How Two Twin Cities Teachers Gave DeVos Political Cover

What’s the old saw about all the news that’s fit to print?

I am wracking my brain to think why two local news outlets ran a hugely – potentially catastrophically – important story without some basic context that might help readers make sense of it. A third skipped the topic altogether.

This one’s so bad I’m not actually sure what to call it. Malpractice? Ineptitude? Bias by omission? Rank shittiness?

It’s a clear and present danger to democracy, anyhow. I mean, no less than Abraham Lincoln observed that if you want to influence tomorrow’s civic culture you had best pay attention to the classroom of today.

In the name of her anti-government, pro-free-market ideology, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is considering rolling back a sweeping, landmark set of civil rights rules laid down by the Obama administration that pushed for an end to disparities in school discipline and the school-to-prison pipeline. Because, you know, protecting the least among us is “government overreach.” Continue reading

All Hail Michael Walker and His Kings

A Race-Equity Success Story from Minneapolis Public Schools

With the river of red ink and controversy issuing forth from Minneapolis Public Schools just at the moment, we could do a lot worse than to celebrate the progress made by Michael Walker and the kings served by his Office of Black Male Student Achievement. So much is going so right on Walker’s watch, and there are multiple reasons to call it out now.

To wit:

  • Not one nickel of the $33 million budget shortfall should be made up by endangering this work.
  • The various philanthropies and advocacy groups that mean to support Minneapolis students should be paying attention to Walker’s effort. Even if his budget survives this season’s bloodletting, his is work that merits serious, sustained funding. Education advocates should be prepared to put a floor under Walker.
  • And if the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers is serious about restorative justice, which they have made a centerpiece of their ongoing contract negotiations with the district, they need to line up behind Walker in a big way. Doing so would send the signal that talk of race equity is more than window-dressing designed to give the talks a gloss of being about kids’ needs.

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Day of the Dead, Mark Twain and Cognitive Magic

This is gonna be short, but incredibly sweet.

This here photo is of a Day of the Dead altar built by students, teachers and parents. It seems Mark Twain had a thing about San Antonio – and who doesn’t? – and so the community at Mark Twain Dual Language Academy and Middle School there set out pan dulce and marigolds, among other ofrendas, under the curmodgeon’s portrait.

It was my privilege today to spend time at the school, which features a kind of state-of-the-art bilingual education unique, at least in Texas. This particular school teaches some children who arrived speaking only Spanish, some speaking only English and a sizeable population whose parents lost their Spanish as children because historically in U.S. schools the goal has been to move kids into English-only instruction, and as quickly as possible.

Some of the sweet kids I talked to today – schools in San Antonio enroll kids as young as 3 — may soon be able to speak to their grandparents. Go ahead and let that wash over you a second before we move on to today’s most interesting bit of learning – for me. Continue reading

Ticket to Ride

8-Year-Old Jayanna Wants to Ride the Big Yellow Bus With Her Friends. Her School District Says That’s Impossible.

 

Blog Nation, meet Melissa Davis, the east metro parent of a lovely young woman whose journey through special education in school I’ve been privileged to follow. And on whose shoulder I’ve cried a moment or two when my parallel trip hit speedbumps.

In addition to being a warrior mother, Melissa is a graduate of Partners in Policymaking, a terrific state program that builds advocacy capacity among people with disabilities and their family members. As such, she’s got a terrific understanding of how special ed can fail to deliver on its promise to tailor each child’s experience to their unique needs. She has refused to accept lackluster compromises for her daughter.

Melissa’s current struggle involves her daughter’s desire to ride the regular bus to school with her friends instead of the special ed bus. The district has responded with nonsensical and arbitrary reasons why they can’t (won’t?) accommodate the girl. Continue reading

Black and Brown Students: Kumbaya, You’re Suspended

 You can’t both call for restorative discipline and grease the school-to-prison pipeline

 

Let’s make a deal. Let’s add “restorative discipline” to the stack of terms that have officially taken on so many disparate meanings to so many people desperate to cloak their agendas in a gloss of progressivism as to have become junk. It’s turning out to be the school-to-prison variant of #fakequity.

I’m thinking about it because Minneapolis Public Schools has posted the materials related to its current contract talks with the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers on its website and I’m catching up. And wow is the union’s proposal just hand-in-glove with the school board’s posture toward school climate: Lots of white liberal yakking that amounts, in the end, to doubling down on the status quo.

Let’s back up a few weeks. In August the Minneapolis School Board voted to decrease the number of school resource officers – Minneapolis police officers – in schools from 16 to 14. There was tons of talk of “soft” uniforms and more study of the problem and racial disparities and a couple of impassioned “we hate this question” speeches from directors Kim Ellison and Don Samuels.

But in the end – and after multiple parliamentary efforts to rein in board member Kerry Jo Felder, who perhaps had been briefed with alternative facts – the board voted 8-1 to keep the officers. Merits of the decision aside, it perhaps at least marked the moment when a board majority that had courted the white liberal constituency that opposes, pro forma, any inequities, made a sharp turn toward the status quo.

And here we are, two-plus months on, and the union has made restorative discipline a centerpiece of its freighted contract negotiations. The proposal front and center: To mandate, via the contract, “positive, inclusive and relationship-centered learning environments.” Continue reading

In Which Kerry Jo Talks Too Much, Test Prep Turns Out Not to Be Satan’s Tool and Buses Run the World

 The Zillion Open Tabs Edition

 

I don’t know if you do this too, but I am in the habit of leaving things I want to come back to for one or another reason open in tabs on my computer. And yes, that computer is a MacBook so I have a reading list function. And yes, a dear friend turned me on to Evernote and it has changed my life. And yes, I do still have drawers and drawers of actual paper files archiving treasures.

