Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Charter School Factories

I am continually amazed by the education “reformers” who are apparently unfazed by their own continual contradictions. 

They argue that seniority bidding rights leave struggling students with the least experienced teachers and yet they want to fill those same schools with inexperienced and under-trained Teach for America (TFA) teachers.

They claim to be the leaders of the "new" civil rights movement, fighting for social justice.  They then create schools on the backs of teachers and staff who are required to work 10 hour days at school, and then be "on-call" until 9 or 10 p.m. each night to answer any and every question a student or parent may have.  Many schools also have classes on Saturdays, resulting in teachers working 60 to 70 hour weeks.  Many charters also have extended school years.  What does this teach students about social justice? 

They criticize public schools as relics of the industrial age and then praise charter schools that operate as assembly lines.  I'm not sure the irony is recognized by anyone in this video about Rocketship Education charters.  I believe the comparison to the Model T is intended to show the "innovation" of the charter model, and yet it simply shows the assembly line approach is what most charters are all about.

Charters claim to make their students "college and career-ready," or as Rocketship Education claims, "Rocketeers are well positioned along a path toward expanded opportunities in Middle school, high school, college and life."  Yet, when you look at the scene with students spending an hour and a half of their day in the "learning lab," you can't help but see this as their future.

Posted by Rob Panning-Miller

Thursday, December 20, 2012

This is How Democracy Ends -- An Apology

The following blog was originally posted on December 18, 2012 by Kris L. Nielsen on his blog Middle Grades Mastery.

Almost a year ago, I offered my time to the middle school at which I was employed to give a two-night presentation that promised to ease parents’ concerns about the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and the Connected Mathematics Program (CMP).  I was given kudos by my boss, my coworkers, and many of those parents.  We talked about the future, the upcoming tests by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC), and we even did some hands-on math demonstrations.  It was a good time for me, and I hope those parents can say the same.  My message was simple: trust us–we got this!

Some of them were still skeptical, and they should be praised for that skepticism.
First, I want to offer you my apologies.  It wasn’t long after my presentation that I had a crushing realization that the entire thing (minus the hands-on stuff) was completely misguided.  I felt like a flip-flopper, but I’ve always valued the truth more than feeling good.  So, I’m here to clear the air.  The truth hurts and it should start scaring the hell out of you, because your children are your most precious gift and you will do anything to protect them.

The whole reason I was part of the team that put those presentations together was to ease your worry about the changes that were coming.  I’m here to retract everything I said.  You should be worried.  Very worried!

I was wrong.  The Common Core State Standards is a sham, the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium is an instrument of devastation, and it’s all run by the process you see in the following Venn diagram (don’t you love Venn diagrams?):
Before I start sounding too nutty, let me get down to the reality.  You’ll see that I’m not exaggerating.
America has long been known–despite our problems–as the country of freedom, innovation, and wealth.  There are several reasons for this, not the least of which is our democratic and free public education system.  Prior to NCLB in 2002 and Race to the Top eight years later, standardization was limited to SAT and ACT tests, NAEP and PISA tests, and graduation exams for Advanced Placement courses.  We valued music, art, drama, languages and the humanities just as much as valued science, math, and English (for the most part).  We believed in the well-rounded education.

Now, the Common Core State Standards has one goal: to create common people.  The accompanying standardized tests have one purpose: to create standardized people.  Why?  Because the movers and the shakers have a vested interest in it.  It’s about money and it’s about making sure all that money stays in one place.

It’s been happening for a few years already.  StudentsFirst, ALEC, the Walton and Broad and Gates Foundations, and other lobbying groups have created a false crisis in American education.  They want you to believe that America is in sad educational shape so that they can play the hero.  However, what they’ve begun is a snowball effect of legislation that devastates public education, teachers, and an already underfunded school system so that they can replace the public system, the unions, and the government employees with private systems that promise to pay less, bust unions, and remove benefits and pensions.

Teach For America is a prime example of a way to steal government funding, place it in the hands of private corporations, and remove that pesky career (tenure) teacher problem.  It’s worked like a dream–the average TFA teacher stays in the classroom for about 2-3 years.  Only a few remain for 5 or more years.  So, the new American teacher is a mass-produced, temporary worker in an ongoing assembly line.  Cheaper?  Usually.  And they don’t complain about pay, pensions, or benefits, since this is just a step in their career ladders.

Which means that students don’t have highly-qualified and seasoned teachers leading their learning anymore.  Even worse that that, TFA teachers are prepared and trained with test data as the be-all-to-end-all of priorities.  These teachers only know effectiveness by the scores their students receive on standardized tests.

