Part 2 of dismantling racism in our schools: Resolution to Declare Racism is a Public Health Crisis

As many of you know by now, the Unit 4 School Board passed the “Resolution to Declare Racism is a Public Health Crisis as it Adversely Impacts our Students, Families, Staff, and Community at Large” on June 24th. The Resolution outlines 10 given facts or points, and uses those points as a springboard for 13 directives (I did not consider the last Section, called Section XIII, a directive) for the school district as a whole, the Superintendent specifically, and various named committees such as the Policy Review Committee, the Discipline Equity/Advisory Task Force (DEA), and the Education Equity Excellence (EEE) Committee. A draft resolution was circulated via social media prior to the meeting; about 93 people provided public comment (some spoken in person, others read by Dr. Gianina Baker) over the course of two hours. They represented groups like HV Neighborhood Transformation, Champaign County Anti-Racist Coalition (CCARC), Champaign Federation of Teachers (CFT), National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Paign to Peace, the Garden Hills Neighborhood Association, medical professionals, higher ed professors, and the Trauma Resiliency Initiative. A large portion self-identified as parents. They covered topics like removing SROs/police from schools (23), restructuring the history curriculum (9), less talk and more action (6), and the need for more Black teachers (6), among many others. I believe everyone spoke in favor of the Resolution. For the last hour, board members motioned, discussed and voted on the Resolution.


The Unit 4 Resolution used the same-titled June 8th Resolution of the Akron School Board as a template. Dr. N. J. Akbar, the Vice President of the Akron School Board and the Associate Dean for Academic Diversity at Kent State University, originally drafted the Resolution and then collected feedback from fellow board members and community stakeholders. When I asked Dr. Akbar what inspired him to draft this Resolution, he provided the following comment, which he has agreed to allow me to share:


Below is a presentation that I did for over 100 Ohio School Board members a little over a week ago. It explains more of what I am referencing and has a list of resources in it.
As far as what motivated me to write it, there are multiple reasons. One, I am a race and culture in education scholar professionally and by advanced training, therefore, I knew the importance of going beyond a simple condemnation statement. I also recognized that there was momentum between the board. As I began writing the resolution, I spoke with each board member about what I was planning to do and all appeared supportive of reading what I was putting together. In the process of drafting the language, I did receive two calls from community members urging the school district to do something more than condemning racism. Additionally, I sent the draft for feedback to our City Council President and the County Councilwoman leading the charge in those chambers. I also sent the draft after the board had weighed in to our NAACP President for feedback.
The final version included all of those levels of feedback plus the feedback from the administration and our legal counsel.
I have tons of resources. I am not sure exactly what you are looking for but here are a few videos that serve as great conversation starters and dismantling some misconceptions.  – THIS IS THE BEST ONE!!!!


The Akron School Board President, Patrick Bravo, also said:

‘We decided to “link arms” with our city council and county council in going so far as to declare racism a public health crisis. There is a similar ongoing effort in the state legislature.’ Can we do that in Champaign as well? Have we already started?


The Champaign School Board is preparing to make some major changes; we all need to work together to keep this momentum going. The reason I wrote this blog post was to share what I have found so far, but also to open the door for more discussion and learning. Our job, as the community, is to govern the school district through the School Board, holding the School Board accountable (CUSD #4 Board Policies 105 “The People and Their School District”).


I close with the July 3rd NPR video “Frederick Douglass’ Descendants Deliver His ‘Fourth Of July’ Speech”, a message to white people about the Black experience of July 4th:




The difficulty of disentangling false ideas – Part 1 of dismantling systemic racism in our schools

“And where false Ideas are twisted into our Minds, it is with Difficulty we get fairly disentangled.”