In the most primitive part of my brain, the tabs are like electronic boxes there for the ticking — markers of the daily chaos we all fantasize is tame-able. Other people subscribe to Real Simple or pin photos of tiny houses, where one presumes big messes can’t be made. Me, I dream of a day when the browser can safely be closed.

Why am I boring you with my monkey mind? Because it occurs to me that the fully fashioned blog posts I thought to pen about some of the aforementioned tabs could really just be an annotated list. Which is a win for both of us, right?

Without further ado:

 

I reserve the right to come back to this one at some length: Here is a proposed Minneapolis School Board rule about talking out of turn. Scroll down to g, “director speaking time,” and h, “other.” It says, essentially, no more running your yap until your fellow directors are forced to call a point of order, particularly if your verbal expositions are couched as questions about items in the board agenda packet you clearly didn’t read.

I’m calling this the Kerry Jo Felder rule.

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Balancing the Budget on the Backs of Our Kids

It’s time to consider a radical reboot of the way we fund education

Can you smell the blood in the water?

With the recent announcement that Minneapolis Public Schools faces a $33 million deficit next year – which means even deeper cuts than followed this year’s $28 million shortfall — teeth are bared.

It’s not just Minneapolis. St. Paul Public Schools this year are trying to close a $27.3 million shortfall.

The gnashing is compounded by the impact of the Star Tribune’s recent series on school choice, which was a pretty good where-are-we-now check-in packaged under some unfortunate headlines that contained the word “fleeing.”

The combination, of course, leaves one with a run-for-the-lifeboats feeling. Continue reading

Rape, or “Boundary Violations?” Minnesota’s Teacher Discipline Agency Made this Call in Private for Decades

When I saw the news the other day that KSTP had discovered that Minnesota’s Board of Teaching had failed to report teachers suspected of sexual misconduct, my first thought was, “Of course—why should the scandal stop with the failure to license excellent teachers, when there are abusive ones to protect?”

The story was followed a day or two later by the launching of tin-eared statements by elected officials from both parties, who presumably see political profit from blaming each other, umbrage from the governor — who for years has turned a blind eye to that long-running excellent teacher thing – and the issuing of a statement by the board’s new director and longtime chair.

It was the board’s letter to KSTP that tipped me over the edge. It was two full pages of, essentially, it’s not our job, only a few got through on our watch, and we didn’t think the “boundary violations” rose to the level of criminal conduct.

No remorse, no “our thoughts go out to those impacted” language, no vowing to do better. Just exactly what we’ve heard in the ongoing licensure fiasco: a deep commitment to the status quo and the dismissal of anyone who challenges it.

Here are some words that do not appear anywhere in the letter: Child, family, abuse, victim, survivor, exploit, predator, hurt, heal. The word student is mentioned, but only in relation to the real actors here, teachers: “The Board is responsible for ensuring that students in Minnesota have qualified and effective teachers.”

The license of the teacher who abused me and a bunch of other students at the St. Paul Open School, No. 126873, is valid – right now, today — for teaching secondary Spanish, social studies and history and expires 6/30/9999, according to state records.

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Opt Out So White: The Self-Reflection Edition

In Which A Couple of Teachers Argue That Parents Shouldn’t Question Whether Their Children’s Needs Are Being Met

Once upon a time, meaning back when I went to journalism school, reporters were told not to think about what readers wanted. We were the vaunted “gatekeepers” who decided what was important and therefore merited space in the newspaper.

If readers couldn’t muddle their way through our expert, if hideously turgid, explanation of what happened last night at the public works subcommittee meeting? Why, they were dullards! Secretly, we hoped they never got called for jury duty.

This assholish contempt for readers persisted well into the age of the internet, when it became possible to measure traffic. Not only could we see what people clicked on, we could discern how long they spent on a webpage, which told us whether they actually read the story.

Ah, when that worm turned? You shoulda heard the howling. Suddenly no one wanted to write about regulatory reform on Wall Street, just Britney and Paris. And for a moment—with Craigslist decimating the classifieds and digital advertising slashing display ad revenue–newspaper editors lost their collective minds and assigned rivers of clickbait.

At first we were all freaked out about all of this data being used to inform news judgment and personnel decisions. I mean, is it fair to use the same traffic expectations to evaluate the reporter who covers Michele Bachmann, the subject of Google searches in Khazakstan, and the Labor Department reporter?

In some corners of the news industry, a few of the lemmings took detours, and discovered some interesting things. Turns out people are hungry for news. And contrary to popular journalistic wisdom, they want voice and context and analysis. They just want public affairs journalism to be more like “The Big Short” and less like a turgid regurgitation of, well, anything.

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A Child’s-Eye View of the American Dream

I drew the train because I have seen that many times people suffer because of migration: People jump on trains and they take their small children and because of that many times they die. Sometimes the train can crash. When I grow older I do not want to be a migrant anymore.  

–Cecilia, 9, Mexico

 

I don’t know about you, but sometimes reality smacks into my blind spots so hard it robs me of my breath. I’m running between my often intertwined personal and professional lives keeping the domestic funny carts on the track and amassing the statistics and the policy analyses to show how promising or how horrific something in the public sphere is.

And then people—the fragile, splendid, surprising people this was all supposedly about—interpose themselves. I realize over and over that I may have described the contours of their struggles, but I haven’t given them voice or their stories texture.

Sunday afternoon I was in New York getting ready for a retreat with colleagues. There’s a Latinx art museum on the very northeastern corner of Central Park I’ve always wanted to go to, Museo del Barrio, and I actually had the time.

I thought I had exhausted the serious art when I came around a corner and there, in the nearly immeasurable instant it takes for a heart to contract, was a small hallway exhibit on U.S. immigration and deportation as seen from the eyes of children. Photos and drawings and quotes, arranged thematically. Continue reading