Category: Belief Gap

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

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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Inconvenient Truths

We Can Greet North High’s Rising Grad Rates with Polar Pride–and Still Ask What Those Diplomas Mean


Today in the Continuing Adventures of Minneapolis’ Biggest Buzzkill, we engage in the sad but necessary task of a little graduation-season reality check.

This morning’s Star Tribune carries a heartwarming story about the amazing turnaround at Minneapolis Public Schools’ North High, from which some 50 seniors graduate today. The piece sketches the school’s “comeback” from five years ago, complete with a graph showing the graduation rate’s rise from 44 percent to 82 percent.

Congratulations to those Polars. May their diplomas serve as a formal invitation to bright futures. The world needs bright young people like them more than ever. Let’s agree, as a community, to support them in whatever endeavors come next.

The mellow I feel obliged to harsh? The narrative that has sprung up around the rebirth of the high school—at least as depicted by this city’s newspaper of record—skirts some major potholes. In fact, I’ve been thinking of it all morning as Exhibit A in why, in 2017, regional newspapers need to do like the national ones and realize that public education is not an entry-level, tooth-cutting beat but a hard-edged policy arena in need of watchdogging.

Of the 63 members of the 2017 class who took a state reading exam in 10th grade, seven—or 11 percent—passed. Of the 54 juniors who took the math test the next year, four—or 7.4 percent—passed.

Let’s countersink that nail: Two of 42 North 10th-graders—next year’s presumed grads–last year passed the reading test.

The story takes no note of this. Continue reading

The Toothpaste Isn’t Going Back in the Tube

I realize there are some major, major things going wrong in the world right now, but I am on Cloud Nine. A young woman I wrote about last year is being featured on Sheryl Sandberg’s website on resilience. Niante Ricks ended up homeless after coming out to her family, but found an amazing school in New Orleans, where she lives, that took her in and got her to college. Her teachers sent my story to Sandberg, who loved it.
The photo on this post is of Niante and a classmate giving their presentation a year and a half ago. Click on the new story to see a new portrait that’s 150 percent poise and confidence.
Cute backstory: In New Orleans an unexpected treasure found on the quest for something else is called Lagniappe. Niante wasn’t even the reason I was at Collegiate Academies. I went to write about the schools’ groundbreaking work on discipline and in special ed services for older students. My host, the most excellent Zoey Reed, had arranged for me to see some student presentations, including one advocating overturning a law that says Louisiana teachers may not say anything affirming to students about gays and lesbians.

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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.


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

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