Sunday, December 18, 2011

National Opt Out Day - January 7th

High stakes testing is hurting our students and our system of public education. Ending this damaging practice will take parents, students, teachers, and the community working together. Join in this growing national effort by making a statement on January 7th.
Here is a message from the United Opt Out National:
"United Opt Out National has declared January 7th as National Opt Out Day. On this day we are encouraging Occupy movements everywhere to endorse this action. We are asking parents, students and community members to write letters/postcards to their school districts stating how they will OPT OUT. We have created a postcard that allows for multiple ways to opt out and it can be purchased in bulk to share. Of course, the slam dunk is opting out of the state test as this will shut down corporate education reform. If everyone opts out in mass they will have NO test data to punish students, teachers and communities.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

"Occupy our Public Schools"

“Occupy Our Public Schools”

Below is the original written version of a speech I gave at the Occupy Minnesota Rally on October 28, 2011.

I’ve been a teacher in Minneapolis public schools for 20 years, and have been active in the union the entire time, including two years as president of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers. I have watched corporations continually push their way into the public schools the entire time. It is clear, corporations hate to see our government money go to the public good, instead of their own pockets. Unfortunately, corporations and the “1%” have managed to buy out not just the Republicans, but the Democrats as well.
Wall Street is destroying our system of public education as much as every other aspect of our democracy. Educators, parents, and students need to not only "occupy Wall Street," we need to "occupy our public schools." Testing companies, textbook corporations, charter school operators, corporate "philanthropists," and other profit seekers need to be removed from our public space so schools can be truly democratic institutions working for social justice. And, we cannot "hope" for change from the Obama Democrats any more than we can from the Republicans. Both parties are dominated by corporate money.

1 in 5 children live in poverty in the United States. In some areas it’s close to 1 out of every 2 children. Corporations and the politicians they have bought and paid for have created this economic and social reality, and yet it’s the public school teachers who are made the scapegoats for the failed economic system. When teachers point out the additional challenges facing students in poverty and the need for more resources, we are told we are simply making excuses. The so-called “education reformers” argue that teachers need to stop making excuses. This “no excuse” mentality is itself an excuse for corporations and politicians to do nothing about the real problems they have created!

Corporate education “reformers” like to talk about accountability for teachers and public schools, but there is no accountability for them.

Big banks triggered massive home foreclosures and a recession with their sub-prime mortgage scams and faulty mortgage-backed securities. The banks then got bailed out with our tax dollars. At the same time, tax revenue in Minnesota and other states has tanked because of the recession caused by the banks. In response, the Minnesota legislature took money from public education with gimmicks including funding shifts to pretend to balance the budget. Schools districts were forced to borrow money from the same big banks that created this disaster and pay them back with interest!
Education is a right and the public schools belong to all of us. We must occupy our public schools as well as Wall Street.
The banks got bailed out, and our schools got sold out!
Rob Panning-Miller,
Minneapolis Public School Teacher
PEJAM Co-founder
Executive Board Member of MFT, Local 59

Friday, July 15, 2011

How are Contracts Awarded by Minneapolis Public Schools? Good Question.

Accountability, a buzzword of corporate education "reformers" is a concept that seems to be missing at the District level in Minneapolis. Sheila Regan of TC Daily Planet published a two part series on the process for awarding contracts by Minneapolis Public Schools. Transparency and accountability are apparently not part of the process. In fact, as Ms. Regan points out, recent changes to the process may in fact reduce transparency and accountability. Here are the links to her stories:

Part 1:

Part 2:

Now we need an examination of what the numerous outside "consultants" hired by Minneapolis Public Schools actually do for the students of Minneapolis. Spoiler alert: very little!

