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At Toasty’s Coffee Shop, They Just Want to Warm You Up

Inside a New Orleans School That’s Found a New Way to Help Graduates with Disabilities Work Toward Independence

There are two really good reasons why you should read my latest story:

  1. Because Duong and Torian, who served me a mighty fine cup of coffee at their school’s coffeeshop, are heartwarming charmers. That’s Torian in the photo above, and he is just that smiley!
  2. Because the way that New Orleans has restructured services for students with disabilities has game-changing potential. In short, schools can now concentrate on what each individual young person needs to reach their highest potential without worrying that meeting those needs will drain the budget.

 

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St. Paul School Board Shores up Public Trust… by Meeting in Secret

Did you hear the one about the school board members who, realizing they had a public trust problem, decided to fix it by meeting in private?

State officials have advised St. Paul Public Schools that board members may conduct closed-door meetings with school administrators and teachers union leaders to work on “trust, relationships, communication and collaborative problem solving.”

According to its petition to the state, after a year of tension and chaos the district wants to “strengthen community engagement and commitment among [the Board], district administrators, the Saint Paul Federation of Teachers (SPFT), parent advisory councils (PACs), students, and other stakeholders.”

They’re calling it—wait for it—the Collaborative Public Engagement Project.

The notion that these private confabs don’t violate the state’s Open Meetings Law is astonishing—and debatable. But it’s positively gobsmacking that the school board, whose leadership is all in favor of the meetings, thinks that more secrecy will strengthen community buy-in. Continue reading

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New Orleans’ Near-Zero-Bluster School Board Race

And why it’s Relevant to Minneapolis’ and St. Paul’s History of Ugly School Board Elections

Are you headed out tonight to what might be the last, and most comprehensive, Minneapolis School Board candidate forum? You should be. It’s being hosted by Animate the Race and sponsored by a host of local organizations including the Children’s Theatre, where the event will be held.

This is important for any number of reasons, not least that those elected next week in this most down-ticket of races will join the board at a pivotal moment. Beyond that, though, there’s the matter of democracy. The DFL chose its four endorsees last spring at an unbelievably ugly citywide endorsing convention in which a small number of people chose a slate–a mechanism that has historically mostly resulted in the anointing of board candidates acceptable to the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers.

This isn’t unique to Minneapolis, or to Minnesota. With what’s often a single-digit turnout, school board races are notoriously easy for special interests to dominate. You might think that’s okay if it’s your interest that’s ascendant in any given election cycle, but it’s not a truly healthy way to approach governance.

In service to this assertion, I offer you a story of mine that went live today, in which the politics of two school board races–the board that soon will oversee New Orleans’ schools and its more conventional next-door neighbor–provide an illustrative contrast.

This is the tale of two school districts: New Orleans, the most intently watched, politically charged experiment in modern education reform, and Jefferson Parish, the suburban bookend to New Orleans’s mossy, Creole charms.

In one, bold and effective reforms that enabled the district to change the way it staffed schools provoked a backlash — $650,000 in spending by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) to elect a pro-union school board.

In the other, bold and effective reforms that enabled schools to change the way they staff themselves and structure their days have sparked the quiet, all-but-decided election of a board that — at least, in principle — favors continued change.

Paradoxically, the hard-fought, big-money contest was Jefferson Parish’s 2014 school board election. And national ramifications notwithstanding, this month’s Orleans Parish School Board election is the sleeper.

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Why the DFL’s Addiction to ‘Fakequity’ is the Real Problem with the Minneapolis School Board

Twin Cities school board elections are not very democratic, and the big-D democrats hereabouts are just fine with that

Have you heard the term “fakequity”? It’s a genius bit of shorthand. It means to talk about racial or socioeconomic equity–to study it, appoint task forces, tweak the nomenclature—without actually disrupting the way that power and its corollary, money, accrues.

I raise this because with the election just weeks out, we’re keister-deep in urgent, breathy talk about equity. Some of these narratives are much more palatable to the white and the privileged than others. The most dispiriting aspect is the vigor with which the defense of the status quo is being depicted as a crusade for racial and socioeconomic justice.

Nowhere is this more true than in races where public education is an issue. It was the dominant storyline last year regarding the St. Paul School Board, where an equity-branded DFL and teacher-union slate, now ensconced, is attempting to figure out how to square its campaign promises with some harsh choices.

And it’s the story in Minneapolis, where the impending school board election—again, possibly a sweep by a DFL and teacher-union slate–is positively shellacked in talk of equity. Never mind that the new candidates’ position statements are heavy on nostalgia for a perhaps-imagined era where recess ruled and someone else worried about that pesky poverty.

The slate’s election would give DFL traditionalists five and possibly six seats on the nine-member board.

It’s not just a St. Paul and Minneapolis problem. DFLers who have bucked party traditionalists at the state level on education have found themselves exiled to committees and caucuses where they have no influence, or have come up against primary challengers backed by their supposed partisans.

Which is exactly as our liberal chattering classes would have it. The process of choosing school board members is undemocratic and punishing and the visibility of the people willing to say so just increases. Yet the rhetoric-reality divide isn’t going to close until the DFL grapples honestly with the inequities that lie at the root of Minnesota’s nation-leading gaps in outcomes for wealthy white children and everyone else. Continue reading

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Meet Erin Ecklund Clotfelter, Champion for Kids with Disabilities

Erin Ecklund Clotfelter is the mother of four: 7-year-old twins who were diagnosed with autism at age 2, a 6-year-old recently diagnosed with ADHD, and a 2-year-old. She lives in Minneapolis’ Northeast neighborhood, where her older sons attend Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS).

