More about Common Core

I recently had a good talk about Common Core with Trevor Nadrozny, the Director of Curriculum with Unit 4. I initiated the conversation by leaving a couple messages with questions about how and what data on my child is being collected. We found a time to chat on the phone, and here is what I learned.

First, Common Core is a very broad, very vague set of guidelines. If I may make a gross analogy, it is like saying you have to weigh 100 pounds in 6 months. “Pounds” and “months” have standard definitions so we can all measure them the same way, but the path to get to “100 pounds” in “6 months” is totally ambiguous. Aside from the fact that everyone starts at a different place, there are different ways to get there. Maybe one person will use the path of “liposuction”, maybe another will use the “Atkins Diet”, another may use a “ketogenic diet”. Maybe one person will take the journey of “working out for 3 hours a day”. Common Core doesn’t really care how you get there, as long as you get there. The hidden problem with this approach is that it makes it hard to reward those that tried really hard and just didn’t meet the goal – maybe they lost 29 pounds, but just couldn’t get the last one off. For the record, I am not a big fan of the Body Mass Index (BMI) – maybe this is what taints my own view of Common Core – everyone is different, so we cannot all possibly fit into the same pigeon hole. But Common Core, like BMI, allows us to all talk with the same measurements, and there is some utility in that alone.

To implement the goals of Common Core, Unit 4 is piloting 3 separate programs at the elementary schools:

  • Wonders – Carrie Busey, Stratton, Bottenfield
  • Journeys – Robeson, Westview
  • Reading Street – Dr. Howard, Kenwood

I did some digging; while I could not find any relevant information on the Unit 4 website (I have a note into Stephanie Stuart and Trevor about that), I did find some vendor information:

Trevor mentioned that he did not have enough budget dollars to pilot these programs at every grade level, so I am not certain exactly which grades at the aforementioned schools are actually going through this exercise.

In an earlier thread, Karen talked about the critical need for grammar. When I mentioned this to Trevor, he said grammar is actually actively taught right now. He used a Kindergarten class teaching Wonders as an example, where students were learning about nouns and pronouns. So obviously, it seems that grammar is indeed being taught at least in one situation – I am not familiar enough with each of the three pilots to know what importance or priority grammar takes, but a brief glance through the vendor pages (links above) indicate that each pilot program at least touches on grammar.

Trevor also explain to me how there are different levels of collecting metrics. On the one hand, the district uses generic literacy screeners by way of aimsweb. Trevor compared this to taking your pulse and blood pressure when you visit the doctor’s office – it doesn’t really tell you about any root issues, but it is a way of tracking general health. He also told me about “DRA”, which has been used in previous years; I didn’t catch what the acronym meant, but it was something about “diagnostic assessments”. Doing a search on the Unit 4 website, I see that DRAs have been talked about several times in board meetings – other than that, I am not finding much information (will keep looking & asking, and will update here when I find more). Trevor compares DRAs to being like a comprehensive blood test – much more thorough than aimsweb. Apparently, DRAs are used on an “as needed” basis.

Additionally, I learned that Wonders has assessments built in. It is foremost a reading curriculum aligned to Common Core, but assessments are kind of like a “bonus feature”. I did not ask, but I would assume that Journeys and Reading Street also have built in assessments.

A relatively new thing is something called “progress monitoring”, which is essentially a screener (taking pulse and blood pressure) on a weekly basis. I did not ask how this was implement or for how many students.

More to follow. My goal is to learn more about Common Core and what it means for our school district. I am hunting for facts. *grin* Call me narrow-minded, but I am focusing on facts that are relevant to Unit 4 and the Champaign community – broad, overarching details about the pros and cons of Common Core are less interesting to me at the moment.

To me, there is still a big issue revolving around how to prepare and move students from grade to grade. I have learned, via Voices for Illinois Children’s “Great at 8” initiative, the most critical years for building an educational scaffolding from which to hang the rest of ones educational progress occurs before a child reaches 8 years of age. The Champaign Federation of Teachers (aka, teacher’s union) recently promoted a video highlighting the “Word Gap” between the rich and the poor, and how some privileged kids have a 30 million word advantage over unprivileged kids by the time they enter kindergarten. That bothers me. I think our schools have a huge challenge to tackle that gap – I don’t know how we are going to do it.

Trevor Nadrozny’s Prezi presentation on Common Core State Standards

The Jefferson PTSA was scheduled to host a Common Core (CCSS) presentation this past week, but it got snowed out. I asked Trevor for the presentation materials, and now I have a link to the online Prezi presentation:


The bulk of the presentation is an RSA-like whiteboard animated drawing from (not exaclty sure how to embed that here in WordPress). The transcript is also included below the flash animation.


Buried in the Prezi (you won’t see it if you just click through) is a blurb from Mary Crego of State Farm (, and another blurb from an unidentified woman, both trying to share the positive aspects of Common Core. Also included are two screen shots of web pages that look like progress charts, ala Khan Academy.


For those that would like to attend the presentation in person, it has been rescheduled for Tuesday February 11th 6-7pm (at Jefferson).