More Psuedo-Administrators, Fewer Classroom Teachers

The Administration of Minneapolis Public Schools recently passed a budget for next school year. They said they had to close a $20 million hole in the budget. Among other things, this means class sizes will remain well above the original Referendum targets. In spite of this, the District will hire another 24 teacher "coaches" that will NOT work with students.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Today Detroit – Tomorrow, Every City in America

by Rania Khalek

If Milton Friedman, father of the free market, were alive today, I imagine he would be jumping with joy at the prospect of the abandonment of public education for private, for-profit charter schools.
Back in 2005, following the devastation of hurricane Katrina, Friedman wrote an article in the Wall Street Journal where he said “This is a tragedy.  It is also an opportunity to radically reform the educational system.”  Soon after, Friedmonites rushed into New Orleans for the chance to implement what Friedman had long envisioned. With the help of the Bush administration, they dissolved the public school system and in its place built a network of publicly funded charters run, not by educators, but by private entities that made their own rules.
At the time, New Orleans residents alerted the rest of the country, that what was happening to their city was only the beginning and it wouldn’t be long before it spread to our neighborhoods.  In 2006, Bill Quigley, a local lawyer and activist warned:
We know that what is happening in New Orleans is just a more concentrated, more graphic version of what is going on all over our country. Every city in our country has some serious similarities to New Orleans. Every city has some abandoned neighborhoods. Every city in our country has abandoned some public education, public housing, public healthcare, and criminal justice. Those who do not support public education, healthcare, and housing will continue to turn all of our country into the Lower Ninth Ward unless we stop them. Why do we allow this?
If only we had listened.  Soon after New Orleans came the drastic transformation of the Chicago school system by Obama’s Labor Secretary Arne Duncan, New York City schools by Mayor Bloomberg, and Washington DC schools by Michelle Rhee. Which brings us to Detroit.
Following the passage of Michigan Republican Gov. Rick Snyder’s “Financial Martial Law,” Emergency Financial Manager (EFM) of Detroit Public Schools (DPS) Robert Bobb is closing 8 schools and selling 45 to charter companies.  DPS is currently preparing a charter school board through training sessions provided by the National Charter Schools Institute, which had more than 70 charter operators and entrepreneurs in attendance just this month.  In addition, DPS has hired the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) to review applications.  NACSA’s president, Greg Richmond, worked with charter schools set up in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, and claims “The system opened up to the people of New Orleans in a way it hadn’t before…Now there are dozens of opportunities to get involved.”
In sharp contrast to the lingering unemployment that plagues Detroit, the auctioning off of Detroit’s schools is taking place with breathtaking speed.  Gov. Snyder is on a mission to reinvent public education.  He is calling for more measurements of student and teacher performance, while at the same time proposing deregulation and more teacher autonomy.  He says “We have to put much more emphasis on proficiency, on growth, on measurements and results than we have had in the past” and “Michigan’s public schools need to more rigorously measure students’ academic growth, but with fewer state rules to make that happen.”
Detroit residents have already started protesting.  Just last week, eight students, along with their children and some faculty members of the Catherine Ferguson Academy of Detroit, began a sit-in at the end of the school day in protest of EFM Robert Bobb’s announcement to close the school.  About a dozen or so were arrested by Detroit police for refusing to leave.  The school is specifically designed for pregnant and teen parents and their children, and has a 90% graduation rate and 100% college and higher education acceptance upon graduation.
Gov. Snyder recently said his focus is a holistic approach to education from pre-natal to life-long learning.  He says early childhood education is important and should involve “a public and private partnership.”  If shutting down an award-winning school and arresting, rather than listening to the students he claims to care so much about, is his idea of a holistic approach, then Detroit is in for a treat.
Shanta Driver, National Chairperson of By Any Means Necessary (BAMN), in an interview with Voice of Detroit at the sit-in, said it best:
The massive school closures that have been carried out in DPS since 2004 have led to the depopulation of Detroit and to the deepening financial crisis of the district. Public schools are being closed to make way for charters and are part of the national attack on public education. Today Detroit – tomorrow, every city in America. The parents and students of Catherine Ferguson are fighting to maintain the right of every student in our nation to a free, quality public education. Every supporter of public education should do everything possible to support their fight and make sure they succeed
Driver is warning us, as did the people of New Orleans in 2006.  This corporately funded education reform movement that praises standardised tests, non-union teachers, and private management as the solution to the budget woes of Detroit’s education system is a threat to us all.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Saturday APRIL 9TH - PEJAM presents, Chicago Teachers' Union President, Karen Lewis.

