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Forget about 'fixing' black kids: What If we fixed white liberals instead?

In Minneapolis, we actually, honestly could change our schools to work better for our kids of color.

Here’s a modest education proposal for my fellow white people, especially my fellow lefties in Minneapolis: What if we stopped talking about how to fix African-American and Latino kids and worked on fixing white progressives instead?

I know. It sounds crazy. But stay with me, beige people.

Lynnell Mickelsen

We’ve spent years — nay, decades — bemoaning our achievement gap in which white kids in Minneapolis are mostly doing fine while less than 30 percent of black and Latino kids are working at grade level; less than 48 percent graduate on time, etc.

Children of color now make up 67 percent of our enrollment in Minneapolis. (Vocab reminder to the Greatest Generation: This why we can’t call them “minorities” any more.) So you’d think the mass failure of the majority of the city’s school children would be a moral emergency. As in something that demanded bold action.

After all, if white kids were failing at these rates, we’d have already redesigned the schools to work better for them. We’d have changed the teachers, administrators, length of the school day or year or curriculum and anything else. Because if white kids were failing en masse, we’d demand a big fix of the education system.

But when nonwhite kids are failing, we tend to instead discuss how to fix brown children and their allegedly … ahem … chaotic families, which is white code for screwed-up. This is an attractive discussion for us because:

a) We get to feel compassionate and superior at the same time, which is always a rush;

b) Poverty and chaotic families can indeed hurt academic achievement. (Note to Republicans: You’d have more credibility on education reform if you stopped trying to shred every social safety net.)

c) It plays into one of the oldest and most unexamined American beliefs — namely that When Bad Things Happens To People of Color, It’s Mostly Their Own Fault, (IMTOF) which runs from our early origins up to the present. Hence the idea that Africans were mentally inferior and thus fit for slavery. That Michael Brown shouldn’t have been walking in the middle of the street. And that brown kids fail because their chaotic, screwed-up parents don’t value education enough.

A rush into resignation

Unfortunately, when white people blame the achievement gap almost entirely on poverty and dysfunctional families, they don’t tend to rush into bold action. Instead, they rush into resignation. Which is understandable. Most of us don’t believe poverty will end in our lifetime. And we don’t know how to fix our own dysfunctional families, much less anyone else’s.

So with all of these assumptions, it’s easy to quietly conclude (consciously or not) that the academic failure of black and Latino kids is tragically ... normal. Brown kids flunk out. They’ve been doing it forever. It seems to naturally happen, sort of like the law of gravity. And until the coming of Scandanavian-style socialism (which I’m all for), we can’t do much about it.

This is a classic white liberal approach to the achievement gap, which conveniently lets our public institutions, our political leaders and our own culpability as voters off the hook.

Let’s ponder this politically for a minute. In Minneapolis, we have a publicly funded school district with a $543 million annual operating budget that delivers starkly different outcomes based on race. As a lifelong DFLer, I’d expect my political tribe to be all over this issue. After all, we’re the ones who proudly march for voting rights and gay marriage and go to all those Martin Luther King Day breakfasts. Yet our DFL leaders continually defend, protect and enable a status quo whose results resemble those of the Jim Crow era.

Why do they do this?

Sure, the teachers unions play a big role. They are the biggest contributor to Democratic candidates and causes. They can act very much like the National Rifle Association when it comes to blocking even the most common-sense reforms. But I think the real problem goes far deeper than this.

Through the lens of history

“America was built on the preferential treatment of white people — 395 years of it,” wrote Atlantic Monthy editor TaNehesi Coates, in his recent award-winning article on reparations. “Vaguely endorsing a cuddly, feel-good diversity does very little to redress this.”

Let that first sentence sink in. Coates is not talking about individual, conscious racism. He’s talking about 400 years of discrimination baked so deeply into our collective DNA and public institutions we don’t even see itwhich is precisely how white privilege works. If Coates is right — and I think any serious reading of history backs him up — this preferential treatment also applies our public schools and their unions.

In Minnesota, our schools were basically created by white middle-class people, for white middle-class people and employ mostly white middle-class people. (Ninety-six percent of our state’s teachers are white, even as children of color now make up 28 percent of the enrollment. In Minneapolis, about 85 percent of our classroom teachers are white, even though 67 percent of their students are not.)

In addition, current school rules, policies and contracts are decided by … Lord, this is getting repetitious … mostly middle-class white people. Poor parents of color do not sit in our legislature, school boards or union negotiating committees. In Minneapolis, liberal white DFLers occupy almost all those seats

Unsurprisingly, white middle-class children and their families tend to thrive in a system designed around their needs. In Minneapolis, white middle-class kids tend to have the highest-paid teachers and the best access to advanced courses, performing arts and extracurricular activities. They are also far less likely than kids of color to be suspended, expelled or identified as emotionally disturbed or mentally disabled.

I am not arguing that public schools in Minneapolis were deliberatelyconsciously set up for the preferential treatment of middle-class white people. But pragmatically speaking, that’s how the system works on a daily basis. 

Harder to justify

This was easier to ignore or justify back in the day when the vast majority of students were white and doing OK. But it’s harder to morally justify when the majority of students are now low-income kids of color and systematically failing. I mean, the whole system starts getting this antebellum vibe.

Anyhow, add it all up and it’s a little weird that we progressives spend so much time talking about fixing brown people as opposed to the public institutions we’ve created for them and still control.

In Minneapolis, we actually, honestly could change our schools to work better for our kids of color. But this would involve asking mostly white middle-class administrators, teachers and employees to change their work lives — i.e. their schedules, assignments, job locations and even pay — around the needs, comfort and convenience of low-income people of color and their children.

And OMG, This. Just. Isn’t. Done. It’s also precisely where most of our DFL legislators, labor allies and a whole lot of white progressives suddenly jump off the social-justice and racial-equity bus. I mean, we’re willing to sing “We Shall Overcome,” denounce racism and march against poverty. But to go against the preferential treatment of white people especially when that means people like us or our friends or allies!?

Beige people, we’ve got some fixing to do.

Lynnell Mickelsen is a long-time progressive activist who lives in Minneapolis and blogs about education at


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Comments (130)


So what do we do today to make things better? What fix should we pursue this morning?


From reading other things she has written, her answer is teacher-bashing, union-busting, high-stakes-testing and privitazation of public schools. Maybe that comes out in part 2 of this piece.

Solutions: none of which involve "union-busting" or privatizing

Alas, I was gone all day and off-line, so I missed a lot of this great discussion yesterday.

RE: What’s my solution? Well, for any problem this big, there are a lot of solutions. I actually agree with most of the things that Pat Thompson posted from Diane Ravitch’s list---except #6. (I support standardized testing used wisely and well.)

Here are a few concrete solutions (in no particular order) that we could use in Minneapolis to improve our schools and make them less based on the preferential treatment of white people.

1) Pay excellent teachers significantly more to teach at high-poverty schools. Right now, most of our highest paid teachers are at the wealthiest and whitest schools. While we're at it, we should also pay high-caliber math and science teachers more because they're who are particularly hard to hire.

These higher pay ideas have been rejected by the teachers' union in Minneapolis. The union insists that all schools are equally challenging in their own way and that it would be unfair to pay great science and math teachers more than great English teachers.---even though they are much harder to hire.

2) Hire more teachers of color; In order to do this we should:

a) Get rid of our least effective teachers. Myself, I’d get rid of the bottom 10 percent, based on their evaluations and student feedback.

b) Open the pipeline so we can hire experienced, licensed teachers from anywhere, but particularly from the South, which produces a lot more teachers of color than Minnesota does. Unfortunately, Minnesota currently makes it very difficult to hire licensed teachers from out-of-state—many have to repeat student teaching or have to pay thousands of dollars for additional credits from Minnesota schools of education;

This solution is also opposed by the state teachers' union as well as local education schools who don’t want to lose the $$$ they earn by providing required extra courses needed for licensing out-of-state teachers.

3) Extend the school day and year at schools where the majority of students are far behind their peers; (Opposed by our local teacher's union because they say teachers don't want to work longer hours---even at higher pay.)

4) Instead of a having 10-12 week vacation in the summer (when low-income kids fall even further behind) have four-five weeks of vacation time in the summer, with another break in the winter ,etc. Like they do in Europe and elsewhere. (Opposed by our local teachers’ union because teachers want the 12-week summer off )

5) Make principals at-will employees so that we can more easily get rid of ineffective ones and hire better ones; (Opposed by local and state teachers’ and principals unions.)

6) Make staffing decisions---i.e. who to hire, who to lay-off—based on evaluations rather than strict seniority so we can keep great teachers in our classrooms. (Opposed by local and state teachers union because they prefer seniority as the main criteria.)

7) If you're a DFLer, tell your legislator, you'd like him or her to show some courageous independence from the dictates of Education Minnesota. I love my party, but our legislators act like a wholly owned subsidiary of Education Minnesota. It hurts kids and it's not right.

I could go on and on. Our schools would look very different if we designed them with the kids' academic achievement as our first priority as opposed to adult needs and comfort.

