Tag Archives: market-based reform

Minneapolis’s Previous School Board Can’t Vote on Proposed Policy Manual

January 10, 2017

Tonight, the new Minneapolis school board members will be seated. Just before that meeting, last year’s board will hold a ceremonial event to welcome the new members and conduct the oath of office.

What will not happen is a previously expected vote by the departing board on two key issues: 1) the revised policy manual largely orchestrated by outgoing member Josh Reimnitz, and 2) the make-up of the district’s Workforce 2020 advisory committee. In a December post, I spelled out the concerns with the revised policy manual, which is based on a somewhat obscure model called Carver Policy Governance

After months of work in 2016, it seemed as though the board’s policy committee, led by Reimnitz, would be able to get the policy manual passed at the December board meeting, despite concerns that the proposed revisions (intended to guide the school board’s work) had yet to be thoroughly vetted by the public. Adding to this concern was the seemingly sudden realization that no Equity and Diversity Impact Assessment had been completed for the new policy manual, although such an assessment is a district requirement for any new, notable “future policies, practices, programs and procedures.”

This realization–that no such assessment had been done–killed chances for a December vote. Rumors then circulated that the 2016 school board would get one more chance to push a vote through on the revised manual. That’s because the first meeting of the new year includes a nod to the outgoing members, as noted above, and a suspected (planned upon, really) opportunity for the exiting board members to squeak in a couple of votes before the new board is officially seated.

Not true. Statute dictates that the departing board members’ voting rights were valid until December 31, 2016, and not a day after. Reimnitz (along with the other two outgoing members, Tracine Asberry and Carla Bates) will therefore not be able to weigh in on whether or not the board should adopt the trimmed down policy manual he helped craft. (Many close observers say the manual is simply not ready for prime time, either. and in need of further hashing out.)

The policy manual vote is nowhere to be found on tonight’s agenda. Neither is any further discussion of who should be on the district’s Workforce 2020 committee. This committee is a state-mandated advisory group, and it must include community members who will attend monthly meetings and advise the school board on “rigorous academic standards and student achievement goals and measures.” All board members were allowed to suggest two names for this committee; those names were then slated for approval at December’s board meeting.

But that didn’t happen. Instead, the board came to an awkward pause that night, when it appeared not all board members were prepared to sign off on the Workforce committee–as the suggested names had not been previously given to the board for review. Should the board vote in one fell swoop on something they hadn’t seen until just then? Questions like this caused citywide representative, Rebecca Gagnon, to stop the process. Three hours and ten minutes into the four-hour long meeting, Gagnon told board chair Jenny Arneson that she “didn’t know we were voting on this tonight.” 

“We’re not, unless we approve it,” Arneson quickly replied. But, unless Gagnon had spoken up, it seems clear that the vote on the committee’s make-up would have sailed forward, with no public discussion on the proposed names on the list. Does it matter? Maybe not. But at least two names on the list–Al Fan and Kyrra Rankine–stand out as worthy of further scrutiny.

To be eligible to serve on the district’s Workforce committee, participants are supposed to be “teachers, parents, staff, students, and other community residents invested in the success of Minneapolis Public School students.” But Kyrra Rankine has been a longstanding Teach for America–Twin Cities employee, and Al Fan is the executive director of Minnesota Comeback, a moneyed education reform group with a declared goal of creating “30,000 rigorous and relevant seats” (?) in Minneapolis, by 2025–in “sector neutral” settings. 

Sector neutral means any school setting–charter, private, public–is fine, so long as it “beats the odds” for kids in poverty. This may be one (arguably unsuccessful) way to fund education, but it is certainly not the same thing as being “invested in the success of Minneapolis Public School students.” The public doesn’t “own” Minnesota Comeback the way it owns a public school district. There are no meetings posted on the Minnesota Comeback website, and no elected officials sit on its policy and “talent” committees. Minnesota Comeback is wielding influence with minimal public oversight. There are no four-hour long videos of any Minnesota Comeback gatherings to pour over and report on. 

Democracy!