Other links: [broken]


American Federation of Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten

Pattsi Petrie led me to a C-SPAN video of Randi Weingarten of the AFT speaking to folks at the Christian Science Monitor on the topic of education. She also suggested I post my response to the video, so here you go.

I was surprised that they spent so much time talking about pension issues. But it makes a lot of sense. I was also surprised that Ms. Weingarten has such broad familiarity with issues in different states across the nation, and in particular Detroit and Illinois. She strikes me as an affable, intelligent, down-to-earth-but-aiming-for-the-clouds kind of forward thinker.

I disagree with her apparent focus on the middle-class, but I think I kind of understand it. She makes the strong argument about how the trickle-down theory has failed to trickle down (I thought of a big fat pool where just a little bit of water leaks out), and how this obviously plays into the pension issue as more and more people are being pushed downwards. She speaks to the satirical nature of the American Dream. I appreciate that she sees the need to not only acknowledge but also embrace the glaring inequities in income and achievement.

While I found her quite inspirational, in retrospect I cannot think of any action steps I can take away from the session (hmm… inspired? but inspired to do what?). They made a big deal of this so-called national action day next Monday, but …. what action? Even the website is embarrassingly devoid of action steps. I have asked our local CFT about it and have not heard anything (who knows, maybe they are waiting to tell me later *grin*).

Her point about how the schools (not just the physical individual buildings, but the atmosphere) needs to recognized as a “safe environment” is spot on. As little as I know, it seems like our teachers do indeed need more autonomy. Her point about how teachers are being asked to do a million things (on top of teaching) resonates with what I hear from teachers personally. Especially in regards to Common Core; there seems to be an expectation that administrators can simply tell teachers what to do and they will miraculously be able to do it (and even more grotesquely, that they will want to do it).

In the end, she says all the right things but I do not have a clear idea of what I am supposed to do about it. There is no call for systemic change, much less a roadmap on how to get there. So, in her own words, we are going to just keep doing what we have been doing.

New school report cards (Common Core)

Stephanie Stuart announced the new report cards (and “structure”) actively being both developed and implemented via the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE):

The article gives a little introduction and explains some things parents might expect. Stephanie also highlights several things like how the overall graduation rate has increased by about 5 points, how two schools made AYP and how the district is embracing these changes. Note, this is not about the new Common Core report cards teachers use to assess and evaluate students.


Common Core is a funny thing; I think there is a lot of good ideas and a lot of good potential, but I am also hearing that it is being rushed to implementation way too fast. I intend to write another post that delves into this a little more deeply. This post is about the school report card.

I was not able to find the Unit 4 report card on the ISBE website, yet. The state report card is available. Also, the Illinois Interactive Report Card (IIRC) website has been revamped and is MUCH BETTER! I encourage you to check it out – the Unit 4 report card gives you a lot of “fast facts” that are relevant and some (more to come?) offer relatively easy drilldowns for more information:

Here is a VIMEO of the new report card:

The Vimeo video makes  a point in regards to using the new report card to learn about the school climate and learning environment. I found that to be a very interesting idea, yet was quite disappointed when I tried to find it. After a bit of digging, I did eventually find a PDF listed under School Environment that shows the questions and responses to the 5Essentials survey, from both teachers and students. However, not all surveys are available for all schools (I did some spot checking, not a comprehensive search).

Overall, I am very much liking the new version of the Illinois Report Card website. Looking to dive into it a bit more.

The future of Education

I struggled with a good title for this post; “Heuristics”, “The purpose of Education, part 4”, “Is this what Education is going to become?”


As stated in several previous posts (ie, 1, 2, 3), I have observed an emphasis on “data-based student metrics”. And now we are seeing more of this being applied to teachers as well (hence the CPS strikes). I just recently read a couple articles about how Xerox uses very similar techniques for their call-center:


And frankly, these articles scare me. But I have to take a step back and acknowledge that some folks really dig the ability to track, measure and data-mine people as they matriculate through a system. The tin foil hat says “machine”.


And I realize that one’s view on how to measure learning really is dependent on the purpose of education in the first place. I am a big believer in that education prepares folks to participate in a democratic society, and thus I have a hard time fitting all this data-centric mentality into my framework. But for those that see education playing the role of preparing our children to be future gerbils wage-earners in the great American Machine industrious workforce, this system of tracking and measuring and analyzing is probably quite attractive.


What about the middle ground? I am having a hard time seeing that, so if you have a different perspective, I would love to hear it. (And I know several of you do!)

showing people the difference they can make

The title of this post is a quote from Anthony Cody, in his response to a comment I posted on his fascinating blog. But I am starting in the middle of the story….

Mr. Cody starts off by saying:

Two weeks ago I traveled to Seattle and spent most of the day meeting with leaders of the Gates Foundation, discussing their work around education reform. I have been critical of the impact their agenda has had, but they expressed an interest in opening up a dialogue. This blog post will be the first in a series of exchanges that will explore some of the key issues in education. We plan a process where we will take turns posting our perspective on a given theme, followed by a response from the other party. All posts will be carried here, and at the Gates Foundation’s Impatient Optimists blog. We will ask everyone to join in a lively discussion. The education reform debate has deteriorated at times—our goal is to engage in a constructive conversation, to turn down the heat, and to seek a bit more light.

