Following the Minneapolis Public School debate

Julie Landsman's Follow the Money blog post about the Minneapolis school board election sparked heated debate in the comment section, and a counter-argument in a blog post from Chris Stewart, an education reform activist and former Minneapolis school board member. The passionate argument arises from the failure of Minnesota (and, specifically, Minneapolis) schools in educating children of color. I know and respect both Stewart and Landsman, and think that commenters also made important points. I've summarized the discussion below. I hope that more readers join in. 

Landsman's primary point was her concern about "how Josh Reimnitz can move into a district weeks before filing and find $37,000 dollars in his pocket for a school board election," compared to the more typical $5,000 that the losing candidate raised. 

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.

Stewart denounced her discussion of the campaign funding and her criticism of TFA.

In truth the Reimnitz/Wycoff race was not about money, it was about two points of view.

Reimnitz testified with personal experience that all kids can learn; that there are good and bad teachers in Teach For America and in traditional classrooms; that good school leaders make a difference and bad ones create problems for teachers; and that unequal education is a moral issue and a civil rights failure. ...

The Teacher For America members I've met believe my children can learn and that great teaching can make the difference. The MFT, Landsmen, Wycoff, and their fringe-left conspiracy theorists have few answers for my community other than "more funding" and lower expectations for children that dare to be poor. That song and dance has paid their mortgages since Nixon, and all the while we have paid the price.

Commenter Ken B. thought Stewart's article was also conspiracy-infected:

Mr. Stewart seems to have a big problem with the Minneapolis teachers' union (and other issues) that IMO colors his view of the candidates for this school board seat.  He asked a lot of "questions" about the MFT, but he doesn't seem to have asked them for answers and gave "answers" that are as conspiracy-laden as his accusations.

Mr. Stewart didn't ask what a 26-year-old with no children, no previous contact with the MPS, and experience only with Atlanta schools actually knows about kids here and the MPS.  He didn't ask Mr. Reimnitz why he isn't teaching in Minneapolis, where he could affect the kids directly.  He also didn't mention or look into why Teach for America was pushing their agenda and candidates in public school districts all over the country.  Do they know what's best for Minneapolis kids?

Mikki commented that the achievement gap was uppermost in her voting decision and support of educational reform:

And which kids are we putting first? ...

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.

In a response to her comment, Landsman clarified and expanded on what she thinks needs to happen:

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.

Join the discussion by reading the full Landsman and Stewart posts and the discussions that follow, and adding your own thoughtful comments.

  • I believe a constructive discussion of the value of charter schools, the problems with public schools including the need for principals with courage and commitment to do their part as well as for teachers to be open to trying new perspectives and teaching methods, the need for equity of resources in our schools would be a fine thing. I believe that looking at the success and failure of charters openly and honestly, as well as at the record of public schools would add to this exploration. Implying that those who disagree with you are racist will not get us anywhere. - by Julie Landsman on Fri, 11/30/2012 - 9:17am
  • No single action will solve all the problems. But when Landsman says the the problems are "not solved by creating charters or closing more schools," she dismisses what thousands of families of color are saying. They've had enough and are sending their children to places like Hiawatha, Harvest Prep, Global Academy and Friendship Academy. All people of color don't agree..some continue to send their children to MPS. But to dismiss high performing charters are not part of the solution seems to ignore what thousands of families are saying. What does it say about Ms. Landsman's racial attitudes that she is so willing to dismiss the decisions that African and Latino parents have made to attend these schools? - by Joe Nathan on Thu, 11/29/2012 - 9:56pm
  • This totally unfounded personal attack on me by Mr. Nathan, and now by Mr. Stewart makes any fruitful discussion of solutions and possibilities for this reprint of my column impossible. Discounting my life's work as an educator and community activist negates any chance for finding common ground. When the editor approached me about this project, I had hoped for a civil discussion. - by Julie Landsman on Thu, 11/29/2012 - 11:00pm
  • The complicated and intricate solutions for the Minneapolis schools need honesty not slander. I have been reading these postings with great interest. The issues discussed are critical for our city to thrive. I am disappointed that Mr. Nathan and Mr. Stewart have attacked. Ms. Landsman. Their action shuts down an interesting discussion and changes the focus for me. Clearly, Nathan and Stewart are not aware of Landsman's work. Her books have guided citizens in our city and nation. Her voice is one of front-line experience and scholarship. I attended her dialogue sessions around the publication of her book "A White Teacher Talks About Race". These sessions were co-sponsored by the Hennepin County Libraries and school districts in suburban Hennepin County and Minneapolis. The State of MN offered continuing education credits for attending teachers. These sessions had tough, insightful and inspiring dialogue between teachers, students, parents and citizens. Also, hope, which Julie Landsman has in abundance. The student is always at the center of her work, which makes her voice believable. I have not listed all of her accomplishments, this does not seem necessary to express my dismay that she, a leader in this field, is a subject of discussion rather than the students and parents of our schools. Mr. Nathan and Mr. Stewart, please apologize and continue in dialogue with Julie Landsman and the rest of us. - by Pamela Holt on Sat, 12/01/2012 - 8:59am
  • Apparently it's ok for Ms. Landsman to question the motives, beliefs and actions of others. But when her statements are questioned, when it is pointed out that thousands of families of color are voting with their feet (and they apparently believe there is something of value in some charters, which she dismisses), then she withdraws. Low income families in this city and this state don't have the option to withdraw. Fortunately people like Eric and Ella Mahmund, like Datrica Chuckwu, like Eli Kramer, like Chris Stewart have stepped forward. I support the decision of low income families to select MPS schools. I also support their right of families to select charters, or to send their kids to suburban schools, if that's where they think that things will work best. Let's get clear that money spent on elections doesn't not necessarily produce victories (see Koch Brothers). Ms. Landsman is upset among other things about the $ spent on Josh's campaign.) That campaign benefitted from long time local activist Pam Costain and her work with the Wellstone Alliance. Those people know how to organize. And oh, by the way, the late Paul Wellstone, ia good friend, n a joint session of the Minnesota legislature, described charters as "a marvelous idea now spreading around the country." It's time, it's way past time, to stop making excuses for public schools, and to learn from the most effective ones, whether district or charter. - by Joe Nathan on Fri, 11/30/2012 - 2:44am

