Category: Minneapolis

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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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

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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Want Equity in Schools? How About We Start With Equity in Electing Leaders

White Unions Have Dominated School Board Elections for Decades. It’s Time For Power to Shift to People of Color.    

Did you happen to catch the sad little Facebook dust-up in which a handful of white liberals attempted to explain to mayoral candidate Nekima Levy-Pounds why her stance on K-12 education was not what black people should believe?

It was the height of whitesplaining. Lots of use of the word “neo-liberal.” Lots of attempts to convince Levy-Pounds – possibly the Twin Cities most visible civil rights attorney of the moment – that schools that got money from philanthropists could not possibly serve her kids.

There was zero listening. No interest in her family’s experience–and minus zero if it was a good experience outside the traditional system. No interest in the discussion of equity she – a mother who has had children in traditional public, public charter and private schools – attempted to advance. Just political camps organized around tired conspiracy theories holding the status quo out to be the best thing since sliced bread.

It would have been funny if it weren’t such a deafening display of privilege. Adult and white.

Are you ready for something different? Good. Continue reading

Opt-Out So White Redux: White Minnesota “Progressives” Address School Disparities by Choking Off the Data Identifying Them

The other day my older son told me a revealing story about his final days as a student in Minneapolis Public Schools. One day last spring one of his teachers informed the class that if they wanted to take the state science exams they were welcome to go down to the office and schedule a time.

This was the International Baccalaureate section of a hard science course, a dozen kids who presumably would make Southwest High School and its teachers look shiny and successful. And who were all, at the time, prepping for a solid month of IB testing—something the school brags about in its marketing efforts.

As he talked I looked up the recently released results of the assessments. At his school 43 kids, or a little more than a 10th of the class, took the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments in math. Sixty-one 10th graders took the reading test. Resulting involving fewer than 10 students are not reported publicly for privacy reasons; too few 11th graders to count took the math test.

So like 104 of about 1,400 kids who were supposed to take the test did. And what have we heard about it from the higher-ups? Zip.

This is the third year running district and state leaders have done nothing when confronted with abundant evidence that teachers are putting up roadblocks to the collection of data. I mean, for fewer than 10 kids to take the math test how many people had to turn a blind eye–or collude–all the way up to the highest levels of the education system? Continue reading

Minnesota’s Grand Plan to Collect a River of Data—And Then Bury It

Confidential to the Denizens of Lake Wobegon: You know that whole Garrison Keillor shtick about all the kids being above average actually makes fun of our collective tendency to engage in magical thinking, right?

What’s that? You get that the shtick is a shtick—but your kid really is one of the above average ones? You willing to bank their future on that?

For the second year in a row, the parent resource hub Learning Heroes reports that Americans dramatically overestimate their kids’ academic achievement. Ninety percent of us believe our kids are on track in school, while in fact an apples-to-apples test administered to a cross-section of U.S. students every four years puts the number at one in three.

It astounds me that increasingly the reaction to news such as this—particularly among affluent white parents and at least here in the Twin Cities many of the educators who staff their schools—is to attempt to get rid of the flow of data. Or failing that, to bury the numbers.

I mean, we’re talking about the very same class of people for whom worrying about the kids’ economic and social advantages is a competitive sport. And yet here we are, in perfect Minnesota form, responding to a federal law requiring an overhaul of the way we track schools’ performance by creating a new system that will collect terrific data but minimize its practical uses—to help children in poverty and with disabilities. Continue reading

If You Can’t Beat ‘em, Co-opt ‘em

With the dust settling, turns out this year’s legislative session might have been a good one for kids


You might be forgiven for tuning out as this year’s state Legislature ground its way toward adjournment, adjourned, went back into session, adjourned, went back into session and finally, mercifully, adjourned for good.

I know I did. From reading the headlines it seemed like Minnesota SOP: Incremental gains in both policy and finance that let the electeds from both parties to go back to their districts claiming to have delivered for kids–if nothing transformative.

And so I have been reading and rereading a newly released wrap-up of the session’s finer points put together by EdAllies, a policy advocacy group, with a mixed mind. Because despite the relatively narrow cast of this year’s headlines, it looks like a lot of solid policy got hammered out.

And the DFL governor, who has not been an advocate of many of the policy changes he nonetheless signed into law, got a lot more money for education out of the GOP than looked likely at the start of the year. Which is huge, given that the state has fallen far behind education funding levels of the early 2000s.

So what’s mixed about my mind? More money for kids and good policy should be a slam-dunk, right? And it could be, but if you look at the arenas in which long-sought progress was won you’ll note that many of them are areas where legislatures past have voted in changes only to watch them founder in the quicksand of bureaucratic resistance.

I say we set cynicism aside for a while and see whether the third time’s the charm. 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