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)

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