Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Pioneer Press: Parents footing bill for teachers

Tight budgets force fundraising for salaries
By Mila Koumpilova, Pioneer Press

David Evenocheck reads "Franklin and Harriet" by Paulette Bourgeois and Brenda Clark to his first grade class Tuesday, December 21, 2010 at Shannon Park Elementary School in Rosemount. (Pioneer Press: Chris Polydoroff)
A larger-than-expected crop of third-graders showed up at Rosemount's Shannon Park Elementary last school year — and with it, the specter of 32-student classes.
So, Principal Michael Guthrie appealed to his school's site council, a parent group that raises tens of thousands of dollars each year for classroom technology and more. With $50,000 in site council money, he covered the salary and benefits of an extra third-grade teacher "in the 11th hour," bringing class sizes down to 25 students. 

"10 Things Charter Schools Won't Tell You" from Wall Street Journal's Smart Money

Sara Morgan
Dec 6, 2010

1. We're no better than public schools.

For all the hype about a few standout schools, charter schools in general aren’t producing better results than traditional public schools. A national study by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford found that while 17% of charter schools produced better results than neighborhood public schools, 37% were significantly worse, and the rest were no different. (Not that public schools are perfect, as many parents know. See our earlier story, “10 Things Your School District Won’t Tell You,” for more.)

A host of other studies on charter school outcomes have come up with sometimes contradictory results. As with traditional public schools, there are great charters – and some that aren’t so great. “There’s a lot of variation within charter schools,” points out Katrina Bulkley, an associate professor of education at Montclair State University who studies issues related to school governance. “In fairness to organizations that are running high-performing schools, many of them are very frustrated with the range of quality, because they feel that it taints charter schools as a whole,” Bulkley says.

2. Our teachers aren’t certified.
According to data from the National Center for Education Statistics, charter-school teachers are, on average, younger and less likely to hold state certification than teachers in traditional public schools. In a 2000 survey, 92% of public school teachers held state certification, compared to 79% of charter school teachers. A 2008 survey found that 32% of charter school teachers were under 30, compared to 17% of traditional public school teachers. Charter schools often recruit from organizations like Teach for America that provide non-traditional paths into the profession, and more-experienced teachers who already have jobs in traditional public schools may have little incentive to give up the protection of tenure.
Relying on relatively untrained, inexperienced staff may have a real impact in the classroom. “A lot of them don’t have classroom management skills,” says May Taliaferrow, a charter-school parent.

Learning from Finland by Pasi Sahlberg

Boston Globe, Dec. 27, 2010

IF AMERICANS harbored any doubts about their eroded global edge, the recent release of the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development’s fourth international comparison of educational performance should rattle the nation from its “We’re No. 1’’ complacency. The latest Program for International Student Assessment study revealed that, although the United States made some modest gains, it is lagging behind many other developed nations in the ability of its 15-year-olds. The country isn’t flunking: like France, England, and Sweden, learning here has stagnated at below-average levels. That “gentleman’s C’’ should be a call to change course.

Take heart. Finland, one of the world’s top educational performers according to the last PISA study and a recent McKinsey report, was once in a similar slump and can offer lessons for the United States and others seeking a cure for poor public schools.
As recently as 25 years ago, Finnish students were below the international average in mathematics and science. There also were large learning differences between schools, with urban or affluent students typically outperforming their rural or low-income peers. Today, as the most recent PISA study proves, Finland is one of the few nations that have accomplished both a high quality of learning and equity in learning at the same time. The best school systems are the most equitable — students do well regardless of their socio-economic background. Finally, Finland should interest US educators because Finns have employed very distinct ideas and policies in reforming education, many the exact opposite of what’s being tried in the United States.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Rob Panning-Miller: An Open Letter to the School Board - KEEP CITYVIEW OPEN!

I am writing because I know we are all working for students and trying to provide them with the best education we can.  I also think we share a passion for social justice and desire an equitable education for all of our students.  Our differences are with respect to the strategies that are needed to create the most socially just and equitable educational experience for all of our students.

Specifically, I’m writing to argue against the proposed closing of Cityview.  It seems very strange that I have heard so many on this Board and in this District’s administration rail against No Child Left Behind, and yet the proposal to close Cityview is driven by the same ideology of NCLB.

I’ve heard Director Williams, and others, speak to the centrality of relationships in the educational experience.  On this point, I could not agree more.  However, NCLB, and now Race to the Top, have created a slash and burn approach to education that work in direct opposition to the efforts of teachers and school staff to build the needed positive relationships with students.  The continued restructuring, forced relocation of students, and the closing of their schools don’t make students feel cared for, but rather neglected.  The most painful part is that it is the students who most need stability in their lives that experience the pain brought about by this Race to the Bottom.

Cityview students and parents are being told that their school is a “failure.”  This label is the result of standardized test scores, with no regard for other measures that demonstrate higher than expected student growth, such as the MAP, and there is absolutely no accounting for the qualitative results of the staff at Cityview that cannot be measured with a standardized test. 

This label also comes despite the fact that 4 out of 5 students at Cityview have been there less than two years.  Families in North Minneapolis have experienced more foreclosures than any other part of the city, and as a result many are highly mobile.  Study after study has demonstrated that the more a student changes schools, the less likely it is they will ever graduate from high school.  What then is the real effect of closing Cityview and sending the students to yet another school?

And where does the Superintendent propose these displaced students go?  Mainly to a charter school.  It’s easy enough to find examples of charter schools with impressive data supposedly demonstrating great successes.  Such examples require closer scrutiny.  Ultimately, comparing charters to true public schools is comparing apple to oranges, and the apparent successes come at a high price for other students.

