On Thursday, February 6, 2014, the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce sponsored a discussion on the “achievement gap” for students of color. As a teacher of color in Minneapolis for over 20 years this is a topic in which I was interested. Unfortunately, the Chamber decided to schedule its summit from 7:30 to 12:00. I, along with every teacher, student and most parents wouldn’t be able to attend the chamber event. Would you like to know what I was doing from 7:30 to 12:00?
At 7:30 they were enjoying a continental breakfast, I was preparing my classroom and greeting students in the hallway.
At 8:00 Jeff Young was sharing his global accounting firms perspective on the opportunity gap, I was leading a discussion with a group of 6th grade girls on how they would be achievers. We call ourselves the “wolf pack” because we are successful together.
At 8:15 Michelle Rhee, the former chancellor of D.C. public schools, took the stage to talk about how her reforms led to better test scores (which turned out to be fraudulent), whilst I was teaching 7th grade English. My kids are reading Nothing But the Truth, by Avi.
At 9:00 a.m. their agenda called for a 15 minute “networking” period to transition between meetings. I supervised 3 minute transitions by ‘networking’ with the students in the hallways while ushering them into classes on time.
At 9:15 national “reformers” were sharing stories of the chaos they imposed upon other state school systems on a panel called Common Sense Solutions – What We Can Learn from Other States. This panel featured the PIE network, an organization that advocates using tax dollars to open charter schools that routinely push out students with special needs. At that time I was in an ‘Individual Education Plan’ meeting, with parents, creating a plan to help their student with special needs be successful in school. Common sense solutions always depend upon funding, which is often pulled from the public schools to implement these experimental solutions, which are mandated to cater to the needs of all children.
At 10:00 the Reform in Minnesota – How We Can Come Together for Reform panel starts. In this panel ‘reformers’ talked about how they can convince parents and students that the reforms that have wreaked havoc on other states will work for Minnesota. They euphemistically called this “coming together”. While this was happening I was teaching 6th grade English. We were discussing the values of restorative justice in a corporate society that thrives on the school to prison pipeline.
At 11:00 Kati Haycock talked about the critical next steps for education advocates in Minnesota. As a teacher in MPS and a graduate of North High I have a few ideas of my own. First, stop making policy about us without us. If these organizations are truly interested in the success of students of color they need to bring the stakeholders (students of color, educators, parents, and community) to the table. We do not need to be told from on high what the problems or solutions are. We live and breathe them everyday while working in chronically under resourced conditions. We are not a people that need saving.
At 12:00 the President of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce told attendees it was “time to get to work”. At that point I had been at school for five hours – my sentiments exactly.
The status quo of the last 20 years has been President Bush’s No Child Left Behind (a reform measure that many of these groups support) and has been expanded upon by President Obama. The status quo of today is to continually disrupt school systems with silver bullet “reforms”, while treating education as a business. The status quo of today is to treat other people’s children like guinea pigs in a lab experiment, while making sure their children get the very best well rounded education complete with the arts, history, humanities, literature, etc.. True reform will not come to schools until we have equitable resourcing, and students, educators and parents have a powerful voice.