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Speaker Steve Perry provokes heated exchange on education reform

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Steve Perry

On Monday, Your Humble Blogger moderated a panel discussion that followed a talk by Hartford, Conn., principal, author and CNN commentator Steve Perry.

I’ll refrain from adding my .02 on Perry’s discussion — co-host Minnesota Public Radio has promised we can make it available to you digitally soon — but it’s safe to say from the discussion it spurred that it was provocative. So much so that the debate continued where it is wont to do: On Facebook

Perry’s appearance marked the first of three Minnesota Meetings hosted by the Minneapolis Foundation. The meetings are an effort to spread the word about a campaign the foundation and several community partners, including the Minneapolis Public Schools, has launched to draw attention to five tools shown to close the academic achievement gap. The panelists included Perry, MPS Associate Superintendent Michael Thomas, Harvest Prep founder Eric Mahmoud and Hiawatha Leadership Academies Executive Director Eli Kramer (who is the son of MinnPost CEO and Editor Joel Kramer).  

Regarding the debate that followed: With the permission of the authors, we reprint for you first a letter from Minneapolis Federation of Teachers (MFT) President Lynn Nordgren demanding that Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson end the district’s partnership with the RESET campaign. It’s followed by one to MPS administrators and board members from Lynnell Mickelsen, who among other things is a founder of Put Kids First Minneapolis, a community organization advocating change in the MFT’s contract. Nordgren’s has some additions for clarity. Otherwise neither has been edited, but we offer one slight note of clarification: Mickelsen’s mentions of “fee-fees” refer to feelings.

Those two letters were followed by a letter Tuesday night from Superintendent Bernadeia H. Johnson to the district’s teachers. It is reprinted below as well.

Nordgren’s letter    

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Lynn Nordgren

This week the Minneapolis Public School district sponsored a meeting at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul along with key players of the anti-union, corporate education reform movement. The meeting was part of a broader campaign called RESET, which offers five strategies to reform education. The meeting’s keynote speaker was Dr. Steve Perry, a magnet school principal from Connecticut and noted anti-union activist, who spent the evening abrasively trashing teachers and our unions. He went as far as to say, “we need to call out the roaches” when referring to teachers unions. Dr. Perry went on to blame teachers for the “literal death” of children. This was a horrific accusation that was truly beyond the bounds of reality and acceptable dialogue.   

Unfortunately, our district is a RESET campaign partner that co-sponsored this event–as noted by their logo on the program. Our district’s involvement in both this event and the RESET campaign calls into question their willingness to collaborate with Minneapolis educators, students and families to produce education policy that puts the student at the center. It is time for MPS district leadership to declare if they stand with their employees and families or with the corporate reformers to find the best ways to educate all students.

Educators, more than anyone else, want to improve public education. We take our jobs seriously and go above and beyond the call of duty on a daily basis. We believe in students and want the very best for each and every one of them. But we know that the path to doing this is not through blaming and shaming the educators who have dedicated their lives to students. We are not “roaches” who are responsible for the “death of children.” Instead, we are professionals that have great ideas and knowledge on how to ensure all students are successful in school and in life. When educators speak up to say that students do not have beds to sleep in, food in their homes, lack the medicine they need, mental health support, employment for their families, sustainable housing or even something as simple as a pair of glasses, we are not making excuses or saying we cannot teach–we are standing up to advocate for our students. We are asking for help. Truth is, the biggest excuse of all is that we as a society have turned away from our neediest and most vulnerable children and left teachers to pick up the pieces.  

RESET’s agenda is now clear. They are going to shame and blame teachers and their union in the hope that this will create a magical transformation in education. This is the wrong agenda. It will do nothing to improve the quality of education for students. We demand Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson immediately end the partnership with the anti-teacher RESET campaign. There is no place in the collaborative partnership that the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers (MFT) has attempted to foster with the district over the past several years if they are going to be involved with a campaign like RESET. 

It is also clear that the district has lost touch with the day-to-day realities educators face in spite of MFT’s continued efforts to help them understand what is taking place in schools. The MFT has called on the district to ensure: smaller class size, a focus on teaching not testing, before- and after-school wrap-around services for struggling students, hiring of a diversified workforce, building a strong family and community engagement partnership, time for teachers to adequately prepare high quality lessons for their students and providing a culturally relevant curriculum that addresses all areas of learning. These are just some of the things we believe will improve education and help close the gap and raise the bar. 

We call on Superintendent Johnson and all associate superintendents to spend a week teaching in a classroom. If they are ready to be a part of a campaign that blames every problem in the education system on teachers, they should be ready to be in classrooms showing us how to fix it. We will be happy to select the classrooms for them to demonstrate best practices. 

Finally, if unions were the problem in education, then why do the states without unions have all the same problems as those that do? Why are the non-union states doing less well than unionized states? Why do most charter schools do less well–and they do not have unions? Why do the countries around the world that have surpassed America in every indicator have stronger unions and more success? Unions are NOT to blame for the problems. If anything, we have many of the answers. It is time for the district leadership to decide if they want to truly collaborate with its educators and families or with the outside organizations who have not spent one minute of one day with Minneapolis students.  

Lynn Nordgren, President
MFT 59 

Mickelsen’s letter

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Lynnell Mickelsen

Dear Superintendent Johnson and School Board:  

RE: Lynn Nordgren’s letter demanding that the district disavow the Minneapolis Foundation’s RESET campaign based on Dr. Steve Perry’s talk at the Fitzgerald Theater last night. 

Oh puhleeze. I was there last night too. Dr. Perry drew a large, far-more-diverse-than-usual crowd of all ages. He gave it straight up. No chaser, with none of the usual vague Minnesota Nice platitudes. Perry talks like a normal human being and he’s funny too. So during his talk, there was lots of laughter and applause, I suspect in part, because many people were grateful Perry was saying in public what many, many people privately say in living rooms, kitchens, coffee shops, parking lots and church basements all over town. 

Look, we all know our schools aren’t working for a huge percentage of our students, most of whom are low-income African Americans and Latinos. Perry said the problem isn’t that we don’t know how to create better schools for these students. The problem is our leaders aren’t willing to create better schools for these kids…. because this would involve, among other things, a knock-down, drag-out fight with the unions. So we keep losing generations of children. The community knows this. They’re fed-up and want change. That’s the real issue and that’s why they were applauding Steve Perry last night. 

Yet in the letter [above], Lynn wants to switch the topic to (sigh, once again!)…… the hurt feelings of adults (most of whom are white and middle-class). Also, whether black people are using their nice, indoor voices as they talk about the academic genocide of their own children.

I mean, really? Really?!? I think it’s time to print up t-shirts for adults that say, “It’s not about our fee-fees.” This was the whole point of Dr. Perry’s talk. 

If the MFT really wants people to speak more nicely about them, they can start by changing their own behavior. The union can stop blocking common sense reforms and take responsibility for the actual stuff the union has control over. 

On Saturday, I attended the MFT’s Let’s Dream Together community forum on the north side to talk about how to make the schools work better for kids, especially kids of color. I appreciated the MFT’s attempt to reach out to the broader community. There were many teachers in the room, plus some parents, students and community members. At my table, we followed the guided questions and spent almost two hours talking about ending poverty, racism, segregation, homelessness, income and health-care disparities and the usual talk about how our schools should be more like Finland, etc. etc. I liked the people at my table and as a progressive DFLer, I was down with all of it, especially bringing Finnish socialism to America. Yes! Bring it on! Come soon Lord Jesus!

It was a nice, vague discussion–no harsh words, no hurt feelings. But I was struck that once again, we spent hours talking about things that teachers and the union had no direct control over and we avoided any area that the teachers and unions could control.  I think the MFT is full of good people who care about kids… but not to the point where they are willing to afflict their own comfort. And their discussions reflected this. They talked mostly about how other people needed to change stuff.. 

Lynn is doing the same thing again in the letter [above].

The MFT (and Education Minnesota) have attempted to silence any honest discussions about the union’s role in the achievement gap by rigidly controlling the public discourse. Education MN is to my beloved DFL tribe what the NRA is to the GOP–a powerful single-issue political lobby that blocks common sense reforms and tries to bully shame and blame opponents into silence. 

Dr. Steve Perry scares the hell out of Lynn because he doesn’t play by the usual rules of limited discourse the union has constructed for Minneapolis leaders and community members. His talk could give people more courage to openly challenge a system that is deeply failing their children.

If Lynn found him shocking, then she’s out of touch with the depth of anger in the community. Instead of trying to shut him down, she should listen and learn. 

If the district publicly distances itself from the RESET campaign, that would be a clear signal to the community that the district, once again, is more concerned with the feelings of (mostly white, middle-class) adults than improving the academic outcomes for (mostly brown, low-income) children. 

So please ignore the ritual and predictable pearl-clutching, the collapsing onto the fainting couches. Hang tough, stick with RESET and don’t back down.

And please, let’s order those adult-sized “It’s not about our fee-fees” T-shirts now. We’re going to need them.

Cheers and all the best,
Lynnell Mickelsen
co-founder, Put Kids First Minneapolis,
proud parent of three K-12 MPS grads

Superintendent Johnson’s letter to teachers

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Bernadeia Johnson

Dear Colleagues,

This evening you received a message about Minneapolis Public Schools’ participation in the RESET campaign. I am communicating with you directly to provide information and perspective on our partnership with RESET.

There’s at least one reason why both you and I work for the 34,000 students and their families in Minneapolis—we care about children, their academic success and their futures. We are all passionate about the students we serve, so we need to work from our joint passion, not our politics. There are changes that we need to make, but we need to make them together in order to make a difference in our students’ lives. If we fail, our students fail and it is their lives that are on the line. Every decision you and I make must have students, not adults, at the center.

As many of you have experienced firsthand, the school district collaborates with teachers to support the work that you do. We have paid close attention to this partnership, making sure that teachers have been at the table in shaping our teacher evaluation and support system through listening and feedback. I know that you, as much as I, want to create a system that supports and helps teachers—and that, more than anything, pays off for students. This continues to be one of my top priorities.

I know that we cannot do this work alone. MPS looks to our community members, organizations and partners to back our students and teachers. One of these partnerships, among many, is the Minneapolis Foundation’s RESET campaign. The campaign is sponsored by other Minnesota schools, organizations and businesses, all of which are focusing on helping close the achievement gap in Minnesota. The RESET strategies align with several of the research-based priorities of the school district.

RESET is an acronym for five proven strategies for creating pre-K-12 schools where every child succeeds. RESET stands for Real-time use of data, Expectations not excuses, Strong leadership, Effective teaching and Time on task. MPS stands behind these proven strategies as being necessary at every level of our organization in order to effect real, positive change in achievement for every student. I believe in these strategies.

Labeling supporters of RESET as anti-union or teacher-bashers is unfair and concerning. Many of our city’s strongest supporters of public education—in particular, MPS—have united with a sense of urgency to bring more attention to Minneapolis’ unacceptable achievement gap.

MPS was not responsible for inviting Dr. Steve Perry to Monday’s Minnesota Meeting, nor do we agree with everything he said. We acknowledge that some of Dr. Perry’s comments were controversial, divisive and more aggressive than many of us are accustomed to. While Dr. Perry’s views on unions are negative, during his speech he delivered many brutal and true facts about our academic struggles in an extremely direct and aggressive way. Unfortunately, some individuals and groups are dismissing his overall message of acting urgently to save a generation of young people because of the sharp rhetoric he used during his speech and the subsequent panel discussion.

Regardless of one’s feelings about Dr. Perry, it does not change the need for all of us to stay focused on our strategies to dramatically improve the educational outcomes of students, in particular for our American Indian, African American and Latino students. MPS will continue supporting our teachers and collaborating with teachers and the MFT for the future of our children. MPS teachers are critical to our success. We also will continue working with our partners who time and time again support our work in so many ways.

I know we have scores of dedicated teachers who are committed to their craft, committed to the children they serve and committed to the changes that we need to make a real difference. We urge you to stand up for your students and make your voices heard.


Bernadeia H. Johnson, Ed. D.
Superintendent of Schools

Comments (42)

  1. Anonymous Submitted by Anonymous on 04/24/2013 - 11:21 am.

    More nonsense from the Sup. She must be fired.

    Regarding RESET – there isn’t ONE mention of pedagogy or poverty in this corporate/plutocrat sponsored propaganda.

  2. Submitted by Pat Thompson on 04/24/2013 - 01:21 pm.

    Be honest

    I’ve seen Steve Perry appear a few times on Melissa Harris-Perry’s show, so my exposure to his approach is limited, but he instantly rubs me the wrong way. I wish he would be honest about the fact that the student body at his school is NOT representative of the overall student population in his city. He insists that his students match the poverty and ELL profile, when they clearly do not.

  3. Submitted by Jerilyn Jackson on 04/24/2013 - 01:29 pm.

    I am appalled at Lynelle Mickelson’s flippant and disrespectful tone regarding public school teachers and the unions that support them. Education reform is complicated and we need good ideas from all fronts. Her refusal to acknowledge that teachers and unions have some important things to say regarding the arena in which they have so much experience, makes me wonder about her agenda. She certainly does her organization “Put Kids First” no favors by approaching this issue with an attitude of belittlement of those who care so much about Minnesota’s kids.

  4. Submitted by Taylor Maness on 04/24/2013 - 02:42 pm.

    Support Teachers

    MPS involvement in the RESET campaign is a slap in the face to teachers – plain and simple. Not only does RESET host speakers like Dr. Perry, who would rather make a name for himself by throwing around bombastic insults than engage in dialogue about how to improve education, but they also align with the national corporate reform movement. We don’t need that in Minneapolis.

    The truth is that most of the ‘reforms’ RESET proposes are either existing policy, or ineffective ideas. That is just a fact. The real game here is an attack on teachers unions, and public education, with the goal of creating for-profit schools.

    It is shameful that Superintendent Johnson did not apologize to teachers for the remarks made about them. Covering for Dr. Perry by telling teachers to lookat the bigger picture is condescending.

    Lynnell’s article is silly, and not worthy of discussion.

  5. Submitted by Lynnell Mickelsen on 04/24/2013 - 03:03 pm.

    Actually, I think teachers and unions have a lot to contribute..

    A few points of clarification:

    1) I thought a few of Steve Perry’s comments were out-of-line, particularly the comment comparing the union to cockroaches. That was awful and ugly andI hated it. But his main point— that we know how to create better schools for our kids; we’re just not willing to do it because we continue to put the needs of adults over the needs of students—is right on.

    2) We’ve got a huge percentage of good-to-great teachers in Minneapolis. We also have some mediocre-to-lousy ones—as you would in any work force. Our kids who are two or three years behind their grade levels need good-to-great teachers.

    3) I’m a progressive DFLer who believes Minneapolis teachers absolutely need a union. I just think they need a better union—-one that is willing to change the way they do business to better fit the needs of their students and the 21st century.

    4) When I say, “It’s not about our fee-fees” I mean that it’s time we move beyond these predictable hissy fits, beyond collapsing onto fainting couches and talking about our feelings because these things are a HUGE distraction from the real issue: focusing on the kids who are failing and giving them the best possible education we can with public dollars. The needs of students and the needs of adults do not always perfectly align. When they don’t, I believe we need to keep our focus on students and their outcomes.

    • Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 04/26/2013 - 01:38 pm.


      I was instantly turned off by your attitude in your letter to MPS. It was disgusting. If you had a point, it was lost in the “oh puh-leeze” and “fee-fees.” If you thought you were being funny, you sent your message to the wrong venue. If you meant to write a serious commentary, you failed. I guess though, the response by MPS being in favor of your ridiculous letter points out that MPS isn’t necessarily following reason, but would rather embrace immaturity and a condescending attitude so long as it supports their stance. The stance remains questionable.

      • Submitted by Lynnell Mickelsen on 04/28/2013 - 04:22 pm.

        For the record the MPS superintendent’s letter

        was already written as a direct response to the letter from the MFT.

        Supt. Bernadeia Johnson wrote her letter before she got my response. (All of these letters were written within a 12-hour period.) So although we came to similar conclusions, the Superintendent wasn’t trying to back me up or embrace my bad-ass attitude.. 🙂

    • Submitted by Paul Cantrell on 05/10/2013 - 12:54 am.

      Lynnell, you need to work on your communication skills

      I was astonished at your letter — not just its gratuitous rudeness, which was utterly out of line, but also its emptiness.

      While the other two letters were at times maddening vague, I still finished them with some sense of where their two authors stand, and what do and don’t support. Your letter left me only with the clear sense that you are very angry. If the letter had a point, it seemed to be that you don’t like unions, and you think teachers are selfish. I didn’t learn anything about what reforms you support. Although you were nominally responding to Nordgren’s letter, you didn’t respond directly to any of the perfectly compelling points she made.

      Adding to my distress was your gratuitous use of emotional land mines, particularly the repeated appeal to race and political affiliation. I’m also not a fan of Nordgren’s use of “corporate” as a go-to insult / emotion-rouser, but your letter took the cake in the dog whistle contest.

      In short, your letter is an embarrassment. I’m afraid it made me instantly unsympathetic to your cause … whatever that is.

      In contrast, your “few points of clarification” comment to which I am replying here is far, far better written. It is civil, articulate, and communicates more substance in 242 words than your letter did in 811. If you can communicate like that in the future, you will win much more sympathy.

  6. Submitted by Michael Friedman on 04/24/2013 - 03:24 pm.

    Why are the commenting educators so angry?

    Nordgren’s MFT’s proposal: “smaller class size, a focus on teaching not testing, before- and after-school wrap-around services for struggling students, hiring of a diversified workforce, building a strong family and community engagement partnership, time for teachers to adequately prepare high quality lessons for their students and providing a culturally relevant curriculum that addresses all areas of learning. These are just some of the things we believe will improve education and help close the gap and raise the bar.”

    RESET is: “Real-time use of data, Expectations not excuses, Strong leadership, Effective teaching and Time on task.”

    While Strong Leadership and Effective Teaching may be criticized because they say too little (no one counterposes weak leadership and ineffective teaching), I fail to see how RESET and the MFT have approaches that are in conflict with each other. Let’s aspire for both.

    All the educator comment emphasis on the “anti-union” agenda is suspicious to this outsider as a deflection from the topic, and only makes me distrust that Nordgren can bring her own members in behind the MFT’s stated acheivement gap strategies.

    • Anonymous Submitted by Anonymous on 04/24/2013 - 05:17 pm.

      Why are educators angry? Maybe it’s because plutocrat billionaires are destroying public education and it’s something they care about, both for themselves and for their students.

      • Submitted by Michael Friedman on 04/24/2013 - 08:50 pm.

        Who are you talking to?

        I understand how school vouchers could undermine public education. (That’s not part of RESET.)
        I do not understand why you think longer school days or real-time assessment destroys public education.
        I do not understand why anyone would think that a Superintendent trying to learn and possibly borrow some methods from the few charter schools with a positive record destroys public education.
        I understand that many in communities of color have positive feelings about their public education, but those looking at overall outcomes and disparities may consider public education already destroyed.
        I understand that many teachers feel blamed unfairly for such.

        I do not think YOU understand how those concerned with improving educational outcomes for all will react to an educator who only wants to talk about billionaire agendas and not improved practices. Shouldn’t educators want those impacted by the disparities gap to desire their leadership? To truly grasp how much you care (and believe it)? Comments like yours only accelerate the desire to bypass educators when seeking solutions. My instinct tells me this is unfortunate.

        • Submitted by Taylor Maness on 04/25/2013 - 06:57 am.

          RESET’s Agenda

          Michael, many educators have seen this game played before. RESET is part of a larger, nation-wide corporate reform movement. There 5 strategies are things that are 1) things that teachers support, and already do 2) things that teachers would like to implement 3) reforms that are not backed up by good data.

          But that is not why teachers are upset. The reason is RESET is part of a nation-wide corporate reform movement. Many of the campaign partners – Minncan, Teach For America, Charter school partners – are explicitly connected to to the corporate reform movement. Teachers realize that RESET is going to be used as a way to bash teachers and unions, and someone calls it out, they are going to say, “look at our strategies! How could you oppose teachers having high expectations for students? Do you want to block change?”.

          Wisconsin, Michigan, Idaho, Indiana have all lost their collective bargaining rights or had them severely curtailed back. It happened because the same people that fund many of the campaign partners of RESET set up anti-union campaigns in those states.

          And just for the record, states that do not have strong unions, or strong seniority, do not have more positive indicators than we do. Busting unions is not the way to go. RESET is going to be used as a battering ram against teachers and unions. The Superintendent should recognize that, and stand on the side of Minneapolis educators, students, and public education.

        • Anonymous Submitted by Anonymous on 04/25/2013 - 07:34 am.

          I didn’t say anything about longer school days or real-time assessment, but since you mentioned it…real-time assessment is a joke and a waste of time and resources. What are you gonna do, test every student every minute of every day? Testing for assessment is good – if done right, and sparingly. Right now we’re testing kids to rate schools, teachers and districts. Even the makers of the tests say this is inappropriate – they are made to assess students and students only! And what did any student ever learn from assessment? Learning is made through teaching and time spent on task – not drilling for and taking tests.

          As far as borrowing methods from charters, what do they have to teach us? How to “drill and kill” and destroy the love of learning? How to let felons run schools? How to properly discriminate to create segregated schools? How to properly counsel out and skim students so the hardest to teach are not served?

          Public education is not destroyed yet, but it’s well on its way. Take a look at north Minneapolis. In a few short years choice killed North High. If you want to destroy a community a good first step is to close it’s main school, instead of investing in it.

          BTW – We do know how to create great schools – invest in great curriculum, physical plant, wrap around services, etc. We don’t have that now but it works. Rheeformers just want some silver bullet but there is none. People like Lynell Mickelsen say there is a problem with poor teachers. But just where is the proof of that ? There is none. You might think there is from the echo chamber created by the deformers money, but it’s not true.

    • Submitted by Daniel Shaw on 04/24/2013 - 07:13 pm.

      Under the bus

      I don’t assume that Lynnell Mickelsen and fellow union bashers are supporters or Supt. Johnson. However, I do wonder that she doesn’t examine some data and ask a few hard questions of MPS administration, especially when it comes to serving children in poverty and closing the achievement gap. Here are a couple of answers to those unasked questions:

      In south Minneapolis, two schools with over 90% of their students living in poverty have close to 1 in 5 children who are homeless or highly mobile. [Schools with low rates of poverty have virtually no homeless or highly mobile students.] While some of these children are remarkably resilient, many are living with and in conditions that are shameful in a country of such wealth. Some have significant social and emotional needs and are ill-prepared to participate in the educational process without significant support. That significant support is glaringly absent from the schools that are being assigned the overwhelming majority of these students. This leads to a situation where teachers spend huge amounts of time and energy managing the behavior of a few students rather than meeting the needs of the majority. Assigning homeless, highly mobile students almost exclusively to schools already full of at risk students is, in effect, throwing them all under the bus.

      All students deserve the right to be successful. Teachers do as well.

    • Submitted by Alec Timmerman on 04/25/2013 - 07:11 am.

      I can explain why educators are so frustrated….

      The main, and almost solitary thrust of modern education reform revolves around the idea that there are just too many lousy teachers. Every reform argument, as exemplified here, is that the number one problem in education is just “too many lousy teachers and the horrible unions that protect lousy teachers.”

      It is an almost impossible argument to win. If you speak up for a profession you love and students you love, they accuse you of protecting bad teachers.

      A bad teacher needs to be dealt with, but modern reform focuses on that as the number 1 problem and often the only problem. Just look at their tired “truism” expressed in the comments here, if you eliminate every single variable in a students life, except their teacher, then it is the teachers fault!

      Do you honestly believe, Michael, like the reformers here, that every teacher in Edina is better than every teacher in Minneapolis, Duluth, and Saint Paul? Because they all get better testing results in Edina? According to our reformers it is the teacher who is responsible for that.

      Finally, there are numerous things we can do that have more bang for the buck. Modern reform is predicated on the idea that teachers are bad. Disregard their platitudes about love for teachers.

      —Supporting and retaining good teachers is a much bigger problem than the few lousy ones (this doesn’t mean we don’t address the lousy ones, but they are a sliver of the problem)

      —Early childhood education has the biggest bang for the buck

      I would submit that if union destruction is their main thrust, and early childhood education an afterthought, then they care more about ideological battles about labor than they do about education and our children.

  7. Submitted by Jackson Cage on 04/24/2013 - 03:54 pm.

    When will we learn??

    I am SOOOO tired of the sentiment displayed by these remarks.

    “He gave it straight up. No chaser, with none of the usual vague Minnesota Nice platitudes. Perry talks like a normal human being and he’s funny too. So during his talk, there was lots of laughter and applause, I suspect in part, because many people were grateful Perry was saying in public what many, many people privately say in living rooms, kitchens, coffee shops, parking lots and church basements all over town.”

    You know who else fills that bill? It reminds me of Palin and Bachmann, and we know how much substance and thought there is behind all that “straight talk”.

  8. Submitted by Patricia Milbrath on 04/24/2013 - 06:13 pm.

    Lynell, I told you I had high standards

    I agree with Taylor that Lynell’s post is silly, as well as divisive and counter-productive to the extremely important issue at hand. It surprises me as Lynell and I sat at the same table at the MFT event she speaks of this past Saturday. Lynell, you are capable of much more professional and productive communication, and as I told you, I have high expectations for everyone around me. My students, myself, my colleagues, and now, community members who wish to engage in this dialogue. You can do better.

    My question to all is this. Do we want to work together on making things right for African American children in our district? Or do we want to let this conversation divide us and waste more precious time. There are PLENTY of things we agree on that could impact the gap, where we could make great headway if we were united. If MFT, MPS, Achieve, The Mpls Foundation, and other important community groups (We Win Institute, Neighborhoods Organizing for Change, the Youth Congress, etc.) worked together for two years on just two issues; Attendance and Parent Engagement. we would make start to see progress. If we threw everything we have at these two things, I guarantee there would be movement.

    The “union” control referred to above actually refers primarily to one issue, the “last in first out” union clause. Ending LIFO was championed by Republicans in the last legislative session, and now ed-reform-leaning-Democrats are taking on that work for the GOP. Mayor Rybak and Pam Costain of Achieve said at the February 12 school board meeting that ending LIFO would be the single greatest action we could take to close the achievement gap. I tell my progressive and leftist friends that and their first response is to laugh in disbelief. Ending LIFO will not close the achievement gap. Getting students and their parents to school on a regular basis, taking down barriers that poverty puts in the way of achievement, CONTINUING to expect the best of teachers (as MPS and MFT always have), giving the new observation system of evaluation some time (to identify and help struggling teachers), and working together, we can make an impact.

    Thanks to all who are trying to listen and talk respectfully,
    Patricia Milbrath
    MPS alumni, parent and teacher

  9. Submitted by Jim Barnhill on 04/24/2013 - 06:17 pm.

    Nothing New Under the Sun

    Lynnell M. states: “Perry’s main point— that we know how to create better schools for our kids; we’re just not willing to do it because we continue to put the needs of adults over the needs of students—is right on.”

    Lynnell, is wrong for many reasons, not the least of which this is just empty rhetoric, but here I want to make just 2 points:

    1. Many of the RESET strategies are commonly used, and common sense among educators. There is nothing new here under the sun among these strategies, and certainly there is no silver bullet of education that is going to magically allow us to overcome the Opportunity Gap among them.

    2. If Lynnell is asserting that teachers across the country, including here in Minneapolis, are desperately trying to prevent the public from knowing the secret to overcoming the Opportunity Gap AND that we are desperately trying to hold kids back, then I prefer to be called a name by Mr. Perry. I’m afraid that such rhetoric holds no water or weight and that the average person knows it.

    Should teachers examine what we do during the day and ask how we can improve our practice? Of course. Who wouldn’t agree to that? But at the end of the day, there is no secret strategy that Lynnell, RESET, or anyone else has that will prove to be a silver bullet.

    Hard work, and commitment across all sectors of society (business, medicine, social service, education, and government) in a concerted effort that is coordinated is the only way that a tough problem is going to be overcome.

    Can it be done? I say yes, but it will not be done by vilifying teachers and their unions. To lay the blame at the door of teachers and their unions is, well, let’s just say it: a big excuse, and that is something our kids can no longer afford from the Ed Reform community.

    Jim Barnhill

  10. Submitted by Alec Timmerman on 04/24/2013 - 06:22 pm.

    Destroying unions is the magic bullet?

    If dismantling unions is the magic bullet that these reformers lead with, then why are right to work states, where unions are dismantled, not beacons of educational greatness?

    The answer is simple, there is zero correlation betweeen strong, professional support for teachers and poor educational outcomes.

    When these Rheeformers lead with union bashing, you know for certain their number one objective is labor ideology, not the benefit of kids. It is such a demoralizing, expensive, and divise fight with zero bang for the buck.

    You can pick, almost without exception, that right to work states populate the bottom half of states in education, and union states populate the top half.

    Human resources office reform is not education reform.

  11. Submitted by Alec Timmerman on 04/24/2013 - 06:25 pm.

    How about the fact that harvest Prep….

    How about the fact that Hrvest Prep and its ilk dismiss and suspend at a much, much higher rate than Their comparable public counterparts. They are booting out poor and black kids at an alarming rate. Minneapolis just got raked over the coals for a much smaller rate. They get to play by different rules and get applauded for it.

  12. Submitted by Tony Dodge on 04/24/2013 - 07:28 pm.

    Thank You for Posting This Ms. Hawkins

    I was watching the 4/23 MPS School Board Meeting last night and saw the references to this, but must have tuned in late as I did not see Ms. MIckelsen’s letter read. Until last night, I didn’t know what RESET was. I know that MFT is a teachers’ union and that’s about it. I also don’t know what Put Kids First Minneapolis is all about, but I am going to find out.

    I also have never heard of Mr. Perry, but whatever he said sure did create a great exchange of honest, sometimes thoughtful comments.

    I’m a little troubled that Ms. Nordgren’s primary points are that MFT is offended/angry and that RESET should be disavowed by MPS. This sort of binary, reactionary thinking is not the sort of strategic organizational discipline that fosters good ideas or productive change; which is what is needed to close the achievement gap. For me, seeing this sort of thought process in action, from MFT, and their politicization of RESET (“anti-teacher RESET campaign”), makes me suspect of all the ideas in Ms. Nordgren’s third paragraph from the end. Also, the implied identity politics (you can’t know anything unless you spend a week in the classroom), is illogical. It is akin to the idea that only Oil companies should be writing Energy Policy. My impression, based on the MFT position stated above, is that MFT is a cat backed into a corner, and is operating in Fight/Flight mode which, in the end, will shortchange all parties and has huge opportunity costs. This is not going to help our kids.

    I am a little troubled by Ms. Mickelsen’s (and I assume PKFM’s) approach. While I agree with much of what you say, you seem to be absolutely sure that PKFM is right, to the point that you don’t need any allies. Again, I see organizational immaturity/lack of discipline, which is troubling when we are also depending on you to help our kids. I’m not talking about tone here, I’m talking about an organizational environment that gets the best out of everyone; within PKFM and within the organizations you need as partners, to help our kids.

    While I have watched MPS Board Meetings, on and off, I have never had a sense of how Dr. Johnson thinks. I still don’t know, but I sense that she possibly sees a bigger picture than first two letter writers. I admit that I have seen her speak during Board Meetings and have read some of her writing in the Southwest Journal, so I have a little more to go on. Unfortunately, in the material I see above, Dr. Johnson is reduced to the role of “herding cats”; again, a huge opportunity cost.

    I don’t know RESET, or the group that is advocating it but, from out here, it looks like they are also trying to help our kids.

    For what it’s worth, what I see in the letters above is symptomatic of a model that isn’t working.

    As an example of what I mean, let’s think about childhood cancer.

    In the 70’s, childhood cancer, specifically leukemia, was a death-sentence; a huge problem that needed solving. The model that changed everything (in the context of multiple, highly-defended different hypotheses of what was happening), was to make every child, who had cancer, part of a study/tracking effort. Today, it is difficult to get treated for leukemia (AIDS, etc), without being part of a study/shared data effort. Today, the 5 year survival rate for childhood leukemia is approximately 85% (American Cancer Society Website).

    This is only a partial example to illustrate the possibility that a useful model, for solving the achievement-gap problem and working together, may exist already. Also, it might reside outside of education.

    I encourage all of you to think differently, with intellectual honesty, to help our kids.

    In the immortal words of Leslie Nielsen in Airplane!: “…..good luck. We’re all counting on you.”

  13. Submitted by Joe Musich on 04/24/2013 - 07:43 pm.

    Another district initative ?

    So how successful were all the all the all the and I mean to repeat myself others. Another example of top down directives to solve the same problem. Educational inequities stem from poorly done desegregation coupled with huge income disparity between the respective political geographies. Nobody’s rushing to tear down bungalows to build Mac mansions in most of Minneapolis. Talk to teachers who are in the classroom and avoid the likes of put me first Mickleson.

  14. Submitted by Caroline Hooper on 04/24/2013 - 09:54 pm.


    Steve Perry has no business presenting himself as an education expert. His school is highly selective and has nowhere near the graduation rate he claims. A couple of points:
    1. “Capital Preparatory Magnet School’s Class of 2011 “graduated” 28 students. Four years earlier, that class began with 43 students. That is an enrollment decline of about 35 percent. More than one-third of the students left or were pushed out of the program during their time at Capital Prep.” This is true for other years as well.
    2. “…while nearly 1 in 4 students Hartford public school students aren’t fluent in English, more than 97.5% of Capital Preparatory Magnet School’s student body is fluent in English. Meanwhile, about 13 percent of Hartford’s students need special education services, but Capital Prep’s number is a fraction of that.”

    Furthermore, the “magic” RESET principals, as already pointed out, are not new. Teachers use them all the time.

    The ad hominem attacks and name calling by “reform” proponents does nothing to address any issues or to promote any consensus. It may make the name caller feel superior, but it is juvenile and distracting.

  15. Submitted by Lynnell Mickelsen on 04/24/2013 - 09:56 pm.

    regarding corporate reformers, certainty and silver bullets

    Hi Tony Dodge:

    Thanks for your comments above

    Put Kids First is a small group of volunteers—and part of a growing and broader education reform movement in the Twin Cities, For all the talk about “corporate reformers,” most of the people I run into our local education reform circles are young progressive Democrats who either were or are teachers and who are committed to making our public schools strong and vibrant places.

    RE: “Being absolutely sure PKFM is right” Heck, I’ve been flat-ass wrong about plenty of stuff in my life. So if history is any guide, I’ll be flat-ass wrong about plenty of stuff in the years to come. So I don’t have any illusions about being absolutely right about anything any more. But after nearly 20 years as an active parent and volunteer in our city public schools, I’m convinced we can do better by our kids.

    Yes, it’s complicated. And Jimmy Barnhill is right, there are no silver bullets. And yes, poverty plays a huge role. But for the six-eight hours a day that we have these kids in our classrooms, we can do better.

    Research shows that the teacher is the biggest IN-SCHOOL factor in a student’s academic success. Principals set the tone and culture in a building.

    First, we need great leaders in our schools. Then we need to give those leaders the freedom to hire and retain the best possible teachers for the students who need them most. We need to pay these teachers extra bonuses. We need to extend the school day and year in buildings where a majority of kids are far behind.

    In the past, the MFT has been strongly opposed to sensible changes in the contract which would allow these things to happen.

    To ask for these change is not to vilify teachers or bust unions. We’re asking the union to better serve kids and the common good and adapt to the needs of the 21st century.

    In Minneapolis, this is not a right vs. left, DFL vs. GOP issue. It’s a fight within the family, among progressive Democrats about whether we will put the needs of students and the public good over the needs of adults.

    • Submitted by Alec Timmerman on 04/25/2013 - 06:02 am.

      And we finally get the #1 Rheeformer factoid….

      Yes, if you completely ignore every single factor affecting a students achievement, except the classroom teacher, you can put all the blame on the classroom teacher. You literally cannot argue with that.

      So tell me, are all the teachers in Edina better teachers than those in St. Paul and Minneapolis?

      This is why teachers are angry because the modern Rheeformer paints this whole problem, almost exclusively, that we have an over abundance of lousy teachers.

      A bad teacher is certainly a problem, but Rheeformers would have you believe it is not only the biggest problem, it is the only problem!

      • Submitted by Lynnell Mickelsen on 04/25/2013 - 10:36 am.

        Alec, no one is ignoring all the other factors….

        The research doesn’t say teachers are the biggest factor in a student’s academic success—-we know income and the level of parental education is a big factor too. The research show that teachers are the biggest IN-SCHOOL factor for student’s academic success.

        I don’t know any one—including Michelle Rhee–who think bad teachers are “the only problem.”

        Progressive reformers like myself aren’t trying to bust the union–we simply want the union to adapt to the needs of the 21st century and a changing student population.

        Nor are we trying to “privatize” education. We’re trying to make public schools work better for the kids who need them most.

        These are all straw men arguments.

        We can work to end poverty and homelessness—–AND work to get the best possible teachers in front of the kids. It’s not and either/or choice. We can do both. We have to do both.

        • Submitted by Alec Timmerman on 04/26/2013 - 09:30 am.

          Do you honestly think union reform is the biggest payoff?

          There is no data supporting it, but do you honestly think union reform offers the biggest bang for the buck? It seems to be the main thrust of your endeavors? We have seen plenty of evidence of what happens when teacher support is neutralized first, in places like Washington D.C. and Atlanta and the scandals that followed when teachers lost all power to speak up.

    • Submitted by Tony Dodge on 04/25/2013 - 09:24 am.

      Thanks Ms. Mickelsen

      Your background and comments help me to understand things. I agree that we can do better by our kids. I am going to re-iterate, that I strongly believe that a different problem-solving model is needed to arrive at a productive solution

      The fact that no organization has been able to solve the achievement gap obviously steers us toward a different approach.

      This is solve-able.

  16. Submitted by Lynnell Mickelsen on 04/24/2013 - 10:05 pm.

    RE: Daniel Shaw’s comment

    “Assigning homeless, highly mobile students almost exclusively to schools already full of at risk students is, in effect, throwing them all under the bus.”

    I totally agree, Daniel. This is bad policy and needs to change.

  17. Submitted by Dottie Brown on 04/24/2013 - 10:45 pm.

    Inflammatory Rhetoric Has No Place in this Discourse

    I am a MPS social worker, and I am distressed and discouraged by Dr. Perry’s comments, Ms. Nordgren’s letter, Ms. Mickelsen’s letter, and Dr. Johnson’s letter. I get so tired of the rhetoric. Every day my colleagues and I do our best to serve students whose families vary from wealthy to homeless, from healthy to mentally ill, from brilliant to developmentally delayed. There is no doubt that too many children in our schools are not succeeding and that this is a crisis. What is not so clear, however, is how to fix that.

    I disagree that we know how to fix this achievement gap but we lack the will to do it, and I believe that it is misguided to believe that the schools can fix this gap without substantial support from the community. As a district, we keep trying new approaches with varying—and inadequate—degrees of success. I do not believe that our teacher’s union is to blame for this lack of success, and I wonder how many people know how much the union has changed in the last ten years. All hiring is now done on a basis of interview and select. Seniority does not guarantee any teacher that she will be chosen for a position for which she has interviewed.

    A great deal has been written about the impact of poverty on educational success. Until our city, our state, and our country put children first by helping low-income families access the resources they need to care for their children and build better lives for themselves, we will have an achievement gap.

    This does not mean that we can do nothing about the achievement gap in the schools. It simply means that blaming the schools is not only unreasonable, it is counterproductive. Our state and local government, businesses, families, the school board, district leadership, the union, and teachers all need to collaborate with good will and the belief that we all want all children to succeed. If we can do that, the next step is to find the tools to help us problem-solve. We need unbiased, well-documented research about what works and then we need to apply it. If that is the goal of REACT, I think the organization has made a serious misstep by inviting Dr. Perry, whose bias is well-known and whose inflammatory rhetoric Monday night caused further division and distraction from the work we need to do.

  18. Anonymous Submitted by Anonymous on 04/25/2013 - 07:47 am.

    Here’s the kind of high-quality journalism practiced at MinnPost – while this site censors my comments rightly questioning Lynell Mickelsen calling herself a progressive (while she continually attacks the teachers’ union) the author Beth Hawkins is trolling deformer sites, yucking it up and encouraging Rheephormers to comment. #riggeddebate.

    Meanwhile…while Mickelsen claims she was offended by Perry’s comments here, here’s what she said on Facebook:

    “Steve Perry rocked the house. He was blunt, direct and hilarious. I’ve never heard any thing like it in Minnesota.”

    • Anonymous Submitted by Anonymous on 04/25/2013 - 08:05 am.

      For some reason that link didn’t work…but just surf over to “Contract for Student Achievement” in Facebook and you’ll see Mickelsen’s comments and the true feelings of the Rheephormers…including Beth Hawkins encouraging all the deformers to comment on her article here. I’m sure she’s doing the same at Diane Ravitch’s site, or the Public Education Justice group at Facebook…oops NOT!

    • Submitted by Lynnell Mickelsen on 04/25/2013 - 10:40 am.

      It’s actually possible to not llike a few things a speaker said

      …..but still love the speech. I didn’t like the “roaches” line, but you bet, I thought Perry rocked the house. He WAS blunt, direct and hilarious. He rocked the house.

      It’s not a contradiction, Rob. You keep setting up either/or choices. But we can also choose both/and.

  19. Submitted by Ross Reishus on 04/25/2013 - 05:57 pm.

    Enough information to be dangerous

    Perry and his supporters are just the next wave of side-show charlatans who will stop at nothing to get even more public monies into private hands. That’s all this is. That’s all this kind of thing ever is. The union busting, the “Rhee forms,” the hyperbole with almost no credible data, are a sad attempt to restart the Tea Party attacks we weathered for the past 5 years.

    As to Minnpost….you keep confirming my suspicions that you are falling back on that good old model of controversy first, the truth second. 2 out of 4 lumps of coal for you this Dec. 25.

    Ms. Mickelsen is the classic “pretend” fence-sitter, who is trying to convince us that the argument isn’t black and white, as if it should all be up for discussion, and that we should ignore the 30+ years of educational psychology and methodology as if it never happened. Don’t be fooled. Your first clue that this is true doesn’t require a lot of research. The absolute least effective method of determining how much a student has learned…..has been known for decades. The least effective method….is a multiple choice test. Guess what all the MCA’s and NWA’s et al testing formats are? Multiple choice. That is the first red flag any competent educator would point out in a discussion on education reform. That has nothing to do with unions, teachers, prayers in or out of school, the pledge of allegiance, the length of the school year, school day, etc. In study after study, multiple choice tests are the worst measure of student achievement. Perhaps that’s why phony Rhee-form types support them so much. The bad test methodology helps feed their fantasy that public schools are bad, and so are the teachers.

    The mosts disingenuous thing a so called supporter of public education can say is that any speaker like Perry is somehow still doing good, while demonizing the current workforce. Don’t forget that the current slate of allegedly horrible teachers in Minnesota have kept Minnesota in the top 5 for most education measures nationally, and more recently the top 10 or 20 thanks to Tim Pawlenty, and the recent Koch/Zellars legislature and their draconian budget cuts to education. And “both/and” is double-speak for setting up laws that allow private interests to syphon off public monies, and leave any bills in the hands of the teachers and tax payers. See “public/private partnerships, History of,” in your Google search.

    So if Perry and friends want to witch hunt, they should be starting in Mississippi, South Dakota, Alabama, Arkansas, West Virginia, and similar and clean up those places first, because clearly, the demon seed teacher workforce in Minnesota is doing a heck of a lot better, or we’d be ranked at the bottom with the aforementioned low scoring, politically red, anti-union, low wages, stagnant economy, states. I’m sure someone will quickly answer with something about N.D. and T.X. not being in a slump, but Texas is actually still recovering and N.D., while rolling in billions of cash in their state capitol, are doing nothing to improve schools. They are instead sitting on the money.

  20. Submitted by James Gates on 04/25/2013 - 06:33 pm.

    The Minneapolis Foundation

    So, my question is, if I donate money to The Minneapolis Foundation, does that mean it will be used to bash unions and pay for John Legend to perform? Is that really the foundation’s philanthropic mission?

    • Submitted by Taylor Maness on 04/25/2013 - 07:04 pm.


      The Minneapolis Foundation has thrown in its lot with the people who have a taken an anti-teacher, anti-union view of education. It is incredibly unfortunate to see the Minneapolis Foundation fall so far. It really takes away from some of the great work they have done in the past.

  21. Submitted by Joe Nathan on 04/26/2013 - 12:51 pm.

    Where urban public schools have closed achievement gaps

    Actually, there are places where urban public schools have closed (hs graduation) achievement gaps. Here’s an example – in Cincinnati. This was accomplished with strong support from the Cincinnati Federation of Teachers and great collaborations among district teachers, administrators, community and business groups.
    More info here:

    Of course schools can’t solve all problems of society. But they can (and in some cases are), helping youngsters from low income families achieve as much or more as students from much wealthier families.

    Calling people names doesn’t get it done. Hard, open minded, creative work, with allies, can and will.

    • Submitted by Mary Lawler on 04/28/2013 - 10:44 am.

      Cincinnati Public Schools

      Looking at the Ohio Dept. of Education report for Cincinnati Public Schools for 2011-2012: (google: district report card Cincinnati Public Schools to get to the report)
      Cincinnati did not make AYP. Four year graduation rates were 63.9% for all students and 63% for African American students. White students met proficiency for reading; African American students did not. Cincinnati met 11 out of 26 state indicators. See report for more info.

      • Submitted by Joe Nathan on 04/29/2013 - 07:18 pm.

        What’s happened in Cincy

        Thanks to Mary for looking at updated data. Ohio Dept of Ed data shows that the 4 year grad rate for 2011, for white students in Cincy is 63.9% and 63% for African American students. (This after the data was revised to reflect a new method of counting graduates).

        HS graduation is more difficult in Ohio – students have to pass statewide tests in reading, writing, math, science and social studies, for example. Students in Mn only have to pass reading and writing tests to graduate.

        Going to Mn Dept of Ed data, we find that the 4 year 2011 graduation rate of white students in MPS is 67.27%, and the graduate rate of African American students was 35.97.

        So there’s a 31 point difference in white/African American MPS graduation rate (67%-36%), compared to a 0.6 point difference in Cincy.

        No one in Cincy would say they are perfect. Neither would I. They have lots of work to do, like every other urban community. But might we have things to learn from an urban district that has a graduation rate for African Am students that is 27 points higher (63% compared to 36%)?

  22. Submitted by Ross Reishus on 04/26/2013 - 05:33 pm.

    I am glad for Cincinnati

    I am sure that not all of the ideas being presented are bad. However, anyone who’d bring in a speaker like Mr. Perry either had no idea who they were inviting, or else have zero respect for their workforce. Neither answer is acceptable, if the foundation, the MPS board, administration, etc. are serious about meaningful reform. We just listened to this same pile of baloney for the last decade and finally voted those people out.

    When the headlines instead have the names of prominent education researchers, instead of Fox-news/Tea Party style inflammatory mis-information and insults, you might see more support from the field.

    I’d also like to dispel one of the biggest myths that Perry types perpetuate. Every teacher I work with cares about what we are doing in and to, public education. And some of it is wrong. But no one is listening to teachers, who, frankly, know more about what will work in the classroom than anyone else. But almost no one is asking, and when they do, they don’t believe us. Fix that, and you’ll have planted the seeds of meaningful reform. Until then, you’re just re-arranging the furniture on the Titanic.

  23. Submitted by Jerry Von Korff on 04/27/2013 - 04:58 pm.


    For me, the tipoff in the RESET agenda is that it there is nothing in the agenda about adequate resources. Its symptomatic of reform efforts sponsored by the business community. Lots a great ideas about making needed change in education, so long as not a penny more of resources are provided. Yes, we need to make some fundamental and sweeping reforms in the way that teachers are evaluated. Yes, we need to make better realtime use of data. Yes, we need expectations not excuses, Strong leadership, Effective teaching and Time on task. Yes, it is a sad truth that Education Minnesota has often failed to be an effective partner in supporting reform initiatives to make the necessary changes.

    More time on task is going to require concessions from labor and more resources too. Evidently, it cost Minneapolis $3,000 per teacher to add a paltry few days to the school year and a paltry few minutes to the school day. Adding time to the school day for target students, and adding days to the year is a proven strategy for making educational gains. Its one way of we can create more T, time on task. We need some kind of grand bargain between the RESET folks and labor. The folks at RESET need to step up to the plate and acknowledge that adding time to the school day and year is going to require more resources, and some concessions from labor. We are just about 2 billion dollars per year short in Minnesota to get the job done. But along with 2 billion dollars, we need the legislature to take the straightjacket off of school districts and give us the power to actually implement the RESET strategies in meaningful ways.

    It is easy for the business community and their advocates to sponsor cost-free changes. I’ll begin to believe that RESET is putting kids first, when it steps up to the plate and supports both reform and adequate resources to get the job done.

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