Thursday, August 27, 2015

We have Enemies. Pick a Side.

We have Enemies.  Pick a Side.

Republicans who want to privatize public education, openly bash public schools, teachers, and of course, teachers’ unions.  Democrats (“liberals”) who essentially share the same agenda, or at a minimum believe the “free market” could help public schools, use less aggressive strategies.

In Minneapolis, the “liberal” free-marketers often use the strategy of claiming the middle ground.  This is not unique to Minneapolis or to this issue.  It is a popular and effective argument that works to maintain the current path of change under the guise of pragmatism, a sort of neutrality.  Taking the middle ground is in their mind, taking the high ground.  The rhetoric depicts those on both the right and left as close-minded, but all with their share of valid points to be considered.  No one is “entirely right or entirely wrong.”

A former Minnesota Teacher of the Year, has written a blog post that seems to urge all of us to stand above the fray and stand together as teachers regardless of our views on education reform or our roles in the system.  It has struck many as positive and inspirational, as this post has been widely shared on social media. 

I don’t know this teacher personally, as he is new this year to the Minneapolis Public School District, but I appreciate how he has reached out to fellow teachers.  I appreciate his advocacy for his students and for social justice.  However, his positions on education reform do not align with giants of social justice education like Paulo Freire and Howard Zinn.  Sitting on the fence with regard to education reforms is equivalent to endorsing the dominant corporate reform narrative ("You Can't be Neutral on a Moving Train).

As a history teacher myself, I often remind my students that issues are complex and multifaceted, and “right” and “wrong” are often unclear and relative, but sometimes there is a right and a wrong side.   Slavery is wrong.  Jim Crow segregation is wrong.  Putting unprepared and under-prepared individuals in front of students, and calling them teachers is wrong.  Caring about students and being passionate are necessary, but woefully insufficient elements of being a teacher. 

Institutions that promote such practices and their corporate and political supporters are the enemy of public education, and we do need to take them on.  Pick a side.

To clarify my point, I have rewritten his original post, but replaced “teacher” with “doctor.”  I would encourage you to read the original post first (find it here), and then read my revision below.

Rewritten Post:
(Italics represent the changes from the original post)

Last year, a guy moved in across the hall from me to practice cardiology (everyone’s favorite).  He didn’t have a license.  He had been rejected from Doctor for America years before.  He came in on a community expert license, but really, he came in at the last minute because we needed someone, anyone, to fill space.  The year before, we had resorted to having a sub with a dentist's license sit in the room while the patients used Web MD (because the only thing that could make cardiology more awesome was making a diagnosis of acute coronary syndrome with the internet).

Shortly after meeting that guy, I met another doctor, a guy who was in his fiftieth year of practicing medicine.  Seriously.  Fifty.  He practices oncology (everyone’s other favorite), and has been doing so since 1965.  He is fully licensed (in a few different specialties, actually), and widely recognized as one of the best doctors in his state.  He is a master of master doctors.
Aside from both staying up way later than I do, these two guys have very very little in common.

But you know what?  Both of these doctors are awesome.  That cardiology guy, he’s incredible.  He turned his examination room into one of the strongest places of cardiology in our entire building.  He built a community-based cardiology practice, from scratch, because he really wanted to, and it was fantastic.  That Oncology guy?  You don’t even know, you don’t even need to know.  He’s Yoda, he’s a magician, he’s a champion.

They are both awesome because they care hard about medicine, they focus on patients, they grow, and they accept help and friendship and support from other doctors openly.

They are who I want to be.

It’s doctors like them that rarely bother with microphones and message boards.  They are not out to win anything, not out to beat anyone, not out to mock, to slander, to attack anyone else.  They love to practice medicine, they love doctors.

Being a doctor is impossibly hard. Doctors stand on the front lines of the best and worst of us.  It’s hard enough without making people into enemies, it is hard enough without slapping down hands extended in help.  Being a doctor is hard enough, complicated enough, that it’s just impossible than any of us is entirely right or entirely wrong.

Doctoring is full of dumb.  Being a doctor is full of mess and frustration.  It’s full of humans, and humans are ridiculously ridiculous.  I understand why it makes it tired, and why it can make us angry.

But being a doctor is an act of love, and I’ll never understand why it produces so much needless hate, so much exclusion, so much us and them, so much you or they are not enough, not the right kind.

So, let me say:  I don’t care if you’re in your first year or your fiftieth.  I don’t care if you are in Doctor For America, were in Doctor for America, like or don’t like Doctor for America.  I don’t care if you’re a pin-covered-lanyard-wearing AMAista or if you delete every American Medical Association email on sight.  I don’t care if you are a doctor in a unlicensed clinic or did or will practice medicine in a unlicensed clinic, or if you send your kids to private hospital or public hospital.  I don’t care if you’re traditionally licensed or alternatively licensed or unlicensed, and I don’t care if you are a normal person or someone who plays a doctor on TV.

If you care about patients I am with you. If you work for hospitals and health and joy and love in hospitals, I am for you.

We can disagree and stick together.  We can come together on the things that make us doctors, and respect the differences of everything else.

I will assume you have no hidden agenda.  I will assume you are not evil or stupid or misled for believing what you believe.  I will help you if you need help, and I will accept help if you’re willing to give it.  I will try to see what you see if you try to see what I see.

