Archives for category: Minnesota

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.” 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 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.

In response to a debate about charters in Minneapolis, this reader says the comparison is unfair. The charters enroll different students from the public schools. Moreover, as the charters exclude students with disabilities, the public schools enroll larger proportions of the students with the highest needs.

He writes that charters do NOT beat the odds. They stack the deck in their own favor while harming public schools:

“The few that do [beat the odds] have a lower amount of SPED and or ESL students than their public school counterparts. They also have higher attrition rates, suspension rates and strict academic policies that allow for students to be “pushed out”, and lower class sizes. Also more importantly is the fact that in MPS, The % of SPED students that are level 3 and above is over 30%. Minneapolis Charters that number is around 8%. Simply put public schools educate all that walk through the door. Charters self select. There is no way getting around that fact. I am sure one of the schools Mr. Nathan is talking about is Harvest prep which BTW has a 0% ESL populations and 7% sped. Neighboring Bethune is at 23%.3 times as many. In fact Lake Harriet has a higher SPEd % than Harvest. Please stop comparing charters to public schools because they simply serve different student populations. MPS serves all that walk through the door.”

A few months ago, I published a post about the charter schools in Minneapolis, which are expanding rapidly in that city, replacing unionized teachers with young and inexperienced Teach for America teachers.

The burgeoning of charters in Minneapolis has something to do with a very powerful family named Kramer. EduShyster reported that the family is a powerful organization for corporate reform. She writes:

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 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 50Canand a member of the board of Students for Education Reform.

EduShyster returned to the charter-TFA empire of the Kramer family in another post.

Who knew that one family could create a separate school system in a major American city?

In my post on the Minneapolis charters, I noted a study by Myron Orfield and the Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity at the University of Minnesota Law School, which was very critical of the charters, saying that they were more segregated than public schools and had worse results. John Bloomberg, an education writer for Bloomberg News, is also cited in the same post, expressing astonishment at the hyper-segregation in the charter schools of Minneapolis.

Now charter advocates have challenged these claims.

Orfield responds to them here.


Charter School Partners’ (CSP) January 6 blog post titled Minnesota Charters 2014: Part I: Building a high-impact charter sector, Closing the opportunity/achievement gap cited recent work by the Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity (IMO) updating our work on charter schools in the Twin Cities. The post seriously misrepresents some of our findings and we request that you make this response available on your web site along with your original post. (Readers are invited to download IMO’s original study on charters in the Twin Cities and two updates at

Most importantly, the post implies that our work does not properly control for the fact that charters serve higher percentages of low-income students. This is simply not true. Our work shows that charters still under-perform their traditional counterparts even after controlling for the effects of school poverty rates on reading and math performance.

Two methods were used. A multiple regression analysis demonstrated that charter elementary schools have lower achievement rates on average after controlling for student poverty, race, special education needs, limited language abilities, student mobility rates and school size. Indeed, contrary to the claims in the January 6 post, the most recent statistical results imply that all else equal, the gap between charters and traditional schools widened between 2010-11 and 2012-13. In 2012-13 the proficiency rate for charters was 11.2 percentage points lower than traditional schools for math and 5.9 percentage points lower for reading. In 2010-11 the gaps were just 7.5 for math and 4.4 for reading.

Consistent with the earlier studies and other research, the multiple regression analysis showed that student poverty (measured by eligibility for free or reduced price lunch) was the dominant factor in the performance of schools in 2012-13. In 2012-13, the math performance of students in only 31 percent of charter schools was better than what would be expected given their poverty rate alone. The rest, 69 percent, under-performed expectations. Consistent with the regression analysis, this represented a significant step back from 2010-11 when 51 percent of charters out-performed expectations. Similarly, the reading performance of students in just 36 percent of charter schools was better than expected (compared to 39 percent in the 2010-11 analysis).

These results and other analysis in the report also refute the statement that the IMO “study ignores the impact of that high-achieving charters are having on these critical populations.” IMO’s study does in fact acknowledge that a few high-poverty charters are performing very well. But it also shows that a larger number of high-poverty charters are performing very poorly, even when accounting for the fact that they serve mostly low-income students. In fact, Charts 5 and 6 in the report clearly show that there are more students in under-performing charters than in the high-achieving ones.

While IMO acknowledges that a few charters are doing well, CSP essentially ignores all of the charters that are doing poorly. Only the “Strategic Framework” schematic in the post acknowledges poorly performing charters at all and it does so with an illustration that badly understates the size of the problem. Even in CSP’s own chart later in the post (“Minneapolis Charter Schools – 3 Year Average”), poorly performing charters greatly outnumber high-performing charters.

CSP is correct when they note that the data now available to IMO does not allow us to fully compare the impact of charter and traditional schools on individual students. However, if positive impacts on individual students are greater in charters then one would expect the proficiency gap between charters and traditionals to narrow over time. Once again, this is not what is happening. Despite the fact that a few charters seem to have shown improvement, the gap has actually widened in recent years. It is also worth noting that the method used in the CREDO study cited in the post does not represent the gold standard of analysis in this field, raising complicated research questions well beyond the scope of these comments that IMO addressed in its original study.

The post also says that, because the IMO study is region-wide, the work “ignores compelling data that show that charters in Minneapolis and St. Paul are significantly outperforming district schools…” We believe the region-wide scale is appropriate for a variety of reasons. Most importantly, charters are growing rapidly in the suburbs and suburban charters now represent about 40 percent of total regional charter school enrollment. In addition, school choice programs—the Choice is Yours Program in particular—make a number of suburban schools available to low-income city students, implying that the proper comparison group is in fact regional. (IMO’s work shows that, in contrast with the results for charters, schools available to low-income students through the Choice is Yours Program tend to out-perform their traditional and charter peers after controlling for poverty and other school characteristics.)