The “successful” charter schools filter their students.  At South High, where I teach, we could also have “100%” graduation rates as some charter high schools claim to have.  We would simply need to implement their strategies that weed out students who are not on track to graduate.  The charter school strategies would not even involve changing our collective bargaining agreement (meaning we can do it with union teachers).  What we would sacrifice, however, is our commitment as public school teachers to educate ALL children regardless of who they are or the different needs they may have.  Charter schools are not held to this standard.

Identifying these “successful” charters as examples of “schools that work,” also neglects the fact that many more public schools “work.”  Studies demonstrate that only 17% of all charter schools do better than the average true public school.  This means there is an 83% chance that if Cityview is closed and replaced with a charter that the students will be no better off and quite possibly worse.  Certainly we can find better odds.

While I think these are all good reasons to reject the superintendent’s proposal to close Cityview, I need to end with what is actually most important. – the students, and their relationships with adults that will help them grow and get the best education possible.

Standardized test scores are a game for those working to dismantle public schools.  If the advocates of educational “reform” really cared for the well-being of all students, they would make real sacrifices themselves, rather than trying to sacrifice the very adults who are in the schools everyday doing what they can to help their students.

Closing Cityview is not a move that came at the request of the students, parents, or staff at the school.  This proposal comes from a detached perspective, following a failed ideology.  Two weeks ago, the School Board stood ready to hold a legally required public meeting and then immediately vote to close Cityview.  The Board was wise to delay the vote, when this abuse of the process was made publicly and abundantly clear.  However, sitting for two weeks only to return to the same conclusion will not absolve the District or this Board for committing the same injustice.

Please, vote to reject the Superintendent’s proposal and leave Cityview open.  Go to the school.  Talk to the students, parents, and staff, and ask what can be done to help them.  Then we can all work together to undo the damage of No Child Left Behind, and Race to the Top, and create a socially just, equitable, and democratic public school system that serves all children.

Robert Panning-Miller
Co-founder of Public Education Justice Alliance of Minnesota (PEJAM)

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Star Tribune article positively highlights role of PEJAM in campaign to defend North High and Cityview

A battle of beliefs in the schools

Things can get murky in the fight for public education when some very different groups share similar goals.
By Corey Mitchell, Star Tribune
December 1, 2010 

Amidst all the talk about public and charter schools in the education documentary "Waiting for Superman," ex-Washington, D.C., schools chancellor Michelle Rhee made a statement that rings true for superintendents across the country."If you want to quickly become the most unpopular person in a city, tell them you want to close down a school," Rhee said.

Just a few months into her new job, Minneapolis Schools Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson probably knows what Rhee meant. None of Johnson's decisions has drawn as much scrutiny as her recommendations to shut down two north Minneapolis schools.

Closing North High, a school that has existed in some form for more than a century, and Cityview, a building the district spent $19 million to open in 1999, is a surefire way to upset teachers, alumni and residents. But her plan to replace both with charter schools brought out an entirely different crowd as well.

In a struggle that has paired strange bedfellows, a former teacher's union president and a band of self-described socialists teamed with north Minneapolis residents to pull North High back from the brink after Johnson's recommendation to close it.

Public Education Justice Alliance of Minnesota -- PEJAM for short -- played a role in the school board's decision to keep the current North High open while residents and alumni attempt to recruit students for a new 500-student specialty school that could replace it.

PEJAM's vocal leaders, South High School teacher Robert Panning-Miller and community organizers Ty Moore and Teddy Shibabaw, made fiery speeches and hosted rallies in the ramp-up to the North decision. Some, including school board member Chris Stewart, questioned their motives: Moore and Shibabaw are organizers with the Minneapolis branch of Socialist Alternative.

"Public education is socialism by my definition," Panning-Miller said. The socialist ties are "not something that we're hiding from, but it's not something that we latch onto, either," he added.

Building a base

PEJAM's leaders hope to assume a similar role in Minneapolis as groups such as the Grassroots Education Movement (GEM) in New York and the Caucus of Rank-and-File Educators (CORE) in Chicago.
The local leaders see themselves and their professed mission -- uniting educators, students and residents, and protecting teachers and schools in the process -- as more practical than radical. They oppose both closing schools and establishing charter schools.

Though charter schools are, by law, public schools funded by public dollars, PEJAM backers use the phrase "privatization of public education" to describe the expansion of charter schools. The Minneapolis School District "should fix public education instead of handing the responsibility to some other group," Shibabaw said.
"Public education is essential to a democratic society," Panning-Miller said.

Superintendent Johnson and Minneapolis school board members agree with that sentiment, but there's disagreement over tactics. Unlike PEJAM, Johnson wants to close schools where students struggle on state tests year after year. As part of the Minneapolis schools' five-year strategic plan, sponsoring charter schools is a tool at the district's disposal to boost achievement. That doesn't sit well with PEJAM and other supporters of traditional public schools.

PEJAM organizers say their involvement isn't much different than that of the frustrated parent who runs for school board. The North High campaign allowed PEJAM to capitalize on such frustration. Now its leaders have no plans to disappear. Organizers showed up last week, arguing against the closing of Cityview. Board members have postponed their decision on the school, located at 3350 N. Fourth St.

While PEJAM's effort has roots in north Minneapolis, it likely will spread. With the district's declining population, board members have said that Minneapolis may need only four or five traditional high schools; it now has seven.

Any move to shut another school will provide PEJAM with a chance to dust off its bullhorns and begin protests and e-mail blasts anew. The group also plans to address state-level issues with the Legislature. "We look forward to becoming a growing voice in the education debate," Moore said. "We don't see the decline of public education as inevitable."

Neither does Johnson. But now she has yet another factor, besides enrollment and academics, to consider when she recommends closing a school.