As much as I dislike Republicans for their stupid economic, social and environmental policies, when it comes to education, we Democrats are flat-ass on the wrong side of this issue on these points I support Democrats in their effort to fully-fund education (although even my party falls short on this.) But I don't agree with them when it comes to forcing our schools to continue using antiquated, industrial staffing rules that no healthy organization--business or non-profit-- would ever willingly choose. Who is served by this and who loses? It's pretty clear.

In Minneapolis, this antiquated way of running schools was easier to ignore when most of our employees and our kids were white and most were doing okay. It has become far uglier when most of our employees are white and most of our students are children of color and doing badly. It DOES have this antebellum vibe.

Yet instead of changing a broken and (implicitly racist) status quo, our DFL legislators defend and enable it out of loyalty to the teachers' union. I'd prefer their first loyalty was to children and families and I don't think this makes me any less progressive.

In fact, I push it because I think we're violating our progressive values in the current status quo.

And good news, none of this involves "union-busting" or "privatizing." It does involve adapting to the needs and children of the 21st century.

"None of this involves 'union-busting'"

You blame the teachers' unions for all of the ills in the schools. Every one of your points claims that things would be fine if it weren't for those meddlesome unions. But gee, whiz, that's not union-busting, because you call yourself a progressive Democrat!

Not union-busting, my foot. You couldn't have made yourself clearer if you were a Koch brother.

Oh Come Now

I don't think anyone is blaming Teachers for all of the ills in the schools. Personally I only blame the union/system for 20% of the problems within the schools. However it is important to remember that it is the 20% that we could change very quickly if the Unions would allow it.

However for those who are used to having their pay and job security based only on their years served, number of degrees and hours worked, I assume the idea of being accountable for results is very scary.

I keep hoping at some point Ed MN will decide to put the needs of the students before their wants. The idea that the more affluent schools in Mpls with the less challenging students get the most highly paid Teachers makes no logical sense, except to Ed MN.

Lynn, good piece

Oh Come Now

Each silver bullet in her magazine of "solutions" comes with the note that it is opposed by teachers' unions.

Busting vs Change

Currently Ed MN seems to be motivated to ensure that Teachers with seniority get the most compensation, most job security, they get to pick their classrooms, etc.

What if Ed MN became motivated to ensure that the most effective Teachers and those taking on the most challenging situations get the most compensation and job security?

In other words, they stopped focusing on the wants of gray haired Teachers and started focusing on the needs of bright eyed students.

Again, do you personally pick your service providers based on age or based on effectiveness / value?

it's hardly union-busting to ask for higher pay for teachers who

teach in schools where kids are far-behind. I got my first union card as a teenager. I belonged to a professional union as an adult. Both of my previous unions were far more flexible and adaptable than the teachers' union. Just sayin'.

Nor is it union-busting to ask for longer class days or for the 12-week summer break to be broken into four-week breaks at different times of the year, so kids don't fall so far behind in the summer.

These are all things we could do if we were trying to design a school system that served the kids and families we currently have.

And how many years has the great author spent teaching???

And more importantly, how long did you teach south side Chicago as I did as a young white woman? It always makes me laugh how people who don't teach in these environments know all about fixing them. And FYI I've also taught in the South where there are NO teacher unions. Why aren't our Southern schools better than yours? Why aren't our black kids doing better than yours? We cut teachers loose all the time , bottom 10% or not. I can also tell you fr years of reading & teaching that there isn't one shred of evidence that black kids or any ethnic group does better in any way w/ identically ethnic teacher. Don't you remember there was about a hundred or two years of black kids w/ black teachers only? Did they do great then? Nothing has ever been tried more than separate but equal & it has never worked no matter who wants it or for what good-hearted reasons. I agree w/ opposition here. This is right wing republicanism dressed up for the Dems at the PTA

Koch Brothers Rhetoric in Sheep's Clothing...

I couldn't agree with Mr. Holbrook more. This is nothing but a right-wing hit piece against the union.

For instance, Ms. Mickelson would like to fire the bottom 10% of all teachers for poor performance. That is nothing if not out of Jack Welch's playbook when he was CEO of General Electric. The only problem in this case being teachers are not at-will employees. Given that the Vergara v. California case (the one about tenure in California) estimated that the Los Angeles system had only two to three percent of teachers deserving to be fired for poor performance, I wonder who will pay for all the litigation that will ensue for the other seven percent let go. My property taxes are high enough as it is right now without having to pay for all those settlements.

I am disappointed Ms. Mickelson is continuing to call herself a member of the party I prefer, however if it walks like a duck and talks like a duck....

Oh please....

If all teachers have stellar evaluations and performance records, then no one will be dismissed. But they do not. This is a human profession. People will be imperfect, often highly imperfect. This is true in any profession.

Almost all other professionals and employees are regularly evaluated and the evaluations matter. If their work is consistently at the bottom, year after year, they need to improve or find a line of work that more suits their talents. If you wanted to be treated like a professional, you need to be accountable and responsible for your work.

This is hardly a right-wing concept. It's called having standards. If you believe in the promise of public schools; if you believe that government has an obligation to lift up those who are most vulnerable, you should want our schools and government to function at their very best.

We are also talking about a profession that serves children. Kids can't just up and find a different teacher.They need adults to step in and see that the best possible people are in the classroom and in the administration.

Right wing

The problem is that the high stakes testing you want is a terrible way to evaluate teachers. The idea that you are trying to institute accountability and apply standards is absurd. Do you know why teachers don't want to teach in schools with large minority populations (and what we are really talking about here is poverty, not race)? Because of the right-wing education reform agenda which labels them bad teachers because of arbitrary test scores.

The problem isn't white liberals. The white liberals I know believe in our teachers - the people who work hard everyday with poor and minority students. No, the problem is that public education is overly influenced by companies like Pearson, which has raked in millions in public funds selling testing. It's too much influence from "reform" groups that get there funding from Wal-Mart and Hubbard Broadcasting. Do you really think that the people behind pointergate are really interested in the achievement gap? This is about union-busting and school privatization, nothing more.

Waddle and Quack, Waddle and Quack

I see I received an "Oh please" last night, like what I wrote was so far from the truth as to be laughable. This is either a textbook case of denial, or more likely an attempt at obfuscation.

People in the Tea Party couldn't come up with a better way to bust a union if they tried. Get rid of the bottom ten percent of teachers. Reduce the standards for teachers so that anyone from anywhere can teach in Minnesota. Make them work longer hours, but don't worry, we will pay them something more. Destroy the principal's union outright, and just make them at-will.

All because, you know, standards.

I have never seen a better use for the slightly tweaked adage: A one-percenter walks into a conference room with a teacher and a parent. He takes 11 of the 12 cookies in the center of the table, looks at the parent and says the teacher could care less about your kids, and has no standards.

Waddle, Quack.

Recruiting from the South

Okay, I live in Mississippi. I teach at a historically black university (Jackson State University.) Most of the students as well as the teachers in the public schools are African Americans (white kids mostly go to private academies.) If merely having more "teachers of color" could vastly improve the education of minorities, Mississippi would have the best educated African-Americans in the country!

We don't.

Remember when they did all those IQ tests on soldiers who were drafted during WWI? The conclusion they reached was that blacks were dumber than whites because they scored lower? What nobody mentioned was that African-Americans who lived in the north scored higher than white southerners.

My observation: Not much has changed since then. Do you really want to recruit minority teachers from the South? Whatever problems you have up there in Minnesota educating minorities I find it hard to believe it is worse than it is here in Mississippi.

Thanks for the comment, Susan. There is no one silver bullet, so

no, "merely having more teachers of color" is not the ONLY solution. But when 96 percent of your state's teachers are white, it's a sign that you need more diversity in your teaching corps.

The IQ tests given to soldiers drafted during WWII have been discredited. Fortunately, academic tests have improved a great deal in the last 70 years. They're still not perfect. But they are not comparable to what was happening in the 1940s

Fire bottom 10%--hire more minority teachers?

Slight conflict between those two--


But now, it’s been three years, and the numbers are in: the overall pass rate for the TAP is less than half what it was before, and the changes have disproportionately hurt non-Asian minorities. Sixty percent of African-Americans used to pass the TAP; now it’s 17 percent. For Hispanics, the pass rate has dropped from 70 percent, to 22 percent.

Many are quick to warn that this is not because those candidates are less capable, but that they themselves were products of poor schools. “If you think about who have we been under-educating in the past, it tends to be low-income and minority students,” said Robin Steans of Advance Illinois, an education policy group.

Steans rejects the idea that raising teacher standards must come at the cost of diversity. She says colleges of education should do more to recruit talented minorities.

But the reality is, Illinois is seeing a tradeoff. She and many others in the education field in Illinois believe this matters because year after year the white student population in the state has shrunk. According to the Illinois State Board of Education, white students make up 50.3 percent of school enrollment this year. Meanwhile, the share of white teachers in Illinois has barely changed, hovering between 82 and 85 percent. Many feel the new TAP further exacerbates the mismatch.

“Don’t we want kids to have elementary teachers who have a solid grasp of these subjects?” said Arthur McKee, of the National Council on Teacher Quality. The NCTQ has become a vocal advocate in pressuring states to raise teacher standards. McKee said Illinois made the right changes to the TAP, and should stay its course. “We actually think that it’s a good assessment,” he continued. “We believe that teachers should generally be drawn from the top half of the college-going population.”

