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Mayoral candidate Mark Andrew's new education effort seems attempt at damage control

andrew press conference
MinnPost photo by Beth Hawkins
Mark Andrew announced his education plans at a press conference Monday afternoon.

A cynic would be forgiven for wondering whether the press conference Minneapolis mayoral candidate Mark Andrew held Monday afternoon, flanked by five members of the school board, was at least partly an exercise in damage control.

Minneapolis Mayor's RaceAt the session, held in the library at Windom Dual Immersion School in southwest Minneapolis, Andrew announced a three-pronged education agenda. At its center: a promise to convene a collaborative headed by education advocates with divergent philosophies, Mike Ciresi and Louise Sundin.

“The conversation about improving educational outcomes for kids of color has gotten extremely polarized and increasingly heated in the past several years,” Andrew explained in the plan. “The reformers vs. unions dichotomy is unproductive, and doesn’t serve the best interests of our children or find Minneapolis solutions to the problems in Minneapolis’ schools.”

One of the hottest topics on the electoral agenda in Minneapolis this year, education has proven a tough arena for Andrew. Early on in his campaign, he attempted to link rival Betsy Hodges to a Koch brothers-backed scheme to privatize Minneapolis schools and later said he had “never been a fan of charter schools.”

The remarks rankled many, including Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak. In an interview with MinnPost, Rybak called Andrew’s statement “reckless” and “deeply stupid.” At an education-focused candidate forum the night the interview was published, Andrew reversed himself — albeit with caveats.

Hodges has made sure the about-face has stayed visible, pointing out at public appearances that she says the same thing no matter her audience. In early September, she put forth an education proposal that would convene advocates with diverse views at a “mayor’s table.”

While the mayor has no formal role in running the schools, Rybak and many other education advocates believe his or her influence, as the most visible elected official in the city, is invaluable in emboldening district leaders.

Don Samuels and Cam Winton have campaigned on education reform platforms since the start of the race. Grilled about their views at forums, other candidates have come up with less-developed platforms.

On Friday, Chris Stewart, executive director of the African American Leadership Forum and a former Minneapolis school board member, posted a video (below) on Facebook of Andrew’s Koch brothers remarks, made at a Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation forum.

“The problem is a lot of the people who are supporting some of the other candidates for mayor want to corporatize the schools,” Andrew says in the video. “And I respectfully disagree with that. I do not support the Koch brothers shipping money into Minneapolis and trying to change our school system.”

Minneapolis district and teachers union leaders have tussled for several years over changes to the contract that many believe are crucial to closing the academic achievement gap. This year, Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson has asked the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers (MFT) to allow dramatic changes in the district’s lowest-performing schools.

The Koch brothers have not had so much as an arm’s length role in the local campaigns for reform, but a phalanx of the MFT that’s closely aligned with the Chicago teachers union insists that the changes are part of a corporate-funded effort to close public schools and replace them with private ones.  

"I'm gonna be a teacher guy," Andrew tells the audience in the Facebook video.   

At Monday’s press conference, Andrew said his administration would support Johnson’s SHIFT proposal as well as continued support for teachers’ right to collective bargaining.

Minneapolis school board members Jenny Arneson, Kim Ellison, Rebecca Gagnon, Richard Mammon and Alberto Monserrate stood with him. All voted in favor of the current teachers’ contract. Board Chair Monserrate, too, has expressed support for SHIFT.

Andrew's proposed collaborative would start work his first day in office, he explained, and would contain equal numbers of members selected by Ciresi and Sundin. Their mission, he added: “To provide a forum and a format to bring thought leaders in education together to have meaningful dialogue and bring down barriers.”

Attorney and philanthropist Ciresi is a passionate advocate of education reform. The Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi Foundation for Children, which he heads and which funds numerous efforts to improve schools, is frequently mentioned as a part of the corporate reform movement.

“We have to have a sense of urgency that we have not had in this city in recent years,” Ciresi said Monday. “The status quo is not working.”

Sundin is vice president of the Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation and former head of the MFT, which has resisted many of the changes sought by some of Ciresi’s causes.

“We have our differences, but we share the same goal: restoring our schools,” said Sundin. “Teacher voice and teacher autonomy are critical to student success.”

The other two planks of Andrew’s "Growing Great Kids" proposal expand on ideas he has been talking about since his campaign began: building safe neighborhoods with ample affordable housing and job opportunities; and revamping the Youth Coordinating Board, which he helped found in 1985.

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Comments (11)

The most important part

…of Mr. Andrew’s proposal, and also the most difficult to achieve, is not the collaborative, though that part of his proposal might be interesting to watch. More important is the second “plank” of his policy proposal. Creating safe neighborhoods with ample affordable housing and job opportunities will do more for Minneapolis students than hundreds of meetings focused on educational policies and test results.

Addressing poverty, which is at the root of most of the problems attending the widely-noted achievement gap, is far more politically-challenging than berating teachers, or moving staffs from one school to another, or implementing numerous other policies that, at best scratch the surface of the problem.

