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
Why I think the New School Board Will Address the Little-i Inequities But Stop at Trying to Solve the Big Ones
Ah, how quickly the bloom goes off the rose.
A Minneapolis School Board with a new political majority has been feeling its oats since the first of the year. It didn’t take long for things to get rocky.
In the new board’s most dramatic chapter yet, a couple of weeks ago about 150 community members organized by a faction of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers showed up to protest what they said were the forced resignations of seven district employees who are people of color. With just Don Samuels voting no, the board supermajority could not move swiftly enough to reverse the decisions.
And so the next week it was forced to convene a special meeting to hear from principals and others who deplored the board’s intercession, insisting that there were more clear-headed ways to make personnel decisions and noting that the board overruled school leaders without so much as requesting information about the cases at hand.
The board insisted it was acting out of a concern for equity. And indeed a pattern of forcing people of color out of jobs in schools, where they are desperately needed, would be a very bad—and sadly not surprising–thing.
But let’s pause, because in short order the universe has served the board an opportunity to address equity on a much larger and more impactful scale. Dollars to doughnuts the new board walks—nay, sprints—away from this one. Continue reading
Twin Cities school board elections are not very democratic, and the big-D democrats hereabouts are just fine with that
Have you heard the term “fakequity”? It’s a genius bit of shorthand. It means to talk about racial or socioeconomic equity–to study it, appoint task forces, tweak the nomenclature—without actually disrupting the way that power and its corollary, money, accrues.
I raise this because with the election just weeks out, we’re keister-deep in urgent, breathy talk about equity. Some of these narratives are much more palatable to the white and the privileged than others. The most dispiriting aspect is the vigor with which the defense of the status quo is being depicted as a crusade for racial and socioeconomic justice.
Nowhere is this more true than in races where public education is an issue. It was the dominant storyline last year regarding the St. Paul School Board, where an equity-branded DFL and teacher-union slate, now ensconced, is attempting to figure out how to square its campaign promises with some harsh choices.
And it’s the story in Minneapolis, where the impending school board election—again, possibly a sweep by a DFL and teacher-union slate–is positively shellacked in talk of equity. Never mind that the new candidates’ position statements are heavy on nostalgia for a perhaps-imagined era where recess ruled and someone else worried about that pesky poverty.
The slate’s election would give DFL traditionalists five and possibly six seats on the nine-member board.
It’s not just a St. Paul and Minneapolis problem. DFLers who have bucked party traditionalists at the state level on education have found themselves exiled to committees and caucuses where they have no influence, or have come up against primary challengers backed by their supposed partisans.
Which is exactly as our liberal chattering classes would have it. The process of choosing school board members is undemocratic and punishing and the visibility of the people willing to say so just increases. Yet the rhetoric-reality divide isn’t going to close until the DFL grapples honestly with the inequities that lie at the root of Minnesota’s nation-leading gaps in outcomes for wealthy white children and everyone else. Continue reading
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
#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
If You Haven’t Genuflected at the Right DFL Altars, Don’t Bother Running for School Board
I don’t know about you, but as we head into the meaty shank of this year’s political cycle I feel forced to give myself little pep talks about representative democracy. Because among the many problems with the ugly populist wave we’re riding is other people. I mean, to be mostly but not entirely facetious, it’s really hard to accept that I have exactly as much power as any of Trump’s Chick-fil-A-eating, Avalanche-driving zealots. Or their counterparts on the left.
Among the dark, late-night minor obsessions this has spawned, I’ve gotten into the habit of checking Minneapolis School Board Director Tracine Asberry’s campaign website. Every time I visit endorsements by more Democratic-Farmer-Labor party types have disappeared. We’re talking about elected officials who, three months ago, approved of Asberry’s performance in office but who now won’t break ranks to say so.
Like the other incumbent seeking re-election this year, Josh Reimnitz, Asberry attended the the party’s city-wide endorsing convention last April and agreed to abide by the DFL’s endorsement, as did newcomer Kimberly Caprini. Which is always problematic, right? If you don’t agree, you won’t be considered. And if you don’t go into the convention having genuflected at the right party altars, well good luck to you Chuckles. Continue reading
What if the Fix Was in But They Picked the Wrong Dark Horse?
The conspiracy du jour last week involving the Minneapolis Public Schools was this: A search committee Friday night advanced two candidates, Minnesota Commissioner of Education Brenda Cassellius and some guy from Alaska. Ed Graff’s contract as superintendent in Anchorage was not renewed earlier this year because his board felt someone else was needed to drive aggressive academic growth.
To be sure, there were more candidates in the pool, and at least two were well-regarded and arguably qualified. A couple of days before the finalists were announced, three members of the Minneapolis School Board introduced a resolution to have three finalists put forward but were shot down.
Sounds like a setup, right? Surely Graff, as my colleague Chris Stewart immediately quipped on the internets, was the equivalent of the team that always goes up against the Harlem Globetrotters.
And there are various schools of Kremlinology that could explain why some folks, including factions of the DFL, would want to structure things so that Cassellius was the obvious candidate. The commissioner has mixed track records in Minneapolis and at the state and enough critics that her appointment fight could otherwise be as uphill as Merrick Garland’s.
And and—and this is important—the fractious and back-bitey tenor of the two failed attempts to name a superintendent over the last 18 months have resulted in so much community mistrust that precious few of the advocates who’ve tracked the process are left in the room. Continue reading
A couple of months ago I was running some errands with my older son, who is a junior in high school and possessed of a biting wit. I was telling him that University of Minnesota professor Myron Orfield had submitted a lengthy rebuttal to a story of mine that accused Orfield of launching a cloaked attack on school choice.
The rebuttal was vintage Orfield: Hundreds of words of circular legal arguments and phrases like “regression analysis.” It went on and on and on until your eyes rolled back in your head and you probably failed to notice that he basically mostly accused me of interviewing people he disagrees with.
Which I did. A whole pack of them, in fact.
“Oh, that’s one of the fallacies,” my boy said. “Argumentum verbosium.” Also known, apparently, as proof by intimidation.
On Monday Minnesota’s Chief Administrative Law Judge signed off on a 93-page opinion authored by one of her colleagues that shreds those proof points, one by one. Given the extent of the verbosity they had to untangle, we should take up a collection and send the jurists for a spa weekend. Continue reading
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.
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