Cooperation? Collaboration? Creativity? Communication? Critical thinking?  Life skills?  Only if there’s time (which there isn’t) and don’t expect it to be integrated or cohesive.  That’s not what the training is for.  Our students are now part of a larger plan–to prepare them for the “college and career readiness” laid out by the “job creators” on Wall Street–the ones that want your kids to understand that a job is what they’re trained for and that they are lucky to have, so stop whining about your pensions and benefits.  And forget about belonging to one of those pesky unions–we will have outlawed them completely by then.

But more importantly, all of the skills linked above lead our students to be profound, critical, and meaningful participants in a modern democracy.  Some would argue that our days as a free country for the people and by the people are limited, and running out fast.  If we continue to support the path that our nation’s educational system is on, we will speed up the end of our democracy.  When students are forced to learn for the sake of a score and are denied the opportunity to think and reason and question and appreciate the world in which they live, they are all the more easy to control and deny basic rights.

It’s already happening.  I despise watching people discuss and debate issues in this country these days.  No one knows how to do it.

America did not become what it is today because of common people.  We celebrate our diversity, exceptionality, and bravery at the same time that we are attempting to bury those traits.  The world is following our educational models of the past few decades at the same time that we are turning our backs on those successful models.  We are digging a grave for our democratic process at a time when we should be paying extra special attention to keeping it healthy.

Our next generation of learners can save us and keep us strong through their diversity, ingenuity, creativity, friendliness, cooperation, and forward thinking.  And their dreams.  The Common Core State Standards, standardized tests, and privatized teacher corps are stifling those dreams.  Our democracy will ultimately be the victim.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Corporate Education "Reforms" in Minneapolis

The last PEJAM Forum on October 27th started with Glen Ford of the Black Agenda Report giving an analysis of the corporate attack on our public schools, and was followed by Michael Brunson, the Recording Secretary of the Chicago Teachers Union.  Michael described the organizing efforts and strike of the Chicago teachers and their push-back against the corporate (neo-liberal) "reforms."

Before the Q and A discussion, I provided a brief description of how the corporate reform agenda is being experience here in Minneapolis.  Here are my comments.

Lessons from Chicago: How Rank and File Teachers Defend Public Schools

Michael Brunson, the Recording Secretary of the Chicago Teachers Union, was also a speaker at the last PEJAM Forum that included Glen Ford.  In this part of the Forum, Michael spells out what the current struggle for public education is about and what is at stake.  He also explains how teachers in Chicago organized and pushed back.  This is a model for teachers across the country.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Following the Money

Last Saturday, PEJAM hosted a Forum with Glen Ford of the Black Agenda Report and Michael Brunson, the Recording Secretary of the Chicago Teachers Union.  The forum addressed the corporate assault on public education, and how the Chicago Teachers Union was able to fight back with an on-going community organizing effort and a strike.  One of the themes that came out of the forum was the growing effort of the corporate reformers to take direct control of leadership positions in local school districts.

Here in Minneapolis, our local TFA school board candidate, Josh Reimnitz, has raised a record-breaking $37,195! He is running to represent just District 4, and his revenue is substantially more than any city-wide candidate has raised. How does a 26 year old raise this much? He has contributions from almost every local corporate education reformer including people from Teach for America, McKinsey and Company, and Charter School Partners. Take a look at the full list. This is not what democracy should look like.

  1. Go to
  2. Choose "candidate" and click "search"
  3. Click on "r" and then select "Reimnitz, Josh"
  4. Click "view details"
  5. Finally click "Pre-General Report 2012" 

Posted by: Rob Panning-Miller

Monday, October 22, 2012

PEJAM Education Forum with Glen Ford - Oct. 27, 2012

Glen Ford, the Executive Editor of The Black Agenda Report (, will speak this coming Saturday at the University of Minnesota in the Carlson Building on the West Bank Campus.  Ford will discuss the on-going attack on public education, carried out by politicians of both parties, championed by front groups with misleading names like “Students First,” and funded by billionaire philanthropists, hedge-fund managers, and corporate foundations. 

Ford has carefully detailed the history of the corporate reformers as they have carried out their neo-liberal agenda aimed at privatizing our system of public education.  This effort to put corporations in control of the almost $600 billion spent on public education in the United States has led the so-called reformers to justify their cause by cloaking it in the language of the Civil Rights Movement.  The privatization reforms are being carried out with the argument that “education is the Civil Rights issue of our time.”  By extension, the billionaires, hedge-fund managers, bankers, and CEOs are claiming the title of Civil Rights leaders!

