Tag Archives: teachers of color

Minneapolis Teachers of Color to Protest Recent Firings

April 18, 2017

Budget cuts–and heads–are rolling in the Minneapolis Public Schools, prompting lots of behind the scenes chatter and a public rally, set for tonight’s school board meeting. The rally is being planned by the Social Justice Education Movement (SJEM), a local group that also produces the annual Social Justice Education Fair.

In a press release sent out on April 17, SJEM organizers said “six educators of color” will be speaking out tonight against “racist pushouts in the Minneapolis Public Schools.” These six educators, according to SJEM’s announcement, will be advocating for a change in district policies that are said to target students and staff of color. They will also be demanding that their jobs in the district be restored. 

SJEM logo, by Ricardo Levins Morales

Among these six are Lor Vang, whose story was shared on this blog last week. Vang was recently fired from Hmong International Academy without due process, he reports.  The SJEM press release also says that an African-American co-worker of Vang’s was fired around the same time, after being charged with insubordination. 

Michelle Barnes, who until recently was working as a special education assistant at the district’s River Bend site for students with “significant emotional, behavior, and mental health needs,” will also be there tonight.

Barnes’s experience of being fired from River Bend for “expressing concerns with punishing students who ‘misbehaved’ with cold instead of hot lunch” is included on SJEM’s press release, and taps into what appears to be a growing concern: the ease with which some MPS staff–tenured or not–are being dismissed from the district for seemingly small infractions. Stories often float along the edges of various MPS communities, of teachers being forced to resign or be fired (as Vang says he was) for clashing with administrators, or of support staff pegged as troublemakers for, as Barnes alleges, advocating for students. 

Eduardo.jpg

Eduardo Diaz

Bilingual teacher Eduardo Diaz will also speak out at tonight’s board meeting. Diaz is an ESL teacher at Andersen United Community School, a south Minneapolis K-8 site that serves a large percentage of students in poverty (98 percent), as well as English language learners. On SJEM’s website, Diaz, who is not yet tenured, relates a painful story of being told recently that he will not be rehired at Andersen next year, because he is “not making the progress they expected to see in a second year teacher.”

It may be impossible to know all of the factors at play in Diaz’s story, yet he says he has noticed a trend at Andersen:

I was made to feel inadequate, not good enough, and a bad educator. I found it odd that MPS advertises that it wants teachers who think differently and go above and beyond for students, yet they seem to get pushed out of the district at alarming rates.

The number is even greater when you analyze the teachers of color that were let go at Andersen over the last ten years, at least 17% out of 62 or 27% of teachers let go were teachers of color. 

I do not mean to say that the reason I was let go was because of my skin color but I find it hard to think that MPS would want to get rid of a male, veteran, immigrant natively bilingual Spanish speaker. 

Often, district personnel decisions are hidden behind data privacy concerns, making a full analysis of every situation difficult. In the sometimes harrowing void that falls from this, workers can easily be made to feel alone and, as Diaz describes it, “inadequate, not good enough.” This begs the question of whether or not there is enough (or the right kind of) support, transparency and coaching of MPS staff, especially for the teachers of color said to be in high demand.

Hanging in the background is a stark reality: the Minneapolis schools have been facing budget cuts for years (thanks to a statewide disinvestment in public ed), while the district’s percentage of higher needs students has grown significantly. Amid increased special education costs, as well as rising levels of inequality and poverty, MPS has pursued various neoliberal education reform “fixes,” adding to greater destabilization across the district. (Questionable alliances with corporate reform interests, teacher evaluation schemes, Teach for America staffers, Focused Instruction, outsourcing bus drivers and engineers, telling administrators they “have no voice” until test scores go up, destroying whole departments–these are some of the many viruses that have plagued the district in recent years, fueling dysfunction and a pervasive failure narrative.)

The destabilization makes the district more vulnerable to outside influences, such as Minnesota Comeback (at least two MPS employees appear to be active members of this group). Minnesota Comeback belongs to a national campaign, funded in part by Wal-Mart heirs, to reinvent (er, privatize) public education and turn it into a “sector agnostic” sea of “high performing seats,” rather than schools. The goal? To miraculously churn out kids for whom poverty and systemic racism is a thing to be overcome with standardized test scores. 

Into this mix, teachers and staff of color–as well as those who speak out–may find themselves feeling less protected.

