Why the Schools Contract Talks ‘Wag The Dog’ Strategy is Bad For Minneapolis Kids

Above: A papier-mache Coleman Young; much lighter and manageable than the late Detroit mayor.

 

One of the more formative experiences I had as a young reporter was a marathon week of experiences put together by Wayne State University for new Detroit residents. The one on my mind today is a closed-door session we had with the top deputies to Detroit’s Afrocentric mayor, Coleman Young, and L. Brooks Patterson, the top executive of wealthy suburban Oakland County.

The two cheerfully fielded questions about how effective demonizing one another was in terms of securing their respective political bases. Far from denying it, they spooled out examples. The concept wasn’t entirely new to me, but I was agog nonetheless.

(Self-indulgent digression: A person could not make up the profane stuff Young was given to. The name plate on his desk famously read, “MFIC,” for motherfucker in charge. His pet name for Ronald Reagan was Pruneface. There was even a little red book titled, Mao Zedong-style, “The Quotations of Mayor Coleman Young.”)

I can’t see the cartoons the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers is circulating underscoring the positions proposals they’ve taken in the current contract talks with Minneapolis Public Schools without thinking of the Detroit frenemies. I mean, ludicrous though it is, the comic-book visage of Superintendent Ed Graff denying teachers toilet breaks has to be galvanizing the base.

MPS has existed since 1878. Clearly people have figured out how to pee during the school day. And yet how awful does it make leadership look when they quite appropriately refuse to bargain bathroom breaks into the contract? Continue reading

Another Problematic Chapter in the Star Tribune’s North High “Cinderella Story”

 

I’m willing to bet my bottom dollar not a one of you has been following the tempest involving two very different stories put out by Washington, D.C.’s National Public Radio affiliate, WAMU, about Ballou High School. The first story, released in June, reported that for the first time 100 percent of the high-poverty school’s graduates had been accepted to four-year colleges.

A second, Nov. 28 story, “What Really Happened At The School Where Every Graduate Got Into College,” revealed that upwards of half of those Ballou grads missed three months or more of school their senior year. Dozens missed too much school to earn passing grades. Teachers told reporters few could read.

“An internal email obtained by WAMU and NPR from April shows two months before graduation, only 57 students were on track to graduate, with dozens of students missing graduation or community service requirements or failing classes needed to graduate,” the second story reported. “In June, 164 students received diplomas.”

A journalist named Alexander Russo serves as the media watchdog for the education press corps, an endeavor you can easily track by signing up for his weekly column, The Grade. Almost immediately upon the second story’s publication, Russo began pointing out on social media that WAMU had not addressed the obvious: That its first story was badly flawed. Continue reading

“Follow the Shoe!” How Groupthink Quashes Parent Empowerment

 

Do you remember Monty Python’s “Life of Brian”? Near the end Brian, who was born one manger over from the messiah, is attempting to evade some marauding Romans. But his flight is impeded by a throng of would-be disciples.

As he runs, one of his sandals falls off and is scooped up by the mob, whose members hold it aloft, proclaiming it “the sign!” and vowing to follow it.

Brian tries to shake them off: “Look, you’ve got it all wrong! You don’t need to follow me. You don’t need to follow anybody! You’ve got to think for yourselves! You’re all individuals!”

It doesn’t work.Yes!” the crowd replies in unison. “We’re all individuals!”

Brian tries again:You’re all different!”

Yes,” the followers chant, “we are all different!”

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about Brian’s shoe – which was preceded by a gourd; follow the gourd! – as I’ve watched the previously sleepy Minneapolis Public School Parents Facebook page burst into controversy. Perpetually interested in why some schools acquire a “buzz” among the chattering classes while some don’t, I joined a number of years ago. Continue reading

Minneapolis’ Ed Advocates Go Bueller

Bueller? Bueller?