If you care about patients, if you care about practicing medicine, there is nothing that will make you less of a doctor to me.

If you practice medicine, if you care about doctors, if you care about patients and hospitals, however you care about them, you are not my enemy.  Let’s go to work.

Posted by: Rob Panning-Miller

Friday, February 6, 2015

Frankenguild, Part 2: The Sellout Continues

Union Leaders Have Joined the Privatizers
Two years ago I wrote about the Minnesota Guild of Public Charter Schools, an organization created four years ago to sponsor charter schools.  The Guild was created by Lynn Nordgren, the current president of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers (MFT), and Louis Sundin, a former president of MFT and its current lobbyist.  The funding for this enterprise came from the American Federation of Teachers' (AFT) Innovation Fund, which itself received money from the Gates Foundation.  All of this was done without a discussion or vote by the rank-and-file members of MFT.

As in the rest of the country, charters are proliferating in the urban centers of Minneapolis and St. Paul.  While two charters in Minnesota recently voted to unionize, charters as a whole are anti-union.  The majority of charters operate on a model that recruits young, inexperienced, under-trained teachers mostly provided by Teach for America (TFA).  Charter schools are also a key tool in the push to privatize our public schools by neo-liberals such as Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Arne Duncan, Bill Gates, and yes, Obama.

Studies have shown repeatedly that charter schools are no better than true public schools and most of them are worse.  This according to the same testing data that the privatizers love to use to justify closing public schools and opening more charters.  Furthermore charter schools have contributed to dramatically increased levels of racial and economic segregation.  Charters along with other education "reforms" have effectively erased the original gains of the desegregation efforts following the Brown v. Board decision.

The Monster Continues to Grow.
Despite failure of charter schools and their destruction of democratic, public schools,  the Minnesota Department of Education approved the opening of ten new charter schools this past fall, including one sponsored by the Minnesota Guild.  The Department has also approved 19 more charter schools to open in the fall of 2015, including five sponsored by the Minnesota Guild.

Over four years now the Guild has quietly grown outside the view of rank-and-file members.  Dylan Thomas, writing for the Minneapolis Journal, reports that the Guild has a goal of being the "third or fourth largest charter school authorizer in the state," according to its director, Brad Blue.  In addition to the five schools opening by next fall, Blue also hopes to have five current charters switch to Guild sponsorship.

Of the five new charter schools the Minnesota Guild has been approved to open next fall, four of them are in Minneapolis and in direct competition with Minneapolis Public Schools.  This includes a school called Mill City, which plans to open with 200 high school students.  This means 200 students that won't be attending MPS schools, and 5 or 6 fewer unionized teachers in MPS.

Conflict of Interest?
According to Dylan Thomas, "Mill City [charter school] joins the small but growing portfolio of the Minnesota Guild, a non-profit charter school authorizer sponsored by the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers. When it launched in 2011, the Guild was the first union-backed charter school authorizer in the country."  The Guild's first charter school opened this past year in Isanti, Minnesota, and the MN Department of Education has authorized Mill City and three other charter schools to open in Minneapolis this fall, under the sponsorship of the union created Minnesota Guild.

The current president and lobbyist (also a former president) of MFT not only created the Guild, but continue to serve on its board of directors.  Every charter school they sponsor pulls more students from Minneapolis Public Schools (or other public schools) which eliminates unionized teaching positions.  How can the president of the teachers union defend the rights of the union members who elected her, and at the same time create schools that threaten those same members' job security?

Brad Blue and the Guild operate out of an office in the MFT-owned building and pay no rent.  MFT's brothers and sisters working as janitors and engineers in Minneapolis Public Schools have their SEIU local office in the same MFT building, and they pay rent.  Those of us who are MFT members had no say in the creation of the Guild even though we actually are the union, and now we continue to subsidize our own demise.

Under section 501 of the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act, union officers are required:
(1) To hold its money and property solely for the benefit of the organization and its members;
(2) To manage, invest, and expend [the union's money and property] in accordance with its constitution and bylaws and any resolutions of the governing bodies adopted thereunder;
(3) To refrain from dealing with such organization as an adverse party;
(4) To refrain from dealing with such organization in behalf of an adverse party in any matter connected with his duties;
(5) To refrain from holding or acquiring any pecuniary or personal interest which conflicts with the interests of such organization; and
(6) To account to the organization for any profit received by him in whatever capacity in connection with transactions conducted by him or under his direction on behalf of the organization.
Look again at the first point.  MFT's officers must "hold [the union's] money and property solely for the benefit of the organization and its members."  How is spending money to support the expansion of non-union, non-public schools benefiting MFT union members?

So why are union leaders in the business of sponsoring charter schools?  How is this not a violation of their fiduciary responsibility?  More importantly, why are union members allowing this?  How much longer will the rank-and-file members of MFT allow the Guild to operate in the name of their union and destroy union jobs?  How much longer will they allow the Guild to contribute to the privatization and destruction of our system of public schools?

Posted by Rob Panning-Miller

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Still Separate, Still Unequal: Brown v Board 60 Years Later.