Public Education Justice Alliance of Minnesota (PEJAM) announces spring forum:
“Stand Up for Public Education: Testimonials from the Struggle to Save Our Schools.”
Saturday, April 9th
Minneapolis Labor Center
312 Central Ave NE, Minneapolis

The “Stand Up for Public Education” Forum will take place on Saturday, April 9 from 2-4 PM at the Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation Building, 312 Central Ave in Northeast Minneapolis. This event is part of PEJAM’s efforts to defend public education and the... unions that empower our teachers and families. Speakers will discuss the current efforts to counter the national and local attacks on our schools, our teachers, and our communities.

The keynote speaker is Karen Lewis, President of the Chicago Teachers Union and a member of CORE- Caucus of Rank & File Educators. In her election acceptance speech in June, Ms Lewis declared, “Today marks the beginning of the end of scapegoating educators for all the social ills that our children, families and schools struggle against every day. Today marks the beginning of a fight for true transparency in our educational policy — how to accurately measure learning and teaching, how to truly improve our schools, and how to evaluate the wisdom behind our spending priorities.”

Additional speakers will address local school concerns such as the struggles to keep North High School alive, the closing of Cityview, school changes in St Paul and reports from Wisconsin teachers, whose collective bargaining rights are under attack by their governor.

PEJAM is a grassroots community organization of teachers, parents, students, and community members dedicated to defending and supporting a fully funded, just, equitable, and democratic system of public education.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Hundreds of Idaho Students Walkout to Protest Education Cuts!

by KTVB & Associated Press
Posted on February 28, 2011 at 8:53 AM
Updated Tuesday, Mar 1 at 11:44 AM

BOISE -- Hundreds of students across the state organized a walk-out in protest of Superintendent Tom Luna's plan to overhaul education.
Word about the protest spread quickly among students thanks to social networking and text messages.
There were protests in Nampa, Meridian, Caldwell, American Falls and Pocatello.
In Boise, nearly 250 students skipped school and came to the capitol to protest the reform bills before the legislature.

Click here to read more

Friday, February 18, 2011

Wisconsin Solidarity Actions!

Unions enable teachers to stand up for what is best for students. The attack on teachers' unions must be resisted. We need to stand with the people of Wisconsin and defend our right to collectively bargain. The Minnesota AFL-CIO has posted information on a number of opportunities for those of us in Minnesota to stand with Wisconsin teachers and laborers.

Friday, January 21, 2011

PEJAM General Meeting 6:30pm Monday @ Stewart Park Rec Center

All PEJAM supporters, especially folks looking to get more involved in our work are welcome to our next general meeting this Monday, Jan 24th. It will be at 6:30pm in the Meeting Room at Stewart Park Rec Center (2700 12th Ave. S, Minneapolis, MN 55407 - map here).

We will be discussing numerous ideas and projects to take things forward in the Twin Cities, building on the great work we've already done along with many supporters in the last few months fighting school closures and privatization in North Minneapolis.

Check us out on Facebook.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Defense Contractor Desires to Make Math and Science "Cool" and "Fun"

One of the contributors to the Chamber of Commerce' educational reform effort, Profiles in Innovation: Institute for a Competitive Workforce, is Northrup-Grummen, the defense contractor that produces the B-2 stealth bomber and F/A 18 fighter. Arne Duncan is coming to discuss programs like Profiles in Innovation with the Chamber on Friday, Jan 21.
In a video on the Chamber's website, a representative from Northrup-Grummen states "Right now we have educational programs that impact the entire k-12 pipeline". He continues to say that, by making math and science "cool" and "fun", the initiative is designed to help pave the way for university students who could eventually help them develop "products".
We should resist the notion that math and science
education are designed to support the military-industrial complex, or
that an appropriate application of these subjects is the business of
making war.

SEE POST BELOW for info on PEJAM rally to protest corporate and militaristic education policies that Arne Duncan will be promoting in his Luncheon with MN Chamber of Commerce

FRIDAY: PROTEST Arne Duncan and Pro-Corporate Education Policies

Rally to Demand Duncan/Dayton Listen to Teachers and Parents, not the Chamber of Commerce!

