Come On Feel the Zinn

July 25, 2016

Shocking news: Hillary Clinton’s pick for vice president, Tim Kaine, is a pro-corporate, un-progressive political opportunist–joined at the hip to Wall Street, trade deals and right-to-work, anti-labor laws. Oh, and Democratic party operatives, like Debbie Wasserman Schultz, are calculating and mean, and they write awful emails about other Democrats. 

Okay, maybe this isn’t such shocking news. Or, as historian Howard Zinn put it:

None of this should surprise us. The Democratic Party has broken with its historic conservatism, its pandering to the rich, its predilection for war, only when it has encountered rebellion from below, as in the Thirties and the Sixties. We should not expect that a victory at the ballot box in November will even begin to budge the nation from its twin fundamental illnesses: capitalist greed and militarism.

And he was writing in 2008, not today. Staying glued to the latest Tim Kaine or Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Democratic National Committee shenanigans is a little like watching “Keeping Up With the Kardashians.” As in, what did we expect?

I am not surprised that Kaine, as governor of Virginia, didn’t stop the death penalty, despite his personal distaste for it. Virginia is a conservative, “law and order” state. I am not shocked that Wasserman Schultz behaved poorly, and wrote mean emails about Bernie Sanders. (I’d love to see what the Sanders campaign had to say about her!)

Fortunately, I have found my own bright spot in the Kaine for VP pick: for someone (Kaine) who can be labeled a corporate Democrat, he actually seems progressive on education issues, as does his wife, Anne Holton. Holton attended the Richmond, Virginia schools as a child, to support integration in the post-Brown v. Board of Education era. “It was the first time,” Holton notes in a “love letter” she crafted to the Richmond schools, “that I had a chance to be part of something bigger than myself, and it left its mark on me.”

Holton also said the experience made her a “passionate advocate for public schools.” And Kaine, while mayor of Richmond, reportedly made it a point to visit a different city school every Tuesday. At the time, his own kids attended the Richmond schools, and, apparently, “not just the ‘best-performing ones.'”

That is almost shockingly radical, in this era of the hedge fund-driven “Democrats for Education Reform” (DFER), when the party line on education policy has been shaped by the Arne Duncans of the world. Duncan, like Obama and Bill Gates, for example, has been keen on promoting charter schools, testing, accountability and “races to the top” for other people’s kids, while sending his own kids to progressive schools protected by blissful bubbles of non-standardized “best practices.”

Conversely, Kaine and Holton have said they view public education as a public good. Holton is now Virginia’s secretary of education, and her “love letter”–captured in a local Ted Talk–includes testimony from Richmond teachers who “feel a calling” to stay in the classroom, despite clear hurdles and what Holton calls “excessive testing pressures.” (Holton mentions that 74 percent of the city’s kids live in poverty, a rate double the state’s average).

Why are the teachers there, Holton asks rhetorically. Because the students, whom they have “come to know and love,” need them. Whoa. What kind of non-outcome oriented hippie speak is that?

Holton ends her love fest for the Richmond schools by asking others to join in it: “I am a protective lover, but I am not a jealous lover, and so I want to invite you to love our educators, love our schools.” Get involved, vote, pay attention–“maybe run for school board someday,” Holton advises. Or, teach, she enthusiastically calls out, before asking the audience to consider sending their own kids to “our city’s schools.” 

There hasn’t been a progressive education platform in this country since Lyndon B. Johnson first signed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) in 1965. Back then, it was one of several pro-family, pro-kid initiatives, such as Head Start and federal money for college tuition, put into place, according to Princeton University professor Julian Zelizer’s 2015 article in the Atlantic.

ESEA was doomed from the start, however, as Zelizer argues–with the government choosing to spend money on the Vietnam War rather than on eradicating poverty and equalizing educational opportunities. Even today, with Johnson’s ESEA law finally morphing into the Every Student Succeeds Act, Zelizer offers this reality check: “Without a living wage or better public housing and stronger civic institutions, all the education policies in the world will only have a limited effect on poor communities.” (Or, is testing more important than anti-poverty campaigns?)

Which brings me back to Howard Zinn. Writing, again, in 2008, in a piece for the Progressive called “Election Madness,” Zinn cuts through the clutter of gossip and surface level intrigue surrounding our presidential elections:

No, I’m not taking some ultra-left position that elections are totally insignificant, and that we should refuse to vote to preserve our moral purity. Yes, there are candidates who are somewhat better than others, and at certain times of national crisis (the Thirties, for instance, or right now) where even a slight difference between the two parties may be a matter of life and death.

I’m talking about a sense of proportion that gets lost in the election madness. Would I support one candidate against another? Yes, for two minutes—the amount of time it takes to pull the lever down in the voting booth.

But then, the real work begins:

But before and after those two minutes, our time, our energy, should be spent in educating, agitating, organizing our fellow citizens in the workplace, in the neighborhood, in the schools. Our objective should be to build, painstakingly, patiently but energetically, a movement that, when it reaches a certain critical mass, would shake whoever is in the White House, in Congress, into changing national policy on matters of war and social justice.

And into “changing national policy” on education, too. 

July 19 Protest pic

July 19, Minneapolis. Teachers For Black Lives protest. Photo: MN NOCVideo available from the St. Paul Federation of Teachers

 

Voting is easy and marginally useful, but it is a poor substitute for democracy, which requires direct action by concerned citizens.

–Howard Zinn, “Election Madness”

 

 

 

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Educators, Allies to March From AFT Convention

July 18, 2016

Today at 4 p.m., members of Minneapolis’s Neighborhoods Organizing for Change (NOC) and the St. Paul Federation of Teachers, along with community allies and representatives from teachers unions around the United States, will be marching together in downtown Minneapolis. Their jumping off point is the Minneapolis Convention Center, where the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) national convention is being held this week.

A July 18 press release from NOC states that the groups are marching to “stand in solidarity,” as a show of  “direct action following the unjust killing of their colleague and friend Philando Castile.” Along with honoring Castile, the march is also intended to “demand justice for his life and for Black lives everywhere.”

But the marchers are also providing a framework that moves beyond drawing attention to police violence by planning to march from the convention center to the U.S. Banks building in downtown Minneapolis:

The groups are demanding community safety beyond policing; naming those who profit from unjust and violent systems that are taking the lives of people of color; and demanding investment in community-driven solutions.