— John Woolman, “Some Considerations on Keeping Negroes” (1762), page 30

Stamped from the Beginning coverDr. Ibram X. Kendi tells us that black folks are “Stamped from the Beginning” as criminals, as inferior to whites, as barbaric, uncivilized, cursed, unredeemed creatures. On pages 89-90 of his “definitive history of racist ideas in America”, Dr. Kendi quotes from John Woolman’s second pamphlet, “Some Considerations on Keeping Negroes”, admonishing us that associations that have been woven into our thought processes may cause us to arrive at incorrect conclusions, and ultimately deteriorates and destroys our objectivity. On page 30 of Woolman’s pamphlet, Woolman proposes a thought experiment in the context of the colonies in 1762; if a white person is orphaned as an infant and happens to become a slave, white people will think that is wrong and unjust; however, white people have no problem with blacks becoming slaves at all, no matter how honest and good the black folks are. Woolman says this is because of the association of Slavery with Blacks and Liberty (Freedom) with Whites. Dr. Kendi proposes a very well researched idea on how these associations have become entangled, twisted into our minds.

Taking a quick look at suspension statistics in Unit 4

There is not much available on the Unit 4 website for statistics on suspensions; I did find some data mentioned in the August 13, 2012 BOE meeting, and I also received a copy of the 5/1/2019 EEE report and the 10/17/2019 EEE report. From those three sources, I have the following numbers:

District Suspensions by Ethnicity

WhiteBlack/African AmericanHispanicMultiracialAsianNative American
2017-2018 (1)23110915
2017-2018 (2)5136823555
2018-2019 (1)22191719
2018-2019 (2)2531715410
1) 5/1/2019 report
2) 10/17/2019 report
Discrepancy between the 5/1 report and the 10/17 report

I believe that starting in SY2016-2017, the district stopped reporting in-school-suspensions and attendance at ACTIONS, since the district was only mandated to report out of school suspensions to the state.

ISBE also reports the “Exclusionary Discipline – Districts in the Top 20% for Three Consecutive Years”, and the latest “Racial Disproportionality Data” for Champaign Unit 4 shows:

TotalExplusions +Suspensions% of TotalTotalExplusions +Suspensions% of TotalTotalExplusions +Suspensions% of Total
Students of Color64234426.8864034296.762965859.29

While I am still looking for more data (and better ways to analyze it), what I have found so far clearly shows that white students are being suspended far less often than Black/African American students. What is even more telling is the reason given for suspension – the top 5 reasons (using the total counts from all three reports) were:

  1. Physical confrontations w/student
  2. Verbal abuse to staff
  3. Physical confrontation w/staff
  4. Disruptive behavior
  5. Disobedience

Each of these reasons are used more often than weapons and theft. How is it that such a disproportionate percentage of students of color are being disciplined, and for reasons that are rather subjective in nature? Have false ideas been twisted into our minds?

Board Member Elizabeth Sotiropoulos calls on her fellow board members, the administration and the community to dismantle a racist educational system

At the June 8th, 2020, Unit 4 School Board meeting, board member Elizabeth Sotiropoulos addressed the Board and the Administration (and indirectly, the community as well) with very strong words about “dismantling the system that fails our black students academically and suspends and expels our black students at levels that have been increasing in this past decade”. I suggest you read her entire message, or listen to her speak (Vimeo June 8th BOE meeting, 22:44 – 27:24; alternatively, I uploaded a clip of just her, shared from my box account).

Ms. Sotiropoulos has three points, all focused on educational justice:

  • our plan to safely return to school in the fall
  • the contracts between Unit 4 and the Champaign Police Department
  • address our dire need to dismantle white privilege and systemic racism in Unit 4

She states:

“We need a plan that will intentionally create a new educational system and establish a new culture of anti-racism. This plan will hold all administrators, teachers, and staff accountable for dismantling our current educational system that benefits our white students and fails our black students. There is no question that our system is extremely racist – decades of data, court cases, and countless demands from our black community members, along with their allies, prove that our district drastically benefits white students while harming black students and their families.”

