For generations, many Minnesota farmers have been members of a co-op. Now that idea is being applied, with encouraging impact, to public school teachers. Both the Minneapolis and St. Paul Federation of Teachers have endorsed some versions of this idea. And support is coming from places as diverse as Ladies Home Journal and a recent report, “Can Teachers Run their Own Schools? Tales from the Islands of Teacher Cooperatives” (charlestkerchner.com/cr/uploadImages/Teacher_run_case.pdf)
Written by Charles Kerchner, a Claremont (California) University professor, it’s the story of another Minnesota educational innovation that is receiving attention all over the country: public schools run like agricultural cooperatives. But if you think about options doctors, lawyers, journalists and other professionals have, this is not just for rural communities. Kerchner notes: “The use of cooperatives is much more widespread than commonly realized, involving as many as 100 million Americans.”
But don’t schools need school boards and administrators? Isn’t it vital to have school boards at the top, setting policy, hiring administrators who make recommendations, to school boards and are responsible for hiring and firing the teachers? No.
How often have teachers said to themselves “If I were in charge, here’s how I would do it.” Some teacher run schools are charters, some are part of a traditional district. The new Minnesota “site governed law”, provides the option for teachers wanting remain part of a district. St. Paul and Minneapolis Federation of Teachers backed this law. Both Mary Cathryn Ricker, president of the St. Paul Federation of Teachers, and Lynn Nordgren, president of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers, have encouraged their school boards and superintendents to give teachers the chance to create, and students the chance to attend, site governed schools within their districts.
Kerchner shows that teacher run schools are appearing all over the nation. He cites the example of Pilot Schools, part of the Boston Public Schools that were originally proposed by the Boston Teachers Union and have spread to several other cities.
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Kerchner begins with Avalon, a teacher run charter public school in St. Paul, Minnesota. He recalls that in legends of King Arthur, Avalon was “The Fortunate Isle.” The majority of Avalon’s seven-member board being teachers. One board member is a former business agent for the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers.
The teacher run school idea was born in Henderson, Minnesota in 1994, with the creation of the Minnesota New Country School (MNCS). (Full disclosure – our organization helped start this school, providing both financial and other assistance). Doug and Dee Thomas, and a number of other public school veterans/visionaries created MNCS., with assistance from, Ted Kolderie, a creative Minnesota policy thinker. Ladies Home Journal recently named MNCS one of the 10 “most amazing public schools” in the country.
MNCS, and a larger cooperative called Edvisions remain in Henderson, providing assistance and inspiration to educators and families throughout the United States (as well as visitors from a number of other countries.) There are 12 “Edvisions” schools in Minnesota and 35 others around the country. (www.edvisions.com)
Kerchner is clear that “The range of test score results among the teacher-run schools is very large, and so is the student population served… The schools appear to have better than average college test results and college-going rates.” Most Edvisions schools also use the “Hope Study” which reports, “Students with high Hope Scale scores believe that they have the ability to find workable routes to their goals and that they can meet them.” Helping youngsters learn to set and reach goals is a central value at these schools. I think it’s a very important part of education.
Kerchner acknowledges that the approach won’t solve all of education’s problems. But he makes a strong case that they are “worthy of consideration.” I agree.
Joe Nathan, former public school teacher, administrator, PTA president, parent of 3 public school graduates now directs the Center for School Change at Macalester College. Reactions welcome, firstname.lastname@example.org