Like the Chicago Teachers Union, the St. Paul teachers union has been instrumental in drawing parallels between disparities in access and outcomes in education to big picture issues of economic injustice, arguing that large, national banks like U.S. Banks and Wells Fargo profit mightily from the prison industrial complex and the foreclosure crisis, for example.

This is reflected in NOC’s work, too, and in their press release for today’s event: 

  • Both U.S. Bank and Wells Fargo have served as the underwriters and trustees for a number of cities that have issued bonds to pay police misconduct settlements. Cities throughout the country have spent over $1 billion in the last 10 years on such settlements, taking money away from public services.
  • Local and state governments, desperate for funds and wanting to avoid raising taxes, use traffic tickets and fines to increase cash flow and balance their budgets. U.S. Bank operates the online payment system in states such as Minnesota and Wisconsin, and for municipalities in those states, receiving a fee for each transaction.
  • U.S. Bank and Wells Fargo have both provided significant financing to private prisons, including the largest for-profit prison operator in the country, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). The controversial prison in Appleton, Minnesota, now owned by CCA and vacant, was originally financed in 1992 through the use of bonds, for which U.S. Bank served as the trustee. 

Karen Lewis, the high-profile head of the Chicago Teachers Union, is scheduled to speak at the march, along with Amber Jones, of NO, and Michelle Wiese, the newly elected president of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers, among others.

WHEN:

TODAY, TUESDAY, July 19, 4:00 p.m.

WHERE: 

Minneapolis Convention Center (Second Avenue South Entrance), 1301 2nd Ave S., Minneapolis, MN 55403

“As a society, we choose to underinvest in decent schools. We allow poverty to fester so that entire neighborhoods offer no prospect for gainful employment. We refuse to fund drug treatment and mental health programs. We flood communities with so many guns that it is easier for a teenager to buy a Glock than get his hands on a computer or even a book. And then we tell the police, ‘You’re a social worker; you’re the parent; you’re the teacher; you’re the drug counselor.’ We tell them to keep those neighborhoods in check at all costs and do so without causing any political blowback or inconvenience; don’t make a mistake that might disturb our own peace of mind. And then we feign surprise when periodically the tensions boil over.”

–President Obama, quoted in Charles Blow’s recent New York Times Op-Ed, “Blood on Your Hands, Too”

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Stakeholders, Start Your Engines: ESSA is Coming

July 14, 2016

On Tuesday, July 12, local ed reform group, MinnCAN, hosted a “stakeholder learning and planning event,” in connection to the federal government’s revamped education policy–the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). MinnCAN billed the session as a “chance to learn more about the possibilities under ESSA and hear about the priorities of local community leaders.” (I attended at the invitation of a friend.)

To host the event, MinnCAN presented a united reform front, partnering with Educators 4 ExcellenceStudents for Education Reform and Teach for America- Twin Cities-all national groups with admirable infrastructure and event-hosting budgets. This one–held inside the Minneapolis’s Sheraton Midtown hotel–included muffins and coffee, as well as a smattering of folks from the reform groups listed above, and also from the Minnesota Department of Education and various local political advocacy groups.

While there, I sat next to a friendly young man, who turned out to be a note-taking rep from MinnCAN’s parent company, 50CAN. Aside from a minor scuffle over VAM, or “Value-Added” teacher evaluations–which the 50CAN guy insisted were scientifically valid, and only “politically” unpopular, after I referred to VAM as “junk science“–things went smoothly. Here are some highlights:

Education What?

MinnCAN’s presentation was run by someone named Bill Porter, out of Portland, Oregon. Porter explained that he works for a group called “Education First,” and was brought to Minneapolis by the Chicago-based Joyce Foundation.

The Joyce Foundation has a market-based reform rap sheet a mile long, with a list of grantees that include such hat-in-hand (not!) groups as LEE (TFA’s policy offshoot), Minnesota Comeback (sitting on a cool $35 million) and, sadly, the Education Writers Association. Goodbye, Fourth Estate!

Education First has a very attractive, easy to navigate website with lots of handy info. The ESSA bill, which passed in 2015, and is a long overdue rewrite of the toxic, NCLB law, is more than 1,000 pages long. The only person I know who has read it, in its entirety, is Louisiana blogger, Mercedes Schneider. Thus, it would be easy to conclude that Education First is providing a handy service to citizens by condensing the War and Peace-like ESSA into digestible, PowerPoint bites.

But, Education First is an advocacy organization, with a funder-pleasing point of view to sell. Putting that aside, the emphasis of Porter’s presentation was subtle–and focused mainly on “opportunities” for states, the oft-cited need for “stakeholder input” and so on.

Testng

  • Education First, through Porter, clearly supports ESSA’s continued insistence (fought for by Democrats, no less) that all children, in grades 3-8, must be given yearly standardized tests. During his presentation, Porter reminded the audience that states are still supposed to test 95 percent of their students, and he advised Minnesotans to “help ensure students ‘opt-in'” and not out, of testing. Part of the argument, Porter said, is to make it clear that the tests are providing “really rich data, and people shouldn’t have the option to just say they don’t care.”
  • Punishment? When questioned, Porter agreed that there are no known consequences for districts where less than 95 percent of students get tested. (The opt out option lives on!) However, it seems clear that the testing lobby, run mostly by Pearson, has won a victory with ESSA, since districts will still need to sit kids in front of computer screens or bubble sheets in order to prove every one of them is “succeeding.” (Here’s a look at what’s different about testing, for now, under ESSA.) 
  • John King Alert! (This did not come up in Porter’s presentation, but is quite important). ESSA supposedly provides some relief from testing (by allowing states more flexibility with how to use test results, etc.), BUT, United States Secretary of Education, John King, is currently working–through the attempted passage of “regulations” that would go along with ESSA–to force states to comply with the one-off, “summative” test-and-punish system that epitomized NCLB. Example: The language in proposed Regulation 200.15 (find it here) is quite authoritarian, and tries hard to insist that ALL students must be tested, or else. King also wants to judge schools on an A-F scale, according, primarily, to test scores. Disagree? You have until August 1 to read the regulations and comment on them. 

New Money for Teacher “Academies” 

  • Porter’s presentation introduced but did not dwell on this golden ticket, nestled within ESSA. Two percent of a state’s federal money can now flow to start-up teacher training sites, to fill those talent pipelines everyone is so crazy for, Until now, most teachers have had to get certified at an institution affiliated with a university of some sort. Now, this “monopoly” may be on its way out, according to the “elitist” Brookings Institution:

A less-noticed new provision in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) may be critical to unlocking business model innovation in teacher preparation.