Reply to solutions

I, as a teacher in a school with 100% poverty level, would love if these solutions were that simple, but it isn't. Take into consideration paying the best teachers to work in high poverty schools. Many of our high performing teachers are performing well because of where they teach. My husband and I moved our children out of a high poverty school school district at 76% low income rate to a school with 16% low income. The fact is they had great teachers at both schools. It isn't a mystery why the students in my children's new school district are high performing. It is expected! Parents value education and instill it in their children! I would love to see if they flip flopped the teachers at the schools. I guarantee the middle class kids would still out perform the low income kids.
I also would love to see data on the teachers' opinion on "year around" schooling. Part of the schools in our district do the modified schedule in which the students have short summer breaks and more breaks during the school year. Teachers in our district are not against it. Other than the fact it would cut into my income by taking away my summer school position, I am not against it. I would actually have more time off each year, just less money. Many teachers don't care. You still get the same amount of time off. It is the middle class parents who have their children in every sport who prefer the traditional schedule in our area. Maybe Michigan is different.
I do agree about the argument about schools need more teachers that are not white. Our district has an agreement with the NAACP in which they are supposed to have the same percentage of certified staff who are black as the percentage of black students. The problem our district has ran into is finding the staff. I am not an expert so I do not know what the problem is other than I wonder if there are not enough certified teachers that are minorities. Let's face it, teaching is under attack! The profession does not embody the respectful image it once did. Illinois even offered free education to minorities going into education to try and increase the number of minorities in the profession.
I have dedicated my life to not just education, but educating students with behavioral issues. The fact is all my students in my 7 years have been from low income families; white or otherwise. Very few of my students see a value in education. My colleagues and myself fight the good fight daily. We try every day to not only educate, but instill a passion for learning. Until we can overcome an deeply engrained ideology that teachers can fix this problem nothing will change. It starts in the home and begins at birth. I will leave with this final thought. Since my school works on educating each student along with dealing with behavior, we have problem
solving meetings. These meeting are to figure out what we can do to help each individual student. If they are behind in reading, what can we do? If they have violent outbursts, what can we do? If they have truancy issues, what can we do? At what point do we out the responsibility on the parents and the student? How is it my fault if a student who refuses to come to school can't read? If the student who refuses to do the work is in the tenth grade and has a fourth grade math level?


To respectfully disagree with some of your solutions.
First, paying teachers more to teach at low income schools. If you think that just because a great teacher at a middle-upper class neighborhood school is going to be successful in a low income school, that's not certain. Teaching at a low income school isn't something everyone can do, especially if you've never done it. Also, just because you pay more doesn't mean great teachers are going to jump on board. People don't often choose a job that is knowingly going to be more stressful.

I always hear people say get rid of ineffective teachers. Principals can do that, no one wants ineffective teachers around, especially other teachers.
Minnesota has different license requirements than other states because the standard is set high. It's not keeping "the pipeline closed", it's setting a high standard to hire the best, quslity teachers.

The school day hours and calendar: Extend the school day hours? So, struggling students that don't do well in school and don't want to be there and you want them to spend more of their day there? Good luck.
You are right that the summer causes a drop in learning because of the time away, but it's not the teachers' doing. Schools are off in the summer because of the state's economy. So many businesses rely on the summer income. Not to mention, there would need to be a big transformation in child care. Not saying it's not possible, but it might be rough to get started.

Your worst idea is the "at-will" firing. It doesn't enable bad teachers. It attracts the best teachers. Who doesn't want job security? Principals can always follow a process to let go of poor teachers, but to be able eliminate anyone for whatever reason just opens the door to firing people who make the most money and restricts great teachers who care about kids from speaking out against decisions that are not in the best interest of the students. You would put a lot of power into the hands of principals and that is not always a good thing.

Blow it up!

Personally I feel the entire system needs to be blown up, scattered to the winds, and re-grown from scratch.

Teaching was a second career for me - only lasted 8 or 9 years. But in that time I saw children coming in who had failed and failed and failed so often they were resigned to it. Shocked realization came on the day a favorite student yelled out after a final - "I passed!!!" He'd only gotten a D- but that was a passing grade, not an "F".

After thirty plus years in what academics call "the real world", I found the academic world to be old-fashioned, mired in tradition, sexist, probably more racist than I, a white woman, could ever discern, and resistant to real change. The school calendar revolved around Christian holidays and an agriculture-based school year. Too many academics were professional school-goers, having gone through years of primary, secondary, and college without being out in the "real world". Their worlds revolved around classroom best practices and theories.

I say to them - get real. Very very real.

And I say to those who fund the schools, do the same.

Realistically one or two generations of putting some REAL money into education to equally and fairly educate everyone would in the long run result in massive cuts in the justice and criminal systems.

Toss out the agricultural calendar and find out what works in your community. Yes - YOUR community. Education should not be dictated from the federal level down (unless it is to ensure there are no disparities). Each community differs. Let the schools and school communities dictate from the bottom up.

First off let me say that while every child deserves the opportunity and should be given every support to go to college, not every child NEEDS to go to college. Some of us were perfectly happy in careers that did not require a degree. Others mature later and might wish to return to get that degree, while still others may embrace the traditional route directly into college.

At the lower levels of primary...let children be children and let play and learning overlap.

At the secondary level encourage students to excel while GIVING THEM THE TOOLS to do so. My old high school is Title One...translated into real world language is "we get more money cause something is wrong with the system." As you pointed out, the school is educating the traditional liberal white (or in this case conservative white) minority.

And now for something completely radical.

A high school with three or four or more "tracks". But not in the traditional sense. And on top of the tracks, shake up the school days/year/breaks. Do students have to go to school six hours a day, five days a week? Why are Saturday and Sunday so sacred? Can a school be flexible enough to allow families and students to make their own calendar and then have the schools and teachers work around those?

Track one would be self-motivated students. A very very small minority who are motivated and independent enough to drop by the campus for a two or three hour session with teachers, getting assignments and having to use the school or community library and computers.
Next track might be a combination of track one and three. Less seat time (a staple of comprehensive schools today) but some more free time for independent study AND perhaps work study or working a job in (again) the real world.
Track two would be more seat time involving hands-on learning. Connecting the academic content with "real world" issues. Making, creating...tying several subjects into one lesson (building a prosthetic arm as a team while writing a research report and doing a presentation, with each student working in the area that they perform best in). Oh wait - there's an after school club called MESA that does exactly that.
Track Four might emphasize basic skills and work...a minute part of what is taught in English classes in California called (don't laugh) Functional Workplace Documents. How to read a menu and leave a tip. How to complete a resume. In my classroom, how to form a company with officers and workers to produce a product or service, make an advertising campaign complete with radio or TV spots, how to fire or let someone go and how would that person go about applying for a new job with another company.

And I'd like to think there would be a Track Six...for dreamers and "misfits" and those who will drift through life either motivating themselves or allowing life to motivate them, but who are always exploring and learning and not driven by the overwhelming beat that drives the rest of the world.

And Track Five? The old traditional system could stay for those who can not make themselves break loose. But I see it shrinking and eventually dying from lack of support.

Thank you for allowing me to be part of this conversation (and for venting). I know some of these suggestions will irritate but hopefully inspire.

there's 20-odd paragraphs of

there's 20-odd paragraphs of backhanded condescension here and only 1 paragraph alludes to practical steps to take. yes, i get that it's a system that biases to address the needs of the white middle class; no argument there. what should be done and how do you propose to accomplish it?

Practical steps?

"....and only 1 paragraph alludes to practical steps to take."

Which paragraph was that? I must have missed it.

i was thinking she might

i was thinking she might actually go somewhere with this paragraph. but alas...

In Minneapolis, we actually, honestly could change our schools to work better for our kids of color. But this would involve asking mostly white middle-class administrators, teachers and employees to change their work lives — i.e. their schedules, assignments, job locations and even pay — around the needs, comfort and convenience of low-income people of color and their children.

Accelerated learning solution for at-risk teens & young adults

In the U.S. the major obstacle slowing learning growth is the factory model high school (and to a lesser extent middle school) where students change subjects, teachers and workgroups every 45-90 minutes in response to a bell. This design has never worked for half the students, less for those living in large cities. To be effective the traditional model requires very small classes, which is simply not affordable in today's economic climate. To be sure, the most outstanding teachers can make the factory model work as they have for some 10-15 percent of high schools. But if districts want to bring high school success to scale, they will have to reinvent how they engage learners and deploy faculty time and resources.

The following articles describe a curricular framework that could begin to replace this factory model school design. It remains to be seen whether the educational establishment is ready to redirect its resources, scheduling and credentialing practices to support this framework which has been proven to be highly effective and popular with out-of-school teens and young adults from low-income backgrounds. Time to take it out for a spin in our urban high schools!

No disagreement

When you say, "i.e. their schedules, assignments, job locations and even pay" I don't know what that means or what needs to specifically change to suit low-income families of color. Could you please define the changes that need to be made? Just some concrete examples, really.

