Tag Archives: MinnPost

Taking Reformers Out of Context: 2016 Highlights

January 1, 2017

It’s New Year’s Day, and for now, my house is quiet. Before me sits tons of work to be done–an unlit Christmas tree ready to be turned into a winter bird feeder, stacks of shared skates in need of sorting, and, of course, the pile of dishes that so quickly crowd my tiny kitchen counter.

I want to write instead. 

Leo

On December 19, my 103-year old grandfather, Leo, died. He was a writer, up until the last months of his life. We were not close while I was growing up, but he did tell me once that, to be a writer, one has to “apply seat of pants to chair, and write.” Thinking about writing, talking about writing, imagining the perfect, clutter-free life that would lead to volumes of unforgettable work–none of this counts as much as just sitting down and writing.

In  2017, I hope to do more of that. I am working on a book, which has taken me somewhat out of the social media eye and required me to work the old-fashioned way: slowly, with lots of handwritten notes. Before I move further down that path, I want to reflect on some 2016 blog highlights.

In 2016, this little blog started the year on fire by tracking Minneapolis’s superintendent search. On January 4, I published a piece on then-candidate Sergio Paez, who was fighting to save his job, and his name:

Paez says he is coming to Minneapolis to “be able to talk to people about anything they have in mind and to learn more about MN in the process.” His email makes no mention of the fact that, although the Minneapolis school board chose him as the district’s next superintendent in December of 2015, he is now in the unexpected position of having to fight for the job.

This led to a rush of early 2016 pieces about Michael Goar (once the favored candidate for school superintendent), the District Management Council (high-priced reform consultants from Boston) and a series of posts on how Minneapolis become a breeding ground for neoliberal education reform.

This is how it started, on January 25, 2016:

Minneapolis, we need to talk about McKinsey & Co., the Itasca Project and their influence on the Minneapolis Public Schools.

Four more posts detailing global business consultant McKinsey & Company’s involvement in Minneapolis followed, paving the way for a look at Minnesota Comeback–the latest philanthropic effort to redesign the Minneapolis schools.

This writing hasn’t made me popular among the reformer crowd. At a late 2016 reform-funded school board campaign event, a main funder of Minnesota Comeback grew huffy in my presence. I was standing near him as a friend asked questions about the group’s plans for the Minneapolis Public Schools. “Ladies,” he said shortly, “this isn’t an interview.” (He is the same funder who, at a previous Minnesota Comeback event, cheerfully reduced a friend and I to mom status.)

He realized we weren’t there to thank Minnesota Comeback for the lush buffet they had put on for the candidate forum. “Some people take things out of context,” he said, tapping me on the shoulder before walking off. 

Do I? I can see why Minnesota Comeback members might think this way, as they typically enjoy very flattering press coverage that is conspicuously devoid of context.

Consider this MinnPost piece from December, 2016: “How one education nonprofit is seeking to create a groundswell of parent engagement.” In the piece, MinnPost education reporter Erin Hinrichs creates a glowing picture of Minnesota Comeback’s efforts, and their self-financed ability to spin out grants to organizations and schools they like.

Grant distribution is a questionable way to create a better school system, but that doesn’t come up in Hinrichs’ piece. Instead, Minnesota Comeback is treated to an unblinking look at its recent work, which includes:

  • Hiring a community engagement director who is publicly very pro-charter school
  • Dousing an already well-funded entity, Students for Education Reform, with cash (the nationally run group started, in 2011, with $30,000. One year later, they reported almost $2 million in revenue. If you want to know who they are and what they stand for, research SFER’s board members).
  • Closing the “information gap” by hosting “conversations” with parents through New Publica, a media group run by former Minneapolis school board member, Alberto Monserrate. New Publica lists MinnPost as one of their clients, along with a handful of other education reform outlets, as well as non-education, business entities. If MinnPost has paid New Publica for PR work, and MinnPost then writes a positive take on New Publica’s other work, does this count as journalism?

A friend of mine recently told me that pro-privatization groups will always tell you what they are doing,  if you know what to look for. That is true with Minnesota Comeback as well (look! they hired a new talent director with a background in “recovery” school districts), but it should be the job of reporters to connect the dots for citizens, and pierce through the group’s own PR platitudes.

That’s what this blog is intended to do, but the workload is heavy. There appears to be no mainstream or even alternative press (besides this little site) in Minnesota doing investigative work into education reform groups and their cozy ties to Minnesota’s wealthiest citizens.

Consider making a new year donation to Bright Light Small City to keep this work going for 2017. My work is entirely funded by my kind and generous readers! 

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In loving memory of Leo Sonderegger, 1913-2106. Peace activist, ACLU defender, conscientious objector to war and 2013 Elders Wisdom, Children’s Song honoree.

“The world changes so fast/write it down.”

 

Need Relevance? Try Recess

April 10, 2016

Locally operated, nationally organized education reform “harbormaster” MN Comeback is holding its first-ever “relevance working group” on April 11, according to a recent report in MinnPost (caution: both MinnPost and MN Comeback are funded by the Minneapolis and Bush Foundations). 

MN Comeback is a well oiled arm of the national reform outfit, Education Cities; Education Cities, in turn, receives its marching orders and paychecks from a cohort of billionaire philanthropists via the Gates, Walton, Broad and Dell foundations. (The recent MinnPost article, however, makes no mention of this, and instead paints MN Comeback as nothing more than an organic, grassroots gathering of respected local folks, such as R.T. Rybak.)

MN Comeback is built around a suggestive tagline: “30,000 rigorous, relevant seats by 2025.” Problem is, the people behind MN Comeback have yet to figure out what a “relevant” seat looks like. They’ve got the “rigorous” part down, of course, because rigor=test scores and “college and career ready” coursework. (Follow MN Comeback’s money trail to see this in action: the group just gave $250,000 to the sketchy, interim test-generating “leadership” group called Achievement Now.)