  • Think of this as deregulation for the teacher licensure field (long a goal of the privatization-based reform movement). Under ESSA, states can divert federal, taxpayer money to “authorize new ‘teacher preparation academies,'” to be set up and run according to free market rules (or lack thereof). For example, according to the Brookings Institution:

…states that authorize these academies (will be required) to eliminate “unnecessary requirements” for state authorization, such as requiring that faculty hold advanced degrees or conduct academic research, that students complete a certain number of credit hours or sequence of coursework for graduation, or that preparation academies receive institutional accreditation from an accrediting body.

  • The idea for all of this reportedly came from the New Schools Venture Fund, a California-based “venture philanthropy firm” with a penchant for lavishing funds on such “innovators” as TFA, the Rocketship charter school chain, and Match Charter School. From the online journal Ed Week:

    The idea is a bit like the “charterization” of ed. schools. It’s the brainchild of folks at the New Schools Venture Fund, and it has in its mind’s eye programs like the Relay Graduate School of Education, the Match Teacher Residency, and Urban Teachers.

  • The lobbying group that fought for this provision (which debuted a few years ago, as the failed GREAT schools Act) is a collection of nine charter school-friendly groups such as TFA (they’re everywhere!), and the Relay and Match “charter-ready” teacher training programs. (Here’s a 2011 article on this “transformation,” from the New York Times.)

The slideshow Porter gave prompted some discussion and questioning, but was mostly absorbed without comment from the crowd. When he finished, Minnesota Department of Ed employee, Stephanie Graff, whose career path typifies TFA’s reach into policy making positions of power, gave more info about how the Gopher state would begin implementing ESSA with, again, the requisite “stakeholder” feedback.

One woman in the crowd asked for the materials on ESSA to be first translated into Minnesota’s “four major languages,” (which she did not specify)–so that parents could get themselves up to speed on the new law before attending a presentation on it.

This kind of exchange was the most “rigorous” of the day, with staffers from groups such as the Minnesota Education Equity Partnership pressing Graff, et al, to rethink their community engagement plans. Graff took the heat well, and promised to be easily accessible via email and phone. (Participants could, for example, help steer Minnesota towards a broader definition of what success looks like; the state could even choose to implement a pilot program in using alternative, performance-based assessments.)

The best moment for me came when a woman openly questioned ESSA’s emphasis on putting “highly effective” teachers in every classroom, based on student achievement (er, test score) gains. 

She asked if there Is any distinction made between “great” and “highly effective” teachers, before making this point: “Some teachers aren’t great on paper, but are very effective at reaching certain populations.”

Coupled with the continued testing and accountability fetish are dangerous provisions that will serve to diminish the quality of the teaching workforce in favor of a competitive teacher preparation market, whose graduates’ worth will be measured by their ability to raise student test scores, and little else. So although federal education policy now operates under a new name, in the ESSA we still have the same testing, conceived within the same neoliberal framework.

–Wayne Au and Jesslyn Hollar, “Opting Out of the Education Reform Industry

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Minnesota Comeback: Nexus of Influence for School Board Race?

July 5, 2016

Will Minnesota Comeback play a starring role in Minneapolis’s 2016 school board race?

In Nashville and Indianapolis, Minnesota Comeback’s brothers-in-arms, known as “Nashville RISE” and “The Mind Trust,” have attempted to do just that, in their own cities’ elections. On June 16, education policy analyst, Andy Spears, wrote about this for his blog, Tennessee Education Report. In his posts, Spears tries to devise just who and what Nashville RISE is, and why they have jumped into the Metro Nashville School Board (MNSB) race. In so doing, he cites Minnesota Comeback and The Mind Trust as reference points. 

Must-read: “Got Dough? How Billionaires Rule Our Schools”

Quick overview: Nashville RISE, Minnesota Comeback and The Mind Trust are three of the twenty-four splinter groups–or “harbormasters“–under the wing of the Memphis-based reform outfit, Education CitiesEducation Cities is funded by the usual billionaire suspects, yet its overlord-like connection to all of these offshoots is not exactly well-known. Instead, each group–Minnesota Comeback included–maintains an image of homespun helpmate for their city’s ever-struggling public school systems. (Background on Minnesota Comeback can be found here.)

Nashville RISE has landed in some hot water lately, by trying to insert itself–in a less than transparent way–into Nashville’s school board race, according to Spears:

The involvement of Project Renaissance/Nashville RISE in this year’s MNPS school board races has been the source of a bit of controversy, from promoting (then deleting) an event with Stand for Children to a Phil Williams story raising questions about the source of funding and lack of disclosure.

As the Phil Williams story points out, Nashville RISE is incredibly well-funded, backed by money from philanthropic interests and by supporters of the charter school movement. Also backed by some donors who don’t want their identities revealed.

Nashville RISE has, among other things, produced slick video ads for its own forum on the Nashville school board race, with a promise that the group is all about building a “network of engaged parents” who will help advocate for high quality schools for all. Sounds great, as does Nashville RISE’s further mission of working to help schools “care for students and families holistically,” and so on.

But, as Spears’s blog posts point out, the group is aligned with Education Cities and its politically savvy funders, who must know that describing one’s mission as “holistic,” and “parent-driven” provides safe cover for other, more nefarious goals. Also, Nashville RISE is directly connected to Stand for Children–an organization whose transformation from legitimate advocacy group to mostly corrupted outlet for ALEC and Teach for America, et al, should serve as a warning for anyone tempted to fall for Nashville RISE’s flowery, pro-family rhetoric.

But why is Nashville RISE involved in that city’s school board race? And why might Minnesota Comeback attempt to wield influence in the 2016 Minneapolis race? 

Whitney Tilson

For answers, look no further than The Mind Trust. This Indianapolis-based group was featured in a May, 2016 American Prospect article called, “Hedging Education: How Hedge Funders Spurred the Pro-Charter Political Network.” In the article, writer Justin Miller describes how TFA alum and hedge fund success story, Whitney Tilson, started the pro-charter political action committee, Democrats for Education Reform (DFER):

Straight out of Harvard, Tilson deferred a consulting job in Boston to become one of Teach For America’s first employees in 1989. Ten years later, he started his own hedge fund in New York. Soon after that, Teach For America founder Wendy Kopp took him on a visit to a charter school in the South Bronx. It was an electrifying experience for him. “It was so clearly different and so impactful,” Tilson says. “Such a place of joy, but also rigor.”