13th Documentary coverIn “The New Jim Crow”, Michelle Alexander tells us the story of mass incarceration in the US. The documentary “13th”, pulling a lot of material from her book as well as many other respected researchers and subject-matter experts, paints that story on screen by correlating the effects of the “War on Drugs” and the red-lining housing practice in Chicago to the massive increases in the prison population, consisting mostly of African Americans. Wrong ideas twisted into their minds effectively resulted in a war on black people.

Even though John Woolman wrote his words 258 years ago, the echoes of bias and prejudices remain with us today. Dr. James Anderson (dean of the College of Education and affiliate Professor of History at the University of Illinois) presents “Race and Cultural Diversity in American Life and History”, in which he describes how Blacks are often seen as “uppity”, “having an attitude” and “loud”. Is the over-representation of Black/African American students in Unit 4 discipline issues a direct result of implicit bias (wrong ideas)? Do we think our black children are inferior to white (or Asian) children? No matter how you answer those questions, the fact is that we treat our black students much harsher than whites. During the Feb 27th EEE Committee meeting, committee member Jennifer Enoch rightly called this situation “morally reprehensible”.

How to be an Antiracist coverIn Dr. Kendi’s “How to be an Antiracist”, he defines a racist policy as “any measure that produces or sustains racial inequity between racial groups.” (page 18). On pages 231-232, he outlines some steps one can take to “eliminate racial inequality in our spaces”:

  1. Admit racial inequality is a problem of bad policy, not bad people.
  2. Identify racial inequality in all of its intersections and manifestations.
  3. Investigate and uncover the racist policies causing racial inequity.
  4. Invent or find antiracist policy that can eliminate racial inequity.
  5. Figure out who and what group has the power to institute antiracist policy.
  6. Disseminate and educate about the uncovered racist policy and antiracist policy correctives.
  7. Work with sympathetic antiracist policymakers to institute the antiracist policy.
  8. Deploy antiracist power to compel and drive from power the unsympathetic racist policymakers in order to institute the antiracist policy.
  9. Monitor closely to ensure the antiracist policy reduces and eliminates racial inequity.
  10. When policies fail, do not blame the people. Start over and seek out new and more effective antiracist treatments until they work.
  11. Monitor closely to prevent new racist policies from being instituted.

I fall back on what I wrote in “It takes a village to raise a child“. Ms. Karen Simms has continued her work with the community and is now a powerful voice with the CU Trauma Resiliency Initiative (CU TRI). When talking to Ms. Simms, I was struck by the simple underlying theme – “love”. Ms. Laura Taylor (Unit 4 Deputy Superintendent) says the same thing undergirding the Social Justice Seminars put on by Unit 4 – “It’s just love”.

I will follow up in later posts to explore the topic of discipline inequity and system racism further. Unit 4 administration and board members have held several meetings to go over Strategic Planning (with paid consultant company FourPoint, a summary report is posted on the Unit 4 website), as well as review board policies via the Policy Review Committee and a representative from IASB (which I have asked Unit 4 to make more public on the website).

Ms. Sotripolous concludes with a call to disentagle those false ideas that have been twisted into our minds:

In dismantling Unit 4’s school-to-prison pipeline, we must demand more than “equity.” We must demand nothing less than educational justice. 

The time is now.

This is a life and death issue for our black students. 

Black lives matter. I am asking district administration to prove to the board of education that you agree.

Collecting basic information about School Board candidates (2019)

Just going off what I can find via google, I have started to compile a list of Champaign and Urbana School Board candidates. Would anyone like to help fill in the blanks?


I believe the local chapter of the League of Women Voters and the NAACP, as well as the News-Gazette and the Champaign library, will be holding forums so we can learn more about school board candidates, but I have not yet found a published schedule of events.

