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Marcy Open School principal Donna Andrews greeted students Maya Jacobson, Savana Gartner and Aurora Jacobson as they got off the bus for the first day of classes in Minneapolis on August 26.

Glen Stubbe, Star Tribune

For better Minneapolis schools, support classrooms

  • Article by: LYNN NORDGREN
  • September 19, 2013 - 6:51 PM

Parents, teachers and communities want the best for all children, including a high-quality public education. With the new school year, we face a “what now?” moment — a time to decide the best direction for the Minneapolis public schools. We should have a serious and honest debate that includes all voices.

 

Sadly, the debate has been downright unproductive at times. Teachers rightly become dispirited when they are blamed, bashed and disrespected. We know that most such attacks come from people with an ideological aversion to public education.

Steve Perry, a national “motivational speaker” for hire, is an example. Perry, who brags about his small Hartford, Conn., magnet school’s academic performance — which is in dispute — was invited to Minneapolis in April by corporate forces who advocate for more charter schools.

In a speech that he gives across our country, Perry attacked teacher unions as “roaches” and blamed teachers for the “literal death” of children.

We can only hope for and encourage a more civil discussion moving forward. We must reclaim the promise of public education — not as it is today or was in the past, but as it can be — to fulfill our collective obligation to help all students, not just some, succeed.

Teachers want to close what is commonly called the achievement gap. But outcomes reflect many disparities in public investments, family income and school resources.

Any reform plan that hopes to succeed must address the role that rising poverty and other deprivations play in shaping educational outcomes. All children can learn, but we must remove the steep barriers that can get in their way.

Our students don’t have time to waste on new or failed fads. It has become clear that after 20 years since the launching of the charter school movement, even with all the money and cheerleading from advocates, charter schools perform at roughly the same level as, or even worse than, traditional public schools. It is clear that charters have not lived up to their promise or to the claims of their most fervent advocates.

Reclaiming our public schools means fighting for strong neighborhood public schools with small class sizes. Teachers and parents strongly agree that today’s class sizes are out of control and unacceptable. We have kindergarten classes with up to 30 students and other grades that have as many as 40 students.

Reclaiming our public schools also requires an engaging and well-rounded curriculum to prepare students for the 21st-century knowledge economy. It requires safe and welcoming learning environments; well-prepared teachers who are given the tools, resources and support they need to succeed, and wraparound services to meet children’s emotional, social and health needs.

These are not radical ideas. They are at the core of successful school districts, both in the United States and in other countries that often outperform us. The Minneapolis Federation of Teachers believes these ideas should be at the center of our school district’s reform strategy.

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Lynn Nordgren is president of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers.

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