In addition to being a dedicated teacher that is well-respected by staff, students, and families, Eduardo is also the only Latino middle school teacher at a K-8 school where over 50% of the students are Latino. Andersen needs Eduardo and the district needs to stop disproportionately pushing out educators of color. Come to the school board this Tuesday April 18th at 5pm to stand with Eduardo and others as we urge the school board to do the right thing! Let Eduardo continue to teach at Andersen! https://www.facebook.com/events/1901032760176615/

–Social Justice Education Movement

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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MN Comeback Leapfrogs Democracy in Minneapolis

April 7. 2016

If there is any question about how deeply embedded the market-based reform group, MN Comeback, is within the Minneapolis Public Schools, a recent email from the district’s Human Capital director, Maggie Sullivan, should make the situation unmistakably clear.

Sullivan, who sits on a MN Comeback committee along with other MPS human resources employees, wrote the following message (condensed here) to district staff on April 6:

Good Morning Everyone!

I want to share some positive news.  We were just awarded $575k from Minnesota Comeback to fund the Minneapolis Residency Program.  This means that the program is now fully funded for next year so we will be able to continue with a second cohort of residents!  The Comeback is a movement of schools, funders and educational organizations developing a citywide plan to coordinate systems-level grants that improve K-12 education.

Way to go team!

This startling tidbit–that a private group with a distinct mission to disrupt, alter, and take students from the Minneapolis Public Schools–will now be fully funding the district’s own training program for future teachers of color should stop the presses. But it hasn’t.

Instead, Star Tribune education reporter Alejandra Matos spun out a MN Comeback article yesterday, in which the group’s efforts sound like something Mother Teresa might approve of.

Matos describes MN Comeback as simply a “group of foundations and business leaders,” intent on snuffing out the “achievement gap.” There is no mention of MN Comeback’s allegiance with the national reform group, Education Cities, and no deeper analysis of what their motives might be, beyond MN Comeback director Al Fan’s stated intentions:

“We envision a day when every child in Minneapolis regardless of their race, income or ZIP code has access to world-class schools,” said Al Fan, Minnesota Comeback’s executive director, in a statement. 

Fan’s description of MN Comeback strongly echoes Teach for America’s legendaryOne Dayslogan, which in turn strongly echoes the mission of the Walton Family Foundation, whose Walmart-fueled largesse funds both TFA and MN Comeback:

The foundation has invested more than $1 billion to date to improve all types of schools — traditional district, public charter and private — and to support innovative organizations that share a common goal: to give all families the ability to choose the best school for their child, regardless of their ZIP code. 

This all makes sense. Teach for America is deeply entwined in MN Comeback, as former TFA alum (including MinnCAN director Daniel Sellers and his wife, Stacy Strauss) and current TFA staff sit on the group’s numerous committees, helping its funders decide how to spend their money. Given Teach for America’s growing PR problems, that should give pause to anyone following this, or writing about it, or choosing to accept money from MN Comeback.

But MN Comeback is doing something great by funding Minneapolis’s burgeoning “Grow Your Own” program, right? Everyone agrees–rightfully so–that diversifying Minnesota’s teaching corps must be a priority. And, as Maggie Sullivan notes in Matos’s Star Tribune article, this initiative needs money:

“Without this funding we would not be able to run the program next year.”

The article makes no mention of the fact that, simultaneously, there is a bill moving through the Minnesota legislature for a statewide, publicly funded “Grow Your Own” program. It has broad support and is expected to pass and bring funding with it, as part of Governor Mark Dayton’s outlined education and racial equity priorities.

Minneapolis’s Grow Your Own program would surely benefit from this bill, without the infusion of money from MN Comeback. But this way, MN Comeback gets to leapfrog the democratic process, where elected representatives write bills and haggle over where taxpayer dollars should go. There is no oversight here. No elected rep to turn to. No publicly held meetings, recorded in excruciating detail. (One Minneapolis school board member, Rebecca Gagnon, has publicly questioned Minneapolis’s relationship with MN Comeback, to no avail thus far.)

There are questions to ask about who will ultimately own this program, if MN Comeback is paying for it. This group has said, numerous times, that their mission is to remake the Minneapolis schools, mostly through market-based reforms (competition, choice, the chase for higher test scores). And it wants to “expand the charter sector” in Minneapolis, bearing no special allegiance to the Minneapolis schools (so these trained teachers will be working where?).

Matos’s article states that MN Comeback will also help lobby for “nonconventional teacher prep programs,” a core mission shared by Teach for America and its affiliates, including Educators for Excellence and MinnCAN. This is a policy step favored by the market-based reform movement, often with the goal of making teachers more “outcome” oriented, and less steeped in meaningless educational “theory.” (“Nonconventional,” or alternative, licensure programs already receive a tremendous amount of lobbying support in MN.)