November 8 school facility referendum

According to the NG, the Nov 8th ballot will have wording for the school facility referendum as follows:

“Shall the Board of Education of Champaign Community Unit School District Number 4, Champaign County, Illinois, alter, repair and equip the Central High School Building, build and equip additions thereto, and acquire and improve the site thereof; improve facilities at Franklin Middle School, Spalding Park, and McKinley Field; alter, repair and equip the Centennial High School Building and build and equip additions thereto; demolish the existing Dr. Howard Elementary School Building and build and equip a new Dr. Howard Elementary School Building on that site; alter, repair and equip the South Side Elementary School Building and build and equip an addition thereto; alter, repair and equip the International Prep Academy Building and build and equip additions thereto; alter, repair and equip the Edison Middle School Building and build and equip an addition thereto; and issue bonds of said School District to the amount of $183,400,000 for the purpose of paying costs thereof?”


It’s a mouthfull. So I wanted to take some time to break it down a little. If you strip out the details, the ballot question basically says “shall the Unit 4 BOE take out a loan (or several loans) not to exceed a sum total of $183.4 million?” The rest is “legally required” language that tells voters what this money will specifically be used for.


This grid groups and organizes the proposed changes as a way of visualizing the ballot question:

School Building Additions Site
Central alter, repair, equip build, equip acquire, improve
Centennial alter, repair, equip build, equip
Franklin improve*
Edison alter, repair, equip build, equip
Dr. Howard demolish, build, equip
South Side alter, repair, equip build, equip
IPA alter, repair, equip build, equip

*For Franklin, the School District is proposing to enter into an Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) with the Park District to “share” facilities at Spalding Park. “Add and renovate track and athletic facilities for Central.”


I grouped the schools high schools first, then middle schools, then elementary schools. For me, I found this easier to chew on and digest (compare and contrast).

What exactly is being altered, repaired, equipped, built, acquired or improved? To start chipping away at that question, you can read the recommended “schemes” that came out of the Tier II committee, or read Nicole Lafond’s summary of the board’s final decision (and deliberation) in her August 15th article:


But to spell it out more clearly, here is how the $208.4 million breaks down.

UPDATED with information from the Fact Sheet.

School Work Total
Central -Exterior Upgrades
-Interior Renovations (75% of total square footage)
-Three Story Academic Addition (with CTE)
-Gymnasium Addition (3 courts and expandable to future fieldhouse/LOWER LEVEL lockers & support)
-PE Fields/Competition Soccer (turf)/Competition Softball (sod)
Centennial -Exterior Upgrades
-Interior Renovations (75% of total square footage)
-Two Story Academic Addition
-Cafeteria/Administration Addition
-CTE spaces
-Gymnasium Addition (2 courts/expandable to future fieldhouse)
-Football Field (turf)
Franklin fields, McKinley Field, Spalding Park -Competition Baseball (sod)
-Practice Baseball (sod)
-Additional Tennis Courts
Dr. Howard -Demolition of Existing School
-Three Story Replacement School facility
South Side -Exterior Upgrades
-Complete Renovation with Health Life Safety Upgrades
IPA -Interior Renovations: general minor renovations
-Addition: Cafeteria expansion, Gym, Library
-Secure Entry: Renovate to provide secure school vestibule entry
Grand Total  $208.4M

As stated several times, the Nov 8th referendum does not address all the needs of the district; it is expected that the district will have to return to the voters for another referendum somewhere down the road.

Some items that I have not been able to find (I will update this post as I find them):

  • A detailed breakdown of proposed projects for each school
  • A final prioritization of all projects (HLS, 10-year Capital Plan, Tier II recommendations)
  • Plans to pay for future maintenance (such a plan is talked about at board meetings, so I believe one exists)
  • A cross-reference of which HLS and 10-year Capital projects are not covered by this referendum




The Purpose of Education, part 4

A friend has suggested I read Ted Sizer’s “Horace’s Compromise: The Dilemma of the American High School“. I also checked out his “The New American High School“. I took a lot notes, and in reflection I was mostly concentrating on how Sizer defines the purpose of schools and education. Unsurprisingly, he came back to a couple similar themes time and time again; the goal of education is get learners to grow and exercise their mind such that they can learn on their own.