When Tilson observed pushback on the growth of KIPP, a charter school chain often linked with the “no excuses” model, he rallied a cadre of like-minded hedge funders, and started DFER:

,,,Basically, if you were anybody who was anybody in hedge funds, you probably chipped in. Tilson called the group Democrats for Education Reform (DFER), and set it with a mission “to break the teacher unions’ stranglehold over the Democratic Party.”

Early on, DFER identified then-Senator Barack Obama and then–Newark Mayor Cory Booker as promising politicians willing to break with teachers unions. DFER was instrumental in convincing Obama to appoint charter-friendly Chicago Superintendent Arne Duncan as secretary of education, and it spent a lot of time and money lobbying the administration to pursue reformist education policies like Race to the Top and Common Core. Tied to Obama’s coattails, DFER was now one of the most influential political players in the ascendant education-reform movement.

It’s not hard to believe that Tilson’s group, DFER, has had tremendous success shaping federal education policy. It has. But that’s not enough. Hedge funders don’t rest with one victory, or one successful fund. They want more. And so, Miller writes, DFER expanded:

As it found tremendous success at the federal level, DFER tried to maximize its newfound influence to leverage reform in local politics.

Here’s where Indianapolis comes in. Beginning in 2010-2011, as Miller notes, The Mind Trust used grant money to bring in “DFER, the advocacy group Stand For Children, and the network of political money that came with them.” With new political and hedge fund-fueled financial muscle, The Mind Trust helped flip the 2012 and 2014 Indianapolis school board races, stacking the board with hand-picked reform advocates, such as DFER national board member, Mary Ann Sullivan. Under the influence of DFER and its acolytes, the Indianapolis school board brought on a “friendly” superintendent, Lewis Ferebee, who has overseen the expansion of neoliberal education reform strategies. (Important note: Indianapolis, like Nashville and Minneapolis, is under the policy influence of the Center on Reinventing Public Education, or “CRPE.”) 

Outgoing Minneapolis Foundation head, Sandra Vargas, is the board chair of 50CAN

In 2011, the reform landscape shifted in Minneapolis, too, when the local RKMC Foundation, started by attorney Mike Ciresi, provided seed money to outside education reform outfits, such as Teach for America, Educators for Excellence, MinnCAN and SFER (Students for Education Reform). The RKMC Foundation, which is closely aligned with the Minneapolis Foundation and its market-based reform priorities, is also a strong supporter of Minnesota Comeback. (Amy Hertzel, McKinsey & Co. alum and former education policy person for the Minneapolis Foundation, is now a “Partner” at Education Cities.)

In 2012, just like in Indianapolis, Minneapolis saw the most money ever spent on its once-lowly, but suddenly high stakes, school board race. Teach for America alum and new Minneapolis resident, Josh Reimnitz, won a spot on the school board with a little help from well-connected friends. Here’s a taste of that simpler time, when a five-figure race (Reimnitz raised close to $40,000 in 2012) was considered extravagant and shocking:

An example of how the TFA network helped Reimnitz was an October fundraiser that raised about 15 percent of his campaign treasury. It was held at the Edina home of Matthew Kramer, TFA’s national president, who is married to a TFA alum who works for a group that promotes high-quality charter schools.

An independent expenditure of about $6,000 for a mailing sent by the political arm of New York-based school reform group 50CAN, for which Kramer is board chair, also drew complaints. It was the first school board donation by the young group, which has focused on legislative contests in the East.

–Minneapolis Star Tribune, November, 2012: “Minneapolis school election has national implications

Fast forward to 2014. Then, outside investors such as Michael Bloomberg and California venture capitalist and TFA board member, Arthur Rock, deluged the Minneapolis school board race with an eye-popping $250,000 in campaign funds. 

What can I do for you?

That money was funneled through a pop-up PAC, the “Minneapolis Progressive Education Fund,” led by TFA alum and MinnCAN boss, Daniel Sellers. (MinnCAN is a franchise of 50CAN, also started by East Coast hedge funders.) This fund famously backed two candidates (from afar, of course, thanks to Citizens United)–Don Samuels and Iris Altamirano–and attempted to defeat incumbent Rebecca Gagnon. 

In a 2014 interview, Sellers downplayed the mountain of outside money shadowing the race, saying the contributions from people like Bloomberg were nothing more than an “indication that they care about Minneapolis.” (Sellers is now the policy chair for Minnesota Comeback’s “coalition.”) 

The money helped land Samuels on the school board, but Gagnon made it anyway, while Altamirano did not. Perhaps that is why this year’s school board race has, thus far, been relatively quiet. Will investors squander more hard-earned, hedge fund dollars on the 2016 Minneapolis race, if their estimated ROI is minimal?

Enter Minnesota Comeback. This group, like its counterparts in Nashville and Indianapolis, has the bank account and political connections to make a big splash in this year’s race, albeit from a dignified, Citizens United distance (for a primer on how this is done, look to 2014). While no candidate forums appear to have been scheduled, yet, (unlike August 2014, when, for example, the dubious “People’s Forum” was held in Minneapolis), the first round of campaign finance reports for school board candidates is due on August 6.

Those reports should reveal which Minneapolis school board candidates are getting what money–asked for or not–from the cabal of DFER-like reformers in Minnesota and beyond.

Thus far, there is no real contest for the one citywide spot, which is likely to go to incumbent, Kim Ellison. Seats in districts 2, 4 and 6 are being contested, with incumbents Josh Reimnitz (4) and Tracine Asberry (6) running despite failing to secure the endorsement of Minneapolis’s Democratic party (both had said they would not run without this endorsement, but later entered the race at the last minute).

School board seats secured with reform resources could help Minnesota Comeback achieve its goal of bringing “30,000 rigorous and relevant seats” to Minneapolis by 2025. (The focus on “high quality seats” rather than students or schools is a popular Education Cities marketing pitch, perhaps meant for venture capitalist ears.) In an era of low funding and high expectations for public ed, anything seems possible. 

No grant, no guru, no outside funding source. My work is entirely funded by my very kind and generous readers. Thank you to those who have already donated!

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“Touch, Touch, Touch”: Minneapolis Parent Reflects on A Year Well-Spent

June 20, 2016

Guest post! Today’s post was written by Minneapolis Barton Open School parent, Sarah Cooper Evans. Sarah has a great eye for progressive education–which is what the “Open” in Barton’s name is all about. As the school year ended, Sarah reflected on what made the year meaningful for her son, who is headed to third grade this fall. 