10:30 a.m. Meet at Caribou Coffee next to Brit's Pub 
(1116 Nicollet Ave. Minneapolis)
10:50 a.m. Walk one block over to Hilton
11 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Rally in front of Hilton
Friday, January 21, 2010, Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, will be in Minnesota to speak at a luncheon of the MN Chamber of Commerce and meet with Governor Dayton. We are asking PEJAM members and supporters to come and let Secretary Duncan and Governor Dayton know that the so-called education reforms like Race to the Top are destroying our public schools. Let them know they need to listen to teachers and parents, and not corporations.

The rash of school closures, conversions of public schools to privately managed charter schools, and the destructive culture of “shame and blame” that have seriously damaged our public educational system are the result of No Child Left Behind and Obama/Duncan’s Race to the Top. Now Governor Dayton is asking Secretary Duncan to let Minnesota reapply for the Race to the Top program.

Let Governor Dayton and Secretary Duncan know that we oppose these destructive policies that privatize our public schools and have the greatest negative impact in minority and poor communities. Recent effort to close North High School, the closure of Cityview, and the opening of a charter school in the Cityview building, are all examples of the damage done by Secretary Duncan’s pro-corporation agenda.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

ACTION ALERT! Arne Duncan coming to Minneapolis on Jan 21st

Friday, January 21, 2010, Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, will be in Minnesota to speak at a luncheon of the MN Chamber of Commerce and meet with Governor Dayton.  We are asking PEJAM members and supporters to keep this date available for a possible rally in response to Secretary Duncan’s message and policies.

Meeting to plan the protest will be Saturday, 9am, Common Roots Cafe (Lyndale Ave & 26th St.)

The rash of school closures, conversions of public schools to privately managed charter schools, and the destructive culture of “shame and blame” that have seriously damaged our public educational system are the result of No Child Left Behind and Obama/Duncan’s Race to the Top.  Now Governor Dayton is asking Secretary Duncan to let Minnesota reapply for the Race to the Top program.

Let Governor Dayton and Secretary Duncan know that we oppose these destructive policies that privatize our public schools and have the greatest negative impact in minority and poor communities.  Recent effort to close North High School, the closure of Cityview, and the opening of a charter school in the Cityview building, are all examples of the damage done by Secretary Duncan’s pro-corporation agenda.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Mr. President, We Want Your Children's Education, Too