Join PEJAM and REACH (Rank-and-file Educators Advocating for Change) for a panel discussion on the legacy of the Brown v Board Supreme Court decision.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Corporate Reformers: Architects of Apartheid Education

Corporate Reformers: Architects of Apartheid Education

Alfie Kohn, a leading author and lecturer on progressive education, spoke Thursday evening at Macalester college in St. Paul, MN as part of the Theodore Mitau Lecture Series.  The event was hosted by Macalester's political science department.  A regular speaker at education conferences, Kohn noted the unique setting and focused more on educational policy than pedagogy.  His speech was titled, "Many Children Left Behind: "School Reform" and Corporate-Style Education Policy."

Kohn highlighted a number of destructive features of the corporate education reforms.  Among these, he discussed the increasingly poor experience forced on children who have historically been the most underserved: children of color, low-income students, English language learners, and special education students..   He was visibly angered by what the corporate reformers are doing to the children they claim to be trying to help, such as depriving them of recess time and exposure to the arts and music.   He also highlighted the "reformers" obsession with competition as a strategy to improve schools, as they ignore the fact that competition means there must be "losers."

Corporate reformers have been using the "invisible hand" of the "free market" to actively destroy our system of universal public education for decades.  Blind faith in competition has resulted in each school "marketing" itself to earn "customers."  In Minneapolis, it means our school district (MPS) holds its annual School Fair Showcase in which representatives from each school are pitted against one another, encouraged to persuade confused parents and students that their school is best.  This process has been corrupted further as politicians and "reformers" have convinced much of the public that test scores are the best way to determine the quality of a school.

The School Fair Showcase coincides with the time of year when mailboxes have almost daily postcards from local charter schools also vying for "customers."  My family received a card from a local charter school chain that operates one of their schools just a few blocks from our home.  It is operated and supported by the First Family of corporate education reformers here in Minnesota - the Kramers.

We could play a game of Six Degrees of Separation with the Kramers and all the corporate reform groups in Minnesota, but that would be a little boring.  The Kramers are either part of every major corporate reform group in the state, or just one "degree" away.  Edushyster has also documented some of the family's connections, but here are the highlights.

The Kramers - Minnesota's First Family of Corporate Education.

The family patriarch is Joel Kramer.  Joel made his fortune in the newspaper business and is now the CEO and editor of an online newspaper called Minnpost.  His wife, Laurie, is the Chief Revenue Officer for Minnpost.

Beth Hawkins is Minnpost's education "reporter."  Hawkins, must hold a record for the most "news" stories with a disclaimer. Her numerous articles about charter schools and the various corporate reform groups inevitably have ties to the Kramers, which compels her to try and distance herself from them.  Hawkins appears concerned with being seen as an "unbiased reporter" results in dislaimers that commonly include the following, "none of the aforementioned Kramers has been associated with any of my reporting on CSP or Hiawatha, except for that whole check-signing bit."

While Minnpost is a mouthpiece for the local corporate reformers, Joel's sons, Matt and Eli, are the two main actors.  Both sons grew up in Minnesota, got their starts in corporate education reform in New York, and both are back in Minnesota pushing the corporate agenda.

Matt Kramer originally worked for McKinsey and Company, a company that has played a lead role in the attacks on public education.  In 2005, he went to work for Teach for America (TFA), and is now the Co-Chief Executive Officer for TFA.  Matt's wife, Katie Barrett Kramer, is the Director for Academic Excellence at Charter School Partners in Minnesota.  She had been a TFA corp member in New York and was also a founding board member of Hiawatha Leadership Academy, a charter school in Minneapolis, part of the same Hiawatha Academies that recently sent me a postcard.

Eli Kramer was a 2003 TFA corp member and later worked for the Uncommon Schools, a Charter Management Organization (CMO) in New York.  Eli is now the Executive Director of Hiawatha Academy, the same charter school organization for which his sister-in-law served as a founding board member.  Eli's wife, Jessica Cordova Kramer, also started as a TFA corp member (2005).  She is now the "Vice President, Strategy & Operations, Alumni Affairs at Teach For America."

Hiawatha Academies: Charter Schools for "Other People's Children"

Hiawatha Academies started in 2007 and consists of two elementary schools and a middle school.  Eli Kramer is the Executive Director for all three schools, but his wife, brother, and sister-in-law all have a stake in the schools.  Current and former TFA corp members make up 65% of the charter schools' staff.  Matt Kramer and Jessica Cordova Kramer's have positions in TFA, and Katie Barrett Kramer is connected to Hiawatha both as an original board member and her postition at Charter School Partners (CSP).  Hiawatha Academies are CPS "Partner School."

So when an entire family is invested the corporate reform movement, and three Minneapolis charter schools in particular, what kind of education do they provide for their mostly low-income students and students of color?

Hiawatha Academy charters are schools that value compliance and test scores over critical thinking.  They are schools that indoctrinate rather than inspire.  As Alfie Kohn would say, they are schools that confuse rigor with learning, and they are schools in which scholars (what most of us know as students) have to "earn" their desks and chairs

Beth Hawkins wrote a story about Adelante College Prep, in which she seems to celebrate this disturbing approach to education.  Praising the atmosphere of compliance at Hiawatha Academy, Hawkins wrote, "students are spending the [first] week [of school] on mats in the lunchroom “earning” their chairs, desks and school shirts by getting one thing after another right."  She also noted that the 5th and 6th graders spent 90 minutes walking the halls the day she was there.  They had to do it until they all walked "single-file, in silence."  What was the teachers' rationale for this boot camp approach?  Teachers told their students, "In college... people walk in ones and twos conversing in soft voices."  Really?  That must be how students behave at Harvard where Eli Kramer went to school because I did not notice that at the University of Minnesota.