Hands-On

A chick is born

First, a few notes:

  1. Barton is a K-8 magnet school in southwest Minneapolis, built in 1915. It served as a neighborhood school for most of its 100 years, but has been an “Open” school since the 1980’s. This makes it one of the longest standing leftovers from the heady 1970’s, when experimental schools were offered throughout the Minneapolis Public Schools, thanks to a pioneering, district-sponsored choice program called Southeast Education Alternatives. The aim was to “decentralize administration” in Minneapolis, desegregate the city’s schools through choice (magnets) and promote teacher-led innovation. Sound familiar?
  2. What makes it “Open”? Nebulous things like multi-age classrooms, portfolio and project-based learning, an emphasis on social-emotional learning (the “whole child”), and dynamic programming for 7th and 8th graders. Read on for specifics, and check out the “Responsive Classroom” model, which Sarah credits for much of the positive, community-building work done at Barton.
  3. Barton is rapidly diversifying, but remains, for now, a majority white, middle class school. The challenge of how to be an Open school, and an open community, for all kids and families, and not just the historical Barton population, is right at the school’s doorstep. The push to prioritize racial justice, in addition to progressive ed, is happening, amid recent leadership turnover, large class sizes and an expressed need for more resources and support.

Take it away, Sarah!

As a parent at Barton, I am spending this small bit of time at the end of the school year reflecting on all that made my second grade son’s school experience progressive and beautiful. It is so difficult to choose where to focus because, as a parent, I felt as if my son was immersed in meaningful, collaborative, socially constructed, joyful, interdisciplinary learning every day of the school year. But I have come up with a shortlist of highlights.

Fall

  • In October, students wrote, illustrated and read their own books at an “Author’s Tea.” Students were both authors and audience members, supporting one another, helping other kids read their books, and giving each another child-driven feedback, as parents scribbled encouraging notes on yellow sticky paper. 

    Stone Soup

    Stone Soup prep

  • November brought a Stone Soup luncheon, held just before Thanksgiving. Students spent all week chopping vegetables, making soup, and then serving one another and their families in their classroom.  

Winter

  • Students made their own lanterns by gluing squares of pink, purple, yellow and green tissue paper onto Ball jars. Each jar had a tea candle glued into the bottom of it, making the tissue paper glow when lit. On a chilly Saturday evening, students and families gathered in a nearby public park. saying goodbye to fall and welcoming winter while singing together and carrying their lanterns through the darkness. 
  • Students in my son’s class let their own lights shine by completing a self-chosen project having to do with light–be it a historical person they admired because he or she had done good and added light to the world, a scientific inquiry into light and electricity, or how animals use light to survive and thrive (bioluminescence- my son’s beloved project).  It was up to them how they wanted to shine, and they all did so brightly.  

    Sampson LIGHT

    Light project

Spring

  • My son’s class did a bus tour of Minneapolis, as part of their “Timelines and Skylines” unit of study. As he got off the school bus that day, his excitement was electrifying. He gave me a report on the tour, and it was clear that my 8-year-old is much more knowledgeable about our wonderful city than I am, and I have lived here since 2000.  
  • In late spring the school hosted a “MoSaic” event,  where students and specialist teachers created a mini-museum to display the work students had done in media, art, music, and science, as it related to Dakota and Ojibwe cultures. The evening was complete with a Native drum circle, whose members shared their talents and then invited the students to create music with them, using buckets as drums.  
barton CAMP 4

Camping

If I must choose just one experience to exemplify the power of progressive education, it has to be the 1st and 2nd grade overnight camping trip to Baker Park in late May.  During that camp experience, students were not just learners.  They took on roles of campers, outdoor enthusiasts, environmentalists, artists, biologists, singers, authors, athletes, teachers, field guides, and of course, friends to one another. 

I saw the power in this type of experienDisplaying IMG_3410.JPGtial learning as I helped a group of students find a good spot to embark on “pond study.” A student was making her way down a well-trodden path, joyfully exclaiming “touch, touch, touch!” as she grabbed at all the green life surrounding her while she followed her friends.  I am not sureDisplaying IMG_3410.JPG there is a better example of hands-on, sensory filled, meaningful, child-directed learning within a class community than observing that first grader that afternoon.  

Sometimes people wonder what progressive education really is or really looks like. My response is to consider a series of questions. Are learners active participants, problem solvers, and planners? Are teachers fostering critical thinking and inquiry?  Is the community an extension of the classroom?  Is knowledge constructed through play, direct experience, and social interaction?  Are subject areas integrated to make the learning meaningful to students?  I can say very confidently that my answers to those questions are an emphatic “YES!” when reflecting on this school year in my son’s classroom at Barton Open school.  

City Tour

–Sarah Cooper Evans

 

Minneapolis Public Schools Shows Growth, Restores Teacher’s Job

June 14, 2016

After being threatened with losing her job, Minneapolis theater teacher, Crystal Spring, learned today that her position at Washburn High School has been fully restored. Spring’s friend and supporter, Minneapolis writer and teacher Shannon Gibney, spread the word this afternoon on Facebook.

Earlier this afternoon, Crystal Spring received a voicemail message from Steven Barrett, Executive Director of HR Operations at Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS), stating that she is removed from administrative leave effective immediately, and that her status is now as an active MPS employee. The voicemail included a personal apology from Barrett.

“I want to thank you, this community, for standing up for me,” said Spring, in response to the decision. “Thank you for the texts and letters and phone calls and messages of supporters—I read and listened to every single one. The community’s voice helped make this change. You ensured that I didn’t lose my livelihood, my career, my life’s passion.”

Barrett had sent Spring a letter on June 8, informing her that she was slated for termination, due to her arrest on May 19. On that date,  police rounded Spring up for allegedly interfering with another arrest; Spring has said she was simply observing that arrest, as the man involved was calling for help.

Questions have been raised about how the Minneapolis Public Schools’ Human Resources department found out about Spring’s arrest–which occurred at night, off school property–and why the district would attempt to remove a teacher without due process, and, seemingly, without allowing the criminal justice system to first decide her case.

As soon as word of Spring’s situation hit social media, a vocal and growing community of supporters rallied on her behalf. Students, colleagues, parents and other devotees of Spring’s work have been planning to show up at tonight’s regularly scheduled school board meeting to demand answers from the Minneapolis schools.

As of now, those plans are in flux, with interested people being told to check Facebook for further updates.

Organizers are still deciding if they will go forward with the rally planned at the school board meeting tonight, if it will instead be a celebration, etc.