by: Rachel Levy, t r u t h o u t | Op-Ed

I agree that it was the economy that doomed the donkeys' midterm election results this past November, but something rang true for me in the descriptions of last week's voters as resentful of Obama's tin ear for the common person. I used to think that claims of Obama's elitism were baloney. As Jon Stewart quipped about "arugula-gate": "He's an elitist! He eats … slightly more bitter green leafy vegetables than I do."
But now, given the comments Obama made on NBC's Today Show while talking about why he and the first lady don't send their children to DC public schools, I'm not so sure. Obama's alleged elitism may not deter his ability to govern, but it does undermine his legitimacy in the face of growing populist sentiment (and not just of the Tea Party), and it further erodes my confidence in his education policies.
I went to DC public schools from the age of four until I walked across the graduation stage at the end of 12th grade. I went on to teach in public schools and I am currently a public school parent. I value my DCPS education, but my experiences there were far from perfect. There were times I pined to go to the Georgetown Day School, or the Field School or even to the public Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School over in the Maryland burbs. From what I know, Sidwell Friends (the private school where Obama sends his daughters) offers amazing academics and extracurricular activities. But I wouldn't trade most of the teachers and coaches I had, nor my friends or even the peers who called me names because of what the color of my skin represented to them. It's all a vital part of my identity, of how I view the world, of how I relate to others. My DCPS past, warts and all, has made me a different person than I would have been had I gone to a place like Sidwell, different in a way that seems lesser to my current eye.
Back in September, when asked on the Today Show if, "Malia and Sasha would get the same kind of education at a DC public school compared to the elite private academy that they're attending now," President Obama responded:
I'll be blunt with you. The answer is no right now. The DC public school systems are struggling. They have made some important strides over the last several years to move in the direction of reform. There are some terrific individual schools in the DC system. And that's true, by the way, in every city across the country. There are some great public schools that are on par with any private school in the country. … I'll be very honest with you. Given my position, if I wanted to find a great public school for Malia and Sasha to be in, we could probably maneuver to do it. But for a mom and a dad who are working hard but who don't have a bunch of connections, don't have a lot of choice in terms of where they live, they should be getting the same quality education for their kids as anybody else, and we don't have that yet.
That sounds like perfectly respectable honesty, except it isn't, not really.
Obama could have cited security concerns as the Clinton's did when they chose Sidwell over my school, Alice Deal Junior High School, for their daughter (although I'm tempted to think that the Secret Service has got bigger problems if they can't secure a junior high school). Obama would have been more honest if he had said, "We understand that a small private school, with a large budget and very restrictive enrollment, is able to do something different than an urban public school could ever do." Or, most candidly, "We want our children to be surrounded by highly motivated, well-behaved, upper-middle class students. Sidwell can offer us that." Instead, the president subtly plugged his own administration's plans for education reform while using the coded language of the urban neoliberal elite.
We believe in public education, and the public schools, but they're not ready for our children, not yet. I hear: "We have passed judgment on the schools, but we use these words to show how the decision was tough, and temporary." Yet, I don't see too many younger siblings of private school students going to public schools. "I want to send my children to public schools, but no one here sends their children to them." No one? Are the buildings empty? I am tempted to ask. But I don't, because I know what they mean: that no one who looks and dresses like us (wink, wink) goes to them. Not enough well-educated, upper-middle class people send their children to them. They value public education in the abstract, but not the schools that are the real choice. To some of those who do send their kids to DCPS or who worked in the system during Michelle Rhee's "Great Leap Forward," Obama's words may sound like coded language for DC public schools got much better once Chancellor Rhee came in and got rid of all that deadweight. Deadweight meaning experienced teachers and administrators, many of them DC natives.
The next rationalization is, "Well, we could have gotten our daughters into one of the 'better schools,' but then we would have been supporting the inequities that exist in the system." Apparently, Francis Stevens, the Obama's neighborhood school, is not among DCPS's "better schools." It's true, for example, that DC's mayor, Adrian Fenty, got his children into Lafayette Elementary in upper Northwest out of boundary, but most people, even those with a "bunch of connections," do what everyone else does when they want to send their child to a school out of bounds: they participate in the lottery. What's more, how is the discomfort in using one's connections to get into a better DCPS school eased by sending one's kids to Sidwell Friends? Is the system that Sidwell exists in somehow less unfair or less a use of one's connections? Is Sidwell part of a more equitable system?
What is this progress in DCPS that Obama refers to? Mass firings, fiscal incompetence, recruitment of unqualified and inexperienced teachers, high teacher turnover, lack of curriculum and pedagogic programs, questionable evaluation tools, disregard for democratic principles, overemphasis on standardized tests, the expansion of charter schools and merit pay for teachers are all part of Rhee's legacy. This set of bankrupt and ideological educational policies was rejected by the majority of voters in DC, but if President Obama and his secretary of education Arne Duncan (who resides in neighboring Arlington, Virginia) have remained such "big fans" of Chancellor Rhee and her reforms, as they have said they have, why wouldn't they have enough confidence in them to send their own children to her schools? Wouldn't it be informative if Obama and Duncan sent their own children to one of the very urban school systems they are so endeavoring to reform, or if they at least sought the same experiences for their children that they are imposing on the rest of the country?
Do they educate according to such policies at the University of Chicago Lab School, where the Obama's once sent their children while Duncan was running Chicago's public schools? Is Obama bringing the great educational principles, which he rightly valued for their role at the Lab School, into his reform of the public school system? In graduate school, I studied the remarkable work of John Dewey and its influences on pedagogy at the University of Chicago Lab Schools, and I would say no, Obama's administration is doing no such thing. How about at Sidwell Friends? I've taught at a Quaker school, and I know people who went to Sidwell, and I'm going to have to say no. Fortunately for their teachers and students, they are not implementing more standardized testing, instituting performance-based pay for teachers or eliminating teachers' unions.
Mr. President, if the public schools aren't good enough for your daughters, fine, just say so. But don't denigrate, with your coded language, the experience of those who choose urban public schools for their children, who want the democratic experience of attending a public school with all sorts of young people, some quite able, some suffering from the ravages of poverty. If the new school reformers' policies, which you and your administration support, are the right ones, why don't you send your own children to the very schools where such policies are being implemented? If that is not possible, why send them to a school that is in many ways the mirror opposite of your revolutionary reforms? Is it possible that the very things that make Sidwell so enticing to you (from their website: "We offer these students a rich and rigorous interdisciplinary curriculum designed to stimulate creative inquiry, intellectual achievement and independent thinking in a world increasingly without borders") do not apply to children in public schools, and, specifically, inner-city schoolchildren?
Your educational reforms leave interdisciplinary curriculum, creative inquiry and independent thinking by the wayside in the pursuit of higher math and reading scores. Elite kids get to read, find learning fun and relax in moments of quiet reflection, but public school systems, apparently in a crisis, have to drop recess, the arts, science and social studies, not to mention many of their neighborhood schools, in the quixotic quest for higher test scores and school "choice." Are such policies fine for the education of other children, but not your own?
Mr. President, if we should all have your healthcare, as you have said we should, then shouldn't we all have your children's quality education, too? No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, Arne Duncan and Bill Gates are not going to get us there, and your choice in where you send your children to school demonstrates that. No Child Left Behind was a nobly intended response to the very real "soft bigotry of low expectations." The problem is that NCLB, and now Race to the Top, won't vanquish that bigotry; rather, they codify it.
Furthermore, your policies expand the target of the bigotry, from the soft bigotry of low expectations on the students, to a hard bigotry of crude expectations on the teachers. Your policies won't bring DCPS any closer to Sidwell, because your policies, your words and your actions suggest that you think that a broad, interesting curriculum along with time for creative reflection are luxuries for the wealthy, whereas the poor need basic reading and math skills and drills.
Do you think that children in public schoools aren't ready for these luxuries? Or are their brains somehow different? Less curious? Less creative? I don't think you believe this. But it seems to me you should at least say that they deserve exactly what your own children have. When you fail that basic test, it makes me think you're just the elitist that your populist critics say you are.

