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
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
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
Did you hear the one about the school board members who, realizing they had a public trust problem, decided to fix it by meeting in private?
State officials have advised St. Paul Public Schools that board members may conduct closed-door meetings with school administrators and teachers union leaders to work on “trust, relationships, communication and collaborative problem solving.”
According to its petition to the state, after a year of tension and chaos the district wants to “strengthen community engagement and commitment among [the Board], district administrators, the Saint Paul Federation of Teachers (SPFT), parent advisory councils (PACs), students, and other stakeholders.”
They’re calling it—wait for it—the Collaborative Public Engagement Project.
The notion that these private confabs don’t violate the state’s Open Meetings Law is astonishing—and debatable. But it’s positively gobsmacking that the school board, whose leadership is all in favor of the meetings, thinks that more secrecy will strengthen community buy-in. Continue reading
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.
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