I've got a three-year-old and I live in Minneapolis. I'm not the only person eager to see improvements in schools, but I've got no comprehension of what you're talking about in changing the set-up for staff (let alone a take-away from this article that I could voice to my local council member or at a school board meeting). Opinion writing is more than just criticism. A key component is giving us something to take away--a call to action, etc.

Some specific suggestions...

1) We need to be able to put our most effective teachers in the schools where they are most needed and pay them significantly more to work in these schools.

2) We need to be able to extend the school day and year at schools where the majority of kids are working far below grade level. And yes, we would need to pay teachers more to do this. We could also do some of this this by having split shifts, i.e. some teachers start later and stay later.

3)Instead of having 10 weeks of vacation in the summer, we could have four weeks in the summer, then another four weeks in the winter, etc, so that kids don't fall so far behind in the summer.

4) We need to give principals and their site leadership teams the ability to choose who is teaching in their buildings. We must stop forcing ANY schools to accept teachers that they do not believe will be effective with their students.

5) When lay-offs happen----and they always happen eventually--we should be able to keep great teachers in the classroom and make lay-offs based on evaluations and student feedback instead of strict seniority.

All of these changes would involve changes to our teachers' contract. Nearly all are fiercely opposed by the teachers' union

School swap

Send the urban kids to the inner schools and the city kids to the suburban schools. Problem solved.

Since white liberals

have run the cities and the schools for generations now, it makes sense that the government-run schools would be designed for white liberals. It's nice that one of them would finally get around to figuring out where the problem lies.

Those of us who aren't white liberals have known it for a while now.

Not exactly

The writer is white (per her picture), but she's no liberal. She should stop making that claim.

Part of her shtick

She claims to be a liberal or a progressive (and maybe she used to be) while spouting right-wing rhetoric. Not sure who she things she is fooling.


Do you truly believe:
- It make sense to let the most senior and well compensated Teachers are free choose the schools with the easiest students?
- Pay and layoff Teachers should be based nearly exclusively on their years served, degrees earned and hours worked? With almost no regard to the Teachers effectiveness?
- Teachers from other states who have a BS degree from an accreditted university should need to wait until they pass a test and take misc diversity classes.

Lynn's ideas aren't Conservative ideas, they are just logical. I think most of us pay for services based on the quality and productivity of the service provider, I don't think I know anyone who just hires older people and pays them twice as much because they are older.

Yes really

The problem is that her measure of teacher effectiveness - student test scores - is extremely arbitrary and unfair. What her thinking does is create a huge disincentive for teachers to teach at difficult schools. Her ideas are not only illogical, but they exacerbate the problem here.

Student test scores are NOT the only measure of effectiveness

.....nor is anyone proposing that test scores be the only measure. So this is another red herring. In Minnesota, 35 percent of a teacher's evaluation is based on how much academic growth their students are making, which is based on SOME kind of assessment. (It's very loosey-goosey)

The rest of the evaluation is based on classroom observation and student feedback. So, no student test scores are not the only measure. Never have been.

Solutions? Suggestions?

I spent the entire time reading this and getting miffed that the article suggests that kids of color are somehow inherently different than "beige" kids. Because it does. It indicates that it's not about poverty and "chaotic" families, and that we somehow teach white kids better than black kids, even in the same schools! It goes into how the proportion of white teachers is vastly unbalanced with the proportion of white kids--do people only learn from people who look like them?

And then, at the end, it provides only one suggestion...based on poverty. Wait, no. Not poverty. Brown poverty. Is the poverty of people of color somehow different??

Never mind. Adjusting how and WHEN we teach in light of common issues relating to poverty might help. It might even help some *gasp* beige kids. The achievement gap with relation to race is actually narrowing. Not enough, but it is still narrowing. However, the achievement gap with relation to INCOME is growing. Probably the biggest reason that a racial achievement gap still exists is because people of color fall disproportionately into the lower income groups.

So, no. We don't need to shoehorn more people of color into positions they aren't currently in in order to somehow stimulate learning in non-beige kids--it's more than likely the disparity in racial proportions has more to do with the proportion of people who decide to teach and/or are qualified to teach than skin pigment. What we need to do is figure out how to close the income achievement gap. The racial achievement gap will necessarily close at the same time. And more people of color will likely find some reason that they want to teach.


You sound like the typical helpless liberal

Sorry, being one myself your essay seems to suggest nothing useful. I should change my perception that the Minneapolis school district is broken and somehow that will fix it?

Here are a couple practical ideas that the beige (cute) district can use. One, no company that I have ever heard of lets you use your credit card and not have to do an expense report monthly with receipts for anything over about $25. Apparently at the school district they hand these out like candy and require no proof that they are used sanely. That includes the very top administrators and it suggests a complete lack of accountability to me.

Two, a couple weeks back the Star had an article contrasting the lives of two teachers: the old tenured teacher happily reading to her attentive, mostly white southwest kids and the young, brave woman trying to engage her inner city kids in a class with huge turnover and totally unengaged parents. I wanted to slap that woman in the southwest school. So the goal of the teachers is to suffer through some tough years until you get the cushy position out near the suburbs? It guarantees the least experienced teachers with the toughest assignments. And unless the new teachers are full of the energy and idealism of the young teacher they don't stand a chance. Then probably the next year they get dumped for failing to motivate a room full of kids whose parents don't care.

And while there are things the system can do to help and it is true that the system is full of white privilege and it is true that most white people could care, one big point on the bottom line is that parents are the most important contributors to a kid's success in school. Without that the kids are lost. And that is what 200 years of white privilege has led to: poverty and failure passed on from generation to generation. Until that situation is addressed one family at a time, whether by schools or churches or government entities or other people who care, any changes the school district makes will only be cosmetic.

Otherwise, this just seemed like a silly article whose main function was to show how caring and clever the author was.

Questionable diagnosis, lacking prescriptions

It seems common in Ms. Mickelson's writing to just nudge up to saying something but then shy away. I kept searching in this article for something concrete but as Mr. Foster and Ulrich have already said there is no concrete plan of action here.

She seems to intimate that teachers should accept less pay... " [b]ut this would involve asking mostly white middle-class administrators, teachers and employees to change their work lives — i.e. their schedules, assignments, job locations and even pay" but I fail to see this as anything other than a non-sequitor if one follows Ms. Mickelson's vague diagnosis ("white liberals have created an environment that serves only them and their children").

Almost by definition, clarion calls for action are not vague. It makes no sense to imply radical action. The only people truly inspired by this are those with nothing to offer but insipid sniping at liberals.

Actually, I DON'T think teachers should accept less pay....

I think we should pay excellent teachers far more (like $100,000 a year) to teach in schools where kids are far behind.

I think we should look into a longer school day at these same schools. And a longer school year.

All of this would involve paying some teachers more, not less.

"Paying some teachers more, not less"

Given that there is a finite amount of money available with which to pay teachers, that would mean that some will get less, in order to pay some more. Pitting teachers against one another, as it were.

Ms. Mickelsen, I'm prepared to give you the benefit of the doubt on your claims that you are a progressive Democrat, by which I mean I will assume that this is what you believe you are. As John Steinbeck once said, our capacity for self-delusion is endless. You should realize that, despite your protestations, you are doing the dirty work for the Koch brothers and their minions.

When the workforce was more unionized, wages were higher, benefits were better, and income equality in America was nothing like what it is now. All that started to change in the 1980s. On the other hand, teachers and public employees are the last heavily-unionized segment of the workforce. What would happen to the oligarchy if the rest of the country sees the advantage to them of collective bargaining again? They can't have that, so it is necessary to fight what is left of unionization. Conservatives build resentment against unionized government workers, and self-described education reformers work to neuter effective collective bargaining for teachers. There will be no example for private sector employees to emulate.

You can tell yourself until you're blue in the face that it's all for the kids. You can respond to criticisms by posing empty rhetorical questions about "is it union-busting [spoiler alert: yes]?" You are, however, following closely the playbook of Governor Walker. Today, we take on the teachers' unions. Tomorrow, a special session to pass "right to work" legislation.

But hey, it was all for the kids, right?

his is giving me Baptist flashbacks

......because it's the same fundamentalist mindset: all or nothing; either/or, saved or damned; heaven or hell. Either you agree with every clause in the contract or you're a heretic and apostate, a tool of Satan/Koch Brothers/Scott Walker.

I support collective bargaining. I think more charter schools should be unionized because I think many of them treat their teachers badly. I think we need contracts that are specific to those schools, which allow for innovation and high standards--not a repeat of the industrial era ones that aren't working well in our current schools.

I'm not making an argument for unions to go away. I'm making an argument for them to adapt and change.
It's interesting that you hear a desire for change as elimination rhetoric. I think this is a problem for labor.

Baptist Flashbacks

It all has to start somewhere, Ms. Mickelsen. Has it never occurred to you to wonder why corporate America is such an enthusiastic participant in education "reform" efforts (hint: it's not all about the kids)?

This is just the thin end of the wedge. Wisconsin wasn't destroyed in a day.