“Horace’s Compromise”, which was one report of three back in 1984, noted the challenge to the teachers of the time, which are still present today; teachers know of a better way to teach, but because of the box the system puts them in, they are constrained to teach according to the guidelines handed down to them. As stated in previous posts (“What are public schools supposed to do?“, Purpose of Education parts 1, 2, 3), there are many people who try to lay claim to what is important for our students, what they must learn and what they must become. An observation made by Sizer caused me to consider our own “mission statements” – Sizer found that most schools’ goals or objectives were very lofty but were not reflected by the day to day operations of the school. It makes me wonder how standardized testing and assessment helps all our students gain “knowledge, skills, and attitudes necessary to direct their lives, improve a diverse society, and excel in a changing world.” How does social promotion and strictly regimented time periods help in that endeavor?


Sizer has caused me to ask several questions about the architecture of modern public education. For instance, why is public education modeled on business, with a governing Board, a CEO/Superintendent, COO, CFO, etc? Why do we have over 500 pages of “board policies”, written by legal teams in legal jargon? (Even John Carver, of Carver Policy Governance, on which the Illinois Association of School Boards (IASB) is largely based, asks this question)

Where is teacher autonomy? We have some, but very little. Where is the student voice? I am thankful that efforts through the conduit of Dr. Taylor’s social justice team, more and more students actually have a voice and adults are listening. While it is trickling into board meetings via official student Board Liaisons and a little bit through the Facility Planning Tier I committee, we need a lot more.


Sizer has also taught me that we need to question the purpose of our local schools often – for the basic reason that the purpose should be constantly changing in a constantly changing world. Sizer recognizes there are no perfect answers to the messy chaos of relationship-based communities and their schools. Raymond Callahan pointed out in “Education and the Cult of Efficiency” that we run our schools like businesses for the sake of “efficiency”, but what we lose is the richness of human relationships.


Between the two books, Sizer has a number of practical, relevant an eye-opening chapters. I’ll close with one on “Space and Cost”, in which he talks about the physical buildings we call “schools”, as it is directly concerned with the current focus of the school board and an impending expensive November referendum.

“First, challenge the notion that we collectively – through the state – have the obligation to educate all our children by means of a formal, school-building-based collective schooling. Might there be effective alternatives, such as a mix of homeschooling and in-school schooling? Or computer-based lessons that can engage students anywhere? Or in space shared with other enterprises, such as a community college or public library?”

 – “The New American High School” page 113

He makes four more points (pg 114-115):

  • Alternatives to a dedicated building that is completely busy from 7:30 am through 2:00 pm and mostly empty otherwise – can it be used for other things, does the learning have to only occur during those times?
  • Are the state’s educational and assessment goals legitimate? If not, what are you going to do about it?
  • Which public resources that are already available to higher education, public libraries, public radio and public television could be applicable to elementary and secondary grades?
  • Examine (question) the plans for school systems; “human intellectual activity is not orderly and some human needs and abilities are crippled by too much uniform channeling” – do our systems constrict creativity?


More to come.

“Most Likely to Succeed” (#MLTSFilm) and CTRL-Shift

I drafted an email to the CTRL-Shift email list, and decided it would be more appropriate as a blog post. For a little background information, there have been several email threads on the CTRL-Shift email list and a Tuesday night conversation about an educational documentary called “Most Likely to Succeed“; I have been reading the book.


The more I read Tony Wagner’s and Ted Dintersmith’s MLTS book, the more I think about how important it is that we have these conversations with people who fundamentally disagree with the premise of the book. Why?

There is already a huge audience of people who agree; both Deborah Meier and Sir Ken Robinson each have sizable followings, and I would say all their viewpoints align with those of Tony Wagner and Ted Dintersmith (Meier and Robinson are both referenced in the book). Everyone I have talked to at CTRL-Shift also seems to share these ideas. Are we not the choir?

