Todd Dugan

Reflections on Public Education in Illinois

Public Reflection Blog

Now in my 20th year of serving in public education in Illinois, this blog will serve as a public reflection of current practices and policies that are having an enormous impact on the children, and subsequently the future, of this great state of Illinois.  Although Illinois has received (no…on second thought, it has earned) a reputation of being one mired deep in corruption and fiscal disaster, those of us who call this prairie state home know that it is also filled with something else in abundance: good, good people.  The people of this state deserve much more than what we have had to make do with lately as a result of policies and practices beyond most people’s control.  Hopefully by highlighting what is working for the benefit of Illinois children and also what is working to deepen the stark inequities in place across our state, Illinois will finally be able to live up to its full potential.

As a practicing public school superintendent, these blog posts will also serve as a public reflection for my own benefit, allowing me insight as I reflect on the many changes hurtling across our state.  Feel free to share your own thoughts, and also follow me on Twitter at Todd Dugan on Twitter

Featured post

Data and Innovation Merge at Summit

colorado summit

Data, as anyone who utilizes such online giants as Netflix and Amazon can attest, is being used in an increasingly number of predictive uses. As advanced algorithms compare data points for shopping or viewing trends then use these trends to successfully predict likely trajectories of online viewing and purchases, it seems only natural that other fields adopt similar technologies.
This past weekend while attending the Big Data Summit in Denver sponsored by Tech & Learning and Bright Bytes, I was able to experience how this predictive analytic approach based on large amounts of data points could positively influence the future of education, altering the trajectory of not only students, but the profession itself.
For approximately the past ten years, data-based decision-making has been a common buzz word in education. While grounded in the best of intentions of removing subjectivity and biases from educational placement and intervention decisions, any researcher understands that the effectiveness of this approach to making decisions depends heavily upon the amount and validity of the date being analyzed. By compiling benchmarking scores obtained sometimes in as little as fourteen minutes, data-driven approaches in education often focus on very precise areas (i.e. math computation, or reading phonemic awareness) that can then be addressed with a specific math or reading strategy backed by research, a very successful scientific approach referred to as RtI (Response to Intervention.)

data points
With the advent of promising new approaches to data collection, education has the opportunity to address early in a child’s academic career certain risk factors that have been correlated (not necessarily in a causal relationship) to disengagement and eventually dropping out of school. After witnessing Dr. Kristal Ayers’ @kristalayres1 presentation on the Diary of a Teenage Dropout which highlighted the scientific gathering of many various types of data points (attendance, family structure, tardies, grades, disciplinary infractions) IN ADDITION TO more traditional data points, including test scores, can be inputted over time and used in conjunction with an algorithm to determine students in “Early Warning” phases, even as young as grade school, it became evident to me that what the education field has long been referring to as “data-based” decision making is exactly that: based on data. What Bright Bytes and Dr. Ayres are pioneering is far more innovative: it can be said to be data-infused decision making, for it is an approach inundated with nothing but vast amounts of (seemingly) unrelated data surrounding students.
While such an approach shows immense potential in curbing drop-out rates and decreasing the number of students failing school across the board, its true value will be measured in a set of data much more difficult to quantify yet vitally more important: preventing schools from failing students!

Tech & Learning – Live Chicago 2017

Tech & Learning events are always notable in that when you leave, you feel almost overwhelmed by powerful new ideas.  The Tech & Learning Live Chicago 2017 was no exception, but the unintentional (or was it intentional?) common thread that seemed to connect all of the sessions emerged early in the morning and continued to surface throughout the day was one not so much central to “tech” as it was to “learning.”

Instructional Coaching

During the morning mini-keynote sessions on Academic Coaching, one phrases that truly resounded with me was, “If you insist, they resist.”  This phrase was actually shared during a session on the essentials of 1:1 and peer coaching models.  As the mini-keynote session continued, this point was solidified by one of the comments made toward the end, which stated that anyone could be forced to do something, but it wouldn’t necessarily be done well.

Moving to the Cloud

This powerful notion of inspiration versus coercion (an essential pillar of leadership) was discussed in length during the leadership strand on moving to the cloud.  As different administrators from various progressive districts (such as Nick Polyak @npolyak from Leyden 212) suggested, mandating one standardized learning management system (LMS) appeared to present as many problems as it did solutions.  Echoed by Hank Thiele (@henrythiele from Downers Grove 99), he felt that by mandating one district-wide and supported LMS, as opposed to allowing teachers to choose based on their own preferences and comfort levels, the “organic” nature of truly artful teaching could be lost, or harmed.  When deciding to move district instruction into the cloud, it appears most are at least wary of causing the unintended “if you insist, they resist” effect.

Making Space for Maker Space

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This commonality even managed to permeate some (at least one) of the smaller “Anything Goes” sessions.  At Table 6, I was fortunate enough to have been selected to facilitate a practical discussion on “making space for the maker space” within the general curriculum.  During this presentation (which can be viewed at: ) a topic that emerged during both occurrences was how to empower more teachers to incorporate the maker movement into their lessons.  Participants were curious if districts were mandating a minimum use of the maker space?  Or how were districts overcoming teacher hesitation in utilizing maker spaces?

While the presentation was not intended to be one that provided answers but rather encouraged the sharing of strategies and successes in a comfortable yet professional “round table” format, consensus was reached that forcing teachers into the maker space would not be the most effective in encouraging teacher (and subsequently student) risk-taking.  Again, anyone can be forced to do something, but not as well as if they embraced it willingly.


After attending these always enlightening sessions, I pondered the implications arrived at during the three-hour drive from Chicago back to downstate Illinois.  Instructional coaches mostly agree that it is best not to force teachers to integrate technology with which they feel uncomfortable; at least, now without assistance and professional encouragement.  District-level administrators also concur that while moving to the cloud with instructional delivery, choices surrounding the particulars of these decisions were best left to the individual teachers most impacted.  From a building-level perspective, forcing teachers to use a school’s maker space would most definitely not lead to the engaging and innovative teaching sought.  At each of these cross-points during Tech & Learning Live Chicago, I caught myself thinking “If you insist, they will resist.”  Yet in the year 2017, as our schools are adapting to better prepare students that are innovative and curious enough to avoid having their jobs/skills replaced by automation, why do we so often insist on a one-size-fits-all approach when assigning student work?  Especially when as adult professional educators, we realize “if you insist, they will resist.”


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