Archives for category: Minnesota

Peter Greene noted that Minneapolis followed the terrible examples of Los Angeles in 2010 and New York City in 2012 and published teachers’ value-added ratings in the newspapers for all to see. Even Bill Gates objected to this practice and said in a New York Times article that it would harm the relationship between supervisors and teachers to publish job ratings in the paper. Gates said that publishing VAM scores was an act of “public shaming” and no good would come of it.

 

Greene writes:

 

As promised, this morning brought the publishing of teacher ratings, including VAM scores, with a map and a pearl-clutching interview with the district’s superintendent. The gap is shocking, alarming, inexplicable.

 

I’m speaking of course of the apparent gap between Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson’s brain and reality. How does somebody with this gigantic an inability to process data end up as a superintendent of a major school system?

 

Superintendent Johnson is shocked– shocked!!– to find that under this evaluation system, it turns out that all the worst teachers are working in all the poorest schools! Hmmm– the poorest schools have the worst results. What’s the only possible explanation? Teachers!! [Pause for the sound of me banging my head on the desk.]

 

“It’s alarming that it took this to understand where teachers are,” Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson said Friday. “We probably knew that, but now have the hard evidence. It made me think about how we need to change our staffing and retention.”

 

No, Superintendent Johnson. What’s alarming is that you don’t understand a damn thing.

 

Here’s what you have “discovered.” If you rip the roof off a classroom, the teachers that you send to teach in that classroom will get wet when it rains. You cannot “fix” that by changing the teacher.

 

But apparently that’s the solution being considered. “Okay,” says Superintendent Johnson. “Over here we have teachers who stay dry and their students stay dry, so we’ll put this dry teacher in the classroom without a roof and have a dry teacher for the wet rooms. That’ll fix it.”

 

And Superintendent Johnson appears willing to go further. “Maybe we just need to fire the wet teachers and replace them with new, dry ones,” she may be thinking. [Sound of me banging my head against the concrete slab of my basement floor.]

 

If you want a dry teacher in the room, build a damn roof on it.

 

Look. Look look look look look. We already know that poverty absolutely correlates with test results. Show me your tests results and I will show you where your low-income students are. Poverty and lack of resources and underfunding put these students in a classroom without a roof, and anybody you put in there with them will be a wet teacher.

 

Build a damn roof.

 

Minneapolis public school officials say they are already taking immediate action to balance schools’ needs with teachers’ abilities. The district has created programs to encourage effective instructors to teach at high-needs schools and mentor the newest teachers. District officials say they are providing immediate training for teachers who are deficient. And last year, the district fired more than 200 teachers, roughly 6 percent of its teaching staff.

 

Wrong. All wrong. In fact, worse than wrong, because you are now in the position of saying, “Hey, over here we have a room with no roof on it, and if you teach in there and get wet when it rains, we intend to punish you. Now– who wants to volunteer to teach in the roofless room?? Also, we’ll probably smear your good name in the local paper, too. Any takers?”

 

And to the students, sitting in that roofless room day after day, shivering and wet as poverty and lack of resources and insufficient materials and neglect by the central office rain down on them, this sends a terrible message. “We know you are sick and wet in your roofless room,” says the district. “So we are not sending a roof or even ponchos or an umbrella. We’re not going to spend a cent more on you. We’re just going to stand a different teacher up in front of you, to see if she gets wet when it rains.”

 

 

EduShyster interviews Sarah Lahm, who has been doing investigative reporting about reform monkey business in Minneapolis. She followed the money and asked questions about why some of our narion’s most beloved billionaires were dropping a load of money into a Minneapolis school board race. Out of the goodness of their hearts, to be sure.

EduShyster makes an interesting point: these monied reformers don’t believe in throwing money at schools but they do believe in throwing money at school board races!

One of the questions that we all wonder about is why billionaires are so determined to squash public education. When they see charter school frauds and scandals, does it give them pause? Will they get bored? We can’t let them continue on their path of disruption. If you didn’t win the last election, start organizing now for the next one. Frauds are frauds, and the public will catch on.