Wagner and Dintersmith want communities to have these stirring, impactful, district-shaking conversations. They want teachers and administrators to be bold enough to get off the sinking ship and sail a new one. So it seems to me that we should seek out those who are resistant (for any number of reasons, some that are actually realistic and sound, perhaps *grin*). Not to beat them over the head with a 10-pound bible, but to have a healthy argument, a dialog, to debate.

It feels good to surround oneself with a bunch of “yes” people. But I think that would be a wasted opportunity. Having said that, there are already lots of you sailing new ships, and I celebrate that; the work at Kenwood is amazing, Katrina Kennett is working on a “school-that-is-not-school” and EdCamps, and Laura Taylor is spear-heading social justice efforts from the Mellon Center, just to name a few. Even though it is unwritten (I believe), it seems that the purpose of CTRL-Shift is to get administrators, teachers, students and parents marching to the beat of a different drum. That’s the “shift”, I think.

To wrap it up, I love how the book asks the fundamental question “What is the purpose of education?” I have asked that many times, of many people; unfortunately, sometimes the ideal in our head does not match what we actually practice in the schools. I have also come to realize that it is a moving target. For me, the ubiquitous and interminable undercurrent is that we are humans, and we are wired to live in community, and there a few axioms that make the machine of society run well and long. First and foremost, love others as we love ourselves. What would happen if that is what we learned in school?

“It takes a village to raise a child”

Time and time again I have circled back to the thought that one or two parents cannot possibly bear the weight alone of nurturing, educating, training and preparing a child to live “in community”. And every time I bounce to this thought, I wonder “why?” What is it about parenting and raising kids that make it nearly impossible to do in isolation? And it occurs to me that parents themselves have not yet learned everything about parenting; we don’t magically acquire perfect child rearing skills once a kid pops out. And yet there is a much more subtle undercurrent that begs for attention on the topic of raising kids in society; “community” is not merely a telephone book of anonymous individuals. We see each other on the streets and sidewalks, we rub shoulders in grocery stores and libraries, we provide commodities and services for each other, we worship together in churches, but perhaps most importantly, we relate, socialize, talk with, and learn from one another. We are constantly changing, growing, learning – we don’t “arrive” at being parents, rather it is a long journey.

Having just finished Robert Putnam’s “Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis“, I came away with three main points:

  • it posits an excellent argument that by investing in the “have-nots” (whether you call them poor, low-SES, low-class, less educated, etc), we better our community overall more than if everyone only looks out “for their own”
  • throwing money at “problems” does not automatically fix them; the more impactful approach is listening to and caring for one another
  • there are no fast-acting, overnight solutions, much less a panacea; we have to be committed to the long-haul

The main point of Putnam’s book is that there is an “opportunity gap” widening between the “haves” and the “have-nots” of our nation. And perhaps what hit me the hardest is that a child does not have a choice into which environment she is born, yet that very environment stacks the deck either for or against her. Putnam carefully researches the differences in opportunity between 1960 and 2000 and discovers that one of the biggest factors in the “opportunity gap” is that the “haves” used to mingle with the “have-nots” much more than they do now. There is a strong correlation between the “opportunity gap” and how well the various classes are integrated. If Putnam were to expand his scope to other countries, I wonder if he would have found the same to be true elsewhere (I am thinking “yes”).

Like Lisa Delpit’s “Other People’s Children“, Putnam points out the many advantages of viewing all kids as “Our Kids”. I would go further and say, in alignment with Dr. Edna Olive of Rocket, Inc, that we are morally obligated to take responsibility for all the children in our community.

