If only good words were enough

I don’t usually pay attention to what is happening outside Champaign. However, I have subscribed to “Voices for Illinois Children”, and today’s topic was about Gov. Quinn’s State of the State speech. Below I quote a small snippet relevant to Education:


In the last five years, we’ve been getting the job done on education reform. Parents are now empowered with a report card on their children’s schools. Teacher evaluations have strong benchmarks. And performance is prioritized over tenure. In fact, our reforms have become a model for the nation.

Governor’s Birth to Five Initiative

But our unfinished job on education starts where it matters most: in early childhood.

Study after study has shown that high-quality early childhood education provides the best return of any public investment we can makemore than $7 for every dollar invested. That’s why our state invests in programs serving our at-risk children, from birth all the way to kindergarten.

Since I’ve taken office, I’ve always fought to preserve early childhood education from radical budget cuts. And we found a way to invest $45 million to build early education centers in high-need areas such as Dolton, Kankakee, and Cicero.


Voices4Kids advocate and Huffington Post writer Emily Miller points out that since 2009, the early childhood block grant has seen a reduction of about $80 million. Not exactly encouraging news. While the proposed 2014 budget retains the 2013 levels for the early childhood block grant, the fiscal future of our state is extremely bleak.


I have asked some follow-up questions of Voices4Kids and Ms. Miller – I hope to circle back here and update you with what I learn.


all those babies

US Birth rate & primary enrollment

Recently I was notified about an interesting article in the Wall Street Journal (“America’s Baby Bust“). When I went looking for the data sources, I got a bit frustrated and finally decided to grab data from the World dataBank. Along the way, I also noticed a number of other articles out there on the internets, some of which are contradictory to some of the cause-effect relationships in the WSJ article (for example, this one from the Huffington Post). Which just goes to show that you have to be very careful about what you read online. Regardless, most items I can find via google indicate that the number of live births is decidedly down, and at the same time we are not exactly at the top of our economic game.

While the articles, when read in isolation of different points of views, seem to paint a pretty worrisome picture, it is not clear to me at all what the point is. Both Jonathan Last of the WSJ and Bonnie Kavousii of the Post want us to make more babies; the ramifications of a dwindling supply of warm bodies brings me back to The Matrix Reloaded:

Neo: You won’t let it happen, you can’t. You need human beings to survive.
The Architect: There are levels of survival we are prepared to accept.

Their arguments make sense. The factual information, if nothing else, is rather astounding. For instance, the number of immigrants that bolster our live birth rate data just blows my mind. If we are to take these bits of statistics, and more importantly, what the authors want us to believe about them, as gospel, it reminds me that we humans do not really have as much control as we think we do; all our past choices are going to catch up to us.

I have also started a little research of my own; I am digging up the total enrollment in Unit 4 since the 1950’s. Along the way, I have talked to a number of librarians (Champaign, Urbana, University) and finally found some rich resources that I will be scouring tomorrow (Tuesday). What I have gleaned so far is that Champaign had a whopping 12,000 students back in 1970. We took a precipitous drop until 1985 when we bottomed out at a little over 8300, and have been climbing since then. Even more amazing than that, however, are the projections I have uncovered during my search. One demographic projection published in 1988 concluded that population trends would be down in the year 2000, below 1988 levels. Ooops. Another published in 2003 predicted an extremely modest growth over the next 10 years, much flatter than what actually happened. Remember that now infamous 2008 Demographic Survey that somehow missed the Kindergarten explosion of 2011? And now we have yet another firm peering into a crystal ball telling us what the year 2023 might be like.

Here is my take-away. We cannot predict the future. We can kind of make an educated guess, but the only thing I can guarantee is that there are no guarantees. So to me, it seems paramount to enhance our flexibility skills. We need to be able to adapt to changing situations. What is a bit frustrating to me is that Unit 4 has had the awesome sounding  Long Range Strategic Plan and things like “Great Schools, Together“, but it is exceptionally difficult to see how that has helped us prepare for the future. Pattsi, as she tells it, has been telling the school district “for 40 years” that they need a planner. 🙂 In light of the Super Bowl weekend, actually I think we need a quarterback. And a darned good one at that (unfortunately, I am not a sports fan, so I can’t rattle off a short list of Hall of Famer’s – I am sure some of you could). We need somebody who can see that linebacker blitz and audible a pitch to a running back.

And it just kills me that we have a research institution that forms the roots of our community.

No Child Held Back: The White Paper

The first part (called a “module”) of the NCHB free online course involves reading the NCHB white paper. I mentioned this briefly, but after trading a few emails with the author (Yovel Badash), I decided to take the time to read and comment on it. Plus, he is trying to get a “conversation” started on this topic, so to avoid sounding really stupid I wanted to gather background information and my own thoughts before I foray out into someone else’s world.

Here goes. I will emphasize that, point-by-point, I find myself in an amazing amount of agreement with Mr. Badash. My comments below reflect mostly where I have questions and/or concerns.
The quote on the cover is  Read the rest of this entry »


Pedagogy (play /ˈpɛdəɡɒi/ or /ˈpɛdəɡi/[1][2]) is the study of being a teacher or the process of teaching. The term generally refers to strategies of instruction, or a style of instruction.[3]


After reading about NoChildHeldBack, I started browsing the Huffington Post, or  HuffPost. Their Education section has a bevy of articles – wow! Several caught my eye, and one that stood out (for me) was an article about “Independent Learning” based on an example from Mexico.

Reading through the article calls to mind some kind of enlightened, futuristic, sci-fi learning atmosphere, you know, with sterile white walls, everyone wearing robes, an austere, almost holy silence except for a few sharing ideas. From my own experience teaching at Parkland, I know how engaging the students to teach each other has profound and amazing affects. When I am in the middle of a “learning environment” and am subjected to hour upon hour of a blathering monologue, my “learning” peaks somewhere in the first 10 minutes and my brain turns to mush after that. Is it possible, or even practical, to pursue this kind of “instructional strategy”? When I hear teachers in the area that have gone outside the box, I hear some amazing stories. Granted, there are amazing stories even inside the box. 🙂 I cannot discount that. I guess a big part of me just really wants to escape the trap of “one-size-fits-all”.

This also calls to mind the “Pedagogy of Oppression”, from Brazillian author/educator Paulo Freire, who touches on this very topic. Coincidence? What in the world are they doing south of the US?!? 🙂 Again, I confess that I am biased because I have a very strong dislike for the way we “teach” around here (don’t ask me about college). I recognize that there are different styles of learning, and some people actually do a pretty good job of transferring knowledge via the old standby lecture format. But what about those of us who do not?