”

No, Mr. Hannon, I think you missed the bigger picture.


Rather than direct my arguments against Mr. Hannon, with whom I have never spoken nor communicated, I will address this as an open letter for all of us to consider.

First and foremost, there is an even bigger vote that just happens to be on the same day (April 7th) – voting for 4 school board members (there is one more seat that is uncontested). If the citizenry were truly earnest in wanting a board to work with them, they would be very mindful about whom they elect to represent them, and then hold those elected agents accountable. Voting “NO” on the referendum and also not focusing on new board members is a complete waste of time, energy and votes.

Second, stop being so passive aggressive! I have heard quite a few members of the “citizenry” complain about the board, but leave out the most crucial aspect of having a voice – they do not offer constructive criticism or viable alternatives for the board to address such complaints. If you think the board is not working with the stakeholders or “owners”, how do you suggest they do so? Believe you me, I have already made my own suggestions, and have been talking with board member candidates about changes I would like to see (see my IASB post).


So in my opinion, we have spent way too much time focusing on the “trees” of a high school site. Yes, it is an important issue, and obviously a lot of people feel passionate about it; it is not my intent to mitigate that. However, we must keep in mind the whole forest – what is it that the Champaign Community Unit School District #4 does? You could answer that question by looking at the Mission Statement, crafted quite a long time ago and tweaked over the years. More specifically, what do you want our fine school district to do? What does Unit 4 produce or provide?


In our community of some 80,000 odd people, we have 80,000 different ways to answer those questions. I believe that is a problem. So why not have passionate discussions about this root issue? Why not form citizen groups around this topic?


One way or another, the “tree” of a new high school site will pass away in a few years, and will be replaced by other “trees”. If we do not contemplate the gestalt of public education, we will forever be bickering about which tree to tackle next.


So here is your homework. Figure out what you want public schools to do. From there, determine which school board candidates are willing to make that an Ends for Unit 4, or persuasively convince them – it is the job of the elected school board members to exercise governance over the school district. Period. Take this conversation to existing school board members as well – we already know that two of them are in the middle of four-year terms.

Your homework is due on April 7th. Turn it in at the County Clerk’s office.


PS – one final note. The NG tells us that recently in Danville the public had an opportunity to “meet and greet” two of the seven school board candidates. I am calling on the nine Champaign school board candidates to hold open “meet and greet” times as well. Kerris already has semi-regular “office hours”, take advantage of it! I collected their contact information on a separate page if you want to reach out to them; most, if not all, are more than happy to meet and talk with members of the community.

Around the district

The Jan 26th special board meeting agenda has been posted, which reminded me to write a post about several items.


Stephanie Stuart has been sending out notices of some really excellent news this past week:

“Thirty-five Unit 4 students will be honored in the 2015 Martin Luther King, Jr. Creative Expressions Competition, including 12 winning entries and 23 honorable mention projects. Students will be honored at the Annual Celebration at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts on Saturday, January 24 from 10:00 a.m. until 12:30 p.m. This year, 182 of the 207 entries to the contest were submitted by Unit 4 students.”

Additionally, “nine Unit 4 high school seniors have received scholarships from the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “Living the Dream” Scholarship Fund.” (Unit 4 news article)

Earlier today, Habeeb Habeeb dropped by Centennial to honor Aliyah Maldonado (Unit 4 news); I hear it was inspiration and emotional.


One of the items on the Jan 24th agenda is a presentation about Vision 20/20, which you can read more about on the IASB website; Dr. Wiegand serves on the Vision 20/20 Committee. There is also a short article in today’s NG about Tolono supporting Vision 20/20. I had an opportunity to chat with Unit 7 Superintendent Andrew Larson to better understand his purpose, and I was very encouraged to hear that others are getting sick and tired of the “same old same old politics” in Illinois, and want to take a stand against it, and stand for high-quality, truly accessible education for all children.


Nicole Lafond, Education writer for the News-Gazette, advertised the “first of many weekly school reports“. Among other things, we learn that Jefferson won a $5000 grant from Lowes to renovate the courtyard and improve the library, and mentions the “First Lego League Central State Tournament”, which sounds really cool to me. If you happen to attend, I would love to hear what you think.