Students at Hiawatha Charter schools start at 7:50 a.m. and go until 4:15 p.m. (except on Fridays when they finish at 2 p.m.).  They start their school year in the third week of August and finish the third week of June.  This allows the school to boast of 40% more instructional time than a "traditional public school."  However, this extra time is filled with test prep and testing--and the school's calendar list little more than which test happens which day.

All of this begs a question.  Would Matt and Katie, or Eli and Jessica send their own children to the schools they operate, support, and profit from?  I do not know the Kramers personally, but it seems  the answer is no.

But why?  Why would they not want their own children to be "scholars...empowered with the knowledge, character, and leadership skills to graduate from college and serve the common good," as it says in Hiawatha Academy's mission statement?  Why would they not want "high expectations" and "40% more learning time than a traditional public school" for their own children?  Why would they not want their children to take numerous "standardized tests and other objective academic measures" to assess their "readiness for college and leadership?"

Not knowing the Kramers personally, maybe their own children will get to experience Hiawatha Academy's approach to school.  However, it seems they attend a very different school.  A school that sits kitty-corner from one of the  Kramer's charter schools.

The Best Education Money Can Buy

Adelante College Prep charter is Hiawatha Academy's middle school.  Just blocks from my own house, it is kitty corner from Lake Country School (LCS).  Lake Country is a private Montessori school with a pre-school, elementary, and middle school program.  Annual tuition at LCS ranges from $8,920 to $16,100.  As of last year, Matt, Katie, Eli, and Jessica were all listed as parents of children at Lake Country.  Do the children at Lake Country School have the same "rigorous" experience as the "scholars" of Adelante College Prep?

Lake Country's mission statement make no mention of "scholars" or "college-readiness."
"Lake Country School is a Montessori learning environment that fosters independence, critical thinking, and creativity within each child. We are a community that promotes diversity and inclusion, as well as respect and responsibility to self, to others, and to the earth."
I could only find two references to testing on Lake Country's calendar for the whole school year, and these references were hard to spot among the numerous field trips, class overnights, farm stays, community service days, potlucks, French week, sports and theater events. 

Lake Country School's website boasts about their experienced teaching staff.  60% of their staff has been there for more than a decade.  Compare that to Hiawatha Academy's Adelante College Prep across the street.  They boast of having 65% of their teachers as being Teach for America corp members or alumni.  TFA corp members receive only five weeks of training before entering their own classroom and are notorious for leaving the career within five years.

The curriculum of LCS is rich and student centered.  Their core values emphasize a Montessori approach that "nurtures the intellectual, emotional, social, physical, and spiritual potential of the whole child."  LCS focuses on building a "peaceful community" and encourages students to be "model citizens of a global community."  With respect to the "work" of learning, LCS promotes a "love of work" in an environment in which "children learn through purposeful activity carried out in developmentally appropriate urban and rural environments where the choice of meaningful work is expected and respected.

Compare that to Hiawatha's Adelante College Prep.  At Adelante, students are encouraged to "embody determination and relentless pursuit in the face of the economic, social, and political obstacles."  Adelante focuses on superficial details, calling on students to "complete 100% of their class work and homework, with special care taken in neatness and homework turned in on time."  Hiawatha focuses on the completion of tasks rather than depth of knowledge, critical thinking, and the needs of the whole child. 

Educational Apartheid

Eli and Matt Kramer not only sent their children to Lake Country School, but they are alumni themselves.  Eli went on to the private and prestigious Breck School in Minnesota, and Matt went to the equally elite Saint Paul Academy and Summit School(SPA).  Tuition at both schools is currently around $25,000 a year, and these schools all have less instructional time than "traditional public schools.  I do not think Breck or SPA offer the ideal educational experiences, but they are far better than what charter schools like Hiawatha Leadership Academy peddle.  Open, progressive, democratic schools in the mold of Maria Montessori, John Dewey, and Pablo Freire present the best hope for our students and our public schools.  The charter schools pushed by the corporate reformers are actually eating away at the types of public schools these educators advocated.

We have examples across the nation of corporate education reformers who reserve one form of education for themselves and their children and create another for "other people's children."   We see it with Obama sending his own children to Sidwell Friends School, and Rahm Emanuel sending his children to the University of Chicago Lab School.  R.T. Rybak, our former mayor of Minneapolis, turned full time corporate deformer, has also followed this path.  Edushyster has explained how the corporate education reformers push to create a two-tiered system of schools.

Photo by Ken Fager:

Jonathan Kozol was not using hyperbole when he said, "Apartheid Education rarely mentioned in the press or openly confronted even among once-progressive educators, is alive and well and rapidly increasing now in the United States."  Corporate reformers are not fighting the "Civil Rights issue of our time," they are building an apartheid education system.  True progressives cannot be complicit.  We cannot be silent.  We must demand for all children, the education we want for our own.

