COMMUNITY VOICES | Open letter: MFT board must seek to be more inclusive

by Kaitlin Lindsey, Minneapolis Public School TeacherThe arrival of ballots in the inboxes of Minneapolis Federation of Teachers members can mean only one thing: another union election is upon us, and with it, the chance to make our voices as classroom educators heard. The union election presents an all too rare opportunity for us to reach out to leadership, knowing that what we have to say will be taken to heart. As such, we are writing this open letter to the next President of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers, whomever she may be, to express our hopes for the next two years.Active member engagement must be the key goal for the next MFT President. Too many teachers do not actively work within the union, and do not feel that it represents them. An engaged membership strengthens the union’s ability to meet our shared goals, elevating our profession and improving student achievement. Continue Reading

Minneapolis teachers raise questions about new contract

Provisions for a Community Partnership Schools and an expedited termination process raise questions for some teachers preparing to vote on a new Minneapolis Public School contract. After eight months of negotiation, district and teachers union representatives agreed on a new contract, which was presented to Minneapolis teachers on March 10. Teachers have a week to review the contract details before voting begins on March 17.Minneapolis teacher Jim Thomas said a one-week turnaround is not enough time to adequately review the contract before voting on it. While Thomas acknowledged that this short time frame is not new, he is frustrated that the first union-held information session about the contract will be held on March 17, the same day voting begins.A Special Education teacher with twenty-five years of experience, Thomas says he has had informal discussions with fellow teachers this week, and that he would like to see more healthy debate among them before they sign off on the contract. For Thomas, there are several aspects of the contract that need to be more clearly explained and discussed before members cast their votes.Community Partnership SchoolsThe contract provides for a new “Community Partnership Schools” (CPS) initiative, as part of Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson’s “Shift” proposal for schools with more “autonomy”  and more “accountability.”  The Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) that accompanies the partnership school provision states that these schools will be able to “take advantage of flexibilities” from district policies and procedures, and the teachers’ collective bargaining agreement, in order to “achieve results” for their students. More on the contract The MPS contract is complicated, and news reports vary somewhat in their descriptions and discussions. Continue Reading

COMMUNITY VOICES | How I got over: Why I went from defending the teachers’ union to pushing for education reform

I didn’t start out on the education reform side. In fact, if you had asked me about the achievement gap 10-12 years ago, I sounded a lot like the teachers’ union. Because I think personal stories are important, here’s how and why I changed. First, a brief history: I grew up in Arden Hills, MN, graduated from Mounds View Public Schools. Got my first union card in high school. (Thank you, Amalgamated Meat Cutters.) Went to college. Continue Reading

Too hot to learn? Patrick Henry students speak out in Minneapolis

At 3 p.m. on Tuesday, August 27, students spilled out of Patrick Henry High School in Minneapolis, hands waving in front of their faces like makeshift fans. It was hot outside, and maybe even hotter inside Henry’s nearly 100-year-old building.At a press conference called by north Minneapolis non-profit Neighborhoods Organizing for Change (NOC), along with the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers, organizers spoke about how the early start date for Minneapolis schools has impacted students and staff during this late August heat wave.No teachers showed up to speak at the press conference, but students had plenty to say. Sophomore Laura Sosa and her friend, junior Karen Miranda, said the school was “really hot,” which made them “tired” during the school day. Both girls said that some classrooms had temperatures of over 99 degrees, and that teachers “were complaining” about this.Sosa and Miranda also were grateful for the Gatorade-type water jugs provided by the district. Each filled their own water bottles several times during the day with the district-provided water.Also speaking outside the school was freshman Shaheed Bell, who said that the heat made students “not very productive.” Shaheed said that, while he didn’t think the lack of air conditioning was “unfair,” given how old the Henry building is, he does think school should start “after Labor Day.” Bell said it was so hot inside the school that no one could concentrate on their work.Senior Todd Riser also spoke out, saying students were “drowsy,” and “didn’t want to work.” According to Riser, a chemistry teacher told the students that their classroom temperature was “over 100 degrees.” In Riser’s view, such intense heat made it hard to concentrate.Anthony Newby, who is the executive director of NOC, called the press conference to raise awareness of equity issues. Continue Reading

Grad students oppose potential University of Minnesota and Teach for America partnership

As the University of Minnesota considers a partnership with Teach for America, a group of graduate students from the University’s College of Education and Human Development wrote a No TFA at the U statement. Asking for signatures from their fellow students and the general public, the students posted their statement June 25 on a newly-created blog of the same name.Erin Dyke, one of the eleven graduate students who wrote the statement, sees the University’s proposed partnership with TFA as a “major compromise of the mission and values” of the University’s College of Education and its teacher prep programs. She contrasted the five-week summer training TFA recruits get before becoming classroom teachers with the University’s one year student teacher residency program for their traditional students, and feels that TFA is part of “decimating” job opportunities for traditionally licensed teachers who graduate from programs like the University’s.By June 30, more than 150 students, teachers, and alumni from the University, the Twin Cities, and national education circles have signed the No TFA at the U statement (below). The full page statement ends by calling on the University to overlook any “short-term” financial gains a partnership with TFA could bring, and instead asks the University to say no to what the group calls the “opportunistic, trendy, and short-sighted education ‘reform’” efforts of TFA. Collective Statement Opposing TFA PartnershipWe are writing to collectively voice our concern and opposition to the proposed partnership between the University of Minnesota and Teach for America (TFA). We are surprised that the College of Education and Human Development (CEHD) would consider partnering with TFA, given the lack of support on the part of Curriculum and Instruction faculty and many others in CEHD, its decreasing support from the State Board of Education (who denied providing the organization its 45 temporary teaching licenses), and the numerous teacher education scholars whodenounce TFA. With the lack of evidence that TFA actually improves the lives or learning environments of students most vulnerable to exploitation (e.g., urban children/youth of color/poverty), we can only guess that this partnership is primarily one of business.We believe that this partnership offers unearned legitimacy to a significantly flawed and powerful force in education, one which sends underprepared teachers into communities of students already often marginalized by the education system. Continue Reading