June 26, 2017
On June 27, three different parent and community education organizing events will take place in Minneapolis, offering a seeming embarrassment of riches for those tracking education reform in this city. What to expect? Here’s a look at what’s going down in Minneapolis tomorrow afternoon and evening.
Minnesota Comeback, a local anchor in the billionaire-funded, Tennessee-based Education Cities network, is hosting a Coalition Convening at 4:30 p.m. on June 27, and parents are invited to attend. The guest of honor will be the New Orleans group, EdNavigator–a puzzling outlet that appears to offer to attend parent-teacher conferences on behalf of New Orleans hotel workers (largely non-unionized) that can’t afford to take time off work to do so.
At least that’s the impression I have gotten from a PR report on EdNavigator’s work, published by the Carnegie Reporter (a newsletter of sorts dedicated to highlighting the Carnegie Foundation’s efforts.) The Carnegie Foundation is one of EdNavigator’s sponsors, so, naturally, the report is a positive one, full of stories of parents too tired or overwhelmed to independently advocate for their children in New Orleans’ choice-only edu-landscape.
To combat this problem (but not remedy the poor, non-unionized working conditions, apparently), some area hotels have commissioned EdNavigator to provide “Navigators” for their employees. Parents agree to give full access to their child’s school records to EdNavigator, which in turn can attend school conferences on the parent’s behalf, and otherwise act as a coach around parenting and education issues. Also, the EdNavigators can step in when schools (almost all charter, in New Orleans) may have “good intentions” but simply might not understand the “‘ins and outs, such as what it’s like for a mother who is working two jobs.”
The schools are cast as the bad guys in the EdNavigator narrative. They do awful things such as “demand parents drop everything and show up,” or force parents to “flip their lids” in order to get attention. This undoubtedly hits a nerve, as high quality, consistent and equitable parent and community engagement is lacking for many school districts. But employers in this EdNavigator story seem to bear no responsibility for the economic conditions of these too-overwhelmed-to-advocate parents. Gotta work two or three jobs to make it? Don’t worry! We’ll pay EdNavigator to go to school conferences for you!
Why not just pay employees a living wage so that they can fully participate in their own kids’ lives? Because EdNavigator, like the education “news” outlets that cover it glowingly, has received funding from billionaire philanthropists–such as the Walton Family Fund and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation–with an interest towards boosting “up by the boot strap” schemes rather than pro-public, collective solutions. (Minnesota Comeback also receives funding from the Walton Family Fund, among other wealthy investors.)
EdNavigator’s message is also about helping parents master choice-scattered school landscapes. This offers a hint at the direction Minnesota Comeback is hoping to go in, thanks to their stated goal of creating “30,000 rigorous and relevant seats” in Minneapolis.” Those “seats” can occur anywhere–public, private or charter. There is little attachment to community or a public school district, but more room for EdNavigator-type outlets that make money by advising individual parents on how and when to hop schools, when necessary, or otherwise–so the PR goes–get the best for their kid.
The “best” never seems to include comprehensive economic reform–just a narrow focus on school choice and “parent engagement,” even if that engagement has to be outsourced because the parents are too strapped to do it themselves.
According to the Carnegie Reporter’s coverage of EdNavigator’s work, the group is looking to expand their work (Minneapolis?!):
At this point, EdNavigator does not yet have enough employers on board to make empowering of parents happen throughout the city of New Orleans. It has, however, been expanding and is looking to launch the service to a second city later this year.
Q: How do you expand your business (er, nonprofit) before you are truly successful?
A: When you have a model that business and wealthy education reformers can support without worrying about their bottom line (hint: when you are not a unionized public school district). A quick glance at the brains behind EdNavigator reveal the usual plutocrat-propped education reform outlets, such as Teach for America, The New Teacher Project and KIPP (a charter school chain run by Teach for America affiliates).
But don’t take my word for it. Minnesota Comeback is inviting interested parties to sign up and attend their Convening. Here are the details:
- WHAT: Tuesday, June 27, 4:30 p.m.-6:30 p.m. (check in and food served at 4:30; program at 5 p.m.)