Posted by Rob Panning-Miller

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Standardized - Lies, Money, & Civil Rights

Standardized - Lies, Money, & Civil Rights:
How Testing is Ruining Public Education

Monday, February 10th at 6:30 p.m.,  PEJAM is presenting a special screening of the documentary "Standardized." The screening will be immediately followed by a panel and audience discussion.   This will be held at South Senior High School in Minneapolis.

View the trailer here:

 As described on the website for Rockfish Productions:

"For decades, standardized testing has been a part of public education. Within the last ten years, however, the testing has taken on a more important, and possibly more damaging, role. Test scores, mistakenly viewed as effective assessments of student ability and teacher/school effectiveness, are anything but. This film sheds light on the invalid nature of these tests, the terrible consequences of high-stakes testing, and the big money that's involved."

Come learn about the truth behind the standardized testing, and what you can do about it. Information will be available about the "Opt Out" movement.  If you are on Facebook, following this link and click "join" on our event page.

Because we are a non-profit community organization, we are asking for donations of $5.00 - $10.00 to cover our costs. However, no one will be turned away for lack of funds.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Rob Panning-Miller at Drinking Liberally's Education Forum and Teacher Appreciation Night

On October 17th PEJAM co-hosted an education forum with Drinking Liberally - Minneapolis. Here are 10 minutes of Rob Panning-Miller highlighting some of the damage done to public education by the corporate education reformers in Minnesota. He shared the stage with two other PEJAM colleagues, Pia Payne-Shannon and Sarah Lahm. Their speeches can also be found on the LeftMN website.

Click on the picture to watch the video.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

"We Don't Need Missionaries"

Last Thursday, October 17, 2013, PEJAM co-hosted a forum with Drinking Liberally - Minneapolis featuring two teachers and a parent, discussing public education and the struggle against the corporate reformers.  Steve Timmer, the host of Drinking Liberally, posted the following video of Pia Payne-Shannon, a member of PEJAM and a teacher at Nellie Stone Johnson Elementary in North Minneapolis.

Click on the picture to watch the video
Pia Payne-Shannon, PEJAM Member, Minneapolis Teacher

At 10:56, she speaks directly to Teach for America members:

“We don’t need missionaries.  We don’t need missionaries.  Our kids don’t need saving.  They need to be educated in a well-rounded setting, because the same thing that you want for your kid, is the same thing I want for mine…The same thing they want for their kids, are the same thing we want for ours.  So we need to get away from the missionary complex.”

Posted by: Rob Panning-Miller

Friday, October 18, 2013

Media, Public Education, and U.S. Democracy

I had another opportunity this morning to be part of KFAI's Catalyst program with host Lydia Howell.  On the show, Jeff Nygaard, a local media analyst, and I discussed public education in relation to the media.  While the conversation covered a number of related topics, I think a key point was raised for education activists.  In our day-to-day struggles against charter schools, standardized tests, Teach for America, the Common Core and the rest of the corporate reforms, we need to also challenge the underlying assumptions that drive them.

You can listen to the program here: Catalyst: October 18, 2013

Posted by: Rob Panning-Miller

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Citizen Stewart Says...Nonsense

 Citizen Stewart Says…Nonsense

Temple of Confucius by Vincent Poulissen
There are individuals who want to argue, but are not worth your time and energy.  Here in Minnesota Chris Stewart comes to mind.  Unfortunately, I have wasted many hours in debate with him, time I could have spent banging my head on a wall.  While I have managed to keep my distance for some time now, he continues to enjoy throwing rocks and picking a fight with anyone who disagrees with him.

Although he should be ignored, he should also be exposed for the poser that he is.  Rather than critiquing his incoherent, and non sequitur arguments, I present some of “Citizen Stewart’s” own choice words as the clearest argument against his corporate reform agenda for education.  Feel free to read them in full rant on his blog (Citizen Stewart) if you can stomach it.

Citizen Stewart says, people who oppose me use “pro-union plantation management rhetoric.” 

Citizen Stewart says, people who oppose me are “childless Twitter hipters” 

Citizen Stewart says, people who oppose me are “empty nesters, the Ph.d candidates, the ivory tower administrators, the unionist re-Tweeters,… childless urban hipsters slumming… 

Citizen Stewart says, Diane Ravitch, is “a salty axe against school choice"

Citizen Stewart says, of Matt Damon, “Isn’t he precious”

Citizen Stewart says, Julian Helig Vasquez, is “a Ravichian academic…Now he sides with white progressives, even to the point of attacking elders in the black community like Howard Fuller”

Citizen Stewart says, “if we’re not clear on the need to occupy the Occupy types, then we haven’t been watching.”

Citizen Stewart says, of Chicago Public Schools, ““veteran” teachers are set up for life in careers that require neither ability nor results.”

Citizen Stewart says, of public school teachers, “people unable to comprehend how the world has changed and left them on the curb before their untenable pension plans kicked in.”

Citizen Stewart says, of  public school teachers, “They create a completely plausible denial of the bleak, chaotic, inhumane public entities that monopolists use as profitable traps for other people’s children.

Citizen Stewart says, people who oppose me live on “Planet Ravitch, led by the polemicist Diane Ravitch, is the most rigid, caustic, and resistant to an alternative future.”

