Tuesday, November 29, 2011
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.