Paying for more Minneapolis staffers to become licensed teachers could be a red herring, giving MN Comeback the cover it needs to work behind the scenes, shaping Minneapolis into more of a portfolio, choice-saturated district (with a real estate kickback to boot, for investors). This is a function of our current plutocracy. Consider these excerpts, from a 2011 Alternet article, “Meet the Plutocrats Behind Attacks on Public Education”:

…billionaires, the Nation’s magazines Dana Goldstein suggests, may have a deeper reason for pushing their education vision, for insisting that putting “better” teachers into America’s classrooms can “completely overcome poverty.”

“If the United States could somehow guarantee poor people a fair shot at the American dream through shifting education policies alone, Goldstein observes, “then perhaps we wouldn’t have to feel so damn bad about inequality–about low tax rates and loopholes that benefit the super rich and prevent us from expanding access to child care and food stamps.”

MN Comeback may be paying for an important program, but what will they expect in return?

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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Minneapolis teacher at center of Reading Horizons storm identifies herself

shana

Dickson teaches first grade at north Minneapolis’s Elizabeth Hall Elementary School.

Sarah Lahm

August 31, 2015

Minneapolis teacher Shana Dickson is “Roxanne Berger.” 

Last week, I wrote a series of blog posts chronicling Dickson’s reaction to an early literacy training session, provided by the Minneapolis Public Schools, and hosted by the district’s new phonics curriculum provider, Reading Horizons.

The training had a profound and upsetting impact on her, but Dickson was afraid to go public with her experience. Yes, the training was off-putting and offensive, to Dickson and others who were there with her, and the “little” accessory books handed out by Reading Horizons, intended for classroom use by the district’s K-2 students, were filled with shockingly dated, racist, sexist, and oppressive images and stories. 

Lazy Lucy

An attempt at diversity

Still, Dickson was worried that revealing her name would jeopardize her job, and her relationship with some of her fellow teachers. And so I shared her story, and identified her as “Roxanne Berger.”

But the blog posts took off, forcing the Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) to respond to questions and anger from the public. At first, it seems MPS tried a “shoot the messenger” approach, by claiming that my original blog post, “Phonics or indoctrination? Minneapolis teacher training takes a step backwards,” contained “inaccurate and misleading information.”

Original MPS RH announcement

Original MPS response, posted on Facebook by Brian Hayden

Very quickly, MPS backtracked and removed the part where they imply my blog posts are false. Here is the beginning of MPS’s revised statement, which is attributed to interim Superintendent Michael Goar:

A lot of questions have been raised about parts of Minneapolis Public Schools’ early literacy program. Interim Superintendent Michael Goar helps answer those questions:

I have become aware that there is great concern among some parents and other stakeholders in the Minneapolis Public School district about an early childhood literacy curriculum MPS is launching this school year. I’d like to take this opportunity to address these concerns and share in the outrage of our diverse communities.

The whole statement, along with parent, staff, and community comments (including some who support Reading Horizons), can be found on the Minneapolis Public Schools’s Facebook page. Basically, the district is insisting that Reading Horizons be allowed to redo the accompanying “Little Books,” because their approach to phonics is so powerful:

Here is an important consideration. Reading Horizons works. Research shows this program has been successful in improving student outcomes across the country, including outcomes in diverse districts like ours.

But we are as concerned about the culturally inappropriate material as everyone else and we quickly addressed and removed the materials, as we should have. We will continue to explore options regarding this issue.

Let me say again, kids who read grow up to succeed, and early literacy is key to the future of our kids. Please don’t hesitate to let me know if you have further questions or concerns.

If anyone out there can find research about Reading Horizons’ curriculum that has not been produced by Reading Horizons itself, please send it to me. So far, all I can find to support the claim that “Research shows this program has been successful in improving student outcomes…” is research done by Reading Horizons, which might just have a stake in this whole thing (see this post about the $1.2 million contract they secured with MPS).

In the wake of Goar’s statement, more media coverage followed:

  • First, MPR reporter Bob Collins picked it up for his “Newscut” blog.
  • Then, StarTribune education reporter Alejandra Matos wrote about it.
  • KSTP News also covered the story.

According to Dickson, this groundswell of coverage and support helped her decide to publicly identify herself:

“…because I feel like enough people are in support of the cause, I have noticed so many people passing along your blog and I felt like even if there are those who disagree with me, there will also be many who stand with me. “

Up next: Minneapolis teachers, parents, and community members demand that MPS cancel the Reading Horizons contract

Start with Part One of this series: Phonics or indoctrination?

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