Citizen Stewart says, Diane Ravitch is “the Rush Limbaugh of education commentary”

Citizen Stewart says, teacher unionists are part of the “old guard” which also includes the “Westboro Baptist Church [who] carry hateful signs to intimidate marriage equality advocates” Afghan fundamentalists who leave “girls in Afghanistan […] victims of beatings or acid attacks,” and “War profiteers [who] lobby against peace”

Citizen Stewart says, “standard educational measurements” (the new testing regime) use the science of student achievement to defeat the witch doctoring that took place before” and it is, “further advanced by No Child Left Behind law, and funded by educational venture pioneers”

Citizen Stewart says, people who oppose me are “A motley crew of local teachers […] poking the education reform voodoo doll”

Citizen Stewart says, Diane Ravitch is the “patron saint to poor performing educators everywhere”

Citizen Stewart says, people who oppose me don’t want “money spent on anything other than teacher pampering” 

Citizen Stewart says, people who oppose me “are part of an emerging ecosystem of intolerance”

Citizen Stewart says, people who oppose me are “sharply focused on money and defending the system”

Citizen Stewart says, Gates, Broad, and the Waltons are “Much like the abolitionists who came to “save” us from slavery, or the Northern teachers that came to “save” us in post-slavery schools”

Citizen Stewart says, people who oppose me “see the “reformers” in the way southern planters saw the northerners that were “invading” their lands, bringing their industries, and changing the social order" 

Citizen Stewart says, teachers “talk incessantly about themselves, their needs, their wants, their job, their martyrdom, and the eternal wrongness of everyone but themselves” 

Citizen Stewart says, people who oppose me are "#teacherbullies" 

Citizen Stewart’s greatest lesson for us comes in the way his comments reinforce the wisdom of an actual philosopher.  Confucius says, “Learning without thought is labor lost; thought without learning is perilous.”

Thursday, August 15, 2013

E4E: The Sheep Clothing for Corporate Education Reformers

The neoliberals, corporate foundations, billionaires, and others looking to privatize our public schools work hard to sell their actions as that of local grassroots organizations whose only concerns are for the children, especially poor, urban, and minority children.  These astroturf groups have worked their way into every state, including Minnesota.  We have the well-financed MinnCAN and Students First among others, but in their efforts the corporate reformers keep running into the public school teachers and their unions who actually do care about ALL children.

These corporate "reformers" have long realized that if they are going to privatize the public schools, they must eliminate the the voice of the teachers, and the unions that protect their right to speak in defense of their students.  The "reformers" have had a great deal of success, convincing both Republican and Democratic politicians to pass legislation that weakens teacher unions and public education.  The push-back, however, has been growing steadily.  Led by rank-and-file members who have demanded more action from their own union leadership or have taken over the leadership as C.O.R.E. did in Chicago, teachers are calling out the corporate reformers for what they are - privatizers and union-busters.

The corporate reformers are feeling the heat, but they will not go away quietly.  A new strategy has evolved in recent years with the help of the "happy-face" of the corporate reformers - Teach for America (TFA).

The new strategy is to convince the public that teachers really do want the corporate reforms, but that it is actually their own unions that are keeping them silent.  It is a devious approach that can pit new teachers against veteran teachers.  These newer groups receiving money from Gates, the Waltons, and other corporate foundations are started and led, by mostly TFA alumni, and recruit heavily among TFA corp members and other younger teachers.

In many cities, it is Teach Plus that has taken on this role.  It's stated goal is "to engage early career teachers in rebuilding their profession to better meet the needs of students and the incoming generation of teachers."  Here in Minnesota, Educators for Excellence (E4E) is the group leading the effort to hide the union-busting/privatization agenda behind "real teachers."  This past week, E4E officially launched in Minnesota, following a typical corporate product launch strategy.

Beth Hawkins, the "education reporter" for MinnPost and one of the Twin Cities biggest cheerleaders for the corporate take-over of public education, is now trumpeting Educators 4 Excellence (E4E) and their claim to offer teachers "a bigger voice in education policy."  Hawkins presents E4E and its members empathetically, as idealistic teachers who have been marginalized in education policy decisions and ignored by unresponsive teachers unions.

Hawkins and MinnPost are helping Madaline Edison, now the full-time Executive Director of Minnesota's E4E, with the corporate style rollout of the "new" reform group.  They are selling a movement that is not only not needed, but in fact is detrimental to public education.  MinnPost published three "news" stories about E4E in four days (See here, here, and here).  MinnPost is an on-line "newspaper" run by Joel Kramer, father of Minnesota's first family of corporate education reform and the former owner of the daily newspaper, the Minneapolis Star Tribune.  The Star Tribune probably would have covered the E4E "news" itself, had it not been so busy shilling for E4E's older sibling of corporate education reform - Teach for America (TFA) - (see here, here, and here).

Launch of a Corporate Product
Launching a new product, or in this case an organization, is not done with a single press release, or event.  "Reform" groups like E4E use the same marketing strategies of their financiers.  David Lavenda, a product strategy and marketing executive offers some advice for a successful product launch on, including the following:

Start early. Don’t expect reporters to write about you when you want. Get a head start and begin preparing long before you plan to launch. A rolling launch is a great way to keep the conversation going.

Get partners involved. Channel and marketing partners who have a financial stake in the success of the launch are natural allies. The more people that are talking about the release, the better chances it will get pickup.  