Kenwood has been awarded $3500 to document the Kenwood brand of awesomeness; look for videos, tweets, demos and flyers that share not only what the Kenwood Stars are doing, but why they are doing it and what they are accomplishing. Along that line, CTRL-Shift will be at the first of two Schools of Choice Information Sessions showing support for Kenwood. I am sure the other schools will be showing off as well. 🙂 More info:

Tuesday, January 27, 2015 at 6 p.m. at Stratton Elementary School.

The Info Session will provide families with an overview of the Schools of Choice process, showcase each of the District’s 12 elementary schools, and provide the opportunity to ask questions of Choice staff members.


The DLR architects will be meeting with the folks at Centennial next Monday (Jan 26th) to discuss the recent changes to the proposed referendum and how that affects the expansion plans. You can imagine that there will be a lot of heated discussion. 🙂


Lastly, I have to give a final shout-out for the #edCampCU happening tomorrow (Saturday, Jan 24rd), 8:00 to 2:00 at the College of Education (1310 South Sixth Street).


Larry Cuban’s three-part series on automation in education

Hat tip to George Reese for alerting me to this series – if it doesn’t make you worried, I would want to check your pulse.


I will comment directly on his blog, but overall, I agree with his assertion that

“(d)riving this change is the market imperative to cut costs, raise productivity, and increase profits. That imperative, married to remarkable gains in applying artificial intelligence to professional tasks, has swept across the private sector.”

He is right to re-focus on the true purpose of education:

“Tax-supported public schools have been and are social, political, and moral institutions whose historic job has been to help children and youth acquire multiple literacies, enter the labor market well prepared, vote, serve on juries, contribute to their communities, think for themselves, and live full and worthwhile lives.”


All of us would do well to remember the big picture. Often. Technology is simply a tool. Use the tool to get a specific job done. If you want to automate grading tests, awesome, knock yourself out, that does save a lot of time. But I don’t send my child to school to take tests. But it goes much deeper than that.


Here is my conclusion. All this automata really opens the door so that children (or anyone who sucks air) can learn the nuts and bolts of grammar, math, science, etc from any location on the planet (give or take). So why not do that at home, or the library, or the park? Make that the homework. But when they get to “school” (whatever it looks like for you), there they can then be taught to participate, successfully and with confidence, in society. Teach my child how to live. Help me teach my child how to craft persuasive arguments, how to resolve conflict, how best to respond to oppression, how to fight for justice. Allow my child to create, to wonder, to inquire, to explore. That is what I want my school to excel at.

“We make the road by walking”, part deux

Recently, Dr. George Reese (MTSE, CTRL-Shift, etc) emailed the CTRL-Shift list about a video he had watched of the “Good Morning Mission Hill” school model (from Founder Deborah Meier). I asked about borrowing it, so he brought it to the Blind Pig for the CTRL-Shift gathering tonight. I took it home and watched it straight away.

Now I am agitated inside because there is so much that I love about this school model that I dearly want to see in my local schools, but I don’t know how to make that a reality.

There are some major things that hit me hard.

First and foremost, it comes down to allowing humans to be human, allow the natural to be natural. And fundamentally to grow relationships. In fact, there was a line that a teacher used that almost exactly echoes the way Lisa Delpitt ends her “Other Peoples’ Children” book – “to teach you, I must know you”. Relationships are hard things, and our modern schools do not prioritize relationships. Yet, in my opinion, learning how to “do” relationships is probably the single most important factor in a successful society. I would ask Martin if he agrees, since we share many aspects in our world view. It seems to me that humans, and many other living creatures, are naturally hardwired for relationships.

Second, the school takes integration to a whole new level. It so much reminded me of Paulo Freire and Myles Horton (in fact, when I write my blog post about this, I will steal the title of their book, “We make the road by walking”) and their Highlander Folk School. So while we use new words like “project-based learning”, “collaborative spaces”, “student-directed outcomes”, really this just repackages older ideas that have older names (and so says Rebecca Patterson, who lived through something similar). For all I know, Freire and Horton recycled ideas that predated even them. They not only integrated, very successfully, people who are “different” (differently-abled or otherwise), but they integrated assessment (I absolutely love how they rendered assessment as “to sit next to”) and life-skills right into the daily flow of class time.