The reformers can’t keep railing against the status quo when they ARE the status quo.

Sarah Lahm, writing in “In These Times,” follows the money being spent in the Minneapolis school board race. She says that outside Minneapolis funders have spent $290,000 on the school board race. How can grassroots parent and community leaders compete for office when billionaires decide to lavish hundreds of thousands of dollars to control the local school board? It can be done. We have seen candidates in past few years–like Amy Frogge in Nashville, Monica Ratliff in Los Angeles, and Glenda Ritz in Indiana–win their election despite being vastly outspent. What is key is reaching voters and letting them know that they must not allow big money to buy control of their public schools. Let them know what is at stake. What matters is grassroots organizing. It can counter big money successfully. The joke in Minneapolis is that the flyers from the billionaire-backed group accuse incumbent Rebecca Gagnon of being the candidate of “Big Money,” when she has raised only $12,000!

 

Lahm writes:

 

New campaign finance reports filed in Minnesota show that the 2014 Minneapolis school board election is being buoyed by a tremendous amount of outside money, including a $100,000 contribution from former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg.

 

Bloomberg’s money went to a group that calls itself the Minneapolis Progressive Education Fund. This fund also benefited from a $90,000 influx of cash from California billionaire and venture capitalist Arthur Rock, and another $25,000 from Connecticut businessman Jonathan Sackler, a trustee of the Achievement First charter school chain.

 

A campaign finance report filed by the Fund this week shows that between July 30 and October 21, it raised $228,300 and spent $146,860 on such things as phone banking, strategy and campaign literature, including $8,500 for social media and website resources. In total, the group has spent more than $286,000 on the race this year.

 

There are four contenders for the two open at-large seats on the school board. So far, all of the Fund’s resources have been used to promote two candidates: Don Samuels and Iris Altamirano. In addition to a website that advises people to vote for Samuels and Altamirano on November 4, the Fund also sent out two glossy campaign mailers that advocate for Samuels and Altamirano and criticize incumbent candidate Rebecca Gagnon.

 

One of the Fund’s recent mailers says that Gagnon is “Good For Big Donors” and therefore “Bad For Our School Board.” Gagnon’s personal campaign finance reports show that she has raised a little more than $12,000, putting her well behind fundraising frontrunners Samuels and Altamirano, who have raised more than $65,000 and $41,000, respectively. The fourth at-large candidate, Ira Jourdain, has raised just over $3,000.

 

The Fund is chaired by Minneapolis resident Daniel Sellers, who also serves as executive director of both the local education reform advocacy group MinnCAN and the Minnesota chapter of its 501c4 advocacy arm, 50CAN Action Fund, which is also campaigning for Samuels. While some might question why out-of-state billionaires like Bloomberg and Rock would throw their money into the Minneapolis school board race, Sellers tells In These Times that he considers their investments nothing more than an indication of their support for the city and for the Minneapolis Progressive Education Fund’s desire to raise awareness about the election.

 

What Bloomberg, Rock, and Sackler have in common is their love for privately managed charter schools and Teach for America.

 

The candidates supported by the billionaire-backed fund said they had nothing to do with the fund.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Network for Public Education has issued a BIG MONEY ALERT about efforts to swamp state and local school board races with outsize campaign contributions.

The ALERT focuses on a handful of races where corporate reformers are using their vast financial resources to win control. Many of the biggest donors are out-of-state and have no ties to the public schools other than a desire to promote charter schools, high-stakes testing, and test-based evaluations of teachers.

The race for state school superintendent in California has attracted the most corporate reform money. Marshall Tuck is the favorite of the billionaires and hedge fund managers. State superintendent Tom Torlakson is an educator with solid support among the state’s teachers and administrators. Torlakson is supported by teachers and their unions.

Tuck is the darling of the corporate ed-reform donors, having received such contributions as:

Eli Broad’s donation of $1,375,000;
Walton daughters and heirs, Alice and Carrie with $450,000 and $500,000 respectively;
Julian Robertson of the Robertson Foundation with $1,000,000;
Doris Fisher of the Donald and Doris Fisher Fund with $950,000;
Ex NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg contributed $250,000;
Houston billionaire and DFER friend John Arnold;
San Francisco venture capitalist and TFA Board member Arthur Rock.

