Monthly Archives: January 2018

The Promised Kinder, Gentler Teacher Contract Talks Have Devolved Into Union Mud-Slinging

You know who is frequently the most frightened person in the room? The bully.

That doesn’t justify or excuse their behavior, but it is a lens that can help explain why someone is willing to expend so much energy trying to cause another person pain or shame.

The leadership of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers has spent a lot of energy over the last couple of months calling names and lobbing insults at Minneapolis Public Schools leaders, with whom they are attempting to negotiate a new contract.

They call the strategy they are using this year – and I am not making this up — “Common Sense Bargaining for the Common Good.” Just what is good or common-sense about bullying the person across the negotiating table?

Tuesday the federation put the illustration atop this post up on its Facebook page. In addition to being the exact opposite of a kinder, gentler negotiating strategy it’s riddled with errors, attempts to smear a number of reputable district leaders by lumping them in with one who is the object of a current scandal that’s completely unrelated to the “privatization” conspiracy theory being fanned here, and does not actually accuse any of the leaders of anything other than having laudable resumes. Continue reading

Declining District Enrollment? Here’s a No-Brainer: Ask Why Families Left — And Listen When They Answer

Do you want to know what happens when you pull your child out of Minneapolis Public Schools?

Nothing. That’s what happens.

No first-week phone call from the school office or the enrollment center. No social worker wondering if things are okay. Not so much as a multiple-choice survey asking what prompted you to leave.

The bus cards continue to come. And good luck stopping the robo-calls, which are hardwired to survive death and taxes.

No, the vacuum you’re left with is to be filled only by your imagination. Which, if your departure involved any degree of tension between family and school, is likely to be a pretty shamey blamey place.

I’ve experienced this and it’s remarkable. No one in any position of power says, What could we do to change this situation for the better?

To be clear, this isn’t just my problem. Over the years I’ve spent as an education reporter I’ve heard, over and over, what is at its core a remarkably similar story. In it, a child whose needs are big, messy or inconvenient is accused of failing to fit the profile of the student a school is equipped to serve.

I raise it now because there has been a lot of hand-wringing in these twin towns of late over the number of students leaving traditional district schools for what their families hope are greener pastures. And a lot of the talk about this is phrased, essentially, as a process wherein an interloper steals kids and the per-pupil tuition dollars allotted to meeting their needs from Minneapolis and St. Paul schools.

Kids leaving translates to dollars lost. There’s an urgent desire to get those dollars back. But seemingly zero interest in the reasons for the departure. Continue reading

The More Things Change: How the First Version of Minnesota’s Desegregation Lawsuit Left Out Families

The other day Minnesota’s Supreme Court entertained oral arguments in Cruz-Guzman vs. State of Minnesota, a lawsuit that, no matter what happens next, could have sweeping implications. If the case is allowed to proceed to trial, under the guise of integrating schools it could eliminate parental choice and strike a potentially fatal blow to schools that are delivering terrific results for impoverished black and brown kids.

If the case is dismissed on the grounds advanced by the state, it could set a precedent that would stop Minnesota courts from upholding the state constitution’s education clause, which guarantees all children adequate schooling.

I watched the arguments online, feeling very déjà vu all over again the whole time. It’s a re-do – complete with many of the same characters and subplots – of the first serious education story I wrote, back in 2000: “Magic Bus: The NAACP’s education lawsuit promised to be a watershed case for poor and minority kids. So when exactly did the wheels come off?”

Reader, when I dusted off that story, I was shocked. My own firstborn was a few months old and the big meaty issues at stake were pretty abstract to me. Like most white liberals, I grew up believing that I understood why and how separate is inherently unequal.

But the thing that hit me full-bore upon rereading my piece was the same as then. The story’s protagonist, a single black mother by the name of Evelyn Eubanks, was told at every turn, by white people, that their solutions were superior to what she was actually asking for for her babies. She was angry at being used as the public face of an effort that resulted in a settlement she didn’t want that was brokered in rooms where she wasn’t welcome. Continue reading