Category: Belief Gap

Opt Out So White: The Self-Reflection Edition

In Which A Couple of Teachers Argue 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, with 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 want public affairs journalism to be more like “The Big Short” and less like a turgid regurgitation of, well, anything.

Continue reading

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

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.