Questions posed to the school board about the April 13th board meeting

Here is a small list of questions I emailed to the board in regards to the April 13th board meeting. I also included newly elected board members, who will be sworn in next month.

I was looking over the April 13th BOE meeting agenda, and wished to find more information when you have an opportunity.

  1. Under “Recognitions”, there is a fascinating mention of how 24 HS students participated in a Khan Academy course, and how Mr. Jim Linnenburger will receive $100 per student. Were all 24 students participating in the Google/DonorsChoose program (ie, “traditionally underrepresented”)? Did students participate while at school, or was this done outside school hours? Please note, I personally think this is a very good thing, as rudiementary skills in javascript are extremely helpful in the current software development job market, and outlets like Codeacademy and Khan Academy have made these skills very accessible. I can easily see hundreds of additional students taking advantage of these resources.
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  2. Under “Reports: New Business”, line item A (“DLR innovation challenge”) briefly mentions the outstanding success of four HS students and a teacher mentor. Will the team’s innovative solution (sustainable vertical farming) be shared in detail at Monday’s meeting? Will there be materials online that others can read about? And more importantly, can any of those ideas be implemented here in Champaign? I would love to see more students tackling broad problems and applying solutions at a local level. 🙂
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  3. Line item B (“Juvenile Delinquency prevention” with IL State AG Julia Rietz) mentions a report; can that report be shared online? I am sincerely hoping that Ms. Rietz will focus her report on the work of restorative justice, as highlighted in the News-Gazette a couple weeks ago.
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  4. Action Agenda line item B (Administration Compensation): the summary says “A list of eligible administrators is attached”, yet there is no document attached in boarddocs available to the public. Please attach said list to the agenda and/or make available online. Personally, I fail to see why administrative salary percentage increases need to mirror teacher percentage increases; the justification about remaining “regionally competitive” is not enough for me.
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  5. Consent Agenda line item J (HLS Implementations): I know Consent Agenda items are typically discussed under “New Business” at earlier board meetings, but I was unable to find where this one was discussed when I looked at all board meetings in 2015. I see the bid on the Unit 4 website, but I do not see where the details are. What is being done for $424,000? Furthermore, I know the HLS reports in the past have detailed many millions of dollars worth of needed work (prioritized into three categories of urgency). I assume the $424k takes care of the most important items. Does it address all the Category A items?
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  6. Lastly, Consent Agenda line item M (Renewal of Superintendent’s contract): May we please see the current contract, and for how long the renewal will be for (starting when, ending when)? The summary on boarddocs is completely and utterly blank.

Relevant news articles

I have been stumbling on what I would term as interesting and relevant articles, both from the News-Gazette, Anthony Cody’s blog “Living in Dialogue” and even a techy news aggregator (slashdot).

Yes, Virginia, There Really IS a Billionaire Boys Club: This is Cody’s blog post. I like how he references a couple different view points, from Diane Ravitch to Alexander Russo (just to name two). Is big money really steering the course of education? Mr. Cody is no friend of the Gate’s Foundation take on Education nor the influence it is exerting upon policy-making. One of my take-aways (which will resurface again shortly) is that the common people are removed from the political process because they simply don’t talk the jargon. One wonders if all the money used for funding races was diverted to, well, education. Or what about re-writing the laws so we can at least understand them?

Three largest area districts spent $936,000 on legal bills: Speaking of money and legalese. Almost $1 million of money funneled into schools from our hard-earned taxes for 1 year of lawyers – this comes out of the same pot used to pay teachers. Wow. Is it just me or is there something wrong with this picture? Meg responds to one commenter by spelling out the legal fees are “spent addressing topics like general school law, real estate matters, expulsions, tax objections, personnel matters, special education and student matters.” Our laws are so complicated that we need subject-matter experts to interpret and argue on our behalf, instead of paying teachers. Fun stuff.

Khan Academy Lead Developer Ben Kamens Answers Your Questions: Mr. Kamens takes us on a brief but intriguing tour under the covers of Khan Academy. The folks asking questions pose Read the rest of this entry »

Blended learning

I am going to take a slight diversion and dive into “blended learning”. You can find all sorts of google hits on this topic, but the one that most captured my attention was the Khan Academy, specifically his intro video that opens the “Teacher Toolkit“.

Personally, I thought this stuff rocks! I would love to be able to utilize something like this. And without knowing it, I have been migrating my classes at Parkland closer to a blended model (still have a ways to go). There is a lot of Khan says (and other sources like Michael Thompson’s Education Elementals “The Basics of Blended Learning” youtube video [warning: always be careful when clicking on youtube links]) that really excite me because I very much wish I had these opportunities when I was a child. They remind me of Ken Robinson’s speech against our factory-model, date-stamped production of worker bees.

If you are one of those types that wants to pursue “academic achievement”, “academic rigor”, “college prep”, etc, this approach seems to me a very excellent choice. You work on a subject matter until you master it, and you can get the help you need from an instructor who is not bogged down with lectures. Granted, the whole thing is very idealistic, and of course, some educational experts are raising an argument against. My thought is, hey, if it works for some students, why not let them blaze full steam ahead with it.

As a side note, Read the rest of this entry »

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 »