Todd Lash, an Instructional Specialist at Kenwood, recently wrote the first of many blog posts (*wink*) documenting the work going on at Kenwood via CTRL-Shift. Titled “Shifting Education Through Local Community Building“, Todd talks about the “powerful and transformative” impact of local learning communities for teachers (and building staff). He mentions that they often develop more questions than answers, which to me is perfect – they have formed an inquiry-based group that is traveling together on a journey. This is just one example of community coming together to make the educational experience for children more relevant by empowering students (and teachers) and providing students with the tools they need (ie, critical thinking skills) to live well in community.

Putnam highlights another “school-community approach” known as the Harlem Children’s Zone (HCZ). Local activist Imani Bazzell has worked with a number of groups to form “At Promise … of Success”, a form of “community schools” approach based on HCZ and tailor-designed for the north end areas near Garden Hills, Stratton and BTW. It is an excellent “wrap-around” system to provide for the educational and social/mental health needs of children and families in need.

Putnam does have a suggestion for those that want a “quick fix”. First, he suggests that all “pay-to-play” schemes for extracurricular activities be addressed, removing any and all barriers for those of “low opportunity” to participate. Second, he suggests you become a mentor. Or if I may extrapolate that a bit, be the “village”.

I will conclude this post by reflecting on a meeting I had at the United Way offices yesterday. I really love how the main thrust of United Way, both worldwide and locally, is to promote and sustain unity as a way to have a positive impact on their three pillars, Education, Health and Income. I learned about the different funding initiatives, how decisions are made, the desire to fund programs and not agencies, and even some of their struggles. In a sense, they are providing a basic “asset-mapping” service in regards to taking the pulse of the community, learning what the needs are, and working to facilitate those needs by partnering with service providers and donors.

I love that there are so many good things going on in our community. We have many awesome people, even some that are yet undiscovered. Who is awesome in your “village”?

Basic building blocks of community: trust and relationships

I have been referred to a number of books, research papers and TED Talks in the past couple of months, and I have observed a common lens through which I am viewing most of these resources – the blueprints for how people optimally work with each other.

Since this post is a little long, I’ll give you the cliff note up front (aka, “too long; didn’t read” or tl;dr). If you want things to get better in our community, you gotta put your pride on the shelf and go listen to someone else. You gotta walk in someone else’s shoes for a little while.

Make sure you check out the references before you completely walk away from this post; the TED talks in particular are quite engaging (Mitra, Semler, Sirolli, Varty).

And now for the full-blown version…. Read the rest of this entry »

Analyzing choice data

In my previous post, I mentioned that the school district provided some new choice data for me. Ironically, I had asked for aggregated data, but the district pleasantly surprised me with disaggregated data. For those not familiar with the jargon, basically I asked for the summary and they sent me the details. I like details.

One major caveat: all the data below, and the analysis thereof, are from snapshots at specific points in time. I am told, and I believe, that the assignment data is very fluid. I have tried to focus on data that is fed into the relevant software at the time of the “big run”, when parent choices are inputted en masse.

First off, I had to massage the data quite a bit. Even though the district provided a PDF spreadsheet, the document does not convert well to a real spreadsheet; one program I used removed all the “empty” boxes, another program put all the pages on separate worksheets. So in the end I wrote my own script to convert the PDF to a SQL script which inserts data into a database. And from there, we can do all sorts of magic – like dumping it back down to an Excel spreadsheet:

My typical question is along the lines of “how many people chose each school?”


u4Dashboard_sample_2015The term “overchosen” is a bit nebulous, and perhaps even outdated at this point. But I use it intentionally because the school district still uses it, even though the district has had a history of not telling which schools are actually overchosen. 🙂 This past year I understand that the Family Information Center (FIC) provided a dashboard snapshot to help answer that question, but this was never provided online – you had to visit the FIC in person. You might wonder, why is this important? Sure during the registration process it is helpful to a degree, but afterwards? The purpose of this post is to address that question head-on, in two different aspects.