I’m inclined to agree that the “reformers vs. unions dichotomy” doesn’t do anything to benefit the kids in school, and also that, as long as we’re going to define educational success as passing a high-stakes test, “the status quo is not working.” That said, I’m deeply suspicious of political figures, whether right, left or center, becoming involved in the direction of educational policy.

I absolutely agree with Mr. Schoch:

"Addressing poverty, which is at the root of most of the problems attending the widely-noted achievement gap, is far more politically-challenging than berating teachers, or moving staffs from one school to another, or implementing numerous other policies that, at best scratch the surface of the problem."

Anyone who claims to be for "educational reform" absolutely must address this problem. To claim that the answer to this problem is better teachers is ludicrous.

To claim that teachers in inner-city schools are incompetent is ludicrous.

To claim that the answer is religious schools is also not practical given our governmental system that separates church and state.

Strange as it may seem, one of the solutions to our educational problems may be minimum wage legislation as well as policies that actually encourage job creation.

As Paul Wellstone put it (approximately): We do well when we all do well.

One answer

An aggressive pre-school program for children of lower income families.

Ugh

I can't wait until this ridiculous election is over and the mayor can get on with doing what R.T. Rybak has done with education the last 12 years: absolutely nothing,

Damage?

I don't know how to break this to you, but there are many out here who do not think that charter schools are the heaven-sent answers to the perceived ills of the education system. Many of us think that, although the theory may have some merit, they have become vehicles for rank profiteering, with little accountability for how they spend tax money, and have become a part of the strategy to bust some of the last strong unions in America.

Rybak's comments dismissive and wrong on facts

I, too, was surprised by the mismatch between the headline of this article and the substance of it. The only sense of "damage control" was in the unfortunate use of it as a political tactic by Hodges and, most problematically, by the mayor. As a supporter of Mayor Rybak, his dismissive comments about educational research on charter schools and about Mark Andrew, a supporter and product of Minneapolis public schools, were disappointing and based on something other than fact.

Current research on charter schools has raised very current and real concerns, both for the students who attend them and the larger educational ecosystem. The U of M's Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity (formerly the Institute on Race and Poverty) led by Myron Orfield reports educational data on charter schools, issuing their first report, “Failed Promises: Assessing Charter Schools in the Twin Cities” in 2008 and releasing an update this October. http://www.law.umn.edu/metro/index.html. The findings show consistently lower student performance than traditional schools on test scores, especially for high-poverty students; increasing segregation; and impacts on education in the core cities and suburbs. It also addresses the dangers of looking at the trees (the 10 charters found to have "relatively strong" testing results) instead of the forest (the remainder out-performed by traditional schools).

Substantively addressing the real challenges in Minneapolis schools requires sustained work and real attention to the research. On this count, there is unfinished work for the next mayor who will hopefully work collaboratively using the available data for the benefit of all our kids.

I wish Mark Andrew had stood

I wish Mark Andrew had stood his ground and not given in to the Teach For America types who, along with the charter school boosters, actually are in the process of privatizing our public schools.

Rybak's remark has to be put in the context of two things: his ferocious support of Betsy Hodges' campaign for mayor, and his daughter's post-Columbia University education job as a TFA teacher in Minneapolis--while she earns her formal stripes as a teacher. The MinnPost interview Rybak gave shows him to be really, really angry that anyone would support a candidate not blessed by RT, and Andrew is the competition to Hodges.

Teach for America may or may not be suppported by direct money from the Koch brothers (though it's always hard to tell where they put their money; it's buried in subsidiary non-profits and other legal complexities meant to bury their names). But Andrew should have shown the courage of his convictions on public education and clarified and re-emphasized his position. It's one of the definite differentiators among mayoral candidates for voters.

For a lot of people, that Mark Andrew couldn't take the mayor's heat on this, however intemperate the mayor was, is a disappointment.

Some additional context

First off: I'm new to this issue. At this point, to be honest, I can't say I trust either the union or the reformers. It does sound like the union needs to change, but I cringe at the thought of privatization. (I felt more than a little discomfort at RT's shout-out to Cargill in that ed interview.)

Next, full disclosure: I'm a volunteer for Betsy Hodges. I feel I must speak up whenever people fail to distinguish between Betsy and Don Samuels or Cam Winton on ed reform. Connie, I see you chose not to mention those other candidates at all. Don and Cam have made ed reform central to their campaigns, and Don in particular has reform ties that go far beyond anything I've seen from Betsy--who consistently speaks out against taking sides in the teacher wars. From Betsy's statements, I would say that what she'll fight for is pre-K and out-of-school time programs, not charters or TFA.

One more thing: "Ferocious support?" RT hasn't endorsed anyone. He has given praise to both Don and Betsy, arguably more so to Don.

Such a broad coalition does not indicate damage control

Mark Andrew is backed by 5 of the 8 members of the school board, the former head of the teacher's union and education reform champ Mike Ciresi -- and this is supposed to be damage control? Looks more like leadership and the ability to bring together people with divergent viewpoints to get things done.

Interesting open statement ...

from your history of reporting on charters and local 59!

"A cynic would be forgiven for wondering whether the press........"

In fine MN tradition

Our answer to a crisis that's been brewing for years is to convene another group to talk.....again.