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.