If you know of other races where the big corporate money people are tilting the scales, please contact Robin Hiller, executive director of the Network for Public Education rhiller@voicesforeducation.org, or leave a comment here.

Sarah Lahm has written an important article about an infusion of corporate reform campaign money for a school board seat in Minneapolis.

Do corporate reformers see Minneapolis as the next Néw Orleans, the next city where they can privatize the public schools?

She writes:

“In the aftermath of a failed 2013 bid for mayor, former Minneapolis city council member Don Samuels is running for a spot on the school board. If he wins, he will undoubtedly be able to thank the extensive financing and canvassing support he’s received from several well-heeled national organizations, such as the Washington, D.C.-based 50CAN, an offshoot of Education Reform Now called Students for Education Reform (SFER), and various people associated with Teach for America, which has been called a “political powerhouse” for its growing influence in policy and politics beyond the classroom.

“These groups often project an image of grassroots advocacy but are in fact very well-funded, often through the support of extremely wealthy hedge fund managers and large philanthropic foundations. Together, they and like-minded “education reform” proponents have dramatically, but not necessarily democratically, altered how public education works throughout the United States.

“While August campaign finance reports show Samuels out-raising his main competitor, incumbent Rebecca Gagnon, by almost 4 to 1 through local donations, they also show that Samuels is getting tremendous support from outside of Minnesota. The D.C.-based 50CAN Action Fund filed a campaign finance report in Minnesota showing that it was devoting $14,350 in financial resources to the Minneapolis school board race, as well as in-kind donations valued in the thousands of dollars. Since 50CAN Action Fund is a 501(c)(4), its reports do not have to disclose which candidates it is supporting, but 50CAN Action Fund’s Minnesota chair Daniel Sellers told a reporter in July that the group had spent money on Samuels.”

Minnpost.com reports that out-of-state campaign cash has turned funding of Minneapolis school board race from a raging sea to a tsunami of cash.

“The sea of cash being poured into a Minneapolis School Board race just officially became a tsunami. According to campaign finance disclosures filed Tuesday, spending in the blazing hot four-way race for two citywide seats likely has surpassed $500,000.

The most astonishing donations on the disclosures, the last due before next week’s election: The Minneapolis Progressive Education Fund has received $100,000 from former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, $90,000 from Teach for America board member Arthur Rock and $25,000 from Jon Sackler, who sits on the boards of the education advocacy groups 50CAN and Students for Education Reform.”

Many wealthy families want to leave a legacy, something to remind the world of their beneficence and power. Andrew Carnegie covered the land with free public libraries. Others have endowed museums, public parks, zoos, and many other monuments that the public would enjoy long after the family had gone.

The Kramer family of Minneapolis will leave as its legacy the destruction of public education in that city. They have devoted their considerable energy and power to building public support for charter schools and cutting away public support for public schools. Because of their role as advocates for charter schools, Minneapolis this year has 34,000 students, while the surging charter sector has 20,000. This year, the public schools expected enrollment growth of 900, but only two new students appeared. Meanwhile, the Board of Education bickers about “market share” and forgets their primary mission as stewards of a public trust, as Peter Greene explained.

What have the Kramers to do with the sinking fortunes of public education? EduShyster documented their leadership of the privatization movement in Minneapolis. She writes, in her cheeky fashion:

“Readers: meet the Minneapolis Kramers. Father Joel is the former publisher of the Minneapolis Star Tribune and took home $8 million when the paper was sold to McClatchy. These days he presides over Minnpost.com and a brood of young rephormers. Son Matt is the president of Teach for America, in charge of TFA’s “overall performance, operations, and effectiveness.” Son Eli, another former TFAer, is the executive director of Hiawatha Academies, a mini charter empire in Minneapolis. Meanwhile, daughter-in-law Katie Barrett-Kramer is a former TFAer who now serves as director of academic excellence at Charter School Partners, a non-profit organization devoted to expanding the number of charters in Minneapolis, including the ones her brother-in-law runs.