I agree

I would also like to see excellent teachers get paid more. Your article, however, was not particularly clear on what you were advocating but was instead full of a lot of innuendo and implication. When someone appears to be intimating something rather than outright saying it, suspicion is warranted. I think that by tip-toeing up to the line of saying something but then not doing so created a lot of skepticism and you shot yourself in the foot. Now that your posts are clarifying your perspective and offering concrete ideas we can actually have a sound discussion. These ideas should have been in your original article in the first place.

Hello Pete Seeger generation-

Hello Pete Seeger generation- the defining moment of Malvina Reynolds's song of houses made of ticky tacky, describing the drain of wealth to the suburbs, is fifty years PAST- Please note that there is clustering of wealth and high scoring students within the city as well as the burbs; there is poverty within the city as well as the burbs. So please let the urban/suburban delineation expire from our problem-solving discussions. Could we also give a little respect to all the wealthy, educated, doing better-than-average minorities by not grouping them all under the poverty blanket? Let's either discuss poverty OR race instead assuming an all-encompassing correlation.

Perhaps this piece is about not getting hung up in the same old discussion ruts, or ingrained ideological biases, and in that process jumping the tracks on our way to a solution.

Maslow's Hierarchy

I agree with her on this. The failure of family systems absolutely will cause great challenges that even most adults would have challenges in learning under the same circumstances. But don't stop there to try to understand. What's causing so much dysfunction? Take a look at all the social ills affecting the families that are struggling so much. Looking at Maslow's Hierarchy may explain a lot. As a humanist, Maslow believed that people have an inborn desire to be self-actualized, to be all they can be. In order to achieve this ultimate goals, however, a number of more basic needs must be met first such as the need for food, safety, love, and self-esteem.

"Scandanavian-style socialism"

Really? Even though charter schools have made the education system in Sweden decline precipitously? And even though teachers' unions are strong, perhaps even more influential in Scandinavia than in the US?

Fixing the Schools

Not everyone has been asleep at the wheel the last 40 years as yet another article from this author implies. The teachers' union in our fair city has for years attempted to recruit and train teachers of color for our own purposes, that being the creation of a multicultural teaching and overall working staff that more accuratly reflects the makeup of our population. And of course, in the rush to "reform teaching", these efforts have been largely forgotten and discarded, at least for now. Somehow it just doesn't fit the narrative of many psuedo reformers who often have few clues and little insight, other than to blame those who are doing the heavy lifting.


Since 2004, the superintendent of the Minneapolis public schools has been a man or woman of color.

As someone who spent a decade

As someone who spent a decade working to improve public schools, I appreciate Lynnell's refreshing honesty, but as long as the DFL receives a huge portion of it's money from EducationMN, nothing will change.

Democrats are beginning to realize the hypocrisy between their words and their actions, but like the civil rights movement, shame needs to be employed and felt to move the mountain.

The fact is, Mr. Swift,

that your ideas for "working to improve public schools" were soundly rejected by the people of St. Paul when you ran for school board. You eventually withdrew your kids from the public schools and washed your hands of them. Now you live in South Carolina.

Nothing will change? Perhaps not in the direction which you would desire. But don't bet that things will not change. They already have and will continue to do so. For example, look at the anti-bullying legislation in the schools. And all day kindergarten with further improvements in early learning opportunities will continue.

Happy to be living in Minnesota.

Bill, I appreciate your

Bill, I appreciate your dedication to my biography, but it might be best if you got some facts straight before publishing.

I pulled my kids out when the oldest was in 4th grade. My voluntary work in the classrooms took place after they had been in private schools for a year already, and continued for the next 10 years.

It's true my ideas were rejected in 2002, ironic that liberal Democrats like Lynnell Mickelsen have started to parrot them in 2014, isn't it? Or maybe a pity that it took so long, and cost so many kids so much is a better way to put it.

Parroting your ideas?

When will she start ranting about the gay agenda in the public schools?

For the record,

I totally support teh Gay Agenda in the schools. Bring it on!


It's always kinda funny when erstwhile pontificate's on education matters blow stuff like basic math:

"less than 30 percent of black and Latino kids are working at grade level; less than 48 percent graduate on time, etc.

Children of color now make up 67 percent of our enrollment in Minneapolis. (Vocab reminder to the Greatest Generation: This why we can’t call them “minorities” any more.) So you’d think the mass failure of the majority of the city’s school children would be a moral emergency."

Not that these numbers aren't alarming, but 30% of 67% is 20, and 48% of 67 is what? 33 or thereabouts? A "majority" would be 50% +1 of the total student body. I'm not saying this failure rate is anything to brag about but I'm not sure we should be taking advice from someone who can't recognize an actual "majority" when they see it.

Beyond that, this actually typical "white" thinking masquerading as racial sensitivity. We don't know what to do about black's and Hispanics so let's just make this about white people... let's make it about us... again. After all, we know a lot of white people.

And by the way, let's not break our arms patting ourselves on the back for recognizing the problem. The bloody obvious called and they want their observation back. Way to sound the alarm... 60 years AFTER we realized we have racial disparity problems in America.

But yeah, this is unacceptable. If we could only figure out how to deploy the solutions we know work AND make a profit out of education we'd make quick work out this disparity. It's all the liberal's fault.

A plan of action

This is a plan for schools, summarized from Diane Ravitch's book Reign of Error.

1. Prenatal care and high-quality early childhood education that is child-centered and not test driven.

2. Balanced curricula with arts, physical education, science, and history—not just math and reading.

3. Class sizes comparable to those in elite private schools.

4. Charter schools on a completely even playing field— not allowed to cherry-pick their students. No for-profit charters. And locally controlled only.

5. Wraparound services to compensate as much as possible for the effects of poverty. (Since that is the real problem, as shown by U.S. students' international test scores when schools are matched by the percent of students living in poverty.)

6. Eliminate high-stakes standardized testing and use tests as they should be used: to assess individual students' weaknesses in order to provide appropriate instruction.

7. Strengthen the professionalism of teachers, as in the Finnish example.

8. Protect local control of schools through local school boards, including fighting the influence of external money in these elections.

9. Implement national, regional, and local policies to end housing segregation and eliminate poverty.

More about Ravitch's book and proposals here:

Read all about it: Finland's #1!

Your post, Pat, along with Theo Kozel's, "No there there" further down, made me curious enough to do a quick search that led to a good concise overview of Finland's approach and how it moved them from the "middle of the pack" to number one in the world of education.

There's no denying comparing countries (Finland population 5.3 million; U.S.A. = 330+ million) is, concensus/politics-wise, a near-impossible "apples to oranges" kind of thing. But seeing as how Minnesota's population is about exactly the same (5.5 million, last I heard), it MAY behoove us (what does that word even mean? "Behoove... What are we, horses?") to work out some kind of "Educational Sister Country Exchange Program" arrangement with the Fins, implement a "State's Rights!"-based (thank-you conservative Republicans!) MN Universal, Single Payer Healthcare, Free Student Food and Tuition-type system, set it in motion, and just relax about it all for the next 25 years.

Highly recommend anyone genuinely interested in the main point of this article/thread give it a (5-minute) read and go from there.

Bring on Finland

Hear, hear, Bill Willy. I'd also like to see Universal Single-Payer health care, free student food and tuition come to this country, or at the least, come to Minnesota.

One of the first things Finland did ....which is rarely mentioned...was overhaul their teacher training programs, make them more competitive so that students in education schools were in the top ten percent of their class. They also had a strong national curriculum

In this country, most of our education majors are coming from bottom half or bottom third of their college class. Efforts to make education schools raise their standards have been fiercely resisted by these schools.

Finland also doesn't have our racial history.

I think nearly all of Ravitch's ideas are great

except that I support using standardized testing wisely and well. See more here:


You like her ideas except you support the exact opposite of everything she stands for.

Your adherence to high-stakes testing undermines any claim you have of being progressive or even being interested in fixing this situation. Again, the problem isn't white liberals - who are engaged in the schools, but the right-wing school "reformers" who have created a huge disincentive for teachers to work in difficult schools.

Happy to see

…Ms. Kahler weigh in, probably because I often agree with her take on things. It's easy to take potshots at teachers, liberals, and public schools because, for the most part, they're not in a position to defend themselves, and they're easy to attack politically, as Mr. Swift and Mr. Tester can attest. What's more difficult is addressing the issue(s) that underlie the achievement gap about which so many are wringing their hands.

Successfully solving unemployment, underemployment, starvation wages, terrible working conditions, &c., &c. will require a far greater adjustment of attitude and action than what Ms. Mickelsen suggests, and as a practitioner for 30 years, I saw no evidence that the brains of my black, latino and/or asian students worked differently than the brains of my caucasian students. But, I hastily point out, most of my kids were lower-middle to middle-class. The successes were fewer, much as Ms. Kahler suggests, with the kids who were from impoverished neighborhoods. Not that there weren't any, but the proportion of As to Fs was different.

Meanwhile, I'm VERY happy to see that I'm not the only one in the neighborhood reading Ms. Ravitch's "Reign of Error." Plenty of food for thought therein. I'm also in the middle of "The Teacher Wars," by Dana Goldstein, which promises to be equally thoughtful and thought-provoking.