First, let us pretend this is the middle of March; you are a parent of a child who is entering Kindergarten in the Fall. Let us say that you are busy and have not had time to visit all the schools (all twelve schools!), but you have a pretty good idea of which ones you like, and there are two you least like (maybe the balanced calendar does not fit your work schedule). You visit the FIC and a choice specialist frowns upon your first choice because it is an “overchosen” school and your chances of getting it are less than 100%. This is where the fun starts. Are you the type of person that just really wants to know exactly what your chance is so you can weigh your options? If so, you will be frustrated because nobody will tell you. However, if you can let it go and not get hung up over it, you will be much happier, just pick a couple other schools that you want. The choice specialist will look at your list and tell you if all your top three or five choices are likely candidates. For instance, if you choose Barkstall, Bottenfield, Carrie Busey, Westview and Robeson as your top five and nothing else, there is a good chance you will not get any of them. Why? Again, are you the type of person that needs to know, or can you let it go and take the FIC counselor’s advice in choosing other schools?

Here’s the thing. The FIC staff are smart people; they understand the “system” and they know about the back-end software. However their communication styles/methods differ from person to person. I have talked to many parents who get extremely frustrated with the FIC staff, and I have also talked to many parents who are totally thrilled with the FIC staff. Some people click, some people don’t. Don’t let it ruin your day. 🙂

And here is the second aspect. There is a wealth of information that the school district does not initially make available. Why? I am not sure. At one Choice Committee meeting I raised this question, and it seems the consensus is that sometimes there is “too much” information – it becomes overwhelming and increases stress. Which is a very tricky balance. My goal is to decrease stress. How do we do that successfully for everyone? Ultimately, I think it comes down to being able to differentiate well; which is extremely appropriate because that is exactly what we want our teachers to do. This is no different. Think about this as a class in choosing a school for your precious child, and the FIC staff are the teachers.

For instance, here is a chart showing the trends of the first school choice (choice 1) made my parents who ended up with the infamous and dreaded label “unassigned”:


You will notice that Barkstall dominates the top. In other words, of the people who ended up being unassigned, a majority of them chose Barkstall as their number one school. Further analysis of the disaggregated data shows that almost all of those parents did not choose any “underchosen” school as a “backup choice”. However, there is something else I wish to tease out from this graph. I will make it clear with trend lines:


In words: for those that end up unassigned, more and more are choosing Carrie Busey as a first choice, and fewer are choosing Barkstall, Bottenfield and South Side.

Another group of factoids from the data. 19 total families chose Barkstall as 1st choice and had no priority (sibling, proximity, low-ses), and only 1 got into Barkstall (18 did not). So that is a 1/19 chance. For Carrie Busey, it was 0/12. 8 of those that chose Barkstall ended up being unassigned – right there is more than a third of the total “unassignees”. The lesson here is that if you do not have priority to a “overchosen” school, your chances of getting in are really really low. And the way the FIC will put that to you is that you are throwing away your first choice. 🙂 Which significantly increases your chances of ending up with no school assignment.

As one parent recently told me, it would certainly be fascinating to find out “why” parents choose the schools they do. Unfortunately, the data we currently have is really bad at answering the “why” question; it is really good at answering the “what” and the “how” questions.

The district is (rightfully) rather proud that the number of families getting their first choice is relatively high. That translates into happy customers. How can we make even more customers happy? What is the next hurdle? For one, I think it comes down to understanding why parents make the choices that they do. I had a great email exchange with a parent from the 2015 School Assignment process that took the time to explain to me why she made her choices, and it totally makes sense. For this parent, being unassigned is stressful; even the ensuing aftermath of dealing with waitlists and being assigned to a second choice school that was (at the time) overcapacity was stressful. I believe the FIC could have done a better job to make this one parent less stressed; maybe by patiently explaining the trends shown above, and encouraging more choices. Or taking the time to listen a little more closely. In general, can we meet each and every single parent where they are at and try to learn what their needs are?

At the end of the day, I am really proud of our Unit 4 schools. I try to tell parents that no matter what school they end up at, most likely their child will love it and have a great experience.

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…

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