This is not just a Republican led effort, as Glen Ford has pointed out,  “on education, Obama’s first term is Bush’s Third.”  Ford explains, “Obama has advanced the corporatization of the public schools beyond Bush’s wildest dreams, methodically constructing a national, parallel system of charter schools that, in practice, undermine and subvert the traditional public schools. In some places, they have replaced, or soon will replace, the public schools. The hedge funds and billionaires are ecstatic!”

Come to the PEJAM forum this Saturday to hear more from Glen Ford.  This forum will include a member of the Chicago Teachers’ Union to explain how the education reforms have played out in Chicago, and we will wrap up with a Q and A for both guests.

WHAT:  PEJAM Eduation Forum Featuring Glen Ford
WHEN:  Saturday, Oct. 27, 2012,  from 1 pm to 3 pm.
WHERE: Carlson Building on the West Bank Campus of the U of MN.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Lessons from Finland and Chicago: Fighting Back Against the Corporate Education Reformers.

Today I went to hear a talk by Diane Ravitch at the Education Minnesota Professional Conference, and then heard Pasi Sahlberg at the Minnesota History Center.  The two of them made a clear case against the education "reforms" that dominate the discussions on public education, and for reforms that actually lead to educational equity.  I will present the arguments of each in the next couple of posts, but I'd like to share a couple of key details now.

Two important points from Diane Ravitch: Value Added Assessments (VAM) should never be used to evaluate teachers, and "reformers" simply ignore the actual data/research that overwhelmingly shows there ideas do not improve education.

From Pasi Sahlberg, I noted a couple of key quotes:
"Many Finnish teachers believe the enemy of creativity is standardization."
"Too many people are trying to do the wrong thing righter."

The second quote from Pasi, rang particularly true in Minneapolis in a very ironic way.  The main sponsor for Pasi's talk was The Minnesota Guild of Public Charter Schools, an organization created by my own union (the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers, local 59), with a grant from the Innovation Fund of the AFT (the Innovation Fund was created in part with a grant from the Gates Foundation).  The Guild is trying to start "teacher-led" charter schools to out-complete other charter schools.  This effort feeds the competitive, free-market approach to education that, as Pasi pointed out, Finland has rejected.

We will not create a truly equitable, democratic, and socially-just system of public education by playing the games of the neo-liberal, corporate reformers, or trying to "out-compete" them, as too many of our own teacher union leaders are doing.  We need to listen to the information presented by Pasi Salhberg, Diane Ravitch, and we need to follow the model laid out out by the Chicago Teachers' Union.

Tomorrow, I will hear from, and talk to, Karen Lewis, the President of the Chicago Teachers' Union.  She is one of the few union leaders who have taken a courageous stance against the corporate reformers.  Also, next Saturday, October 27th, Glen Ford of the Black Agenda Report will be in Minneapolis to give a full history and analysis of the damage done in the past few decades by the education 'reformers."

Posted by: Rob Panning-Miller

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Which Side Are You On, Mr. President? And our Union Presidents?

In February of 2010, ninety-three teachers and school personnel were fired at Rhode Island’s Central Falls High School, after they refused to agree to work longer hours without fair compensation.  The teachers were also blamed for low student test scores.  President Obama sided with the school board and expressed support for their decision within a week.  Secretary of Education Duncan said the action by the school board showed “courage.”

This past Monday, Chicago teachers and support staff went on strike.  They are taking a stand against the neoliberal reforms being pushed nationwide (and globally), and fighting to create schools that actually meet the needs of ALL students.  Among other things, they are calling for smaller classes, air-conditioned school buildings, and libraries in all schools. 

The demands being made by Obama’s former Chief of Staff, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel, are exactly what is called for in Obama/Duncan’s Race to the Top agenda.  According to White House Spokesperson, Jay Carney, President Obama “has not expressed any opinion or made any assessment about [the Chicago teachers’ strike].”

President Obama has taken one lesson from the Rhode Island confrontation, stay quiet and try not to offend anyone.  This is because Obama wants the support of teachers and labor, but also wants the financial backing of Wall Street. 

As Paulo Freire pointed out long ago, “washing one's hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral.”  Howard Zinn said effectively the same thing, as shown in the title of his memoir, You Can’t be Neutral on a Moving Train. 

Obama can remain silent, but his silence speaks volumes.  Through his Race To The Top agenda, Obama has promoted the destruction of teachers’ unions, and the privatization of our public schools.  He has sided with the powerful Wall Street hedge-fund managers, billionaire philanthropists, and all the neo-liberal advocates.