I do understand Ms. Mickelsen's viewpoint, and her frustration. "Fixing" isn't likely to occur in either of the groups her title suggests. My humble observation is that schools do not lead their communities. Schools reflect their communities. Perhaps a segregated, somewhat bi-level school system is a reflection of a segregated, somewhat bi-level (both economically and socially) community.

With respect Ray, it's easy

With respect Ray, it's easy to take potshots at teachers unions, liberals, and public schools because liberals and teachers unions have had complete control of the schools since the 70's, and have used their control to enrich themselves politically and financially while academic achievement has eroded steadily.

For thought provoking issues, let us not forget that in addition to failing the majority of minority students, 25% of graduates of Minnesota public schools, the cream of the crop so to speak, require remedial work before moving on to college.....

What, Exactly, Is it About "White Liberals"

(re: unionized teachers) that Ms. Mikkelson wants to fix?

I'd suggest that what we REALLY need to fix is massive income inequality for BOTH white and black students living in poverty,...

as well as fixing the daily environment which surrounds students living in unstable homes with deeply dysfunctional parents.

If we give kids stable lives, where food, shelter, clothing, care, concern, and appropriate limits are routine and dependable,...

which, of course means we must spend the massive amounts of money and effort necessary to help their PARENTS,...

(of whatever race or ethnicity; even if we don't like them),...

become stable, functional, adults,...

pay each and every one of them a living wage,...

and provide support for those who will NEVER be able to become dependably employable (of which there are more than a few),...

the achievement gap will take care of itself.

But I suspect Ms. Mikkelson, Mr. Swift, and Mr. Tester (among others) earnestly believe that all these kids and their parents just need to "pull themselves up by their own bootstraps,"...

which demonstrates their own lack of knowledge of history - that phrase and the phrase "pie in the sky when we die" having been developed by the labor movement to derisively describe the anti-labor attitudes of those at the top of the economic ladder many decades ago,...

and their ignorance of the rules of even the most primitive form of Newtonian physics,...

rules which make it clear that you simply cannot grasp the straps of your own boots and lift both your feet off the floor.

The only REAL way ANYONE moves higher is if there is a ladder or a stairway for them to climb,..

and or, if someone is pointing the way and offering a hand to help them up.

Sadly, our "conservative" friends have been working very hard to tear down those ladders and demolish those stairs,...

(by destroying public education at every level and pushing hard for the cheapest possible compensation rates for labor of all kinds),...

all the while blaming those who can't find a way up for their "failure to launch."

But that, again, as with MOST "conservatives" (which Ms. Mikkelson clearly is), IGNORANCE of what REALLY going on is bliss.

You're wrong, Greg. I don't

You're wrong, Greg. I don't expect kids to pull themselves up, I expect them to have a hand up; their parents hand.

I am living proof that poverty doesn't automatically equate to scholastic failure. I grew up in a house where hamburger helper and Goodwill stores were the norm. It was also the norm for my mother to check our homework every single evening. We all excelled in school, because mom assured us there was no pot at the end of any rainbow ready for us to scoop was school, or hamburger helper and Goodwill stores for life.

You cannot instill responsibility in people that do not know the meaning of the word by throwing money at them. All you do is fuel the dysfunction. THAT is a truth my leftist friends would rather remain blissfully ignorant of.

I'm happy to read

that your family was there and able to give you a hand up, Mr. Swift. My own parents weren't always, because they were working night shifts and weekends to feed, clothe, house, and educate their brood. Fortunately, some of us received a good enough education that we didn't require daily assistance from a parent. My parents valued education, in part because they saw what might have been had they pursued their own after WWII.

You can blame today's parents all you want for their perceived failures. You may even be right in many cases. That, however, does nothing to solve the problem.

I tutor middle school students. They come to me in large part because their parents can't help them and their teachers don't have the time to provide one on one instruction, much less ensure they know what should have been learned three grades earlier. Their parents don't know algebra. They can't construct a well written paragraph. They work many jobs, in some cases. In others, their children live with only one parent, a parent hard pressed to keep them fed and clothed, much less try to teach their children subjects they don't understand themselves. The details vary, the result is the same: a slow fall behind their contemporaries, with no net beneath them.

I don't claim to have the answers. I do know, however, that the problems are more complex than your simplistic model can ever resolve.

I tutored as well James, for

I tutored as well James, for years. I tutored public school kids because although I had moved my own to a more academically focused private school I could not, in good conscience, ignore the knowledge so many kids were still stuck in the environment so sure to fail them that had kept me awake nights.

Placing blame doesn't solve problems any more than throwing piles of cash at them does, but it does provide a target for solutions. I don't know when you decided you had gotten enough details to conclude my model was simplistic, but I can assure you I am fully cognizant that there is no one, single cause for the failure of our public schools; there are many.

But the fact is that while we have people in authority fighting tooth and nail to protect their personal agendas without regard to the consequences to the students, we'll never get anywhere.

Gee, Mr. Swift ...

I'm sure I could swap tall tales with you about our rotten childhoods, but that really is pointless, isn't it?

Just so you know - plenty of liberals also had poor childhoods and were successful. Surprisingly they want others to succeed and believe that society should do something about this situation. Approximately 25% of our children live in poverty.

Apparently, according to folks like you, we should not throw money at them. Just let them starve, I guess...

Bill, I have no interest in

Bill, I have no interest in your tall tales, but I would like you to explain how it is, if the liberals want others to succeed, and that they believe society should do something about it, that the Minneapolis, one of the most liberal societies in the country, boasts the largest spread of racial inequality in the country.

Schools, wages, housing. It just seems like a minority can't get a fair shake up there. Please explain how one is to consider the difference between what "you" (liberals) say, and what "you" (liberals) do.

Here you go, Mr. Swift

some reading for you to think about:
Black Lives Matter

Some of the interesting factoids that you will find:

1. Black male high school graduation rates are LOWER in South Carolina than Minnesota.
(see the first map)

2. Black male suspension rates are HIGHER in South Carolina than Minnesota
(see the second map)

In the full report we learn that:

Black male graduation rates are 51% in South Carolina
Black male graduation rates are 67% in Minnesota

The gap in South Carolina is 17% and the graduation rate of whites is 68%
The gap in Minnesota is 23% and the graduation rate of whites is 90%

Which leads to a couple of interesting questions:

1. In which state does a black male have the better chance of graduation?
2. Why is the graduation rate of whites so low in South Carolina. The gap with Minnesota is 32%

A final point to ponder is:

The best graduation rates for black males are found in:

Maine, New Hampshire, New Jersey, South Dakota, Arizona, Idaho, Tennessee
And some of them are quite spectacular, like 90% in Maine. There is even a NEGATIVE gap in Maine, so that blacks graduate at a higher rate than whites. Presumably we just have to go to Maine and learn how they do it and Bob's your uncle.

My observation from these data is that things are not quite as simple as you assume.

And I point out that changes of the type that we are making in Minnesota - anti-bullying legislation and support of full day kindergarten and increase of pre-K funding - are the kind of long range developments needed to address educational inequalities.

This is an important aspect of this discussion

You make very good points, Mr. Gleason and they are worth expanding on.

Generally speaking, red state conservative models fail to educate their students with a smaller gap between whites and minorities. Blue state 'progressive' models relatively better educate their students with a larger gap between whites and minorities. If you are white, generally speaking you will get a better education in 'blue' states that follow 'progressive' models. The same applies if you are a minority. Focusing solely on the gap and drawing false inferences from it is standard operating procedure for conservative propagandists. The complexity of a situation where minority students still get an overall better education even in states where there is a huge achievement gap does not fit easily on a bumper sticker.

I'm sure this post will be viewed as unnecessarily partisan but actually any discussion must first be cleared of false inferences by partisans in order to proceed with any degree of rigor. My impression is that conservative 'arguments' often amount to little more than such false inferences and are therefore not constructive and should be explicitly called out and dispensed with. If not they will keep popping up again and again to distract from finding any real, concrete solutions.

I think we should also dispense with questioning Ms. Mickelson's bona fides as a progressive. To me these smack of ad hominem attacks and are also distractions. Ms. Mickelson may want to spend some time studying some pointers on writing persuasive essays (this is what she is trying to do with this piece) and perhaps question whether some of her rhetoric is inflammatory and counterproductive to what she is trying to achieve, but that doesn't give the rest of us carte blanche to create the diversion of attacking/defending whether or not she's a real progressive.

We have a great discussion here. Let's make it better.

If there had been any sort of conservative real-world solution to the education gap, the first rational thing any conservative would do would cite it and provide evidence that it is more broadly replicable. We all know this to be true. The fact that no such example has been offered speaks volumes. Those of us interested in real solutions will simply need to carry on ignoring that buzzing sound of vacuous partisan sniping.

All right, I'll bite: Florida

(and please don't bother responding by calling me a right-winger. Right-wingers would be mortally offended.)

I'm guessing...

...this is in response to my challenge to find a conservative real-world solution to education problems(?) If so, it misses the mark. As the article itself states repeatedly, a hodge-podge of approaches were taken. Reading through the list of approaches, many are decidedly not conservative.