A quick look at the reaction to this news, on the Facebook event page for tonight’s rally, shows a determined but relieved crowd:

This is a wonderful happy ending for a bad situation that no one needed to be put through. I hope Mr. Barrett and the school board will address what happened and how they will ensure such an ordeal doesn’t occur again.

FANTASTIC! Strongly encourage the rally to go ahead to demonstrate the power of our community! Let them hear this lesson.

Great job! But… I would like to see MPS define more specifically what activities would constitute grounds for discipline (including termination).

Should we still show up and lift up the message that students and their community want more teachers like Crystal Spring?

Tonight’s school board meeting begins at 5:30 p.m. at Minneapolis’s Davis Center headquarters.

Celebrated Minneapolis Teacher Guilty Until Proven Innocent?

June 13, 2016

The Minneapolis Public Schools unleashed a fresh round of outrage on June 8, when district administrators informed popular Washburn High School theater teacher, Crystal Spring, that she was being terminated. (This action came just a few weeks after the district honored Spring as one of six Washburn teachers who have had a “significant impact on students.”)

Crystal Spring

Although the case is still unraveling, sources say Spring was faulted for “conduct unbecoming a teacher,” after she was arrested by Minneapolis police in May. The police say Spring was interfering with an off-campus arrest on May 19; Spring maintains that she was cooperating with police and simply bearing witness to their arrest of an African-American man who was calling for help.

The district moved to fire Spring before her case was decided in court (some have speculated that Spring’s “crime” may have been not reporting her arrest to the district). Acting presumptively, Minneapolis Human Resources director, Steven Barrett, sent a scolding, June 8 letter to Spring, according to Minneapolis writer and teacher, Shannon Gibney:

Spring’s termination letter was signed by Steven Barrett, Executive Director of HR Operations at MPS, and CC’d to Washburn High School Principal Rhonda Dean, Mike Leiter, MFT; Human Capital; and Employee Relations.

In the letter Barrett writes, “…the District became aware of your arrest on Thursday, May 19, 2016. In that incident, you allegedly approached police officers involved with taking someone into custody. You parked your vehicle near the incident and confronted the officers on several occasions despite being told to step back. You then proceeded to follow the officers across the street and began to confront witnesses who were being interviewed by the officers, telling them not to cooperate with the officers and accusing the officers of being racist. Witnesses at the scene corroborated the officers’ account of your behavior. You were arrested and charged with obstruction of legal process and disorderly conduct.”

“This behavior is especially troublesome on multiple levels,” the letter continues. “You had no connection to the parties involved in the police action. You did not know the circumstances of why the police were taking someone into custody. Yet you determined that repeatedly confronting the police officers, and shouting accusations about the officers to potential witnesses to the police investigation, was necessary.”

Barrett’s letter makes it sound as though he was there the night Spring was arrested. If he was not there, then would he know, any more than Spring, the “circumstances of why the police were taking someone into custody”? Could he know for certain that Spring “repeatedly” confronted the officers, and shouted “accusations” about them to “potential witnesses”?

How does Barrett know that Spring was not doing the right thing by attempting to document the actions of the Minneapolis police?

Questions like these matter less than the devoted community of students, colleagues, and supporters that rose up quickly on Spring’s behalf, demanding she be reinstated. A headline-worthy Facebook event, called “MPLS Teacher FIRED for Cop Watch!,” burst to life, along with a planned rally for the June 14 Minneapolis school board meeting, where Spring’s official status was to be presented to board members.

Then, on June 12, the district buckled under mounting pressure (and action by the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers). According to Gibney, Minneapolis officials agreed to place Spring on leave rather than fire her:

MPS sent the following text to Spring and her union rep late this afternoon (June 12): “After reviewing the matter with the Superintendent and senior staff, we are pulling Ms. Spring’s discharge off the board agenda. We will place her on administrative leave pending adjudication of the charges.”

Placing someone on administrative leave pending the outcome of a legal matter is provided for under district policy. Union leadership viewed this as a positive development in the case.

Acting superintendent, Michael Thomas, is also said to have asked for a chance to further review Spring’s case before deciding her fate. Still, Spring’s supporters are planning to turn out for the June 14 board meeting to protest the district’s seemingly hasty and confounding actions. A sampling of comments on the above-mentioned Facebook event page reveal a stunned community:

It is the phrase “behavior unbecoming for a teacher” that gets me. For an urban teacher who must continually be aware of diversity, culture, inequality and social justice, I think Crystal’s behavior was courageous.

…Why are they accepting only the police version of events in making their decision? I presume it’s because MPS, like many public institutions, is so afraid of further scrutiny of its own shortcomings that it expects its employees to be in complete solidarity with all government agencies. What’s next–firing teachers who get arrested as part of a peace demonstration or other public protest? 

Even if the police report were true, and she was vocally challenging an arrest, how is political/social activism unbecoming conduct for a teacher?!

If the district wants to close the achievement gap, this is the worst thing to do. Crystal Spring’s black box program is the SINGLE BEST THING THAT COMBINES STUDENTS OF ALL BACKGROUNDS I’ve seen as a 13-year MPS parent. She treats all students equally according to who they are. Fire her for a MISDEMEANOR? Outrageous.

Scene from Washburn’s Black Box theater, via TPT.

Gibney’s full account of Spring’s story–complete with a statement from the Minneapolis schools–is scheduled to be published in the City Pages today. For an overview of Spring’s work at Washburn, watch this video from a recent Twin Cities Public Television program. In April, the station featured Spring’s Black Box Theater, which she describes as a “social justice theater program based in youth voice.”

But it is clearly more than that. One student’s Facebook message might just say it all:

Crystal Spring has done too much for me and everyone else in the social justice community for me to not go and pour my heart out to that board…I’ll be there on Tuesday. We love you, Ms. Spring!

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Minneapolis Parents Question Administrator’s Ties to Principal, Nonprofit

June 9, 2016

On the front panel of a closet door in Norma Gibbs’s bright, open office is a smattering of inspirational sayings, including this one, from poet Maya Angelou:

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel

This saying might prove to be an apt summary of Gibbs’ first few months as a Minneapolis Public Schools principal. Since February, she has been the head of Whittier International School, a K-5 IB magnet in south Minneapolis. Almost as soon as she walked in the doors of the school, Gibbs has found herself embroiled in controversy over a number of issues, including employee relations, parent concerns, and her close ties to her boss, Minneapolis Associate Superintendent, Lucilla Davila. 

