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Progressive Politics in Minnesota, the Nation, and the World

Education: Time To Stop The Blame And Get To Work

Category: Education
Posted: 03/30/15 11:56

by Dave Mindeman

Lynnell Mickelsen has been an education activist for many years. She recently had two articles published in MinnPost which have garnered some attention. It would seem that after years of frustration with the achievement gap, she has come to the conclusion that liberal interference has become more of a problem than a help. To quote her first article....

Here's a modest education proposal for my fellow white people, especially my fellow lefties in Minneapolis: What if we stopped talking about how to fix African-American and Latino kids and worked on fixing white progressives instead?.....

After all, if white kids were failing at these rates, we'd have already redesigned the schools to work better for them. We'd have changed the teachers, administrators, length of the school day or year or curriculum and anything else. Because if white kids were failing en masse, we'd demand a big fix of the education system.

But during her critique there is a lot of hand wringing and blame but very little in the way of fixing what's wrong.

In her second article, she kind of works on the "fixes" - the list includes:

a) Brush up on history. Specifically, go read Ta-Nehisi Coates' "The Case for Reparations" in the Atlantic Monthly and no, don't blow it off based on the title. It's a powerful piece of reporting and history that connects a lot of dots -- as does Michelle Alexander's "The New Jim Crow," which I also recommend.

b) Sit with it. Just sit with Ta-Nehisi Coates' piece for a couple of days or a week or a month. Let that history roll around in your head and sink in.

c) Support and listen. Support parents of color in their quest to improve their children's education and schools. Which means listening to their stories and their ideas and trying to remove the political and institutional obstacles in their way.

Now, I don't know about you, but that sounded a little bit like "white liberal hogwash". Pondering our past injustices is a good thing to do, but it doesn't fix the here and now.

But when it came to the "support and listen" aspect, she did offer some ideas about what she heard...

1) They want great public schools in their own neighborhood where their kids are safe, thriving and achieving academically. Period. Most parents don't really care if these schools are the traditional district types or public charters. And they don't necessarily care whether these schools are integrated or not. If they must, they'll drive across town. But they'd prefer having a great school in their own neighborhood.

None of this should be surprising. White middle-class parents want the same thing and if they don't have it, they move to a neighborhood or suburb where they can get it.

2) They want more teachers, administrators and staff who look like their kids and welcome their families. (White parents already have this.)

3) They want schools to stop over-suspending their children as well as over-identifying them for special education. (Most white parents don't have to deal with this.)

Those 3 are actually a good start. Especially the second. I would like to see more of the inner city Minneapolis schools have teachers and administrators that reflect the community they serve. The comfort zone for discussions would have to improve.

But it isn't white liberals, it isn't dysfunctional families, it isn't teachers, it isn't the legislature. The problem is none of those things.

Mickelson hinted at a core issue in one of her criticisms....

In Minnesota, our schools were basically created by white middle-class people, for white middle-class people and employ mostly white middle-class people. (Ninety-six percent of our state's teachers are white, even as children of color now make up 28 percent of the enrollment. In Minneapolis, about 85 percent of our classroom teachers are white, even though 67 percent of their students are not.)

In addition, current school rules, policies and contracts are decided by ... Lord, this is getting repetitious ... mostly middle-class white people. Poor parents of color do not sit in our legislature, school boards or union negotiating committees.

We have a system that, at its core, was geared for a culture of middle class white people. The employee base reflects that. The curriculum reflects that. The testing reflects that. All of it is based upon that.

We need to reexamine how we educate in diversity.

And yes, parent involvement is crucial. But then we also have to listen to the parents that do get involved. African-American families, especially those in poverty, have little time to reenforce classroom work. Many of them are in poverty....many of them are working two jobs....many of them require extended family help to care for their kids. And too many, black or white, come to school hungry. If they come to the education system and ask for help, then let's listen and try to find solutions that really work.

And just as we should not put total blame on the parents, we should not be looking to the teachers as a scapegoat either. The educators do everything they can to help ...I really believe that....but they need the tools, the guidance, the special expertise, the backing of the state system...they need all of that and more.

We need to examine the root causes of our achievement gap and then we need to get parents and teachers involved in the implementation of a solution. Maybe that is targeted money. Maybe that is a change in core corriculum. Maybe it is different testing mechanisms. Maybe it is better design of the school buildings. We need to look at all of it....and not with the biases we have developed during our frustrations.

Minnesota's achievement gap is bad; there is no question about that. But there have to be solutions. Other states have found ways to figure that out, let's explore those options.

But one thing is for sure. It is time to stop the blame. To stop wringing our hands. We all want to fix this but we need to do it with new eyes...new vision and a very open mind.

Minnesota can do this - we are better than this.
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MN House GOP Ed Bill May Pass - But It Will Solve Nothing

Category: Education
Posted: 03/07/15 10:44, Edited: 03/07/15 11:13

by Dave Mindeman

On Almanac last night, the political panel had a discussion about the Education Bill that passed in the MN House-- the changes to LIFO.

It is disturbing to me that the message has been framed and locked in by the Republicans. They insist this is about teacher "quality". And it is NOT.