 

 

I’ve been sitting at the keyboard for the longest time, trying to write a post about the upcoming closure of the contract talks between Minneapolis Public Schools and its teachers’ union and honestly, it’s like enduring Ben Stein on the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act. You wake up in a slick of your own drool, and it’s still going on.

You’re forgiven for not having a clue what’s up with the negotiations. There’s been precious little coverage, and what little there’s been has focused on the fact that MPS and St. Paul Public Schools are in deficit-plugging mode and so there’s not much to bargain over.

The Minneapolis Federation of Teachers, meanwhile, has been engaged in a pale facsimile of the exercise their St. Paul brethren carried out a couple of years ago wherein negotiators managed to convince at least a swath of the community that the talks were centered on getting families the schools their children deserve.

I’ve read both sides’ proposals and there’s plenty in there worth unpacking, but to be truthful it feels like the crucial juncture demanding to be marked right now is a different one.

There are a lot of people in this town who have made big promises to our kids, and who are drawing big salaries to do the work of delivering. This is true within the district. It’s true within the federation. And it’s true within the philanthropic organizations that are supposed to be the community backstop to anyone trying to do the hard, risky work of demanding systemic change.

Anyone? Anyone? Continue reading

How Two Twin Cities Teachers Gave DeVos Political Cover

What’s the old saw about all the news that’s fit to print?

I am wracking my brain to think why two local news outlets ran a hugely – potentially catastrophically – important story without some basic context that might help readers make sense of it. A third skipped the topic altogether.

This one’s so bad I’m not actually sure what to call it. Malpractice? Ineptitude? Bias by omission? Rank shittiness?

It’s a clear and present danger to democracy, anyhow. I mean, no less than Abraham Lincoln observed that if you want to influence tomorrow’s civic culture you had best pay attention to the classroom of today.

In the name of her anti-government, pro-free-market ideology, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is considering rolling back a sweeping, landmark set of civil rights rules laid down by the Obama administration that pushed for an end to disparities in school discipline and the school-to-prison pipeline. Because, you know, protecting the least among us is “government overreach.” Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

Day of the Dead, Mark Twain and Cognitive Magic

This is gonna be short, but incredibly sweet.

This here photo is of a Day of the Dead altar built by students, teachers and parents. It seems Mark Twain had a thing about San Antonio – and who doesn’t? – and so the community at Mark Twain Dual Language Academy and Middle School there set out pan dulce and marigolds, among other ofrendas, under the curmodgeon’s portrait.

It was my privilege today to spend time at the school, which features a kind of state-of-the-art bilingual education unique, at least in Texas. This particular school teaches some children who arrived speaking only Spanish, some speaking only English and a sizeable population whose parents lost their Spanish as children because historically in U.S. schools the goal has been to move kids into English-only instruction, and as quickly as possible.

Some of the sweet kids I talked to today – schools in San Antonio enroll kids as young as 3 — may soon be able to speak to their grandparents. Go ahead and let that wash over you a second before we move on to today’s most interesting bit of learning – for me. Continue reading

Ticket to Ride

8-Year-Old Jayanna Wants to Ride the Big Yellow Bus With Her Friends. Her School District Says That’s Impossible.

 

Blog Nation, meet Melissa Davis, the east metro parent of a lovely young woman whose journey through special education in school I’ve been privileged to follow. And on whose shoulder I’ve cried a moment or two when my parallel trip hit speedbumps.

In addition to being a warrior mother, Melissa is a graduate of Partners in Policymaking, a terrific state program that builds advocacy capacity among people with disabilities and their family members. As such, she’s got a terrific understanding of how special ed can fail to deliver on its promise to tailor each child’s experience to their unique needs. She has refused to accept lackluster compromises for her daughter.

Melissa’s current struggle involves her daughter’s desire to ride the regular bus to school with her friends instead of the special ed bus. The district has responded with nonsensical and arbitrary reasons why they can’t (won’t?) accommodate the girl. Continue reading

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.

Continue reading