The even more troubling question for teachers such as myself, is why does our union leadership fall over itself in an effort to defend his actions?  The AFT President, Randi Weingarten, tries to endorse Obama without ever mentioning his actual educationpolicies, and NEA President, Dennis Van Roekel, pushed an endorsement of Obama over a year ahead of the election.

Thanks to the Chicago Teachers’ Union, and the Caucus of Rank-and-File Educators (C.O.R.E.) for showing all of us what real union leadership looks like.  We all need to demand our union leaders stop making concessions and start taking a stand to defend true universal, democratic, and socially just public schools.

Posted by: Rob Panning-Miller

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Wear Red in Solidarity with Chicago Teachers on September 10th!

The Chicago Teachers Union has been front and center in the struggle to defend a strong and socially just system of public education for all students. On September 10, 2012, thousands of Chicago teachers and their supports are planning to walk the picket lines. This strike is not just a stand against the mayor and his appointed administration, this is a struggle against the destructive corporate reforms being forced upon schools, teachers, and students across the country.

Please join in this effort with a show of solidarity for the Chicago teachers.We are asking teachers and other supporters across the nation to wear red onMonday, September 10, 2012.

Encourage your colleagues and friends to do the same. Teachers, organize a union meeting in your school to discuss how you and your colleagues can work locally to both support the Chicago teachers and defend public education in your city. Parents, students, and community members please show your support for teachers and our public schools.  This is not just a struggle for Chicago teachers, this is a defense of all public schools.

"Their fight is our fight."

Posted by Rob Panning-Miller

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

TFA: The Not-So-Subtle Trojan Horse of Corporate “Reformers,” Part II

It Is Not a Conspiracy When They Admit It.

The last post about TFA alumni in administrative positions and Corps members in the classrooms here in Minneapolis Public Schools appears to have caught the attention of local TFA supporters.  The general reaction is shock.  They are amazed that anyone could question the intentions of the ambitious young recruits to TFA.

Repubulican Representative Pat Garofalo, chair of the House Education and Finance Committee tweeted:

“StatusQuo/Teacher's union in pathetic effort 2 demonize college grads who focus on SocialJustice + EducationalEquality

A former Minneapolis School Board member, who is now involved in charter school organizations and a number of anti-teacher union groups, began a long series of posts on a Facebook page with this charge:

When bright, gifted, young people committed to social justice and educational equity dedicate themselves to pursuing better schools - who could assail that?

Teacher unionists of course...”

A current TFA teacher responded to the post with, “I just think that PEJAM post is hysterically hysterical,” ”Like, I laughed out loud.,” an ultimately referred to the comments as “conspiracy theories.”

Even a long-time teacher colleague who agreed with the questions I raised felt the need to add, “these TFA alumni will not/do not have the authority that [Rob] seems to suggest they have…”

Many of the people who were upset with the last post seem to confuse my criticism of the organization and some of its most active members with many of well intended recent college graduates who believe they are making the world better.  Some of those who attacked the post as outrageous believe the free market does nothing but good, and they are part of the effort to privatize our public schools.

Calling out TFA as the vanguard of the corporate reformers is not exactly a radical statement.  It doesn’t really expose much of a “conspiracy theory” either.  Daniel Sellers, the Executive Director of Teach For America – Twin Cities, openly admits the organizations long-term goal is “is to be the talent pipeline for education reform in Minnesota,” because “the ultimate solution resides beyond the individual classroom.”

As part of a Civic Caucus on July 11, 2011, Sellers and another TFA leader, Sarah Kemper, outlined the role of TFA in influencing public policy.

Teach for America can't solve the nation's education problem by pumping 10,000 new teachers into the system, the speakers said. The ultimate solution resides beyond the individual classroom, but will likely stem from the longer-term influence of the TFA alumni. The program boasts among its former corps members many education leaders including 400 principals, 15 superintendents (in Washington, DC, Newark, New Orleans, Tennessee, and elsewhere), and 12 elected officials and policy makers.

"In communities where we have seen the needle move," Sellers said, "TFA alums have had an impact." Their immediate goal in Minnesota is to provide students with a talented teacher, who is energetic, excited about getting kids to achieve big goals and not jaded by the "compliance culture" and the low expectations so often entrenched in the school system. In the long run however, TFA - Twin Cities' goal is to be the talent pipeline for education reform in Minnesota.  

What kind of reforms can we expect from TFA alumni?  We can look at the “reforms” of Michelle Rhee or the vast number of TFA alumni now running charters schools.