Third; while I do not yet share Dr. Reese’s conviction that PARCC writers set out to destory public education (*grin*), I would consent that standardized testing has had that end result. It seems that standardized testing killed what was great about Good Morning Mission Hill. But why? At the Blind Pig today we talked about what an awesome school Leal was. Is it merely the nature of these things to ebb and flow, to wax and wane like a moon visiting each chapter of its interminable cycle?



During a brief chat with Todd Lash and Minsoo Park at Kenwood today, I was commenting about how we got to where we are, and Minsoo wisely, succintly said “money”. Big money drives the federal mandates, while at the same time sucking away the very money needed to support those mandates. At the same time, “little money” is spent frivolously, without accountability – our tax dollars hard at work.

Last night I read the “young reader’s edition” of “I am Malala“; this was a totally fascinating, if shortened, account of a woman with tremendous bravery, amazing courage and wise beyond her years. She literally put her life on the line, multiple times, to pursue that which is good. Is this not what we all should be doing?

We will not be judged by what we say but by what we do. The path our feet make will show where we have been and how far we traveled.

I titled this post “part deux” because I have written about Freire and Horton’s book before.

Dialog with ISBE on PARCC

I had an opportunity to have a phone conference with two representatives of the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE); Angela Chamness (Director of Assessments) and Wes Bruce (off-site consultant). It was an amazing exploration of why we are doing PARCC the way we are (see previous post), where we came from and where we are going. But before I go further, both individuals are very open to hearing from others in regards to Assessments and invite you to contact them:

Angela Chamness:
Wes Bruce:


During my conversation with Angela and Wes, I expressed several concerns:

  • Preparing for PARCC, let alone actually taking the test, takes away many hours of instruction time
  • The TestNav website very much limits the student’s test-taking experience, to the point that it is overly distracting
  • Pearson has a history of providing tests that test how well the one being tested can take a test
  • There is no benefit to the student, nor to the parent, given that the teacher already knows how a student is performing; the only benefit to the school is that they receive state and federal money


Ms. Chamness and Mr. Bruce helped me to understand a lot of what is going on from their point of view, which I found exceptionally enlightening. Moreover, both seem to have a strong desire to see they system improve, and realize that what we have now is far from optimal. They argue that what we have now is a step in the right direction, away from what we had last year. But what struck me the most is their desire to bring back a sense of creativity for both teachers and students, and that the current system, perhaps as an unintended consequence, only serves to smother creativity (my words, not theirs).


Angela, as Director of Assessments, told me how she has been working with many teachers and community members on how to assess student progress, and how that gets implemented and what it looks like. Also, as a former educator and administrator herself, she is very passionate about making sure these are relevant and can smoothly be integrated into teaching. She painted a “big picture” of what a better method of assessment might be like, and I concurred with the idea that, ideally, teachers should be able to assess students on the fly as they cover core curriculum material. It sounds like the hard part is standardizing that part of it, so that Teacher A from one school district will have an assessment that can be equally compared to Teacher B from another school district. To me, it seems like Common Core already provides this, with the new Common Core report cards we already have. But back to the point, Angela has some really great ideas about the future of assessments. For instance, right now they are working on evaluating an open-source assessment tool (no more details provided as of yet, hoping to get more); I think this is awesome because it gives more control to “stakeholders”. Angela is also very aware of the need for accountability; while she did not say this, it seems to me that Pearson is not accountable to anyone, nor those who worked on PARCC.

A brief history. Once upon a time, we had “No Child Left Behind”, which was a federal mandate applied to all states. Folks got tired of one state’s “standard” test score did not correlating at all to another state’s, so they hashed out a set of standards which became known as “Common Core State Standards”, with the idea that all states would embrace them as a way for an” A” to be absolute. CCSS, as a framework, did not specify exactly how states would assess students, teachers and school districts, so another group of folks formed a consortium to define a common way to test and monitor. This became known as PARCC, and only 13 states joined the consortium (with Pennsylvania getting honors as “participating” whatever that means). They had a procurement committee that put out a bid and awarded Pearson the contract. So while all 13 states participated in developing test questions and content, it was all dumped into Pearson’s melting pot and mixed together, with no vetting of the end product.