But the relevance? That’s dicier, because “relevance” is harder to wrangle onto a spreadsheet and bar graph. MN Comeback executive director, Al Fan, describes the situation this way, in the MinnPost piece:

“We know it’s a lot of things to different people, but it should include something around cultural relevance, social-emotional skill building, 21st century skills; it may include something around behavior, teacher retention, community support,” he said. “But we don’t have any of those measures yet, so we need to develop them. Our work is around ‘How do we define it in a way that we can measure it and use it to really fine tune how we define great schools?’ 

Notice how “relevance” is never about having stable housing, safe neighborhoods or access to comprehensive social services? But I digress. Fan and his MN Comeback crew could probably learn a lot about relevance by checking out a new recess petition, put out by Minneapolis parents. The petition is less than 48 hours old, and already has close to 850 signatures.

The petition makes this demand, and it incorporates the need for an actual lunch time for kids:

We are asking the Board of Education of the Minneapolis Public Schools System to enact a policy that ensures every child in K-8 receives a daily minimum of 30 minutes of unstructured, safe, supervised recess time, prior to a 30 minute lunch period.  Recess is not a substitute for time spent in Physical Education classes, nor may this time be taken away from students as punishment for behavioral issues.  

The comments alone are priceless, and provide a goldmine of info about what “relevance” means to public school parents, staff and kids. Here’s a sampling:

I would like all children to have a minimum of 1 hour & hopefully this is a step in the right direction!!

In Finland, highly acclaimed for their education system, kids get 15 minutes of exercise/outdoor time per hour! My son has ASD and the lack of outdoor time severely impacts his ability to focus and learn. The trade offs are not worth it.

I have a toddler who I will be sending to MPS in a few years and I’d like to know he’ll have more than 13 minutes to play outside!

As a 5th grade teacher, I know that it is absolutely in the best interest of students to give them time to run, play, and talk with their peers. 

I teach kindergarten in Minneapolis. My kids need more time to run and play for their physical and mental health.

Kids learn better when they are able to be active!!! You want better test scores? Give them adequate time for recess! Look at Farmington’s research on physical activity and improved test scores.

I know if my kids don’t run around for at least 30 minutes a day I can’t even handle them as their mother. How are teachers supposed to do their job if they’re trying to control a class filled with pent-up energy? We’re failing our teachers and our kids by limiting their recess to 15 minutes.

There is a heap of research showing how much young minds need unstructured time and movement to help facilitate learning. Also, we all need to move – especially younger kids.

If a recess (and lunch) petition gathers 1,000 signatures, how should we measure its relevance?

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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MinnPost Piece on Minneapolis School Reform: PR or Not?

March 23, 2016

They say you better listen to the voice of reason/ But they don’t give you any choice ’cause they think that it’s treason /So you had better do as you are told

–Elvis Costello,Radio Radio

The local Bush Foundation funds education coverage at MinnPost, which bills itself as a site for “non-partisan…high quality journalism” about Minnesota. The Bush Foundation also funds MN Comeback, a privately run education reform outpost of the national group, Education Cities. (Additionally, Kayla Yang-Best, the Bush Foundation’s Education Director, sits on the Board of Directors of MN Comeback.)

MN Comeback, in turn, funds the Minneapolis Public Schools’s “innovative” new approach to school reform, called Community Partnership Schools (CPS).  Therefore, anyone who has read MinnPost education writer Erin Hinrich’s positive March 22 review of the CPS model should bear in mind that the Bush Foundation is paying for both the CPS strategy and media coverage of it.

Let’s be clear: This is PR work, not “high quality journalism.” 

I mean no disrespect to Hinrichs, who may be unaware of the reformy minefield she has stepped into at MinnPost, nor can she be expected to singularly answer for questions such as these, posed by Bill Moyers at a 2015 journalism award ceremony: 

What happens to a society fed a diet of rushed, re-purposed, thinly reported “content?” Or “branded content” that is really merchandising — propaganda — posing as journalism?

Hinrichs’s March 22 story about the Community Partnership Schools concept sits only on the surface of this ideal-sounding education reform strategy, and seems to swallow whole the idea that CPS sites are truly about empowering individual teachers and schools to do what they think best for their students. 

One tenet of CPS sites and their host “portfolio” districts

If only. CPS sites are supposed to take on more “accountability” (test scores) in exchange for “greater autonomy.” This concept is shrouded in the fog of education reform jargon, such as buckets (which buckets can schools fill by themselves? which will be filled by the district?), stakeholders, units of change and so on.  What is missing is even a basic analysis of the agenda behind the concept.

There must be a reason, after all, that “autonomous” schools, like CPS sites, are so beloved and happily funded by the capital-soaked arbiters of education and economic policy, in Minnesota and beyond. We can’t find money for more school counselors or mental health support in our schools and our communities, yet MN Comeback is sitting on a $35 million nest egg, just waiting to fund–through private grants–their own pet reform projects, like CPS.

This should raise red flags for anyone tracking the movement of the CPS model through the Minneapolis schools. What, truly, are we–as taxpayers, residents, and parents, students, and staff–being asked to forfeit, in exchange for a crumb of greater “autonomy”? 

…no peer-reviewed studies of portfolio districts exist, meaning that no reliable empirical evidence about portfolio effects is available that supports either the implementation or rejection of the portfolio district reform model. Nor is such evidence likely to be forthcoming. Even advocates acknowledge the enormous difficulty of designing credible empirical studies to determine how the portfolio approach affects student achievement and other outcomes.

–Education Policy Professor Kenneth J. Saltman, 2010

No foundation grant here! My work is entirely funded by my very kind and generous readers. Thank you to those who have already donated.

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