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Mary Turck

Mary Turck (editor [at] tcdailyplanet [dot] net) is the editor of the TC Daily Planet.

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Several points of clarification

 We started with a discussion of what happened in Minneapolis school board and seem to have veered away.  I'm not sure how much is accomplished with attacking a person who already has been elected.  A few points of clarification:

 

To Paul Teske's assertion, " I don't believe charters are required to provide special education to its kids--could be different in MN," as public schools, charters must follow federal laws, including laws relating to students with special needs."

To questions about whether charters have sometimes met needs of African Americans - the Star Tribune has regularly provided a list of "beat the odds" schools  This year 9 of the 10 schools in reading and math were charters. Most were serving high percentages of African American students.

  Doesn't mean all charters are great. Doesn't mean there aren't great district pubilc schools.   Does mean that some charters are doing a terrific job

Ms Landsman writes " I believe that looking at the success and failure of charters openly and honestly, as well as at the record of public schools would add to this exploration." Apparently there is confusion because charters are public schools. 

Moreover, as noted, I don't think the total answer is chartering.  I think it can be part.  More important than what I think are parents of youngsters in places like Milwaukee, Minneapolis, St Paul, Atlanta, New York who have found considerable satisfaction with some charters.

One person has asked me to clarify my relationship with Carleton College.  I write a blog that sometimes appears on TC Daily Planet, making clear that I am not affiliated with Carleton except as an alum. .  I have no idea why when I post a comment the words "Carleton College" appear. I have asked Mary Turck,the editor, to help change this.

Joe Nathan

I'd love to see Joe Nathan's

I'd love to see Joe Nathan's tax returns.

thanks for trying, Mary

Mary, thanks for trying to promote discussion designed to help young people.  It's clear that Minnesota nice means for so folks that it's ok to trash ideas, individuals and institutions you don't like but if people question you, there is no possibility of discussion. 

We have done a variety of projects with district and charter schools in Minneapolis, St. Paul and others. In fact, we have one coming up next week, involving MPS and charter educators, focused on reading. 

I find many educators eager to work with and learn from eachother, who are wiling to see the good in what others are doing - who can avoid sweeping generalizations such as those I found in Landsman's recent essay. 

Joe Nathan

Your question

What wojldyou like to know, Rahman?   Our organization is supported by among others, the St. Paul Public Schools, the Minneapolis Public Schools, the Minnesota Dept of Education, the US Dept of Education, the Frey, Carlson, Travelers, Target and St. Paul Foundations.  Our projects are listed at our website, www.centerforschoolchange.org

Our work this year includes

a. A partnership with St. Paul Public Schools to help district & charters improve student achievement

b. A partnership with 4 St. Paul Public Schools and two charters to help more students be better prepared for college

c. A partnership with several Minneapolis and St Paul Public Schools and charters to help increase literacy, including arranging for books to be donated via Target to inner city parents

d. A partnership with the Chicano Latino Affairs, Council, the AFrican American  Affairs Leadership Forum, Minnesota Association fo Alternative Programs, Minnesota Council for Gifted/Talented, Growth and Justice, MinnCan, Migizi Communications, Mn Chamber of Commerce and Mn Business Partnership to expand Post Secondary Options, allowing 10th grades to take career tech courses.

 

Joe Nathan