theo olson blog post

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

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Booing, Hissing and Running Out the Clock: The Other Nasty Endorsing Convention

If You Haven’t Genuflected at the Right DFL Altars, Don’t Bother Running for School Board

I don’t know about you, but as we head into the meaty shank of this year’s political cycle I feel forced to give myself little pep talks about representative democracy. Because among the many problems with the ugly populist wave we’re riding is other people. I mean, to be mostly but not entirely facetious, it’s really hard to accept that I have exactly as much power as any of Trump’s Chick-fil-A-eating, Avalanche-driving zealots. Or their counterparts on the left.

Among the dark, late-night minor obsessions this has spawned, I’ve gotten into the habit of checking Minneapolis School Board Director Tracine Asberry’s campaign website. Every time I visit endorsements by more Democratic-Farmer-Labor party types have disappeared. We’re talking about elected officials who, three months ago, approved of Asberry’s performance in office but who now won’t break ranks to say so.

Like the other incumbent seeking re-election this year, Josh Reimnitz, Asberry attended the the party’s city-wide endorsing convention last April and agreed to abide by the DFL’s endorsement, as did newcomer Kimberly Caprini. Which is always problematic, right? If you don’t agree, you won’t be considered. And if you don’t go into the convention having genuflected at the right party altars, well good luck to you Chuckles. Continue reading

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Judge to Board of Teaching: “My order was pretty simple. Follow the law.”

How rare is it for a trial court judge to hold a state agency in contempt of court? Rare as hen’s teeth. Rare as unicorns. Or maybe better stated, rare as the veteran out-of-state teacher who applies for and gets–no problem–a Minnesota teacher license.

Six months after ruling the Minnesota Board of Teaching was flaunting the law, a Ramsey County District Court judge has held the political appointees in contempt of court. Will the move shock the board–which has resisted two mandates from the legislature, a state audit and a lawsuit–into implementing a 6-year-old law?

Don’t hold your breath.

Read my take on the latest installment n Minnesota ed reform’s most Onion-esque saga at The 74 Million.

 

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Need to Find a School in Detroit? Then You Need Bernita Bradley

Mind-boggler: In the last six years, 80 percent of schools in Detroit have either opened or closed–or both, according to Mayor Mike Duggan’s office. There’s no central list of schools to peruse when you need a new place to send your child. There are 50–yep, 50–different enrollment processes.

And with a near-total lack of accessible services, what to parents in other cities would be a small hiccups–getting a copy of a birth certificate, say, or records from a past school–are nearly insurmountable obstacles.

What Detroit does have is a small but determined army of mothers who have survived the system’s many gantlets. This year, they set out to knock on every door in the city to help families find decent school placements. The stories they collected are illuminating.

My latest, via The74Million.

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On Willful Defiance, Power Plays and Valeria Silva’s Buy-Out

The Nearly-Million-Dollar Question the Superintendent’s Departure Begs: Who Owns St. Paul Public Schools?

 

Last fall I got a phone call from Nick Faber, who is the vice president of the St. Paul Federation of Teachers. He wanted to talk about the union’s home-visiting initiative, in which pairs of teachers who have received special training visit their students’ homes.

The power struggle that ended last week with the school board’s decision to buy out Superintendent Valeria Silva’s contract was in full swing at the time. The federation was campaigning hard, under the guise of pursuing equity in the schools, for the pro-union board majority that just fired Silva. The home visiting project was Exhibit A.

Faber and I had a nice talk—he’s a swell, passionate guy–but I confess to being shocked. I don’t think he realized, but the story he wanted to tell me neatly illustrates the scope of the issues Silva was trying to address, as well as the adult resistance to change. Continue reading

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A Place of Solidarity and Empowerment

An hour ago the president of the United States for the 18th time addressed the nation in the wake of a mass shooting—this time the massacre of 50 people celebrating Pride at an Orlando gay bar. In his remarks, Barack Obama underscored the importance of the gay bar to the LGBT community.

“The place where they were attacked is more than a nightclub,” the president said. “It is a place of solidarity and empowerment where people have come together to raise awareness, to speak their minds, and to advocate for their civil rights.”

I’ve been physically sick since I heard the news. It could have been me mowed down. I was last in a gay bar two weeks ago. A friend of mine was at Pulse, the Florida club in question, not long before that.

And I am terrified for the young people in the process of feeling their way through their sexual orientation or gender identity who woke up to this news and are wondering whether it’s safer to wall off that part of themselves. Because it’s not. It’s the psychic equivalent of giving yourself cancer. Continue reading

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The Big Gay Way to End the School Year

Happy Pride, y’all!

June 1 marks the start of a month-long celebration of LGBT history and culture and of our extraordinary leaps forward in terms of equality in recent years. If what you know of Pride is the rainbow- and glitter-bomb-saturated parades that are the grand finale–great. I hope to see you there; I’ll be the one on the sparklepony wishing she’d brought sunscreen.

In the meantime, let me leave you with this: Pride is an incredibly important month for educators and students. Schools can play a vital role in supporting LGBT youth and in affirming their identity—especially if their understanding of it is still in formation.

In no particular order, then, I offer several opportunities for educators to observe and celebrate:

Feels like home

Know where young people who suspect their families might not embrace their sexual orientation or gender identity can explore their identities in a supportive cocoon? Where there’s hopefully a library full of books where they can see themselves and answer their unvoiced questions—maybe even staffed by a librarian who can create the space for them to browse unobserved? Continue reading

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The Most Cynical Chapter of St. Paul’s Nasty Budget Battle

If you saw $9 million lying on the sidewalk, would you pick it up?

What’s that? You can’t be bothered? What if you were $15.1 million in the red, would you be willing to bend a little then?

If you’ve paid even cursory attention to the headlines, you know St. Paul Public Schools finds itself in the midst of a painful community discussion over the 2016-2017 budget deficit. With the fat long gone, the Board of Education and district administration are now looking at cleaving into the meat of the school day.

All of which begs the only slightly sarcastic question above. Because $9 million in potential state aid is being left on the table because the St. Paul Federation of Teachers would prefer other budget-balancing measures. Continue reading

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Meet the Inspirational Dwan Quinn

My job is just unfathomably, absurdly great. Dwan Quinn graduates from high school tomorrow in New Orleans and you really do want to know what that means to generations of Quinns.

The lede to my latest story for The74Million:

 

His grandmother, his mother, his father, all three of his uncles, his auntie and cousin — Dwan Quinn is hard-pressed to think of a single relative who did not attend George Washington Carver High School. Located in New Orleans’ Ninth Ward, the school is an ever-present fixture in the family’s stories.

“My grandma worked in the cafeteria at Carver while my mom went there,” says Quinn. “They talk all the time about the traditions that went on in that building. I saw how much fun they had with the band especially, and the football team.”

Lots of cities have a high school that’s the equivalent of Carver, where everyone knows the names of the neighborhood kids who went on to become elected officials, professional athletes, scholars or musicians. By the numbers, the schools might be failure factories. Yet they are often a community’s emotional lynchpin.

On Friday, Quinn will become his family’s first male member to graduate from high school. In the fall, he’ll be the first family member to go to college, to Nicholls State University in Thibodaux, Louisiana.

 

Want to know the rest of the story? Yes, yes you do. You really do.