Nor does restricting the IMO analysis to Minneapolis and St. Paul provide the kind of “compelling” evidence of superior charter performance that CSP claims. When the statistical analyses described above are repeated for city schools alone the results show no advantages for charters. Not surprisingly, the multiple regression analysis (which controls for poverty and other school characteristics) shows that the gap is narrower in the cities but the results still imply that, all else equal, charters in the cities under-perform their traditional peers. (The gaps are roughly three percentage points for both tests. The coefficients are negative, but not statistically significant. While this is admittedly only weak evidence that city charters do worse, it is certainly not “compelling” evidence that they do better.)

The simpler comparisons controlling only for low-income percentages show similar results. City charters are slightly more likely to perform more poorly than expected given their poverty rates than traditional schools.

Finally, it is important to note that IMO’s studies look at much more than simply school performance (however defined). IMO’s original study and two updates have also examined:

  • Whether the charter system is more or less segregated than traditional schools. They are much more segregated and the situation is not improving. A disturbing proportion of charters in the Twin Cities are essentially single-race schools. In sharp contrast with the traditional system, where the percentage of schools which are integrated has increased steadily, the share of integrated charter schools has been stagnant. As a result, charter school students of all races are much more likely to be attending segregated schools than their counterparts in traditional schools.
  • The effects on the Minneapolis and St. Paul school districts of enrollment declines resulting from charters. Rapid enrollment declines hurt the districts because they require costly actions like school closures, teacher and staff cutbacks, and administrative reorganizations. As a result, districts losing students must devote effort and resources to deal with the costs of decline, often to the detriment of other educational priorities. Minneapolis and St. Paul now lose between 15 and 20 percent of their resident students to charters and more than half of total enrollment losses in the last decade have been to charters. As a result, both districts have teetered from one financial crisis to another.
  • Charter school closures. Although data for this is hard to come by, press coverage of closures suggests that charters are more likely to close as the result of financial mismanagement or, in some cases, malfeasance than because of the poor performance that many exhibit.
  • The growing, negative effects of suburban charters on the ability of traditional districts to pursue pro-integrative reforms. Increasing numbers of predominantly white suburban charters are locating near significantly more diverse traditional schools—schools which are often unstable and vulnerable to rapid racial and economic transitions. Whether by intent or not, more and more suburban charters are facilitating white flight from increasingly diverse traditional schools in the suburbs.

CSP seems to have little to say about these topics, only promising to discuss closures in a future post. Test results are not the only thing that schools produce. CSP should abandon its blinkered view and widen its work to include the very significant problems with the state’s current charter model.

The Minneapolis Chamber of Commerce announced an “education summit” on February 8, featuring the ever-controversial Michelle Rhee (who canceled out of our debate at Lehigh University on February 6). The original sponsors, in addition to the Chamber, included Target, General Mills, and Thomson Reuters. But then something strange happened, as investigative journalist Sarah Lahm discovered. All the names of the sponsors were removed.


Lahm writes that “controversial education reform purveyor Michelle Rhee will be the keynote speaker at the upcoming Summit, and her pending appearance, along with the Chamber’s national support for the Common Core State Standards, sparked protest from some local and national advocacy groups that organize against corporate education reform movements. Word quickly spread through social media, and some of the local groups, such as Minnesotans Against the Common Core and Save the Kids, organized a call-in protest to the Chamber of Commerce and the event’s corporate sponsors. These groups are also planning a “Stand for Kids” rally at the Summit.

“The details of the Summit, which will include not only Michelle Rhee’s speech but also an appearance by former Minneapolis mayor R.T. Rybak, among others, were also brought to the attention of the Minnesota Badass Teachers Association (MN BATs), which is the local off-shoot of the National BAT Association, started in 2013. Their Twitter account, as well as that of other local education Tweeters, includes information about the Summit and appeals to Target, in particular, about their alleged sponsorship of the event.”

Lahm tried to find out why the sponsors disappeared or merely hid their names but she was rebuffed at every turn.

The moral of the story: corporations don’t like controversy.

Conservative bloggers and pundits are raging against Minnesota’s Teacher of the Year.

Science teacher Megan Hall made an audacious statement. As we all surely know by now, only conservative bloggers and pundits are allowed to make audacious statements.

Hall told the annual gathering of Minnesota teachers:

“There is one other thing that I think about when I think about generosity. I think about all of the teachers in St. Paul public schools who gave up our cost of living raise in 2010 in an effort to limit class sizes in our district.

“Teachers are persistent and responsible and generous because we believe that every child in America, regardless of circumstances of birth, deserves a decent chance at a good life. [Applause] From where I stand, teachers create equality of opportunity. From where I stand, teaching is a profession that takes a gritty patriotism. And from where I stand, teachers are American democracy’s last line of defense against the tyranny of the 1 percent. [More applause]“

Shocking, isn’t it? How dare she! How self-centered! Why doesn’t she realize that she is putting teachers first, those greedy people who demand to be paid, to get health care, to collect pensions for a lifetime of easy labor in the classroom?

Why does she not show proper deference to the billionaires? Without them, where would she be? Doesn’t this teacher know that only billionaires put StudentsFirst? Billionaires work every day to make sure that zip code is no child’s destiny? The secret is to have so many homes that no one really knows what your zip code is, but that’s a story for another day.


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