Follow the money


My rule, when confronted with rejection of my writing or a nasty e-mail, is to wait a week to see where the message settles. I decided to do this with the one piece of news that was especially troubling me about this last election. Also, I wanted to give myself a whole week to enjoy the rest of the election news, to feel my neck muscles relax, my breathing come easier and a sense of hope dominate my outlook. I felt true jubilation as we defeated two oppressive amendments that had been proposed for our state and as Democrats took over both houses of the legislature. Like many people I know, I had not realized how worried I was by this election until it was over. I carry tension in my shoulders and forehead. Now I can sit with friends without having to turn my head from side to side to loosen the knots, or massage my brow to ease the headache about to take hold. It is a good feeling.

Yet four days later came the news, that a young man named Josh Reimnitz had defeated Patty Wycoff for school board in Minneapolis. I am sure Josh is a well-meaning individual. I am quite convinced that he believes he is going to do something right for our community and school system. I also know that he outspent Wycoff, a community activist for seventeen years who has two children in our schools, by $32,000. Wycoff’s campaign had raised just $5000. Wycoff herself urged those with limited financial means to spend it donating to groups urging no votes on the amendments. Reimnitz received help from a “so-far unreported level of spending by an outside New York based education reform political action committee.” (Star Tribune, November 10, “Upset in the school board race”). The article also stated that the “heavy spending came partly through Reimnitz’s connections as a Teach for America instructor in Atlanta for two years.”

I know that Reimnitz was endorsed not only by Mayor Rybak, but also by anti- teacher union activists and others connected to Minneapolis Public Schools, many of whom profess to be liberals. I am stunned that people who have worked in community organizing themselves, who know the importance of connecting with those who put in the time in their neighborhoods and who understand the needs of their communities, can find an exception in this case. It astounds me that Reimnitz’s money and outside corporate connections poses no problem for those who profess to care about the democratic process. Is it because the most important thing we should be doing now is dismantling teacher unions? Is it because Minneapolis School Administrators have a misplaced belief that Teach for American is salvation for our kids and thus Reminitz’s connections outweigh Wycoff’s seventeen years of hard work and knowledge? 

I know that Teach for America has become influential in our city. I know that young people who join this group sincerely believe they are doing the right thing when they come into schools for their requisite two years, schools where poor students make up at least seventy-five percent of the population. I have been hard on them for the last four years and I will continue to question their lack of in-depth training, their lack of experience in our city, much less in public schools and the embrace they have received from neo liberals all over the country.

One evening, over dinner, a former TFA teacher told me to “follow the money” if I wanted to know what was really behind this organization. This teacher was blunt in her assessment of the corporate influence on education and TFA from Eli Broad to Bill Gates. I myself have co-led training for KIPP Schools: Knowledge Is Power Program which is a set of schools that employs primarily TFA teachers. While I admired the participants’ decision to “give back” I was not sure I would want them giving back in my city, my schools. I have received late night phone calls and had conversations with veteran teachers in schools staffed primarily by TFA. I have been disheartened when they tell me they are going to leave teaching because they want to get married, or have a child, or study music a couple of evenings a week. I don’t want the children in my city taught by anyone who is not a fully realized human being. I don’t want martyrs or cheerleaders (KIPP teachers mention being “kippmotized”) or people who do not take the community seriously while working in the schools in this city.

I have always thought that TFA could be marvelous for schools if they came in to assist in classrooms. For two years they could co lead some classes, developing new projects and ideas for kids. They could run after school programs. I would fully support this. Yet the trend in this organization has been to replace experienced teachers, or to create schools of their own that draw students away from public schools.

So I come back to following the money. And I wonder how insidious this effort is to dismantle public schools. I wonder how Josh Reimnitz can move into a district weeks before filing and find $37,000 dollars in his pocket for a school board election. Perhaps he will surprise me. Perhaps he will not feel beholden to those who financed him. I hope so. For the kids’ sake, I hope so. Because education is not for the adults, as so many anti public school teacher groups repeatedly tell us. Yet isn’t Teach For America an organization that is built primarily for creating an experience for its adult members by providing them a chance to ‘give back” for two years? Since when is having inexperienced teachers in our classrooms putting kids first? 