Lucilla Davila

Davila invited me to Whittier to interview Gibbs, after a tense May 19 meeting–called by parents–brought many of these controversies to the surface. (Davila and another district employee, Deb Anderson, sat with Gibbs during our interview.) The parents who spoke at the meeting were upset over Gibbs’s alleged attempts to remove a popular community education employee, Jeff “Nacho” Carlson, as well as her handling of the mostly Latino parents who had tried to advocate for Carlson. 

Whittier parents such as Patricia Almaraz tell stories of being angrily confronted by Gibbs, simply for gathering in the school’s cafeteria to discuss soccer sign-ups and, they acknowledge, the latest news about Carlson. (The parents I spoke with say they were shocked to hear he had been told his work wasn’t satisfactory, a claim Carlson supports with district emails Gibbs sent in March, but a claim Gibbs did not admit to.) 

Almaraz is a Whittier site council parent whose story shows what a tightly woven community Whittier is. She says she knew nothing about what was going on with Carlson, a Whittier parent and employee who speaks several languages, including Spanish, until her sister called in early May to tell her that parents were standing outside of the school, gathering signatures on Carlson’s behalf. (Almaraz says she has known Carlson since 2004, when she was a high school student at Minneapolis’s Wellstone International High School. Carlson was then a classroom assistant.)

Almaraz says neither she nor her sister had any idea what was going on, and so they agreed to meet at the school the next day, to see what they could find out. What happened next is an incident that still upsets Almaraz. She says that, once she met up with her sister at Whittier, they proceeded into the school’s cafeteria to talk, and were joined by two more mothers, whom Almaraz says she did not know.

Here is Almaraz’s story:

We moved to the lunchroom, and around 5 minutes later, Mrs. Gibbs arrived. She saw us. We were sitting at a table, and she started saying, ‘I’m tired of this.’ Tired of what? parents asked. Gibbs said she was tired of ‘rumors, lies, and gossip,’ and said she knew we were talking about her.

She said her staff told her that there was a Latino group meeting to talk about her, and that, in her culture, this was an attack. I told her we were not going to fight with her, and that we were not talking about her. I did tell her that we were talking about Jeff, and she said she was tired of talking about him because he wasn’t her employee. She said he only worked five hours a week for her, and the rest for community education. She then said Jeff had been disrespectful to her, and that she knew he was telling us parents to come to Whittier and make trouble. 

That’s when I felt sad, because he never told me anything. I told Norma (Principal Gibbs) that I was there by my own feet. I told her that I don’t need anyone to tell me where to go, what to think, or what to say. I told her this and she said, ‘Come on. It’s so obvious.’ People asked me why I didn’t take out my phone and start recording this, but you are in your kids’ school. You don’t expect this. You don’t expect a principal to act this way.

Now I am supposed to be ready with my cell phone, to record her? We were kind of arguing, and eventually she said, ‘I have emails and more important things to do than waste my time with you.’ Then, she opened the doors for us, like, ‘Hey, go.’

I’m worried, because I feel bad if she thinks Jeff told me what to say and do. What is she thinking of me? That I’m not self-sufficient, or independent? Then, I wonder what she is thinking about my kids, my children?

They’re not smart enough to think for themselves?

Almaraz says she was stunned by Gibbs’s behavior, but during our interview, Gibbs chalked it all up to panic on her part. She said she was obligated to look at “any timecard issue,” as the Whittier principal, and that’s what she did with Carlson. When the community found out, she said her true intentions–making sure everything at the school was being done properly–were “lost in translation,” and that she was rattled by parent pushback (another group had presented her with a petition on Carlson’s behalf.)

“I am a new principal,” Gibbs admitted, with chagrin. She went on to describe her actions at Whittier as focused, thus far, on tightening up a school she says was disorganized–with kids coming and going, bathrooms getting plugged up during after school programming, and a security system with dismantled, and therefore useless, cameras.

But parents like Almaraz, as well as some Whittier staff members, point to a handful of issues with Gibbs’s tenure at the school. Here is a short list of those concerns, along with responses from Gibbs and Davila, who was present throughout our interview.

Parent/Staff Concern: Davila and Gibbs are friends outside of school. Does this mean Davilla had her placed at Whittier?

  • Response: Davila says that, yes, she and Gibbs are friends, but insists that she did not “handpick” her for the Whittier job. Gibbs was one of three candidates for the job (the candidate pool was first thinned by Davila), and was the unanimous choice for the position, according to a Whittier parent and staff committee of ten. (Davila acknowledged that another friend of hers was made principal of Sheridan Arts Magnet School under Davila’s leadership.)

Parent/Staff Concern: Gibbs has pushed to bring a new after school program to Whittier called WERC (Windom Enrichment Resource Center).

  • The conflict? WERC is a nonprofit Davila started several years ago, while principal of Minneapolis’s Windom Elementary School. WERC now operates at several Minneapolis Public Schools sites–including schools managed by Davila, in her Associate Superintendent role. On WERC’s most recent tax return, from 2014, Davila is listed as the full-time president of WERC, making $11,000 per year (Davila was moving at this time, from her principal’s job at Windom to her current associate superintendent’s role). Blanca Raniolo is listed as WERC’s secretary, making over $60,000. In the past ten days, WERC’s website has been taken down, for necessary maintenance, according to Davila. (Former Minneapolis school board member, Richard Mammen, is a WERC board member.)
  • Gibbs’s role: Minutes from the March 14, 2016 Whittier PTA meeting announce a WERC “taskforce,” designed to help implement the fee-based program at Whittier in the fall of 2016. (Gibbs’s husband is the principal of Minneapolis’s Kenny Elementary School, which also hosts a WERC program. The program appears to operate on grants and program fees, and not on contracts with the Minneapolis schools.)
  • Davila/Gibbs Response: Gibbs maintains that she is looking at bringing outside programming into the school, such as the nearby Joyce Preschool, that would help Whittier more fully implement its IB and language programming. WERC fits this description, according to Gibbs, because it can offer students more exposure to advanced Spanish instruction, especially for the school’s Somali students (Spanish is taught at Whittier). Although WERC programs cost money (up to $220 per week for summer classes, according to a 2016 brochure), Gibbs and Davila both say students are offered financial assistance through grant money.
  • Davila also says that she has minimized her role at WERC since becoming an associate superintendent for the district, and that WERC is used in non-Minneapolis sites, such as Annunciation K-8 School and Hiawatha Academy charter school. Davila also mentioned that WERC “helped close the achievement gap at Windom,” but did not elaborate.