We can also look to the funders of Teach for America.  The top three are, not surprisingly, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation, and the Vanguard Charitable Endowment Trust.  Also in among the top 20 financial backers are:

The Bank of America Charitable Foundation, Inc.
The Wal-Mart Foundation, Inc.
Eli & Edythe Broad Foundation
The J.P. Morgan Chase Foundation
GE Foundation

Ironically, this list of funders can be found on a site called the ERIN Project.  This "impartial" project is funded by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, which is also listed as a funder of Teach for America.  When you look at Laura and John Arnold Foundation website, it describes its goals for education which have “four major levers for change:” “Efficient Markets,” “Human Capital,” “Learning Systems,” and “Performance Management.”  Those are terms for corporations not education, and they seem to have missed the section on social justice.

These organizations are supporting TFA because they believe it will help them to promote their corporate reforms in education.  This means TFA is part of the effort to privatize our public schools and impose a competitive, free market system for our students, whether the recruits realize it or not.  And competition, by definition, always creates winners and losers.

At this point, it may seem we have moved far from those TFA Corp members and alumni working in Minneapolis Public Schools.  They do not operate in isolation, however.  No matter their motivation, they are part of an organization that aims to implement educational changes that will make our schools more segregated and less socially just.

To point out the damage wrought by TFA is not a defense of the status quo.  Our schools do have real problems with racial and social justice, but the free market will not fix that.  Why would the corporations, banks, and billionaire philanthropists that support TFA be suddenly interested in things like justice and human rights in education. Walmart, which suppresses workers' right to organize and bargain collectively, and promotes the creation of sweatshops around the globe, they suddenly care about poor inner city kids and kids of color?  Bank of America and J.P. Morgan, major contributors to the recent economic collapse due to fraudulent or at least questionable practices, they care deeply about all children?

If Teach For America is truly working to close the achievement gap and create socially/racially just schools.  They have some surprising financial supporters.  

Representative Garofalo, you are welcome to tweet this as well. 

Posted by: Rob Panning-Miller

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

TFA: The Not-So-Subtle Trojan Horse of Corporate "Reformers"

Teach for America, may have started as a stop-gap to supply teachers for school districts that could not find enough licensed teachers, but they quickly became nothing more than the vanguard of the corporate reformers.  TFA Corp members and alumni are actively promoting the corporate neoliberal "reforms" that are designed to privatize our system of public education while trying to lend them credibility by identifying themselves as “teachers.”

It was announced three years ago that Minneapolis was going to hire TFA teachers for hard-to-staff positions.  Despite many licensed teachers in Minnesota looking for a job, TFAers without a license were put into classrooms across the District.  A group of TFA Corp members in Minneapolis have joined the teachers’ union and have simultaneously worked to dismantle core union rights, mainly seniority and tenure.  These hard-earned rights empower teachers to speak up and do what is best for all students.

What may surprise some people is that you don’t need to just look to the classrooms to find Teach for America.  Recent TFA alumni, most only a few years out of college, are being hired as district administrators, building leaders, and we could soon end up with a TFA alum as a Minneapolis School Board member.

Minneapolis is building a teacher evaluation system and attempting to implement what they call “Focused Instruction” across the District (other school districts in the country know it as “Managed Instruction").  It is essentially the local equivalent of the National Common Core State Standards.  It is, no doubt, laying the groundwork for implementing the Common Core and a new testing regime that will be used for the teacher evaluations (more on this in a later post).

Two people leading the implementation of these changes in Minneapolis Public Schools are recent TFA alumni.  The Executive Director of Teacher and Learning graduated from college in 2006 and worked as a TFA teacher for 3 years.  He then work for a couple years at McKinsey and Company (another global corporation that is looking to get its hands on some of the billions that go into public education) before being hired by MPS to implement Focused Instruction and the evaluations of experienced, licensed teachers.

While the information available on the web is sparse, it appears the Director of Instructional Leadership also spent 2 years in the classroom as a TFA corp member.  She then worked another 2 years for TFA, but it is unclear if she was actually working in a classroom.

They have a combined 5 to 7 years of teaching experience between them.   They work directly under our Chief Academic Officer who has 4 years of classroom experience (Not with TFA).  The average teacher in Minneapolis has been in the classroom at least as long as the three of these individuals combined.  TFA alumni will be overseeing the evaluations that will assess the quality of all Minneapolis teachers and imposing a one-size-fits-all curriculum with more standardized tests.

We need teachers who go into the profession with a commitment for the long-term.  Professional, licensed teachers, committed to teaching as a career, need to be respected, supported, and empowered, not micromanaged.  Teaching, working with children, is a career, not a stepping-stone to law school, a corporate job, school administration, or a political career.  Two years in the classroom with minimal training does not make someone an educational expert.  