3 thoughts on “Follow the money

  1. I do appreciate the several wonderful teachers my 8th grader and 3rd grader have had thus far in Minneapolis. But this ending line of your article jumped out at me: “Since when is having inexperienced teachers in our classrooms putting kids first?”

    I wonder how “inexperienced” teachers are supposed to get experience? Every teacher layoff at our school a few years ago was, by mandate, one of the younger teachers. Our Somalian and Spanish-speaking “assistants” were let go.

    And which kids are we putting first?

    From this Star Tribune opinion piece“They show without a doubt that the Twin Cities is a highly segregated community and growing more so. …In fact, even in Minneapolis, a city known for its liberalism, the integration approach is also highly divisive and controversial, as witnessed when the Minneapolis Public Schools attempted to implement what it called the “Changing School Options” proposal in 2009… The best teachers must be placed where the greatest need exists; educators must be culturally competent; effective teacher evaluation and coaching must be implemented; and traditional teaching preparation must be transformed.”

    Minnesota’s achievement gap is consistently among the largest in the nation, especially North Minneapolis. THIS has to be addressed. What we’ve been doing so far isn’t working. This is why I voted for education reform in my school district 4 this year. A friend who gets paid very little money to teach early reading skills in a North Minneapolis school program shouldn’t have as few resources as she does compared to where her (and my) kids attend their neighborhood schools. Yes, I think despite her lack of teaching experience, those students are getting at least some of what they need in order to eventually come closer to being put first…. and they need more. I am in favor of reformers (experienced and new) who want to find and implement solutions.

  2. Hi Mikki

    Inexperienced teachers get experience by doing a student teacher term with coaching and superivison. They get it by having fine mentor teachers who are in touch with them each week and sometimes each day. They get it by staying making teaching their career. they get it by living and in some cases coming from the communities where they teach.We need a school board that truly represents our communities, filled with people who have lived in the district they represent and who understand from that experience what we need. They need some true history with us.

    The segregation of schools is horrible. In MInneapolis some schools in the district have amazing resources while others go without paper. A new building is built for millions while teachers have no science equipment. I am not against reform. But I am for economic reform that creates equity in our schools and within our schools system. I believe school reform involves putting the most well prepared teachers with the kids who need them the most. As I said in my column, real reform will come when we counsel bad teachers out of the profession more efficiently, put committed teachers with all our kids, providing them with residencies and year long apprenticeships before they take their own classroom when they are new. I have said all along I would be thrilled if TFA teachers wanted to teach alongside another experienced teacher..what a gift to have them in our classrooms.

    The segregation of our schools here has to do with how they closed down so many schools on the northside that were successful. It has to do with a history of neglect by our school system for the kids who live in this part of town. It has to do with the power of southwest parents who get what they want . So I truly don’t think you can cite this situation as something our teachers had anything to do with. I taught at North High when it was a vibrant amazing school. Yet the feeders were closed and they lost kids. There is so much that needs to be done around this situation that involved race and racism and equity. It is not solved by creating charters or closing more schools.

    I have always put kids first in my career. I know what that means. I believe you want to do the same but I do resent implying that those of us who are creative and need decent wages and time to work together, are not putting kids first. I spent long hours with students after school, I was there before 6 in the morning, I did all the things so many people point to regarding putting kids first. So we are all interested in doing this together. I just wonder why my years of experience don’t count, why my work with kids who were in trouble, who were resistant and sometimes defiant, don’t count. I learned from those kids. We all did. But it took some time..real, year to year to year time. We put them first every time and sometimes got in trouble for doing just that. So please, lets agree this term applies to all of us.

  3. Julie:

    I appreciate you writing. And clarifying your position. And I do truly have enormous respect for teachers who do put in tremendous effort, as you have. I also know a wonderful teacher at North who lost his job, and a great program, when resources dried up. It is terrible that it was allowed to happen.

    If we agree that there is no blanket solution —  in other words, that experienced teachers are not automatically more gifted than teachers without seniority — that each individual teacher has gifts that should be assessed each year that layoffs come, or changing classroom dynamics require — then I agree with you that students’ needs are being served.

    I am not a teacher, so I don’t have the ability to serve in the way you have. I welcome the energy and convictions of any teachers, any politicians, any firefighters and police officers, any public servants in the amazing varieties that so many serve our community — and wish those most creative and hard-working individuals had the ability to eventually be rewarded much more monetarily than they are now.


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