In the weeks to come we will get into some nitty gritty issues, such as what it means to “measure” teacher effectiveness? What is the role of poverty in relationship to education reform? What is the purpose of a k-12 education? And what role should the drive for profit play in our schools? But as our starting point, we are going to take a narrower focus, and tackle something a bit more concrete. This first exchange will focus on these questions: How can educators create a strong professional culture in our schools? How do we build the teaching profession?

What follows are ten posts, 5 each from Anthony and representatives from the Gates Foundation spanning July 23rd to September 3rd. There is a ton to read – it took me a couple of days to wade through the tennis match and most of the comments left by a handful of community members (I have no idea who they are). In the end, I was extremely impressed by Anthony Cody’s persuasive and very well-supported arguments, in stark contrast to the brief, almost dismissive efforts of the Gates Foundation that left me feeling like they were playing the “you’re ok, I’m ok” game.

If nothing else, Read the rest of this entry »

Education lowlights in the US

Just saw the following article on slashdot:


What really caught my eye was “The state ranked 47th, only above Mississippi, Alabama and the District of Columbia, in a tie with Hawaii.” The District of Columbia. Think about that for a moment. Then think about where the US Department of Education is.


It would be easy to hop on the bandwagon and cry out about the sorry state of “education” across the US. For me personally, it is the tests themselves, and the metrics we hold up as “standards”, that are sorry. Yes, no doubt, there are issues in all our schools, issues with pedagogy, issues with curriculum, issues with tradition and practices – I do not argue against that. And to that end, Common Core sounds like a good leveler, a true standard if you will.


And yet I ask, “Is that really the biggest problem we have?”


“We are looking at a lot of different ways to carry students forward into the 21st century,” said Allen. “Science, technology, engineering and math are where most of the jobs will be in the future. We don’t want every child to become a scientist, but we want them to be prepared to make that choice if they want.”


I have a different opinion. I continue to assert that we need to focus on relationships, on conflict resolution, on giving a crap for our fellow humans. STEM is nice if you want to specialize in something (and sure sounds as sexy as all get out for the geeks of the world – and yes, I call myself a geek). But STEM does not stop white collar crime, nor do much about overpopulated jails or keeping kids off streets. Heck, for that matter, STEM has made the TSA go from bad to horrible and our social lives are run amok with “technological advancements” like facebook + iPhone and other always-plugged-in devices. We have overdosed. STEM is like bringing Patrón to an AA meeting – good stuff, bad context.

March 12th Regular Board Meeting

It has been a long weekend; very emotional, very poignant, even a bit chaotic.

The Board Meeting

I arrive a bit late, walking in right as Donna Novak was wrapping up her heart-felt words of thanks to the Board and I waved as the family was leaving. There were a couple things on the agenda that initially interested me when I looked at them earlier; 1) Westview renovations since I have some friends who might send their child there next year, 2) Common Core update from Trevor, and 3) the Robeson Academic Spotlight. Unfortunately, they were having a series of technical difficulties which resulted in half the meeting not being broadcast via CGTV (I sure hope the recording survived! – I already requested it and will post it when I get my grubby hands on it), and several issues with presentations, including lack of sound and one projector not working. I had a chuckle when IT Director Roger Grinnip gave his report and boasted about all the technological advancements we have. Gotta love computers.

If I recall correctly Read the rest of this entry »

Curriculum, pedagogy and Common Core Standards

Like Poseidon’s Trident, I have a feeling that education is coming to a point. Sometimes it feels like Government wants to wield this thing to exert their will, and then I read about Michelle Rhee of StudentsFirst and her attempt to bridge the gap between Big Brother and the taxpayers. People (smart, dumb and everyone in between) have spouted out opinions, facts (some with apostrophes) and dogma, for millenia. And we still have issues. Obviosly, we haven’t quite figured it out yet.

Figured out what? Like Douglas Adams writes in his “Hitchhiker” trilogy of five books, we do not even know what the question is. But we know the answer, darnit! 🙂

First I’ll start with Common Core Standards. Then I’ll talk a little about a pilot curriculum being introduced in our high schools. And then we will wrap up quickly with Read the rest of this entry »

Illinois and NCLB

I came across an article listing 10 states that have been granted “flexibility” with the NCLB rules. Illinois is not on that list.


Gotta love how the Federal Department of Education says “the burdensome mandates of the federal education law known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB)”. Let’s see, who put that law out there?


I could have sworn Illinois was going to file a formal request. Was I mistaken? Did we not turn in all the papers on time?


I also seem to remember hearing rumblings about how our Core Curriculum is changing (Common Core State Standards?); I have not yet had the time to delve into that, but I believe it had something to do with how we will no longer be using AYP.


If you happen to know the skinny on either of these topics, please enlighten us.