Posted by: Robert Panning-Miller

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Astroturf "Reformers" Focused on School Board Elections

Yesterday, the League of Women Voters in Minneapolis hosted a forum for school board candidates running in the upcoming election.  The candidate responses to very generic questions yielded no new information.  The questions in the first half were written by the League of Women Voters followed by questions from the audience.  However, audience questions were "screned" by the moderators.  There were at least nine Minneapolis Public School Teachers who each submitted a number of questions.  Needless to say, none of our questions made it through the screening.

The truly telling part of this event came from the list of sponsors, a who's who list of people wanting to dance on the grave the teachers' union and universal public education.  While not all of the sponsors fit this description, more than half did, most notably the recent arrivals to Minnesota such as Teach for America and MinnCAN.

Teacher members of PEJAM handed out flyers to counter the message of the education "deformers" and to expose their true agendas.  Here is one of our flyers:

Stop the Privatization of our Public Schools:
Minneapolis Public Schools are heading down the path to privatization. Standardized testing, under the guise of accountability, has been used to blame and punish schools and teachers.  The testing regime has been used to label schools as failures.   It is also being used as a justification for creation of a one size-fits-all curriculum. 
Minneapolis Public Schools has begun to implement what it calls “Focused Instruction”.  Like most “reforms,” this is an idea coming in from the outside.  In other districts around the country they call it “Managed Instruction.”  While teachers are told they can determine how they teach (a debatable point), they are told what they must teach.  It is also a practice that involves the implementation of more standardized tests!
We have seen school districts in Chicago, Detroit, and New Orleans dismantled and sold off to private charter management organizations, and business interests.  Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, infamously said Hurricane Katrina was “the best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans.”  This was because it gave him and Wall Street, the chance to privatize the schools.  The same destruction of public schools is happening in Detroit and Philadelphia, and ironically, is being justified by the economic collapse of 2008, a disaster created by some of the same corporations and individuals looking to profit from our children’s education.
Some of the organizations sponsoring this forum are no more than astroturf groups and shills for the corporations, billionaires, hedge fund managers, and self-appointed reformers hoping to destroy true public education and benefit from its demise.  Their main target is the teachers union, because teachers are the last line of defense for ALL of our students.
MinnPost’s founder and editor, Joel Kramer, has one son who is the President of Teach for America, a daughter-in-law who works for an organization called Charter School Partners, and another son who runs a charter school in Minneapolis.
MinnCAN came into Minnesota two years ago.  Modeled after it’s parent organization ConnCAN.  It has a staff of three people and millions of dollars.  It is not working to build relationships with parents and the community.  It is focused on lobbying the state government to bring in free-market corporate reforms.  In other words, they are hoping to hasten the privatization of our schools.
Empowering Educators for Equity, is a group made up of Teach for America members and alumni.  They are promoting changes that would weaken the rights of teachers and the teachers’ union, and since most do not stay with the profession, they only help to destabilize our schools.
Minneapolis Public Schools cannot excuse themselves from their responsibility to educate ALL children.  We cannot privatize our schools and leave our students to the whims of unelected charter school boards, or the corporate “reformers.”  Parents, teachers, students, and the community, must work together to build true, democratic, and socially just public schools.  We must have schools that welcome and serve the needs of all students. 

·       For more information on how you can be part of a real education reform movement, go to the websites for the Public Education Justice Alliance of Minnesota (PEJAM):!/groups/101351126592234/

* MinnPost is a local online newspaper that continually prints stories that perpetuate the myths of the neo-liberal corporate agenda, attacking public schools and teachers' unions.  Their article advertising this event really shows their role as a shill for the corporate "reform" agenda.  Find it Here.

Posted By: Rob Panning-Miller

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Charter School Rejects Special Ed. Students

PEJAM was part of the effort in Minneapolis to save North High, but we were also part of the unsuccessful effort to save Cityview Elementary from being closed and turned into a charter.  Cityview did not have the same deep roots as North High and the parents, students, and teachers who did step forward were easily ignored.  Now look at what has happened to some of our most vulnerable students.

The online paper, Twin Cities Daily Planet, reports the charter school, Minnesota School of Science (MSS), that took over the Cityview site and was authorized by the Minneapolis School Board has now said it will not serve children with disabilities such as Down’s syndrome and autism.  The intense needs of special education students contributed to the “poor performance” of Cityview, which enable the Minneapolis School Board to justify its closing of this school. 

Now the unelected board of the MSS Charter School has voted to walk away from some of our neediest students because they get in the way of the charter school's goals on standardized tests.

