I’m working on a story about the Contract for Student Achievement, a proposal put together by a coalition made up of Action for Equity, which is a campaign started by former school board member Chris Stewart, a nonprofit called Put Kids First, and many other supporters. A number of former school board members have signed the Contract for Student Achievement letter, including Tom Madden, Pam Costain, and Dennis Schapiro as well as City Council members Don Samuels and Meg Tuthill.
One of the tenets of the letter is proposing a shift to performance-based staffing, and the coalition also is encouraging folks to attend the negotiations.
So in addition to talking to people from all sides, I thought it would be a good idea to check out what happens at these meetings. On Thursday, I got there a bit late, maybe 20 minutes or so. Luckily, they hadn’t started.
There was on other observer there, though he wasn’t associated with the CSA campaign. He was a parent, whose daughter attends eighth grade in the district, and his wife has concerns about Minneapolis Public Schools and they are thinking of pulling her out of the district for high school.
“Usually they start a half hour late,” he said to me. Sure enough, the meeting started more than a half hour late, and then after going over the agenda, they took another break so everyone could have pizza and salad.
During the meeting I attended, aside from the plethora of acronyms that the negotiators threw around (that neither the other parent observer nor I understood) there was much discussion about things like work load, “climate and culture,” and problem solving. Things like trust were talked about, and setting up new up new committees.
It’s really not surprising to me that there weren’t more observers there. It’s not exactly high-action. Maybe it was just the particular meeting that I went to, but it was all fairly complex, talking about the nuanced relationships between teachers, principals, and administration. For an outside observer, it’s difficult to simply follow along.
The parent sitting next to me pointed out that students weren’t actually mentioned until about an hour and a quarter into the meeting.
There were originally eight scheduled negotiation sessions, and more have been added during the winter break. Plus, there are tons of additional committee meetings where more conversations are taking place.
Of course, they need all that negotiating time. Just look at the last contract posted on MFT’s website. It’s 228 pages long (luckily there’s a 7-page index and a 3-page glossary included).
It’s all a bit overwhelming. Certainly the achievement gap is of concern to me. Is performance-based staffing the answer? I’m not convinced—I need more information. In general, I don’t like the idea of blaming teachers (I’m less inclined to criticize their salaries than those of administrators or district consultants), but I think it’s always good to look at all aspects of the ways the schools are run. Something needs to be done to fix our atrocious achievement gap, but it seems like nobody has really figured out how to do it.
The other thing that everybody is always talking about is community engagement—and how to make that happen. Should parents have a place at the negotiating table? From what I can tell, not even the board members participate, although clearly they are kept up-to-date by the administration and ultimately have the final say. I wonder, though, how parents who are interested in being involved get information. Are you guys just relying on the media? (Yikes, I better get to work then).
So, stay tuned for more on this story. If you have any thoughts, please leave a comment here or email me at Sheila@tcdailyplanet.net.