Thursday, January 6, 2011


There have been a number of interesting RSA animates this past year. One that I shared earlier is very informative on what public education should be all about. It's by Sir Kenneth Robinson at:

Another great RSA animate by Daniel Pink is titled, "Drive - The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us."

Its main points:
I) "The best use of money (as a motivator) is to pay people enough to take money off the table. Pay people enough so they are not thinking about money, they are thinking about the work."

II) Three factors lead to better performance and personal satisfaction: Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose.

Imagine if these were values that the Minneapolis School District worked to instill in the Teachers' Contract! Sadly most on the Board and the District Administration have been working in just the opposite direction.

For years they have pursued worthless merit pay gimmicks through ATPPS and Q-comp. The union has also been guilty of this.

With respect to Autonomy, the District is doing everything possible to strip teachers of this. We are micromanaged more and more every year. We cannot decide what is best for our students because some outside consultants the District has hired apparently know our students better.

While the District certainly wants us to improve and work toward mastery, they have tried to accomplish this in counter-productive ways. Time is what is needed to achieve mastery, and we keep losing more and more of it.

Purpose is the hardest thing for anyone to take from our profession. It is arguably the reason we continue to teach in spite of all of the attacks we face. No matter how many people accuse us of being selfish, we know we are in this for the students. Yet, sadly, "education reformers" have found ways to strip even this from us.

The push for standardized testing and "accountability" pressure us to focus on political feel-good measures rather than true learning. We see first hand the harm this is doing to our students, and how it takes away from our true purpose.

I only hope the new board will take to heart the messages in these two lectures and work with teachers to create public schools that promote creative, divergent, and critical thinkers, and where the staff truly feels valued.