Speaking as someone with

Speaking as someone with conservative credentials no one would question, I don't see a single one of the "hodge-podge" approaches Florida has taken I'd object to. You are going to have to come up with another objection. Whatever works, works for conservative champions of education.

Thanks for the link, John Stewart

Really interesting, balanced and detailed article about what is going on in Florida.....although I couldn't figure out the part about the Minnesota "reforms" that survived a GOP, DFL and Independent governor. But I really appreciated the in-depth look at how Florida was trying to deal with reading and early intervention.

An old idea might be the answer

"If we give kids stable lives, where food, shelter, clothing, care, concern, and appropriate limits are routine and dependable"

Sounds like the orphanage idea Mary Jo Copeland suggested years ago. If the parents cannot adequately take care of their children, then the orphanage option at least provides the children with a chance, a future.

Or better yet, just plain stables

Pardon my ignorance, but I don't know who Mary Jo Copeland is. That aside, let's forget about all this feel-good, touchy feely stuff and get right down to it:

If the parents can't cut it, farm their kids out (they'll get over it).

Literally. They can sleep in the barns (stables or shops in sleeping bags on Wal Mart cots) of the many Minnesota farms that are suffering under the crushing weight of property taxes (that have nothing to do with Cargill, General Mills, et all, profits), and, through some MN House of Representatives codified "Room and Board Repayment Act," work it off and learn some valuable lessons about how America's Future will REALLY work!

Excellent point... Glad you made it.

Ms. Copeland

Operates Sharing and Caring Hands in Minneapolis.

Many will consider your

Many will consider your opinion with horror, Tom. But given the realities of the homes many of these kids come from it is perhaps not only less palliative, it is more humane than many of the holistic remedies we see being so often suggested.

I agree with all of Greg's suggestions....

that's why I'm figuring that we probably vote for similar people. I am just saying that IN ADDITION to all of the things Greg has listed....Democrats in Minnesota also need to walk their talk on racial justice and make changes in how our schools are deliver education.

So, what is the next best step?

I agree with the comment that says there isn't much in the way of positive options suggested in this rant.

Change will happen when white middle class parents choose to send their kids to schools that are not mostly white instead of investing huge amounts of money in SW High so there's plenty of room for the white kids.

Change will happen when we require equity in housing, employment, and health care. It's unrealistic to expect education to drive the necessary change - see today's Paul Krugman piece.

Lynnell is overlooking one fact

As a father who has children in St. Paul's completely disfunctional school system (thankyou Ms. Silva), I am becoming deeply concerned about the lawlessness going on in the classrooms by a handful of delinquents.

These kids will never see success in life as long as they are wetnursed by the Silva and her cronies (including the author of this article) AND they will never become gainfully employed.

My children have been physically threatened, their classes disupted, and their teachers put in the position of babysitting all day. So Lynnell should remember i can remove my children and put them in a private school or charter at anytime. This is what many parents are considering if this nonesense continues INCLUDING ONE OF MY BEST FRIENDS WHO IS AFRICAN AMERICAN. If you don't deal with these hooligans you will soon have a public school system with ONLY hooligans.

It is time to enforce discipline EQUALLY to ALL children instead of making up ridiculous excuses that it is based on subconciuous racism over 395 years.....


FAPE is the law that makes it where these students with extreme behavior issues can continue to come to school. It states all kids are entitled to a Free and Apropriate Public Education. The problem is that extreme behaviors are a disruption the the learning process for the other students. I work in a school of these students. Our district has an alternative school for the students with extreme behavior and thus us where I work. This helps the students who want to learn at their regular school. However, Illinois has passed a new law and as of the 2016/2017 school year students can not be suspended without proof to cause bodily harm. I worry about the chaos that will ensue next year when kids figure out they won't be suspended. I guess I will just have to accept that they can call me names, verbally threaten me and my children, disrupt other students' ability to receive an education, and many more issues we face daily.

Some concrete possibilities

1. Fatherless families are one of the largest factors in poverty; So let's get rid of "no fault divorce." Father to be required to give 50% of his income to his ex-wife if divorced.

2. Out of wedlock births are probably the biggest factor in poverty. So let's get the DNA of every person in the city and if it can be shown who the father of a baby is, 55% of that person's wages and assets are to be garnished and given to the mother. If the father has a child by another woman, that to be punished by five years in jail. No parole. That should large solve the shacking up problem.

3. One of the bigger reasons for young children dropping out of school is t;heir mother being evicted for non-payment of rent. Most often the students start again at another school. Solving the mother's income problems should provide school stability.

4. Physical abuse in the home is a far worse problem than in the church or the school. Criminal charges need to be enforced and no probation or parole.

5. All prisons to have schools, both academic, and vocational. If an inmate isn't working in the joint, then he must be in the classroom.

And the ideas (in this thread) just keep getting better!

"Fatherless families are one of the largest factors in poverty; So let's get rid of 'no fault divorce.' Father to be required to give 50% of his income to his ex-wife if divorced."

Yes indeed. It's obvious it's his fault and there's no doubt he should pay his ex-wife half of whatever he earns for the rest of his life.

"Out of wedlock births are probably the biggest factor in poverty."

Wait a minute... I thought it was "Fatherless families." Or is that the same thing? Or are there Motherless families too, or what's going on..? I'm starting to get confused.

"Let's get the DNA of every person in the city and if it can be shown who the father of a baby is, 55% of that person's wages and assets are to be garnished and given to the mother."

Okay... I think I'm feeling a little better now. This is starting to make more simple common sense: All I gotta do is go down to my local DNA Collection Facility and get swabbed and then, if it turns out I'm the Divorced Dad of a City Child I surrender 105% of my income to his or her Mom?... Sounds good, but can I keep my car?

"Solving the mother's income problems should provide school stability."

Absolutely! Especially if she's getting 105% of the father's income which, for sure, she'll be contributing most of to the school's Stability Fund.

"Physical abuse in the home is a far worse problem than in the church or the school."

Yes indeed. Many studies have proven it's far better to be abused by a member of the clergy or school system than someone at home (as long as everyone's DNA is on file so everything can be verified and the responsible party compelled to contribute 105% of their associated income and assets to the child's mother).

"If an inmate isn't working in the joint, then he must be in the classroom."

That is probably the most important point: Once the divorced and shiftless, no-good father has been PROVEN to be the father of the mother's child (via DNA) and has been arrested and convicted of failure to pay 105% of his income and incarcerated as a result he MUST be in a classroom (when not making -$3.57 an hour for making rake handles) learning something that will increase his income when he gets out of prison.

You really should run for office.

A winning piece!

This piece wins by sheer volume of the thought it provokes, if it doesn't change a single mind. I'm an urban special education teacher, working with way more kids of color than "beige," and I offer you no solutions. We're all aware of the "disproportionate" numbers, but we're not aware of how it happened, nor what to do about it. We're just down in the mix, slugging away, trying to keep families involved, offering kids insight to their options. Neither ham-handed "lens shifting," nor subtly nuanced policies have done a thing to mitigate these disparities. When someone figures it out, I'll be there to implement your solutions. I've helped implement all the available solutions since 1999!

Thank You for Your Service!

You and all teachers working in areas with lots of struggling students and families, whether urban or rural,...

(and yes, there ARE rural areas with similar problems - I've taught in two of them),...

deserve a Medal of Honor!

Meanwhile, all the figurative chickenhawks giving you advice,...

i.e. telling you and all your colleagues to pull yourselves, your students, your schools, and your neighborhoods up "by your own bootstraps,"...

while you work with fewer resources,...

deserve a good swift __________________ (you can fill in the blank).

None of them would survive two days in your work environment.


I don't know what is funnier...reading what she wrote which is spot on..or reading the comments of "white" people who are totally miffed and perplexed and baffled that someone is pointing fingers at them being the problem and not capable of being the creator of the solution. Cause they always lead don't they? and they always have the best ideas don't they?

the best article i have read in a very long time.

I do hope that we hear from the community that CAN provide the solutions. And that CAN lead the way to a better future for these kids.

How about if school ran from March to November so that kids who hate winter didn't have to go out in the cold weather?

White kids love to skate ... it's not universal folks.

"totally miffed and perplexed and baffled"

And then some.

Or so it seems.

"best article i have read in a very long time."

Had some version of the same thought myself when I read it this morning. Was looking forward to see what the comments would be (always enjoy the comments as much as the articles here) and, wouldn't you know, the initial "anchor theme" locked onto the notion that the author hadn't laid out the specific step-by-step directions on how to solve the thing that has its roots in a 500-year old American Problem, so she and it was all pretty much bogus, end of story ("So let's move back on to the real issues, okay?").

And then, after a few hours, the dialog shifted off that into a variety of other things that seemed, to me, to reflect your "miffed, perplexed and baffled" observation.

I just checked the "Most Commented" list on the MINNPOST home page and, lo and behold, even though it was just posted this morning, this article is number 2 on the list (with 36 comments as of now)... When it comes to what you said about miffed, perplexed and baffled, and this being the best article you've read here in a long time, I had a hunch (this morning) it would generate a lot of comments because of something having to do with that stuff.

