Category: Belief Gap

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

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

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.

The Kids are More than Alright

When Fidel Jonapa heard his team declared the winner of a design competition late last month, he was momentarily baffled. It had to be a mistake.

The event was a weekend-long contest in which Minnesota’s adult technology entrepreneurs raced for 54 hours to bring startup concepts to life. Jonapa and his classmates were seventh- and eighth-graders at a Minneapolis middle school.

“I was like–what?” Jonapa says. “Why us?”

Teammate Aria Denisen was having a similar reaction. “They announced third place and second place as we were like, ‘Oh well, we did a good job this weekend,” she says. “And then they announced us.”

Adds Jack Sarenpa: “I thought he pulled a Steve-Harvey-at-Miss-Universe moment.”

Want to read the rest of the story? Head on over to Education Post’s cool new longform section.

Will Washington State Let Adult Politics Shutter Gap-Closing Schools?

Friends, in January I had the great fortune of visiting a high school in Seattle that shares the AMAZING personalized learning platform being piloted by my younger son’s school here in Minneapolis. Those of you who know me In Real Life, in internet parlance, know that this move has changed both my boy’s life and mine in a revolutionary way.
 
When I was in Washington visiting schools I met tons of kids whose families could not get special education services from their neighborhood schools, sometimes despite tremendous wealth and willingness to advocate full time. Summit Sierra is changing their fortunes the way Venture Academy has changed mine.
 
Except…. last week the Washington House of Reps failed to advance a bill that would have resolved the funding issue that the state’s very politicized supreme court declared unconstitutional last fall. (No, it did not declare charters unconstitutional, just the tapping of a particular pot of money.) This despite caravan after caravan of students making the trek to ask lawmakers for a reprieve.
 
I watched their testimony in the Senate. It moved policymakers and gallery-sitters to tears. The House apparently not so much. The legislature adjourns sine die March 11. Which leaves little time for the cavalry to find a new solution.
 
Washington, as nationally recognized researcher Robin Lake pointed out in a commentary on the sorry mess, may thus have the dubious distinction of becoming the first state to close schools that are closing gaps for its poorest, most disenfranchised learners.
You can find Lake’s commentary here. There’s a link to my feature embedded it in. If you want to cut to the chase you can find my story here.

The Demagogues of the Left

Last night I made the mistake of jumping into a comments thread about the Opt-Out Movement, the teacher-led campaign to persuade students and parents to refuse to take the annual assessments used to identify academic achievement gaps.

Written by Brooklyn civil rights attorney Charles F. Coleman, the piece laid out why black learners are the ones most hurt by the trend. And correctly pointed out that most of those who opted out last spring were from wealthy white communities.

“To put it plainly: white parents from well-funded and highly performing areas are participating in petulant, poorly conceived protests that are ultimately affecting inner-city blacks at schools that need the funding and measures of accountability to ensure any hope of progress in performance,” Coleman wrote.

“This is one of the more obvious examples of the sort of ‘double bonus’ that privilege can create. The ability to opt out of standardized testing without serious concern for the consequences on parents’ school districts is only buttressed by the notion of having greater availability of alternative options.”

It’s a solid article. Yet within minutes it acquired a comment thread rife with hyperbole and venom. Much of it, a little Facebook backtracking revealed, from white commenters who it’s hard not to imagine neatly illustrate Coleman’s point.

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Thank You for Believing in My Son

This weekend my family will find a moment amid the turkey and the pie, the football and the Minecraft, to acknowledge things we are grateful for. This year, my heart is full to bursting. My younger son, who has Asperger’s, is in a new school. For the first time he is an academic and social rockstar. He’s surrounded by teachers and other adults who see and talk about him as gifted.

All of that adult faith has made him a different kid, and me a different parent. Continue reading