These examples are either evidence of Davila’s ability to create and maintain close, successful relationships in the Minneapolis schools, or, as some parents and staff members have alleged, they are evidence of relationships that seem too cozy and convenient, if not perhaps, a direct conflict of interest.

So far, Davila has maintained that Gibbs will not be leaving Whittier, as some parents and teachers have requested.

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Parents United Says Goodbye and Good Luck

June 6, 2016

Who would have guessed that Muhammed Ali and local education advocate Mary Cecconi would have something in common? Ali, of course, died on June 3, at the age of 74. He is most fondly remembered, by many, as a true champion–of human rights, that is. More than just a swift pair of hands in the boxing ring, Ali was a radical advocate, or, as Dave Zirin put it in The Nation recently,

“What Muhammad Ali did—in a culture that worships sports and violence as well as a culture that idolizes black athletes while criminalizing black skin—was redefine what it meant to be tough and collectivize the very idea of courage.”

Mary Cecconi

How does this relate in any way to Mary Cecconi? Let me explain. On June 4, I sat in a crowded conference room at the Roseville, Minnesota library, listening to Cecconi give her final legislative session wrap-up, as head of the grassroots advocacy group, Parents United. 

Parents United began in St. Paul around 2002, as a way for parents to keep tabs on the important education funding and policy decisions made at the state capitol every year. Cecconi, a former Stillwater school board member, was asked to lead the organization a couple of years later. Since then, Cecconi has been a fighter in her own right–staying late at the Capitol, tracking legislators and breaking down complex info so that parents and other public school advocates can grasp it.

Here is Cecconi’s problem: she can’t be bought.

Parents United is a nonprofit, and for years received funding from local foundations and grants. About five years ago, that stopped. The foundations–I won’t name them, but anyone can search Parents United’s tax records and find their funders–began diverting their money directly to organizations, such as MinnCAN, that have an agenda–driven from the 1 percent on down–that the foundations agree with. Such as? Pushing for alternative licensure (seen by many as a door opener for Teach for America), clinging hard to test-based accountability measures, and advocating for “scholarships” (or, vouchers) as a method of privatizing preschool.

Side note: For an actual look at how far to the right education policy “groupthink” has swung in Minnesota, watch this brief video–compiled by one of my readers–from an April, 2016 “Almanac” show on PBS. And, consider this power couple: Republican House Education Finance Chair, Jenifer Loon, is married to Doug Loon, president of the MN Chamber of Commerce, whose legislative agenda for education sounds a lot like MinnCAN’s, and pairs well with the House’s recommendation for no new education funding this year.

What Parents United has offered, in contrast, is not an agenda but an exercise in civic engagement. Cecconi has always maintained that the needs and interests of parents are what drives her organization’s work; others may have wished her to take a stronger stand against the local market-based ed reform movement, but my sense is that Cecconi wasn’t comfortable in that role.

Education spending is the second largest state expenditure.

Long story short–Parents United is folding. When the foundation money dried up, the group tried to switch to a funding model that relied on fees for services (such as community engagement training sessions for school board members) and member support. It hasn’t been enough. The work Parents United does is high quality and labor intensive, and driven from the ground up. It is expensive and unsexy.

This is our collective loss. At yesterday’s farewell gathering, several people in the audience were near tears as they described the valuable role Parents United has served, in guiding many people–including state legislators–through the gnarled ins and outs of education policy. The two big sheet cakes at the back of the room–one with a school bus on it, the other with Parents United’s signature phrase, “Childhood has no rewind,” painted on it–sat mostly untouched as Parents United devotees mulled over the gaping hole that must now be filled by an as-yet unknown person or group.

Yes, but what does this have to do with Muhammed Ali? Forgive me, but in Cecconi and the work of Parents United, I see a similar spirit. Ali obviously faced a much different world, as an African-American man pigeon-holed as just a boxer, but his indomitable insistence on speaking truth to power resides in all kinds of non-spotlight seeking people, such as Cecconi. 

As her presentation yesterday was concluding, Cecconi made a simple statement: If you want education policy and spending to look different, then vote, and know who you are voting for.

That reminds me of something civil rights legend, John Lewis, posted on Twitter on June 4, in honor of Ali’s memory: 

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Minneapolis Superintendent Search: A Direction Home?

May 24, 2016

There is one central question hanging over today’s expected announcement of Minneapolis’s next superintendent:

Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the reformiest of all?

Is it former Minneapolis administrator, Brenda Cassellius, who helped guide the district through its romance with McKinsey & Company consultants, back in the mid-2000’s? Cassellius is also cut from the same professional cloth–sewn by former superintendent Carol Johnson–as recent MPS administrators, Bernadeia Johnson and Michael Goar. 

This fact alone has scared off some potential supporters, who worry that Cassellius, as superintendent, will push Minneapolis further down the flash in the pan path of the market-based reform movement, where no shiny stone–or successful MPS department–has been left unturned. (Read my series on McKinsey’s influence on the Minneapolis schools for more info about this, starting here.)

Oddly, rumors are surfacing that the local reform glitterati (read the McKinsey series for names) are lining up behind Cassellius’s soft-spoken competitor, Anchorage superintendent, Ed Graff. Graff, if selected, is poised to either be a miraculous uniter, unknowingly aligning divided camps, or–some might hope–a blob of putty in the hands of Minnesota Comeback-like forces, who want to take apart and rebuild the Minneapolis schools in their own, highly proficient image. 

Cartoon by Stephanie McMillan

There can be no denying that Graff interviewed well. He was calm, cool, personable and actually had something of a vision for education. His focus has been on social-emotional learning, which sounds as refreshing as a warm day in Alaska. He smartly would not nod along to board member’s questions about student-based funding and autonomous schools, and instead offered grounded answers that implied he is not likely to be any plutocrat’s puppet. 

Cassellius has earned her marks, too. There must be a reason certain reformers–the kind who would like to convince us that alternative licensure is the burning issue of the day–do not want her in as head of the Minneapolis schools. Is she too savvy? Too familiar with their soulless data maps? Maybe she is the Carol Johnson protegé Minneapolis has been waiting for–the one who, like Graff, is not likely to fall for reform-minded shenanigans imposed on the district by outside political influences and agendas, propped up by hedge fund excesses.

Now that I think about it, either one of these candidates sounds pretty good. And it’s Bob Dylan’s birthday, too. 

Although the masters make the rules
For the wise men and the fools
I got nothing, Ma, to live up to

–Bob Dylan, “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” 1965

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