E4E-Minnesota has been rolling out its launch for well over a year.  It had its origins in a group with another combination of letters and numbers - E3MN, which stood for Empowering Educators for Equity MN.  E3MN began in early 2012, and its first Facebook Event was a meeting with the co-founders of Educators 4 Excellence.

The groups E3MN identity appears to have been a place-holder as the group built it's E4E brand.  They focused on connecting with "marketing partners" by building alliances with other corporate reformers.  The second Facebook Event they hosted in June of 2012 was a happy hour meet-and-greet with MinnCAN.

In addition to building a core group with mostly TFA teachers and partnering with other corporate reformers, the group needed to build a local financial base and Minnesota has its share of corporate philanthropists.  In September of 2012, The Robins, Kaplan, Miller, and Ciresi Foundation for Children awarded E3MN a grant of $17,500.  The foundation's website explains that the grant was to 
"support the expansion of Empowering Educators for Equity (E3MN) to impact student success through teacher organizing and leadership for systemic legislative and contractual changes."
Michael Ciresi, is a famous local lawyer who ran twice for the DFL nomination for U.S. Senate, but lost.  The Foundation that bears his name, and he leads, has become the major supporter of local corporate education reforms.  E4E received the grant from his foundation because they promote an agenda that helps to dismantle teachers' unions, thereby opening the door to the free market...and closing the door on public schools.

"Liberal" Sleight of Hand
Ciresi is similar to many Democratic (DFL in Minnesota) politicians and party activists, in that he claims to favor a liberal or progressive political agenda, but more often follows a corporate agenda.  E4E leaders, and presumably many of its members follow this same approach, at least in regard to education.  E4E, like the "reformers" who claim the Civil Rights mantle, does not just focus on dismantling teachers' unions, but also claims to promote a "progressive" agenda.  This is "reformer" slight of hand, a distraction from the real work of E4E.

In Beth Hawkins propaganda piece published last Tuesday, she helps E4E's new Executive Director, Madaline Edison, sell the idea that focusing on "hot button" contractual/union issues "misses the point."  Sydney Morris, the national co-founder and co-CEO of E4E, claims the aim of the organization is "to give teachers a greater voice in making policy on many issues."

Following another element of launching a new product E4E and MinnPost "put the focus on the people not the product."  Hawkins introduces us to a number of E4E teachers who want to speak up for their students on issues beyond the classroom.  They mistakenly believe, however, that E4E will empower them to do that.  Members quoted in the article speak about the fight for immigrations issues and need for early childhood education.  Edison, who has never been a member of the teachers' union, suggested that the unions weren't dealing with these issues and that's why they needed to create E3MN (E4E).

With this claim, E4E accepts and perpetuates the neoliberal myth of unions as greedy and self-interested.  Social justice has long been a part of union work.  Teachers' unions have certainly made mistakes and at times have been on the wrong side of social justice issues, but unions have actively worked for social and racial justice through most of there history.

Another E4E member in Hawkins article talks about her strong family union background and how she wanted to "wear red" in solidarity when union teachers in Chicago went on strike.  Despite her union upbringing, she describes the union contact as "that’s where all the power just goes away."  Beth Hawkins supports this twisted statement by describing the Minneapolis teachers' union contract as "notoriously complicated."

The third E4E story in MinnPost last week was written by James Kindle.   He was a part of the first group of TFA corp members in Minnesota in 2009.  To his credit, he has remained in the classroom.  However, he also portrays the teachers' contract as a barrier to his "autonomy" as a teacher and his ability to speak out for social justice.

Kindle lets us know that he is the son and grandson of teachers, and like his mother, he wants to be able to look back on his teaching career and say, "Oh, yeah. I enjoyed every day."  Unfortunately, if Kindle and E4E (and TFA) are successful in their corporate reform efforts, most teachers will not have much of a career on which to reflect.  Without committed teachers organized in strong unions, the profession will be filled with under-trained temporary workers.

This is how the conservatives have taken the upper hand with regard to education policy.  Many self-proclaimed liberals/progressives, who were once the ardent defenders of a strong, democratic system of public schools, have accepted the argument that the "free market" actually serves the public good and does so in an equitable way.  Making matters even worse, these so called liberals have accepted the idea that unions and collective bargaining protections are relics of the past. 

The Corporate Reformers and their Agenda
Focusing on "hot-button" issues such as tenure, seniority rights, and teacher evaluations, "misses the mark" according to Madaline Edison.  E4E wants teachers and the public to see these issues as part of a larger "progressive" agenda.  Edison, Kindle, and the other E4E leaders fail to see, or refuse to admit that this is a front for the neoliberal agenda.  Their work will weaken the unions they claim to value and strip teachers of their voices they claim to be empowering.  They are helping to privatize our public schools.

To become a member of E4E, teachers must sign the organization's "Declaration of Teacher's Principles and Beliefs."  A third of this declaration is dedicated to "Restore[ing] Professionalism to Education."  According to the document this is done through teacher evaluations that include "value-added student achievement data" (value-added measure - VAM), weakening tenure, and eliminating "last-in-first-out" (seniority rights).  The document also contends that we can recruit, retain, and support "the highest quality teachers" by implementing "performance-based pay" (merit pay).