The Minneapolis Public Schools might be a bureaucratic mess in the eyes of many, but it also must answer to the public through open meetings, a democratically elected school board and public data requests. Minnesota Comeback must, presumably, only answer to its funders, such as the Minneapolis Foundation, which described the group this way in a December, 2015 newsletter:

  • Minnesota Comeback (formerly the Education Transformation Initiative) will develop a portfolio of strategic initiatives and school investments to ensure that all Minneapolis students attend high-quality schools by 2025.

Minnesota Comeback and Teach for America are frequent darlings of the local philanthropic community, as evidenced by the Minneapolis Foundation’s 2017 grant cycle. Should their representatives have a seat on a Minneapolis Public Schools Workforce 2020 committee?

Perhaps, but it seems that is a conversation the school board should have in public. And, with the rush to vote stopped, it looks like that’s what citizens just might get in 2017–for the proposed policy revision and for the Workforce 2020 committee.

Also up tonight: a shuffling of school board officers. Jenny Arneson will no longer be board chair. Instead, Don Samuels, Nelson Inz and Rebecca Gagnon are vying to fill her spot. Vice Chair is expected to go to Kim Ellison, while Arneson has put her name in for Treasurer. New board members Bob Walser and Ira Jourdain are said to be interested in taking over Reimnitz’s seat as Clerk, who oversees the board’s policy committee. The meeting starts at 5:30 p.m. at Davis Center headquarters and is broadcast live online here.

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McKinsey & Co. in Minneapolis: Strategery Sinks In

January 27, 2016

Background: As the Minneapolis Public Schools moves through a difficult superintendent search, I am taking a look back at how we got to this moment. Here is part one: McKinsey & Co. Mind Meld.

In 2007, McKinsey & Co. consultants–through the local Itasca Project–wrote a strategic plan for the Minneapolis Public Schools, at the invitation of the district and the city’s school board. The plan received an enthusiastic introduction from Minneapolis’s then-superintendent, Bill Green, who stated the plan was “…grounded in the best practices of school districts around the country.” (Green was steering Minneapolis through another moment of crisis, after the short, painful tenure of Broad-trained superintendent Thandiwe Peebles.)

Green’s intro to the plan declared that these “best practices”–said to be the product of months of community input–represented “an unwavering commitment to bold ideals and bold ideas.”

Why did it sell so well in Minneapolis? For one thing, it was 2007, and the broader global education reform movement was not well understood. And, true to the “McKinsey Way,” it was marketed well. A Minneapolis parent, recalling the plan’s rollout, remembers this: “It was neat, orderly, and presented well, with nice bullet points.”

The nine-point plan was bold–and contained the roots of today’s increasingly problematic free-market, top down, numbers based approach to rapidly raising student “achievement” (which can only be defined through something easily measured: standardized test scores). It promised all Minneapolis kids would be college-ready in just five years, in a “Field of Dreams” sort of way. If you say it, it will happen.

Here are some highlights of the McKinsey/Minneapolis strategy:

One – Restart and/or bring in other high quality schools to replace the bottom 25 percent; unleash high-performing schools. 

  • Translation: competition and choice will fix what ails Minneapolis schools. Missing from this equation: as long as schools continue to be sorted and ranked according to standardized test scores, there will always be a “bottom 25 percent.” What then?
  • This pairs well with recommendation number eight: Commit to supporting a network of great schools for all Minneapolis kids. A 2007 article about the plan made this point: “The report recommends that MPS ‘adopt a new mindset’ towards competition (such as charter and private schools).”
  • The first casualties (which happened just months before board approval of the McKinsey plan): Five schools in historically underserved north Minneapolis, and one elementary school near the University of Minnesota.
  • The push to embrace competition as a key school improvement strategy is still defining local education policy. First, Minneapolis officials signed the “District-Charter Collaboration Compact,” which has sputtered along meekly. Today, we have the district’s Community Partnership Schools plan, which will require all schools to adhere to district-created test score guidelines, but will allow for more “autonomy” in governance. Looming in the background is MN Comeback–a well-funded group that would like to see 30,000 “rigorous and relevant seats” in Minneapolis by 2025.