“Now I have acquired a deep thirst just writing about the Kramer siblings and their dedication to the civil right$ i$$ue of our time. But there’s still more. Matt, who with his brother attended the tony Breck School (which I suspect is likely not a ‘no excuses’ school), also sits on numerous rephorm boards. Matt is the chair of the board of 50Can and a member of the board of Students for Education Reform.

“And did I mention that the Kramers are avid supporters of young TFA school board candidate and life-long educator Josh Reimnitz, who moved to Minneapolis in May, and received an undisclosed amount of money from TFA’s political phund???

But what about Père Kramer? Has he no role in this touching rephorm tableau? Phear not reader. Papa Kramer’s online publication, MinnPost, serves as an influential booster for all of the Kramers’ assorted kauses, including Hiawatha Academies. There is nothing the slightest bit conflict-of-interest-ish about this as evidenced by this, perhaps the kraziest quote from an actual publication that I have ever encountered:

“And here we must pause for Learning’s Curve’s lengthiest Kramer Disclaimer yet: [Charter School Partners] employs Katie Barrett-Kramer, wife of Teach for America President Matt Kramer and daughter-in-law of MinnPost founder and Editor Joel Kramer and Chief Revenue Officer Laurie Kramer.”

It is difficult to think that any family in the U.S. wants to be remembered as the family that destroyed and privatized public education. But that is how the Kramer family of Minneapolis will be remembered. How very sad.

In this era of duplicity and double-talk, we may never learn the real reason, but one thing is sure: Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst is closing down in Minnesota. It is laying off its single employee. It claims 29,000 members in the state, but it is impossible to verify that number since people often sign deceptive petitions on websites that ask if they support great teachers.

“Earlier this week, StudentsFirst confirmed that it is scaling back operations in Florida to focus on political battles elsewhere. In coming days, it is expected to announce that it’s eliminating staff members in other states — a move a national group spokesman said Wednesday he could not confirm.

“Obviously we can’t predict the future, but we will continue to support our reform partners,” said spokesman Ross McMullin.

“Denise Specht, president of Education Minnesota, said she’s not surprised StudentsFirst is scaling back.

“National education franchises like StudentsFirst struggle to find an audience in Minnesota because they sell policies developed far away by people who don’t know our schools,” she said. “So they push ideas that appeal to wealthy donors around the country, but don’t quite fit in Minnesota, which has some of the best schools and students in the nation.”

Florida is owned lock, stock, and barrel by the privatizers, so perhaps StudentsFirst is superfluous there. If they are cutting staff elsewhere, that’s good news. Maybe Rhee is yesterday’s news.

In this post on EduShyster’s always enlightening blog, goest blogger Sarah Lahm in Minneapolis examines one of the central claims of the Status Quo Reform crowd: They say that teachers should have no job protections so that it is easier to get rid of veterans (who are presumably burned out and lazy) and replace them with fresh-faced, inexperienced teachers whose expectations are supposed to produce higher test scores and close the achievement gap.

 

But what if it turns out that the highest-performing sections of the district have veteran teachers, while the sections where poor kids are concentrated get the newbies?

 

What if the poor kids actually need experienced teachers, not bright young amateurs who don’t know how to teach?

 

What if the “solution” is a big part of the problem?

 

What will the Status Quo do then?

On February 6, Michelle Rhee preferred to speak to the Minneapolis business leadership instead of debating me.

But fortunately, I got a first-hand report from someone who attended the event and explained who spoke and what they said.

Rhee, as is her custom, advised the audience that the path to excellence begins with eliminating tenure or due process for all teachers. That way, they can be fired immediately, for any reason, with no hearing. I wondered if anyone in the audience asked for examples of states or districts that have no due process for teachers and have achieved outstanding results.

There was, of course, a lot of talk about data, data, data. Big data will solve all problems since children are interchangeable widgets.

The last speaker, Kati Haycock, warned that low-income students were assigned far too many inexperienced teachers. The reporter wondered if she was talking about TFA, which is a dominant force in Minneapolis.

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