November 29, 2011
Minneapolis Public Schools: Managed to Benefit Adults or Children?
Lynnell Mickelsen, the cofounder of "Put Kids First Minneapolis," has an editorial in today's Minneapolis Star-Tribune discussing the ongoing negotiations between the Minneapolis school district and the teachers' union, which she has been closely observing (with growing dismay). Herewith a couple of excerpts (the full editorial is available here):
Research shows that the classroom teacher plays the biggest school-based role in a student's academic success.
Yet our schools are hamstrung by contract rules that blindly reward teacher seniority over quality, that limit our hiring pool, that force school leaders to accept hundreds of ineffective teachers they don't want and that make it very hard to remove the most dismal performers.
* * *
In short, it's crazy. We've given our schools a huge task. Then we've forced them to work under rules that no successful business or nonprofit could survive. And we keep doing it even as huge numbers of Minneapolis students are failing.
Note that Ms. Mickelsen and her growing list of supporters for alternative contract priority for children "are progressives -- staunch supporters of public schools, teachers and collective bargaining." As she puts it, "I'm a lifelong, active DFLer [Minnesota-speak for Democrat] who got my first union card at age 17. But if friends don't let friends drive drunk, friends of unions shouldn't let one drive off the cliffs of public opinion."
I much admire "Put Kids First Minneapolis" in their public-spirited efforts to change the culture in too many urban public school systems from one that serves primarily the interests of adults to one that gives preference to the needs of school-children. As a telling indication of how bad things have gotten, this current reform effort has attracted the support of a growing number of people and organizations that traditionally fall on the left side of the spectrum -- notablly including prior editorial support (see here) from the Minneapolis Star-Tribune (one of the more liberal editorial boards in the country).
I fear, however, that this public school reform effort will prove Quixotic, as the reformers are attacking a deeply-seated structural flaw in the public school system in Minneapolis, one which is largely immune to public concerns. As Ms. Mickelsen notes, although the negotiations by law are open to the public, the school district makes little effort to publicize the meetings and do not seek public feedback. Moreover, by funding and endorsing school board members, the teachers' union effectively is on both sides of the negotiating table. Indeed, four school board members issued a statement -- printed on teachers' union stationary -- promising to be more cooperative with the union.
We are unlikely to see genuine reform in Minneapolis (and other urban school districts) unless and until greater access to quality education is made available through public support to parents seeking alternatives to the public school monopoly, a monopoly captured by one interest group that does not have the best interests of children at heart. Educational choice, including the economic freedom to choose Catholic schools, remains one of the most important but most unappreciated civil rights and social progress causes of the present age.
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No doubt, if we had the best interests of students at heart, parents and teachers would be working together, and "Educational choice, including the economic freedom to choose Catholic schools", would already exist.
Posted by: Nancy D. | Nov 29, 2011 1:07:49 PM
I taught for four years (1971-1975) in an urban, public university that had recently been a normal school, so nearly all the students were taking education. The goal that the administration had set for themselves was to maximize the number of women teaching in the Chicago Public schools. By law, the school district was required to hire them. When the faculty of the university objected, on the grounds that the goal of the university should be to serve the school children of Chicago, we were dismissed as cranks who just didn't get it. Their view of the schools was that they were make-work boondoggles for the urban middle class, who were expected to show their gratitude on election day.
Many of the kids at the university went on to become fine teachers despite the best efforts of the corrupt system that had conferred their degrees, but when the agenda of the school system -- as reflected in this case in the normal school that fed it with teachers -- ignores the interests of the pupils, the cause of education is going to get short shrift.
Early in his career my father taught at East Boston High School. He taught there for 12 years. East Boston was the Italian slum neighborhood in Boston (Italians didn't rate politically correct adjectives, so they lived in slums), but being Boston there were plenty of Irish kids too. Dad recalled vividly how those kids were dismissed in the chat around the faculty lounge: "Kevin seems a bright lad, but he's not going anywhere. He's Irish, you know." My father, son of Irish immigrants, seems to have had a lot of Viking ancestors on the Ould Sod, and didn't look very Irish.
So let's stop kidding ourselves. The denial of educational opportunity to the urban working class and poor is no accident. It is the longstanding policy a racist establishment that rejects the less fortunate, and that certainly doesn't want them to compete in America. The Irish are no longer targets of that racism. It has moved on to other populations, but the motivation is unchanged. The purpose behind disabling our public schools is to prevent the "lesser classes" from succeeding.
The most ironic part of this is that having crippled our schools, and through them our children, we have to scour the world for young people to study science and math, and oven more so to teach each other science and math in our greatest universities. So America really is the land of opportunity, if we accept that it is opportunity for Iraqi graduate students, but none for American dropouts. I love Iraqi students. We cannot reduce this to a war with winners and losers, but we the Americans have to stop losing. Our universities have become nothing but instruments of our foreign policy, subordinated to the need to curry favor in the third world.
Posted by: Joel Clarke Gibbons | Nov 30, 2011 10:10:51 AM