Clotfelter is the co-chair of the district’s Special Education Advisory Council, a role she took on just as Minneapolis was beginning the process of inclusion. Like many districts, MPS is working to move students with disabilities out of isolated classrooms and in to the same academic programming and social opportunities as their peers.

Most of the headlines involving this sometimes-controversial push have decried the disproportionate number of African-American, American-Indian and Latino children placed in special education for willful or defiant behavior. But children with intellectual and developmental disabilities are often caught in the belief gap, too.

Read Erin’s interview here. Continue reading

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“The Movement’s Been Hijacked:” A Black Lives Matter Leader Quits Over Public School Platform

Black Lives Matter St. Paul’s Rashad Anthony Turner is likely the first movement leader to leave his role over the Movement for Black Lives’ controversial education platform  

In this story, Turner talks about his decision and I supply a little context about BLM’s structure:

A Black Lives Matter leader in the city of St. Paul who has been deeply involved in both school equity fights and protests over police shootings has announced that he is stepping down because of the national group’s recent call for a moratorium on charter schools.

Rashad Anthony Turner, a prominent voice in the debate over racial disparities in outcomes in Minnesota schools, said his desire to continue to push for equity in education put him at odds with BLM’s leadership.

“For me, it was a question of integrity,” Turner explained, saying Black Lives Matter had been “hijacked.” “Being that I am all for charter schools and ed reform, and as someone who is seeking educational justice for students and families, I could no longer be under that banner of Black Lives Matter.

“Stepping outside of that banner personally meant that I needed to step down from a leadership role and any affiliation with Black Lives Matter if I’m going to do a great job in education and fighting for educational justice.”

Read the rest here.

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When it’s the Most Successful Schools Threatened with Closure

St. Louis Charter Parents are Denied a Voice in the Reopening of a Decades-Old Integration Case

Not long ago, I met St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay, pictured above. I developed a policy crush on Slay within minutes, prompted by his success in using his office as a bully pulpit to dramatically increase quality in the city’s schools so as to keep and attracted families. Keeping the city vital. Which it is. I really liked it.

But then I met John House, who reminded me that big as Slay’s vision is, there’s much more at stake in a controversy that could ultimately shutter those quality schools. House flipped four locks to let me into his perfectly maintained, painstakingly appointed house in a tough neighborhood in North St. Louis. And then after I stepped inside, he quickly flipped them again.

We sat at a gleaming table set with cut crystal place settings for 12 and talked about the long struggle he and his wife had endured trying to find a good school for their three kids, who could be heard cooking quietly in the other room.

To cut to the chase, after years of frustrations, inequities and waiting lists, Houses children were flourishing at a St. Louis outpost of the nonprofit charter network KIPP. So what bitter irony that we were talking because St. Louis’ highest performing charters are now threatened with closure by a lawsuit filed by the traditional school district over a pot of integration funding.

The charters could be forced to return $50 million, or 10 years of funding. “When that happens and you close the doors on those schools, you’re taking the choice away from those children,” House told me, calmer than he really needed to be. “You’re forcing them to be where they don’t want to be. You’re actually going backward.”

Read the rest at The 74.

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Theo Olson Gets a New Job–and Kid Glove Treatment from the St. Paul Pioneer Press

Could the Author of the Racially Inflammatory Blog St. Paul Parents Protested Last Spring be Taking Over Your Child’s Classroom? Good Luck Finding Out.

Ever have an argument on the phone where the other person yells something accusatory and hangs up? Or the social-media equivalent, where you get blasted and then in the next keystroke blocked?

To be clear, I’m not talking about a debate that ends with an irrefutable mic drop, but the kind of childish shouting match where you know the other guy’s “la la la la la” is meant to cover the fact that he’s shooting blanks.

This is precisely how I felt when I read the slender St. Paul Pioneer Press story with the headline, “Embattled Como Park teacher takes job outside district.” Turns out Theodore Olson, who you might remember outraged Facebook with racially inflammatory, thinly fictionalized stories about his classroom, has a new job.

You know, the guy who gave his student-characters names like L’Vaughnte and Deshawn and—this will hurt—D’Ray. And who then described them beating each other, “whoring trains” and gangbanging. Who posted pictures of student work online, complaining his kids won’t even try.

Where did he get a job? Doing what? Can’t tell you. What happened with his suspension, which followed complaints by outraged parents? Can’t tell you that, either. The six paragraphs that follow the headline are scant on details. Continue reading

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Opt-Out: White, Wealthy and Willing to Dictate to Other People’s Kids

#Optoutsowhite = So true.

A study released this week confirms it: The nationwide movement to boycott annual assessments that reveal the yawning racial disparities in schools is led by wealthy whites whose largest concern is teacher evaluations.

I knew it, but I’m still gobsmacked to learn just how wealthy and just how white. Researchers at Teachers College at Columbia University surveyed more than 1,600 opt-out movement adherents in 47 states. Turns out 92 percent are white and their median family income is $125,000–more than twice the national median.

Nearly half—45 percent–are educators. Two thirds are either teachers or opt out because of the influence of a close teacher friend. No surprise, then, their highest ranked concern is the use of student outcomes in evaluating teachers.

So the people with the means to send their children to the most desirable schools, which are staffed with the most experienced teachers, are seeking to shut down the data pipeline. Which revealed the immoral racial disparities in students’ access to quality teachers.

Oh yeah—and a majority describe themselves as progressives. Continue reading