There has been some talk creeping into the conversation about the real problem in education which is a teacher shortage and lack of minority hiring. But the Republicans have focused on this "quality" issue in hopes that they can convince the public that the teacher's union have made it "impossible" to get rid of bad teachers.

KSTP/Channel 5 piled on by doing a poll (which to me was a push poll) that got their desired result of 80% in favor of "quality" over "seniority". The question insinuated that "quality" and "seniority" were unrelated - which is absolutely false. Experienced teachers are the best teachers.

But the framing was complete and Republicans are quoting the poll at every opportunity. The bill has passed the House and has a chance in the Senate with Senators like Terri Bonoff regurgitating the GOP talking points. I don't know if Gov. Dayton will sign the bill - he has mixed feelings, but he has vetoed such bills in the past.

Now I wouldn't mind some tweaks to the concept - like exempting Special and special needs teachers or other hard to fill positions. Because the real problem, as I have said before, is teacher shortages.

Changing LIFO is NOT going to improve teacher "quality". If school districts really want to change that so bad, they could collectively bargain it out. But the truth is, they don't do that. And the reason for that is that without something tangible like LIFO to use, the districts would be forced into subjective decisions that can cause challenges and even lawsuits.

But let's get back to the real problem - teacher shortages. How do we solve that? Part of this GOP education bill tries to streamline teacher licensure. Which we actually already did a few years ago, but the process is not proceeding fast enough for our legislature.

They want a fast track to licenses for Teach For America workers, for out of state transfers, for private sector business people. Right now, that can be difficult to do because Minnesota has tough standards for licensure.

I find it a little ironic that a bill that focuses on "quality" focuses on a provision that actually reduces quality standards for license. But let's move on.

So how do we attract more teachers?

Well, it should be noted that Minnesota has some of the toughest teaching standards in the nation, yet ranks 28th in the nation for average starting teacher salary.

Minnesota's average starting teacher salary is $34,505. The national average is $36,141. Compare that to a $9 per hour minimum wage full time which equal $18,720 and the poverty guideline for the US, which is $23,283 for a family of 4.

We profess to want a "quality" teacher in every classroom, yet we pay them wages that lets them scrape by.

In Alaska, teachers are paid over $44,000. Gosh, even in Alabama, they pay more - $36,198. Yet, here in Minnesota we say we highly value education, but apparently don't value teachers.

Frankly, how do we expect to attract more teachers in Minnesota? Why would a teacher from another state move to Minnesota and take a cut in salary. And never mind that business people be given a fast track to a Minnesota license.....why would they ever work for that kind of salary?

And if teachers can't even have any job security at that salary level (seniority/tenure), then is it any wonder they leave the profession in droves?

When we have this "every kid deserves to have a quality teacher" discussion, let's get to the real bottom line. We want tough standards to maintain that quality but we also need to pay these professionals what they deserve. Education costs Minnesota a lot of money....but the "quality" teaching that we say we want, will cost a whole lot more.

Until we are willing to stop demagoguing these periphery issues and start dealing with the cost and professional value of the teaching profession, we will continue to have partisan witch hunts attacking the teacher's union.

The House GOP education bill may find its way into law, but you know what?

It will solve nothing.
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Finally, Pioneer Press Discovers The Real Education Issue

Category: Education
Posted: 03/01/15 16:57

by Dave Mindeman

I want to get back to the education bill coming out of the Minnesota House regarding changes in LIFO and licensure.

Finally, we seem to have one of the major dailies bringing up the points I have been trying to make recently. From the Pioneer Press:

Minnesota faces teacher shortage, but how best to fix it?

Key excerpts:

Complicating the debate is state data on Minnesota's teaching force that sometimes paints a conflicting picture of the hurdles and shortages described to lawmakers. Despite the attention they draw, teacher layoffs are rather rare. At the height of the recession, less than 2 percent of Minnesota's teaching force was cut.


Minnesota's process for licensing teachers is often criticized as convoluted, but the number of teachers from outside the state being licensed has more than doubled since 2010, state data shows


Each year, about 10 percent of that workforce leaves, mostly because of retirements, personal reasons or being hired elsewhere. The data suggests about half of those departing teachers leave education altogether. Young teachers have some of the highest attrition rates, with 32 percent leaving teaching within their first five years.

And more...

State data show some of the toughest teaching jobs to fill are those working with students with learning or developmental disabilities, students learning English and jobs that require special language skills.

These are noteworthy points and also points which the House Republican caucus is NOT addressing in their education bill. Focusing on teacher layoffs as a problem source is like focusing on ditches as part of a road problem. It does not get at the root of the problem. And the root problem in education is getting and keeping teachers in the profession.

Even if you would assume that LIFO is a significant problem, districts do have the legal authority to take other factors into account in 40% of the school districts. Frankly, I think district administrators are too lazy to make that happen or too fearful that it will lead to protracted negotiations that they want to avoid. The Loon education bill would open up a new can of worms for districts to contend with in contract negotiations.

There is one important point that House Republicans refuse to take into account...

One thing is clear: Layoffs of teachers are relatively rare, even in tough times.

Our problem is not "fairness" in layoffs, it is keeping teachers period.

Is anybody at the legislature listening?
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