Two – Raise expectations and academic rigor for all students, aligning pre-K-12 programs to college readiness goal.

  • Rigor and expectation-raising, in the wrong hands (people who are not trained in education and/or child development), has come to mean the pushing down of narrow, standardized academic work–even into preschool. We have seen this in Minneapolis, through the McKinsey-led implementation of “focused” instruction (FI). Here is a 2013 article I wrote about FI’s insertion into Minneapolis’s early childhood classrooms: “Playtime or focused instruction for three year-olds?”
  • Minneapolis reporter Steve Brandt described FI this way in 2014: “Focused instruction comes from a national movement to create common standards for what should be taught in each subject. That movement has been supported by some politicians, education advocacy groups and often by business interests.” (Conspiracy theory or flow chart? Check out this visual of how McKinsey & Co. and other for-profit companies connect to the standards and testing movement in the U.S.)
  • Focused Instruction is also part of a McKinsey-style move to exert greater control (management) over what teachers and students are doing, through the use of benchmark or interim tests, and the data collection that comes from that. 
  • In 2014, a Star Tribune article reported that focused instruction was not working (that is, it was not miraculously leading to a rise in test scores).

Five – Set clear expectations for all staff at all levels; reward successes and develop or remove low performers.

  • Successes should be rewarded in education, and “low performers” should be handled. But, again, who gets to define either the criteria or the consequences in these cases? And what do people–like McKinsey consultants–without experience or expertise in education know about what success looks like, in education? 
  • McKinsey & Co. consultants are notorious for using layoffs as a path to corporate profits (or district savings?). So, if McKinsey & Co. was sent in to guide the “strategic redirection” of the Minneapolis Public Schools, on behalf of the business-minded Itasca Project…then a recommendation to “remove low performers” was probably a given. Low performers–according to student test scores–are chaff, ripe for the sorting. 
  • McKinsey & Co. is a management consultant firm, not a labor consultant firm. Their trademark approach to reform is to cut costs, pursue efficiency and focus on all that can be “measured and managed.” Or, as a 2007 article about the McKinsey strategic plan noted: “Like schools and principals, underperforming teachers could be replaced.”

There are some benign aspects of the 2007 McKinsey plan, such as the reminder to “transform relationships and partner with families.” This is important, but everybody says this, all the time. What would real transformation look like, and would it be outlined in a McKinsey & Co. strategic plan? What if the community had been asked to write a plan for the Minneapolis schools instead?

But the community wasn’t asked to lead. Instead, McKinsey/Itasca placed one of their own–consultant Jill Stever-Zeitlin–at the helm of the Minneapolis Public Schools, to try to force, or ensure, a business-like “redirection” of the district.

This is how Stever-Zeitlin’s 2008 jump from McKinsey/Itasca to Minneapolis was explained to me by the district:

Prior to being hired as an employee, Ms. Stever-Zeitlin was an employee of Itasca, and was loaned by Itasca to MPS.  This began in 2008 and lasted through June 30, 2012.  There is no written contract with Itasca for this period.  This was an agreement between then Superintendent Bill Green and the Itasca organization.  Itasca paid Ms. Stever-Zeitlin’s salary during 2008 – 2010, and 58% of her salary from January 1 – June 30, 2011.  

The position she held was created for her, since it was this special arrangement made by Itasca to support the district.

I am stuck on what it means to “loan” a human being to someone or something else, but I will move on.

Stever-Zeitlin began working directly in the Minneapolis schools in 2008, but was not an official district employee until 2011. There was no contract. No public oversight. Just an ambitious attempt to be sure the McKinsey-esque redesign of Minneapolis would go forward as planned.

McKinsey and Co. did not pay Stever-Zeitlin’s salary, however. The local Robins, Kaplan, Miller,  and Ciresi (RKMC) Foundation for Children did, through a grant to the Itasca Project. 

The McKinsey plan, and Stever-Zeitlin’s undocumented administrative position, were just the beginning for the RKMC. Their philanthropic support swung the door to education reform wide open in Minneapolis.

Up next: The ties that bind Minneapolis to the market-based education reform movement.

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