Category: Blog

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

Rape, or “Boundary Violations?” Minnesota’s Teacher Discipline Agency Made this Call in Private for Decades

When I saw the news the other day that KSTP had discovered that Minnesota’s Board of Teaching had failed to report teachers suspected of sexual misconduct, my first thought was, “Of course—why should the scandal stop with the failure to license excellent teachers, when there are abusive ones to protect?”

The story was followed a day or two later by the launching of tin-eared statements by elected officials from both parties, who presumably see political profit from blaming each other, umbrage from the governor — who for years has turned a blind eye to that long-running excellent teacher thing – and the issuing of a statement by the board’s new director and longtime chair.

It was the board’s letter to KSTP that tipped me over the edge. It was two full pages of, essentially, it’s not our job, only a few got through on our watch, and we didn’t think the “boundary violations” rose to the level of criminal conduct.

No remorse, no “our thoughts go out to those impacted” language, no vowing to do better. Just exactly what we’ve heard in the ongoing licensure fiasco: a deep commitment to the status quo and the dismissal of anyone who challenges it.

Here are some words that do not appear anywhere in the letter: Child, family, abuse, victim, survivor, exploit, predator, hurt, heal. The word student is mentioned, but only in relation to the real actors here, teachers: “The Board is responsible for ensuring that students in Minnesota have qualified and effective teachers.”

The license of the teacher who abused me and a bunch of other students at the St. Paul Open School, No. 126873, is valid – right now, today — for teaching secondary Spanish, social studies and history and expires 6/30/9999, according to state records.

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.

Continue reading

A Child’s-Eye View of the American Dream

I drew the train because I have seen that many times people suffer because of migration: People jump on trains and they take their small children and because of that many times they die. Sometimes the train can crash. When I grow older I do not want to be a migrant anymore.  

–Cecilia, 9, Mexico

 

I don’t know about you, but sometimes reality smacks into my blind spots so hard it robs me of my breath. I’m running between my often intertwined personal and professional lives keeping the domestic funny carts on the track and amassing the statistics and the policy analyses to show how promising or how horrific something in the public sphere is.

And then people—the fragile, splendid, surprising people this was all supposedly about—interpose themselves. I realize over and over that I may have described the contours of their struggles, but I haven’t given them voice or their stories texture.

Sunday afternoon I was in New York getting ready for a retreat with colleagues. There’s a Latinx art museum on the very northeastern corner of Central Park I’ve always wanted to go to, Museo del Barrio, and I actually had the time.

I thought I had exhausted the serious art when I came around a corner and there, in the nearly immeasurable instant it takes for a heart to contract, was a small hallway exhibit on U.S. immigration and deportation as seen from the eyes of children. Photos and drawings and quotes, arranged thematically. Continue reading

Remembering Edith Windsor, 1929-2017

Look at this photo of Edie Windsor. When was she ever photographed looking anything other than confident and jubilant, arms extended and something bright, some swath of super-saturated color breaking up her otherwise conservative attire?

To me, photos of her are invariably mesmerizing. What does it feel like to be so free? So utterly at home in your skin and alive in your world?

For a moment when I saw a photo of her standing in front of the U.S. Supreme Court flash by this afternoon I was elated and then confused. And then of course it was clear, without so much as a headline, why: Windsor died today at 88.

I have of course read tens of thousands of words about Windsor, whose effort to recover the estate taxes she was forced to pay following the death of her spouse, Thea Spyer, turned into United States v. Windsor, the 2013 case in which the high court overturned the Defense of Marriage Act.

But tonight reading the New York Times obituary made me sad on a new level. Windsor’s life story is so remarkable, her willingness in an era when it was very unsafe to be true to who she knew she was, to be out—truly dramatically out—and to occupy roles women did not play. Continue reading

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

Of Zip-Strips, Xenophobia and College Move-In Day

 

A confession: I am dealing with my anxiety about my ever-loving, blue-eyed firstborn’s departure for college by making frequent visits to the parents’ Facebook page set up for his university class.

All my mixed feelings, all my joy at watching him spread his wings, my anguish over not being able to buffer the world’s harsh shoals for him and my sadness at not having him plop his fanny down on the couch to show me something side-splitting on his phone—I’m channeling all of it into a blizzard of judgyness directed at strangers.

These poor kids—they think they’re striking out on their own!

My favorite is the mother who wants us all to buy zip-strips because she (mistakenly) believes they are the same thing as surge protectors and somehow thus safer than extension cords. She almost got away with making it out to be college policy.

Then there’s the parent whose student got a flat while riding their bike on campus. From halfway across the country, she wanted to know if anyone knew whether the school provides pumps.

There’s the mother who wants assistance shipping her macaroni-based “special salad”—which contains TWO JARS OF MAYO–to her son. And the mother “with food-handling training” who had some thoughts about the gambit. Continue reading

It’s Time to Ban “Pray Away the Gay” Therapy

Our Kids Are #BornPerfect — Let’s Stop Telling Them Otherwise

 

Do you remember Justin Aaberg, the 15-year-old Anoka-Hennepin student who, after enduring ceaseless taunting about his sexual orientation, hung himself? Aaberg’s was the most prominent of a wave of suicides that resulted in the district, Minnesota’s second-largest, coming under a court order to protect its LGBT kids.

Justin was out to his perfectly affirming mother, Tammy, who speaks passionately on why the embrace of a supportive family doesn’t always fend off the hate. Imagine showing up to school to find your classmates decked out in matching “Be Happy, Not Gay” T-shirts. Imagine those classmates can reach past your mother into the cocoon of your bedroom and into your pocket, via the digital conduits for harassment.

Hearing Tammy Aaberg’s story devastated me while I was covering the suicide contagion for MinnPost. But thinking about the Aabergs halts my breath in a whole new way now that I am the gay parent of a 15-year-old who has been bullied. His school is a haven for queer kids and educators, but then there’s the world, you know?

The seventh anniversary of Aaberg’s death just passed. It’s time for Minnesota to join the 11 places–10 states and the District of Colombia—that have outlawed conversion therapy for minors. It’s time for private and public schools to stop insisting that if fragile young people can’t “pray away the gay” they are fundamentally “disordered.” 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