Monthly Archives: March 2016

The St. Paul Pioneer Press has an “All Lives Matter” Problem

Let’s talk a little bit about the narrative regarding the upheaval in St. Paul Public Schools. And because that is such a sprawling and, at least on the internets, bloviation-prone arena, let’s start with local news media coverage.

The point we’re going to build up to: Much of the coverage to date, and in particular the reporting done by the St. Paul Pioneer Press, has framed the tensions as the outcome of an antagonistic Black Lives Matter pushing school district leaders to punish a teacher “who Black Lives Matter St. Paul has labeled racist.”

The coverage has been biased, both from a journalistic standpoint and a racial one.

That quote is taken from a 600-word PiPress story that blames black activists—and not the racially incendiary defenses of the teacher in question that brought people to their feet—for shutting down a St. Paul School Board meeting Tuesday. Astonishingly, it fails to describe the blog and social media posts that lots of people—not just Black Lives Matter—found inflammatory. Continue reading

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.

St. Paul’s Equity Champions White-Splain Some Things to Black Lives Matter

So that didn’t take long.

Members of the St. Paul Public Schools Caucus for Change, the supporters of last year’s teacher-union organized drive to oust and replace four school board members, are using their Facebook page to urge their brethren to disavow Black Lives Matter St. Paul.

The Caucus for Change, you might recall, billed the campaign as a grassroots effort to ensure greater equity in St. Paul schools. The St. Paul Federation of teachers organized the drive, but parents and community members were depicted as the driving forces behind a clarion call for change.

Which might explain why Caucus members are attempting to delegitimize the leader of Black Lives Matter St. Paul, and to “white-splain” away the racially inflammatory Como High teacher rant that started the maelstrom.

“I have been told the BLM St Paul is not a legitimate arm of the national Black Lives Matters Group,” a woman named Cindy Bevier posted to the Caucus thread in question this morning. “It is a rogue group that obviously has unwarranted power over the Saint Paul Public Schools. To be able to get a teacher suspended because of non-racist remarks on FB about the situation at school shows little backbone on the part of the school district. What a travesty.” Continue reading

“I am unapologetically for Black kids.”

Minneapolis, St. Paul, Portland, Seattle: Isn’t it astounding that some of the country’s most politically progressive and prosperous communities have the worst racial achievement gaps? And some of the loudest push-back against the systemic changes that black, brown and disabled kids desperately need?

Recently I had the privilege of meeting students, parents and educators in Washington state, whose first eight charter schools, even just five months in, are delivering for those kids. Thursday they find out whether their lawmakers will let adult ideology trump student learning.

Today has a profile I wrote of Dr. Thelma Jackson, a truly inspiring figure who has spent decades working to make Washington’s black children visible and to secure the equitable, excellent schools they are entitled to. Read it. You’ll love her.

Big Money New Normal

Last year Minneapolis was home to a school board contest in which at least half a million dollars was spent. St. Paul’s 2015 school board election spending was about $250,000–on races that were largely uncontested.

So what happens when six-figure school board races become the norm? Los Angeles and Denver have had very different experiences with big money education politics.

Read my take on them at Citizen Ed.


Will St. Paul’s New Teacher Contract Make Schools Less Safe?

Of all the colloquialisms coined by my sainted mother, my favorite just might be, “After the revolution, we’ll all have shit on our strawberries.”

It communicates perfectly the impression created by the first details of the proposed contract settlement between St. Paul Public Schools and its teachers union.

The fine print has yet to be released publicly but since teachers got a glimpse Monday the general parameters have made the newspapers, social media and the various ed community grapevines. Sounds like the deal includes much of the St. Paul Federation of Teachers’ original wish list.

The union’s ask was audacious indeed, and if they survived various provisions are worthy of standalone posts. For the moment, though, let’s focus on the messy, two-sided fertilization of those strawberries. Continue reading

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.