So what do you think, MinnPosters? Were you at all miffed, baffled or perplexed by this article when you first read it? Do you think Lynnell Mickelsen is just another (garden variety) crazy fringe liberal ultra conservative with nothing worthwhile to say?

And. as she pointed to, what about what TaNehesi Coates keeps saying about the same basic thing (every time he gets the chance)? And even though it would probably be better not to drag the local Indian/Native American question into the mix here (don't want to make it overly complicated for the liberals, conservatives and independents among us), but what about the things people like Winona LaDuke (and several others in her community) might have to say about the issue?

That said, in defense of skating, even though I haven't skated in a long time (it's way more natural when you're a young Minnesotan), besides hockey being a great game to play, it would be one of the best, quickest, most enjoyable ways to get around in winter if we could just get the (liberal, conservative and independent) legislature and governor to spring for "skate trails" to the same degree they support bike paths and lanes.

(See Joni Mitchell's "Wish I Had a River"

There's no "there" there

The issue is not that fingers are being pointed at white liberals. The issue is that Ms. Mickelson isn't really saying anything new here. What didn't we already know? We're all quite aware of the achievement gap, in fact Mayor Hodges brought it up as one of the most pressing issues facing the city. One of Ms. Mickelson's falsehoods in this article is that the gap is being defended by white liberals: it is not, in fact Ms. Hodges' concern is not unique in this overall quite liberal city.

Conservatives are only capable of pabulum on this issue and so many others, it seems. Just because this problem isn't 'solved' doesn't mean it is not a genuine concern and that people aren't trying capably and intelligently to solve it. The world's ills do not always have ADD-friendly solutions. My hope is that we can start turning things in a positive direction and make incremental progress- striking progress would of course be wonderful! Thus far, conservatives have shown no real world solution with a record of success, they can only snipe and criticize people actually trying to fix the problem and fantasize wistfully (and unrealistically) about a world of 1950's-style two income households.

What we need are not further diagnoses. We know what the problem is. What we need are solutions that have shown real-world success, and if there are none which have shown such success we have the hard task before us of devising them. I'm no education expert. I would not write an article about education issues because I do not have such expertise. Anyone writing an article about education should not be writing things that a non-expert like myself sees as apparent as the nose on my face. Anyone writing an article about education should be offering information about successful approaches that we should adopt here. Ms. Mickelson's article fails on all counts.

I'm genuinely sorry this is the best article you've read for a long time. It has no substance and does not further the debate or serve to inform. My advice to you is to read a lot more.

Incremental progress

As mentioned above, in response to Pat Thompson's, "Plan of Action" post, what you two had to say got me to looking around for "education in Finland." And as I was reading the article I settled on ( I thought of what you had to say when you said, "My hope is that we can start turning things in a positive direction and make incremental progress," when I read this:

"Long-Term Turnaround

"Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of Finland’s educational success is the path it took to the top. Thirty-five years ago the country was considered middle-of-the-road or worse educationally. The country eliminated its education inspector and rethought its educational system.

"The most impressive part of Finland’s turnaround for many visitors is the patience the country showed. Of course, this is a country that understands that supplying prenatal vitamins to pregnant women will help pay off in a more productive member of society 25 years later, so long-term thinking isn’t unusual.

"'They made some changes, and then they waited,' says Luizzi. The United States has more of a Christmas tree approach to education reform, he adds. 'We are always putting on new ornaments. Finland thinks more strategically.'”

I agree with you 100% about the (sadly) baseless knee-jerk, "Vote for Me cuz I'm tough," so-called "educational reforn ideas" put forth by those that think of themselves as "conservatives" that blindly spew the Talking-points Memos they get every morning from Head Quarters, even though they - and the people SENDING those memos - are no more qualified to say what should be happening in education than you or I (I don't know nuthin' 'bout it either).

And when it comes to incremental progress, I'm pretty sure that's what's been happening for a long long time, is now, and will be as we move on down the line (toward those "striking progress" moments you mentioned).

Whenever I hear people bashing teachers, public schools and expounding on what a mess it all is ("So vote for me and I'll fix it!"), I always think of something as simple as you and I, and a whole lot of other people, having SOMEhow picked up enough "education" to be able to Read, Type and (maybe) Understand this stuff and, miracle of miracles, be able to figure out how to get hold of and hook up a computer or phone or "other device," and "get on the internet" to be able to do this.

How in the world did THAT happen? How did we all "learn" how to DO it? Especially if we happened to go to one of those useless public schools (being held captive by the Satanic Teacher's Unions!) that are RUINING the next generation's life!? Did somebody teach us, or were we just born knowing it and that we don't need the government to give or tell us nothin?

Brown children

I guess I am too dense. From a liberal perspective, the solution would be...what???

(Aside from 'more money'?)

Miffed and perplexed eh?

I think there is a reason that Ms. Mickelsen's article has provoked so much ire from the lefties here (including myself). In a nutshell her missive is a misdirected criticism launched from a position of white entitlement. You can read a short autobiography from Mickelsen here:

Mickelsen traces HER journey from self described progressivism into "school reformism". OK, well she's entitled to her journey but like a typical entitled affluent white person she assumes that HER journey is EVERYONE'S journey, or at least should be. Basically for some strange reason Mickelsen concludes that progressives are opposed to school reform. Maybe SHE was apposed to school reform when SHE was a self described progressive; but where I come from progressives have been championing school reform for decades.

It looks to me like rather than being a progressive, Mickelsen was rank and file DFLer, and doesn't understand the difference. Her lack of genuine contact with progressives allows her to conclude for instance that progressives demand an end to poverty as primary solution to education disparity. Mickelsen claims that progressive's believe that education can't be "fixed" until you resolve poverty; this is simply not true, this is a liberal stereotype of progressives masquerading as inside knowledge. Whatever. Hint: one difference between progressives and liberals is that progressives frequently think we can solve multiple problems at once whereas liberals and democrats, tend to think that we waste our political capital if we don't focus on one problem at a time.

The problem with the article at hand is that this self described champion of children and education reform strikes out from a false premise (that progressives and liberals are opposed to school reform) and makes a beautiful landing at the wrong airport.

The definition of "school reform" is also more than a little hinky in that it seem to revolve around attacks on the teacher's union rather than any constructive programs that might impact disparity.

In reality, the problem with the "liberal" approach to education in the last few decades isn't it's "progressive" nature, quite the opposite. The problem with liberal's, like Mickelsen, is that they bought into sooooo many republican and conservative education initiatives.

The idea that "liberals" are the problem with education goes all the way back to the conservative "Back to Basics" assault on public schools in the late 70s. I remind everyone that at the time, innovation, creativity, and experimentation in the public schools was condemned as "liberal" experimentation that was leaving our children confused and uneducated. The problem wasn't the liberal approach to education, the problem was that liberal's agreed to scrap their education system in favor of republican models based on discipline. Those discipline models produced all these standardized testing regimes we ended up with. The demolition of innovation, creativity, and experimentation in our public school systems combined the neo-liberal fascination with "free markets", led to resurgence of the Charter School movement (which had originated as a racist response to desegregated public schools back in the late 60s and early 70s). And yeah, liberals bought into it, but these weren't liberal or progressive ideas or initiatives.

By the way, we now that charter schools actually do what they were intended to do in the first place, they segregate schools and increase disparity.

At any rate, the majority of the blame for our "failing" schools lies with conservative initiatives be they implemented by conservatives or liberals. Sure liberals have a problem.. they have to go back to being liberal.

In the meantime just because Mickelsen started out with a lot of bogus assumptions about the MPLS school system, and liberalism, doesn't mean EVERYONE has made the same mistakes.

Most commented

It's actually not all that uncommon to find that the comments on Minnpost are more interesting than the actual articles. Minnpost has done a good job of promoting constructive and informative comment threads. In fact, I will sometimes skip the actual articles and go straight to the comments.

This doesn't mean that an article itself is actually thought provoking (although they can be). Sometimes the comment thread is triggered more by a thoughtful comment than the article itself. We have a lot of liberals here that, contrary to Ms. Mickelsen's assumptions, are quite concerned about MPLS school system and it's disparities. It doesn't take much to get us started. The Mickelsen paradox if you will, is that the so-called anti-reform liberal commenters here are presenting more reform ideas than Mickelsen herself. Did you notice that?

Bell Curves and White Families

Ray Marshal and maybe a couple others have suggested some "reform" ideas centered around what some conservatives like to call "family policy".

It's important to note that these initiatives flow out conservative think tanks and their assorted intellectual frauds like Charles Murray. Murray has been producing fraudulent and spurious work or decades. He started by creating the myth of the welfare queen in the early 70s, and then went on a rampage for the next several decades. He's the author of: "The Bell Curve" for instance. In a nutshell the guy's made a career out of committing the most basic error in statistics i.e. mistaking correlation with causation.

The ideas being regurgitated here appear to come from his latest missives about education and white families. His latest book is: "Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010". Basically Murray's big complaint is that white families are starting look more like black and Hispanic families than the pseudo-nostalgic fantasies Murray imagines white families to have been in the 50s. And so it goes. All these complaints about single parents and what not are just the product of Murray's trade mark talent for statistically challenged thinking.