These are the positions of the corporate reformers.  To argue these "reforms" will empower teachers, "give them a voice," and/or "autonomy" is naive at best.  Merit pay is not a new idea as educational historian, Diane Ravitch, has pointed out.  It is professionally insulting, divisive, and it does not work, especially in a profession that thrives on collaboration.  Not only has merit pay not worked, Daniel Pink demonstrates that merit pay, in fact, produces worse results!

Value-added is another failed experiment.  Despite repeated research demonstrating the inability of VAM to measure a teacher's performance, corporate reformers continue to argue it will separate bad teachers from good, and good teachers from great.  What VAM actually does is promote more teaching to tests, and penalizes teachers who are willing to take risks.

Attacks on tenure and seniority are at the heart of the "reformer's" efforts and central to organizations like E4E.  Tenure is depicted as "lifetime job security," something that makes it "impossible" to fire under-performing teachers.  Tenure does not guarantee a job.  It guarantees due process, if you are threatened with disciplinary action, including termination.  It requires that administrators demonstrate "just cause" for disciplinary action or termination, and in Minnesota, state statue identifies five areas that can lead to termination at the end of a contract year (see Subdivision 9).  Minnesota state statute also lays out reasons for immediate termination of a teacher (see Subdivision 13)

Tenure in Minnesota is only achieved after a three-year probationary period.  During this time, the district can terminate a teacher contract without cause.  What tenure grants is relatively small, but important power.  It enables teachers to disagree with administration and express that disagreement with less fear of repercussions.  This is one of the few things that does in fact "give teachers voice," and this is what E4E wants to weaken or eliminate.

Seniority works in concert with tenure to protect teachers from arbitrary loss of employment.  In addition to termination due to reasons listed in statute, a teacher can also find themselves unemployed if the school district needs to layoff teachers due to declining enrollment and/or a decline in funds.  Requiring layoffs be done in reverse seniority order or "last-in-first-out" (LIFO), prevents administrators from discriminating with regard to layoffs.  In other words, they cannot layoff a teacher as a way around the due process guaranteed with tenure.  Again, E4E want to eliminate seniority (some argue for making it "one of a number of factors" in determining layoffs), but any weakening of seniority creates a way around the due process guaranteed with tenure.

Losing tenure and/or seniority protections would silence teachers.  This is the exact opposite of what E4E claims as its main goal.  All of these attacks on teachers and our unions are empowered by a misguided faith in meritocracy.  Young teachers are told they are being hurt by more senior teachers being "protected" even when they are "less competent."  They are led to believe that administrators, with standardized test scores, can objectively distinguish between teachers who are competent and teachers who excel.

Those who are truly concerned with ensuring that teachers have a voice and are able to speak up for their students, should stand with the teachers' unions.  Work to get rid of testing and "accountability" regimes that are really about dismantling public education, and defend tenure and seniority.  Then we can work together on behalf of all students, for racial and social justice.

Teachers and the public need to understand the real agenda of Educators 4 Excellence (E4E) and expose this group for what they really are - the sheep's clothing for the corporate education reform wolves.

Posted by: Rob Panning-Miller

Additional information on the origins of E4E's national organization can be found here:

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Strong and Sustainable Teacher Preparation

I originally posted the following comment on MN2020's Tuesday Talk.  The topic was TFA

"It seems to me there are two main reasons to join TFA. One is as a resume builder. There are some variations to this line of thinking such as using it as a backup to finding permanent employment, but there are clearly a large number of TFA corp members who don’t want to be career teachers, and they should not be playing teacher. Teaching takes commitment.

On the other hand, it is clear there are people who are choosing TFA because they do want teaching as a career. While I welcome them, it does a disservice to our students for them to take a shortcut to the classroom. This is why the U of MN should not be partnering with TFA.

If you were a college senior or junior and you wanted to go into teaching which route would you take—Option 1: A two year program that will take two years and cost you thousands of dollar, or Option 2: a five (maybe eight?) week summer training that has you teaching and getting paid for those same two years?

After paying for four years of college already, I know I would find option 2 very appealing. The problem, of course, is option two is good for the adult, not for the students they will serve. Dean Jean Quam of the U of M’s CEHD told me the University’s two year program is far superior to any TFA model. Which begs the question: why create a shortcut?

In the spirit of solutions, we should be talking about how we can make it affordable and even financially rewarding for college students to take the best route to the profession of teaching and not a short cut that short changes our students."

TFA is by design a shortcut to the classroom and it is a union-busting temp agency.  Those of us who are serious about education need to get TFA out of the picture and look at sustainable ways to prepare future teachers and, especially in the Twin Cities, diversify our teacher ranks.

Posted by: Rob Panning-Miller

Friday, August 2, 2013

Exposing the Agenda of TFA in Minnesota and the Larger Corporate Education Reform Movement

The U of MN is considering a partnership with TEACH FOR AMERICA---and a coalition of graduate students, K-12 teachers and education professors OPPOSE this idea. Hear from Rob Panning-Miller, history teacher at South High/former head of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers, co-founder of PEJAM (Progressive Education Justice Alliance of Minnesota) and U of MN graduate student in the College of Education and Human Development, Rachel Smith.  

Rachel and I were interviewed this morning on KFAI's Catalyst program with host Lydia Howell.  You can listen to the archived version of the show at KFAI.  Click on the Catalyst logo to go right to the page.


Posted by: Rob Panning-Miller