- WHERE: University of Minnesota Urban Research and Outreach Engagement Center (UROC) 2001 Plymouth Ave., N., Minneapolis 55411
- R.S.V.P. here (the event is free)
Choice Navigators Not Your Thing? Attend ISAIAH’s monthly meeting for Minneapolis Public Schools parents
In the absence of other well-coordinated, grassroots, authentically local organizing efforts for Minneapolis parents, ISAIAH has stepped in. ISAIAH is a Minnesota-based coalition of multi-faith religious leaders, focused on advocating for and with marginalized communities. Truly, ISAIAH has been doing a good job of showing up at the Minnesota state capitol to be a voice and a presence for a wide range of racial and social justice issues, including pressuring the Minnesota legislature to put excess resources back into local communities–and not into the pockets of the wealthy via tax cuts.
ISAIAH has also been quietly hosting education advocacy meetings and listening sessions for Minneapolis parents. On June 27, the group will meet at 6:30 p.m. at Greater Friendship Missionary Baptist Church (2600 E 38th St). According to an email notice of the meeting, sent out by ISAIAH member Greg King, the group will “discuss our recent visit with Eric Moore, Chief of the MPS Office of Accountability, Innovation and Research, and discuss next steps with engaging with the district to further reduce suspensions.”
Although not intended as a representative for all Minneapolis parents, ISAIAH does bring name recognition and a well-rounded approach to education advocacy to the table, thanks to their ongoing work on economic and other issues.
Minneapolis Public Schools Steps Up on SROs
As outside reform interests continue to put pressure on traditional public school districts–even arguing that districts must willingly give up “under-enrolled” buildings to real estate-starved charter school networks–the Minneapolis Public Schools seems to be working on better communication and engagement with its customer base, er, parents and community members.
Some district staff have given cautious kudos to MPS for surveying teachers for their thoughts on school improvement, for example–a simple gesture that some teachers say has never been done before. Likewise, the district just pushed through–with some serious kid gloves–an amended wellness policy, requiring schools to provide 30 minutes of recess to all students, K-8 (but not middle schools). Schools can implement thirty minutes of continuous recess or break it as they see fit–a nod to both parent activists and some school administrators, who did not want to be held to yet another top-down mandate.
On June 27, the district will host the latest in a series of public meetings around a very hot topic: whether or not to renew its contract with the Minneapolis Police Department, which provides School Resource Officers (SROs) to the city’s schools. Thorny! Some activists have been repeatedly pushing the district to cancel this contract and instead put the money into more counselors and other support systems. Nationally, the conversation around police in schools is also taking place, with education justice groups like the Advancement Project arguing that using SROs will not keep students safe or adequately address the School to Prison Pipeline (not to mention the furor surrounding the ongoing killing of Black, brown and Native people by police officers).
A 2016 statement from Hiram Rivera, executive director of the well-regarded Philadelphia Students Union, crystalizes the argument against using police in public schools:
“The federal government cannot justify their plan to place guns in schools by suggesting that police officers are mentors and counselors,” continued Rivera. “Police officers are law enforcement agents who are trained to enforce the criminal code. This is a matter of priorities. Government and school officials rarely seem to find money for good teachers, social workers, counselors or investments in programs that improve school culture such as restorative justice, yet they find millions for police in schools? It’s time to start prioritizing student success, not student criminalization.”
Many student and community members have protested the use of SROs in Minneapolis, while some school leaders and parents have advocated for the continued use of Minneapolis police officers–as a way to build relationships between the community and the police, some have said. The district has waded into this potential quagmire by asking for public input, in advance of August’s school board meeting, when a final decision is expected. Here’s a notice MPS has sent out, along with a series of scheduled meetings:
We’re looking for your input on the future of our School Resource Officer (SRO) program. Three options are being considered for how, or if, SROs will continue to provide MPS schools with ongoing safety and security services. An initial recommendation will be made to the Board of Education on July 11 with a Board vote on August 8. Please join us and share your thoughts at a listening session.
June 27 is the last public meeting around the SRO issue. It will take place at Lyndale Elementary School from 5:30-7:30 p.m. Childcare, food and beverages and interpreters (Somali, Hmong and Spanish) will be provided, according to the district notice. If you can’t attend tomorrow’s meeting, there is still time to complete a survey about SROs in the schools.
There you have it. Three distinct parent and community organizing events, taking place at virtually the same time. One–Minnesota Comeback–promises to focus on outsourcing parent involvement through an EdNavigator-like program, funded by billionaires and businesses, while the Minneapolis Public Schools promises to gather authentic community input into the thorny SRO issue. (Community input has traditionally disappeared into a black hole of good intentions through MPS, previously. Will things be different this time around? Community oversight might help!)
ISAIAH’s education meeting will perhaps be the most genuinely community-driven one, with those who show up able to drive the group’s agenda and rally resources around this central question:
Do public schools really belong to the public?