Minneapolis School Board member, Carla Bates, acknowledges mistakes, but falls short of admitting that her, and the Board's, support of charter schools is part of the problem.  If it is simply a failure of the MSS charter school, the Minneapolis School Board can talk to Eric Mahmoud of Harvest Prep Academy (another charter).  The school district recently authorized him to open a District sponsored charter school next year and possibly five more, in total.  Rather than scattering the Special Education students across north and northeast Minneapolis, lets put them in Harvest Prep Academy, and have them participate in mainstream classes there.  Our School Board seems to believe that if anyone can succeed with our neediest students it is Mr. Mahmoud and his Harvest Prep Academy.

Of course, in reality, the Minneapolis School Board should immediately cancel its lease with the MSS Charter School and its authorization.  

This is just the latest evidence that charter schools do not serve all students.  We need to have true public schools that meet the needs of ALL of our students, and our elected school board members need to accept that responsibility.  Charter schools are not part of a universal, democratic, and socially just system of public education.

Rob Panning-Miller

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Integration Works to Close the Gap.

This Thursday the Public Education Justice Alliance of Minnesota's Forum featuring Myron Orfield will examine the growing number of racially and socially segregated schools in Minnesota.  As the corporate education reformers call for more free-market solutions, including charter schools, to close the achievement gap, they continue to undo one of the real reforms proven to close the achievement gap - integrated schools.  David Kirp, a public policy professor from UC, Berkeley explained this in an opinion piece in today's New York Times.

Join us this Thursday at 7 pm to hear more about this from Myron Orfield and to discuss ways to bring back integrated schools and communities.

Public Education: A Look at Segregation, Housing and Our Collective Future

When: Thursday, May 24, 2012  at 7:00 p.m.

Where:  University of Minnesota Law School, Mondale Hall, Room 50

What: The presentation and discussion will focus on public education, housing, and segregation in the Minneapolis/St Paul area.

Orfield will present data from the past twenty years, looking at the trends and policies that have closed public schools and further segregated our schools and our city.


No need to reserve a spot, but you can let us know you'll be attending on our Facebook Event page:!/events/413030492049276/

 David Kirk's Opinion Piece can be found here:


Friday, May 18, 2012

Weingarten still Supporting the Corporate Reformers

The College Board, which administers the SAT and Advance Placement (AP) courses and exams, has just announced David Coleman is their new president.  Coleman is identified as an architect of the Common Core State Standards.  This news was welcomed by the AFT President, Randi Wiengarten.  She described Coleman as “innovative and an excellent choice,” who “put the common core on the map and he's very respectful of the teacher voice."  He has pushed for "informational texts" rather than fiction.  He said “[A]s you grow up in this world you realize people really don’t give a shit about what you feel or what you think.”  Weingarten’s comments are very troubling.  I would hate to meet the teacher that feels Coleman is “respectful” of their voice.

Coleman worked for McKinsey and Company, which has become a major supplier of education “experts” even here in Minneapolis.  His appointment is troubling, but AFT President Wiengarten's comments are even more so.  Wiengarten's record, which includes inviting Bill Gates to the AFT Convention is marred by the collaboration with those who are interested in destroying public education.  

Learn more about David Coleman at Perdido Street School Blog:

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

An end to Testing Season

We are not just nearing the end of the school year, but the end of the testing season.  From March to June, schools are deluged by tests, after spending much of September through February prepping for the tests.  As politicians and pundits perpetuate the myth that confuses standardized testing with learning, students’ education suffers, and teachers are blamed.  Schools spend less and less time working on what would improve the educational experience of all of its students; instead spending more time and resources trying to survive wave after wave of new tests.

I teach at South High School in Minneapolis.  It is a school that highlights the ridiculous realities of our obsession with testing, although I’m sure most every other school could tell a similar story. 

According to the latest US News and World Report High School Ranking, South High ranked the 24th best high school in the state of Minnesota, out of 786, and in the top 5% of high schools nationally.  At the same time, No Child Left Behind rules label South as a “Stage 4 AYP” school.  This requires the school to take “corrective action” and prepare for “restructuring.”  While neither the US News ranking or the NCLB labeling actually tell us about the real quality of education at a school, they are both based on the same testing data.  The disparate results exemplify the failed nature of standardized tests.

Despite the mixed messages, our District is requiring students in all schools to take a new series of standardized tests this year called the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP).  This is apparently being done to improve our scores on the state mandated MCA tests, and includes 9th graders in the high schools.

The MAP test has two parts - math and reading, and they are taken once in the fall and again in the spring.  At South, ninth graders took the fall portion during their English classes, and are taking the spring portion now during their social studies classes.  This means students in my five World History classes need to spend two class periods taking the two parts of this test.  While two days of missed class time might not seem like too much, the set up requirements of the computerized test, along with the limited computer lab space results in the testing of my students being scattered over six days rather than just two.

