Category: School Choice

Woodward Avenue

The Other Detroit Comeback Story

A Cross-Section of Education Advocates Set Aside Their Differences to Create a Blueprint for Reshaping the City’s Education Landscape. It Almost Happened.

 

The morning John Rakolta Jr. rode the bus to school with Mrs. Robinson and her two kids it was 7 degrees in Detroit. The four stepped outside the Robinsons’ apartment building exactly at 6:15 a.m. Rakolta’s bodyguard and driver trailed at a discreet distance.

Kids bundled against a wind chill that made the trek even more frigid, they walked to the bus stop and waited. And waited. What time was the bus expected to arrive, Rakolta asked, shivering. 6:50. So why get to the stop half an hour early? Because buses are few and schedules erratic; if the 6:50 came early and they missed it there wouldn’t be another for two hours.

The panoramic windows in Rakolta’s downtown Detroit office look out over the city’s main thoroughfare. Buses go up and down Woodward Avenue, but the reality of relying on them was a rude surprise to him.

The CEO of a privately held company that builds auto assembly plants all over the world, Rakolta’s sideline avocation is race relations. He’d been part of two decades of purposeful efforts to understand his own white privilege and to build relationships between black and white Detroiters. He’s both a conservative and a booster of a black, Democratic city.

John Rakolta Jr.

John Rakolta Jr.

A major fundraiser for the presidential campaigns of Mitt Romney in 2012 and Marco Rubio in 2015, Rakolta was riding the bus with the Robinsons because a few months earlier a friend had asked him to join an effort to create some stability in the city’s crumbling school system, often described as the worst in the nation. Continue reading

“The Movement’s Been Hijacked:” A Black Lives Matter Leader Quits Over Public School Platform

Black Lives Matter St. Paul’s Rashad Anthony Turner is likely the first movement leader to leave his role over the Movement for Black Lives’ controversial education platform  

In this story, Turner talks about his decision and I supply a little context about BLM’s structure:

A Black Lives Matter leader in the city of St. Paul who has been deeply involved in both school equity fights and protests over police shootings has announced that he is stepping down because of the national group’s recent call for a moratorium on charter schools.

Rashad Anthony Turner, a prominent voice in the debate over racial disparities in outcomes in Minnesota schools, said his desire to continue to push for equity in education put him at odds with BLM’s leadership.

“For me, it was a question of integrity,” Turner explained, saying Black Lives Matter had been “hijacked.” “Being that I am all for charter schools and ed reform, and as someone who is seeking educational justice for students and families, I could no longer be under that banner of Black Lives Matter.

“Stepping outside of that banner personally meant that I needed to step down from a leadership role and any affiliation with Black Lives Matter if I’m going to do a great job in education and fighting for educational justice.”

Read the rest here.

When it’s the Most Successful Schools Threatened with Closure

St. Louis Charter Parents are Denied a Voice in the Reopening of a Decades-Old Integration Case

Not long ago, I met St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay, pictured above. I developed a policy crush on Slay within minutes, prompted by his success in using his office as a bully pulpit to dramatically increase quality in the city’s schools so as to keep and attracted families. Keeping the city vital. Which it is. I really liked it.

But then I met John House, who reminded me that big as Slay’s vision is, there’s much more at stake in a controversy that could ultimately shutter those quality schools. House flipped four locks to let me into his perfectly maintained, painstakingly appointed house in a tough neighborhood in North St. Louis. And then after I stepped inside, he quickly flipped them again.

We sat at a gleaming table set with cut crystal place settings for 12 and talked about the long struggle he and his wife had endured trying to find a good school for their three kids, who could be heard cooking quietly in the other room.

To cut to the chase, after years of frustrations, inequities and waiting lists, Houses children were flourishing at a St. Louis outpost of the nonprofit charter network KIPP. So what bitter irony that we were talking because St. Louis’ highest performing charters are now threatened with closure by a lawsuit filed by the traditional school district over a pot of integration funding.

The charters could be forced to return $50 million, or 10 years of funding. “When that happens and you close the doors on those schools, you’re taking the choice away from those children,” House told me, calmer than he really needed to be. “You’re forcing them to be where they don’t want to be. You’re actually going backward.”

Read the rest at The 74.

Judge: It’s not segregation when black and brown parents choose affirming schools

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

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.