Wes comes from a more technical background, and told me of how he has fought (and lost) many battles in Indiana over the topic of testing. He believes it is important to offer the test on a device that a student is already familiar with, but I took that a step further and suggested that, since a computer (or any “device”) is really just a tool, like a pencil, why cannot the student choose which tool they wish to use? It doesn’t make any sense to me that we force students to use a tool, especially if the tool gets in the way of assessments in the first place. But I really value Wes’s input; it seems like he “gets it”. He understands how computers have a lot of potential, especially in our evolving world. In fact, he seemed rather passionate that our technological world is changing so much, we need to develop and allow students the necessary agility and flexibility to adapt to those changes by exposing them as often as possible.


It was a very exciting conversation, mostly because there was a lot of give and take on both sides. Angela and Wes are both very genuine, energetic, involved and intelligent individuals. I told them, on several occasions, that to me it is important to be a problem-solver in regards to PARCC; they responded with agreement and wanting to cultivate a generation of students who are also problem-solvers. For our action steps, we came up:

  1. Angela will get the ball rolling on a “big picture” website, which will provide a 10,000 foot view of what assessment is and why we do it, where we came from, where we are, and where we are going. I suggested it be easy to read, light, have pictures and brief, easy to digest quickly.
  2. Angela is forming engagement groups and will invite me to one; the purpose is to look at what we have and how we can improve it


I was reminded that Common Core is supposed to provide a framework, a skeletal set of standards so that we have a common benchmark. With this in mind, here is what we read on the PARCC website:

“These high quality, computer-based K–12 assessments in Mathematics and English Language Arts/Literacy give teachers, schools, students, and parents better information whether students are on track in their learning and for success after high school, and tools to help teachers customize learning to meet student needs. The PARCC assessments will be ready for states to administer during the 2014-15 school year.”



The general contact information for the ISBE Assessment office is:

Division of Student Assessment
Illinois State Board of Education
100 North First Street, E-216
Springfield, IL 62777
Phone: (866) 317-6034
Fax: (217) 782-6097

Teardown of PARCC via TestNav

I recently had an opportunity to watch a class of 4th graders attempt to take a PARCC test via the TestNav website. I was disappointed by the interface, let alone how the content failed to keep some students on task. Later I googled a sample test to try it out for myself, and was absolutely HORRIFIED at what I was witnessing. Following is a page-by-page report of the TestNav PARCC test, specifically 4th grade ELA (English Language Arts).

tl;dr – TestNav sucks

Starting point:

The very fact that Pearson is behind this raises serious red flags for me. My professional experience with Pearson is that they are in it solely to make money. They don’t give a crap about content and/or actual assessments. Again, this is my own take, others may differ.


Page (or screen) 1. The very first sentence does a great job at setting the scene and describing the overall objective of this test. So I read the story and moved on to the question. Or thought I had read the story. Paragraph 18? I only see three paragraphs. Oh, there are 22 “paragraphs” altogether, wow! A bit more reading to do. This is problem #1. How is a child supposed to know there is more to read “below the fold”? There are no instructions to scroll down, and the interface blankly assumes that the user inherently knows how to interpret the scrollbar near the text. Minus one point for Pearson. Problem number two; I spent about 5 minutes or so reading through this story, and this first page is asking two questions about a single word in the entire thing. So now my mind is all caught up about the definition of a single word, and the rest of the story gets flushed out of my short term memory.

Final problem; so I answer two questions. What next. Ahh, yes, the right arrow button, like a web browser. Good thing there are instructions for that (/sarcasm).


Read on to see the other 22 pages and my conclusion…

Read the rest of this entry »

You are going to be @EdCampCU

edcampcu-94Yes, you are going to EdCampCU! Why? Because you care about public education and you want to play a role in making sure it gets done right. Don’t have kids in school? You still pay taxes, and more importantly, how we educate the kids is going to determine what our future society will look like.


“So cliché” you say. You still don’t care? Fine, I am going to pull out my Ace O’ Spades – because you have never been to an EdCamp before and this is going to blow your socks off!

January 24, 2015
Saturday 8:00 AM – 2:00 PM
College of Education, University of Illinois
1310 South 6th Street
Champaign, Illinois 61820


More info:


Bonus: get Todd Lash to explain  @nathan_stevens @taylorswift13 @neiltyson