The tests cost the district about $12 per student, which amounts to at least $400,000 annually, and this is only one of the many standardized tests given in Minneapolis Public Schools.  The District has also recently negotiated a contract with teachers that will add four additional student days next year.  They are paying millions of dollars for these four additional days.  The merit of these additional days is itself questionable, but why claim students need more days in school only to use up more of that time taking standardized tests?

Every few days a new story comes out about the dysfunction of standardized tests themselves, and the dysfunction they create in our school environment.  Recent example include, the “Pineapple” story in New York, the FCAT writing scores in Florida, and numerous cheating scandals across the country.  Yet these are just the superficial problems with standardized tests.  Todd Farley worked for 15 years at Pearson Education, one of the largest for profit companies in education and testing, and he said, “there aren’t scoring problems on some standardized tests—my experience suggests there are scoring problems on all of them.”

Beyond the scoring problems, the manner in which the questionable test results are used compound the problems.  They have narrowed the curriculum and reduced the opportunities for students to engage in creative play and critical thinking.  They have been used to punish teachers and schools, and forced educators to teach to the test rather than meet the individual needs of the children.  An incredible amount of time and money is dedicated to testing rather than actual learning.

If we really want to improve the educational experience for all students, we would not add more time in school and require more testing.  We would try to eliminate standardized testing and focus on empowering teachers to make time in school a rich meaningful experience for students.  If politicians and administrators cannot or will not end the testing obsession, parents, students, and teachers must work together to force an end this destructive process.  It pains me too much to watch my students sit in front of a computer answering questions they don’t care about and are not making them better students or better people.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Public Education: A Look at Segregation, Housing and Our Collective Future

Public Education Justice Alliance Minnesota is hosting a forum with Myron Or field from the University of Minnesota's Institute on Race and Poverty.  The presentation and discussion will focus on public education, housing, and segregation in the Minneapolis/St Paul metro area.

Orfield will present data from the past twenty years, looking at the trends and policies that have closed public schools and further segregated our schools and our city.

Racial segregation in America also means class segregation.  The segregation of schools is dramatically increasing because of failure to enforce federal, state, and local civil rights laws. Whether public or charter, segregated schools are associated with low achievement and increased learning gaps. Charter schools not only aggravate the problem of segregation, they also under-perform and undermine our public schools. Teachers and schools are being blamed and punished for the results of increased segregation, and the current “solutions” are making problems worse.

Join us at the University of Minnesota Law School, Mondale Hall, Room 50, 229 19th Ave. South
Thursday May 24th, 7 PM

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Fighting for Relevant Reform

The Minneapolis Federation of Teachers is holding elections this spring.  The following is a highlight of a speech I gave as a candidate for re-election to the Executive Board:

Teacher unions cannot continue to fight to simply stay relevant, we must fight for what is relevant.  Our union, at the national, state, and local levels, has tried to deal with the neo-liberal corporate attacks by looking for areas to collaborate, to compromise, and to get a “seat at the table.”
Fighting to sit at a table set by education deformers like Bill Gates, Arnie Duncan, and Wendy Kopp is to accept their premises and to immediately silence any questioning of the need for the table.  To sit at the charter school table is to accept the argument that competition will make schools better and ignores the fact that by definition, competition results in both winners and losers.
Instead of trying to out-reform the self-appointed “reformers,” we must work with students, parents, and the community to revitalize our public schools.  The Chicago Teachers’ Union, under the leadership of the Caucus of Rank and File Educators (C.O.R.E.) is already doing this.  In New York, teachers in the Grassroots Education Movement (G.E.M.) are also doing this.  Brian Jones, who spoke in Minneapolis in March, is a member of G.E.M. and helped to create the documentary, An Inconvenient Truth Behind Waiting for Superman.
The documentary outlines some of the real reforms we need.  They include, among others:
·      More teaching – Less Testing
·      Anti-racist Educational Policies
·      Culturally Relevant Curriculum
·      Qualified and Experienced Educators in every Classrooom
·      Democratic and Social Justice Unionism
·      And Small Class Size

We need to work with parents to build the public schools our students need and deserve.  To do this, we also need to work to create the community our students need and we all deserve.

Robert Panning-Miller

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Discussion with Brian Jones following the screening of An Inconvenient Truth Behind Waiting for Superman

PEJAM's screening of An Inconvenient Truth Behind Waiting for Superman on March 3, 2012 was well attended and included a Q & A Discussion with Brian Jones, one of the writers and narrators of the documentary.  Here is the discussion: