Minneapolis schools dispute: What should be the standards for hiring, firing teachers?

Minneapolis schools dispute: What should be standards for hiring, firing teachers?

For 10 months, nothing has sparked so much as a millimeter of progress in the stalled contract talks between Minneapolis Public Schools and its teachers union. Not an $800,000 fine levied by the state after a January deadline was missed. Not a series of meetings with a state mediator. And not the fact that the process of staffing schools for next fall is already underway.

So the pros can’t resolve the impasse. What about impassioned, organized citizen activists?

In recent weeks, the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers has come under pressure from Minneapolis African American leaders and a new parents’ group organized specifically to push for changes in the union’s contract. Both are calling for dramatic changes in the union’s contract outlining how MPS should hire and lay off teachers.

Instead of tenure and seniority, the activists want Minneapolis’s decisions about staffing to be based on evaluations of teachers’ effectiveness in the classroom. Teacher quality is crucial to closing the achievement gap and staunching the flow of families out of the district, they argue.

“In the 16 years I’ve had kids in Minneapolis Public Schools I’ve watched over and over again as really good teachers are flushed out of the system and mediocre ones are retained,” explained Lynnell Mickelsen, president and co-founder of Put Kids First Minneapolis. “We have got to start talking about this stuff openly.”

Mickelson came to the issue as a parent. Her three sons all attended MPS schools. As a volunteer on site-based hiring teams, she said she saw some teachers hired “you would never, ever hire if you had a choice,” including a middle-school band teacher who could not play a band instrument or read a score, but whose seniority allowed her to “bump” a beloved, less experienced teacher during layoffs.

“We’re focusing on the contract because no one else wants to talk about it,” Mickelson said.

Lynn Nordgren
Lynn Nordgren

Labor leaders counter that MFT has long been regarded as one of the most reform-minded teachers’ unions in the country, often pushing district administrators to agree to tough changes and agreeing to controversial experiments such as allowing non-member Teach for America teachers in MPS schools.

“We’ve been collaborative as a union,” said union president Lynn Nordgren.

Minority teachers cut
In recent years plummeting enrollment and budget cuts have shrunk the district’s teacher corps to the point where most remaining teachers have 14 or more years’ seniority. Large numbers of minority teachers didn’t survive the cuts, critics complain, while too often mediocre and incompetent veterans did.

As a result, some 87 percent of the district’s teachers are white, while 70 percent of students are minorities, according to Mickelson and Bill English, co-chair of Black/African American Leadership Summit and the head of the other effort to pressure the union.

Numerous education reform efforts have sparked controversy in recent months both nationally and locally, but perhaps none has been as divisive as teacher tenure. Unions have long maintained that tying teachers’ job security to student achievement is unfair because poverty, homelessness and other problems make some students harder to teach than others.

An array of strange ideological bedfellows — including President Obama and Gov. Tim Pawlenty — counter that the “last hired, first fired” system is particularly unfair to disadvantaged children. Teachers with seniority to bid into lower-poverty schools usually do, creating year after year of layoff-induced “churn” in their poorer counterparts.

A study released last week by the Center on Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington confirmed that the traditional rules protect mediocre or inept teachers from layoffs even when districts are forced to let go of their most effective ones. Minority students feel the impact disproportionately, the study found.

“Teaching experience varying by school poverty concentration is reflected nationally,” the researchers reported. “The highest poverty schools, where over 75 percent of their students qualified for free and reduced-price meals, had the highest percentage of teachers with less than four years teaching experience. Students at those schools are more likely to have a less experienced teacher than their peers at lower-poverty schools.”

In part because Minneapolis’ poorest schools suffered from high teacher turnover, two years ago MPS and its union agreed to a modification to the rules dubbed interview and select. Under the agreement, when a school has an opening, teachers bid for an interview. With the aid of a site-based team that includes teachers, the principal interviews the bidders with the most seniority as well as a few interested candidates who are lower down the list.

Interview and select was a baby step in the right direction, in Mickelsen’s opinion, but it hasn’t solved the problem. The pool from which principals must pick includes only tenured and “excessed” teachers, she noted. And even if a school does hire less experienced candidates under the new rule, administrators are powerless to keep them from being “bumped” by veterans losing their jobs elsewhere.

“Sometimes there’s no one you want to hire,” she said. “You can’t hire from outside. There might be a fantastic candidate you can’t hire and you know they’re fantastic because they were in your school three years ago.”

Teachers evaluated based on learning
Mickelson and the other activists who formed Put Kids First Minneapolis last winter think they have a solution. They want teachers evaluated according to data on students’ learning and they want that information to come into play when administrators are deciding how to staff schools.

Shifting to so-called value-added assessments is something states need to do if they want to qualify for federal Race to the Top stimulus dollars. And U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has signaled that tenure reform will be a cornerstone to the Obama administration’s education policy.

Tying teacher compensation and job security to student test scores has long been controversial, and educators are justifiably nervous about the notion. Under former President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind policy, there were consequences for schools where too few students passed standardized tests.

Because the tests administered every spring in Minnesota measure whether every child in a classroom is performing at grade level, schools with high numbers of disadvantaged kids are much more likely to be judged as failing. So there’s no incentive for teachers to work in these schools.

This could be fixed by moving to a test that measures each student’s learning over the course of the school year, Mickelsen and others argue. That way, teachers wouldn’t be penalized for having students who were, say, behind their grade in reading so long as each made a year’s progress.

Many Twin Cities school districts already administer such value-added assessments in addition to state-mandated tests.

Proponents say the tests deliver important data about teachers, particularly when it comes to the top and bottom performers. “We know a good teacher can make 18 months or two years of progress with a kid and a substandard teacher six months,” said Mickelsen.

Race to the Top winner Tennessee has used value-added data for 20 years. The system used there, which is serving as the model for new rules in other states, includes some provisions designed to protect teachers who had, say, a particularly tough class one year.

Teachers are rated according to three years worth of rolling data, for example, and statistical outliers are combed from the data. Students are not counted if they have not been in the district for at least 150 days or the classroom for 75.

So why won’t Minneapolis’ union consider changing seniority rules? The notion is extremely unpopular with its members, who argue they have no other protection from bad principals, for starters.

“Seventy-two percent of our teachers now say they work in a culture of fear and intimidation,” said Nordgren.

Due process
Nor does the union have any interest in protecting malingerers. Over the last decade, MFT’s peer review system has been used to move 500 poor performers out of the system and help another 700 perform well enough to keep their jobs, she said.

“Tenure doesn’t mean you can’t be fired,” said Nordgren. “It means you get due process. We’re not protecting bad teachers. We’re saying everyone should have the right to a fair hearing.”

More to the point, she said, several years ago the union agreed to adopt Pawlenty’s controversial pay-for-performance plan, Q-Comp. Yet teachers are still waiting for $4.6 million in merit pay they were promised for the 2007-2008 school year.

MPS has said it didn’t get the money from the state. A union grievance over the money is currently in the hands of an arbiter, who earlier this week agreed with the union’s assertion that its old contract with the district is still in place.

The arbitration can now address the remaining issues, including the unpaid merit pay. Until that is resolved, MFT can’t ask members to agree to more reforms, said Nordgren.

“Our teachers work an average of 10-12 hours a day,” she said. “They put in $3 million worth of unpaid overtime every two weeks. They contribute $1.8 million [a year] out of their own pockets for purchasing supplies for their classrooms.”

Both English and Mickelsen said they have had conversations with Nordgren in recent days, but don’t have any idea whether further discussions on tenure reform are in the offing. Nor do they have any idea what specific changes to seniority have been proposed by the district or what the union’s response has been.

“As you can imagine, the MFT is not thrilled about us,” Mickelsen said. “Most people — including at least a third of the teachers — know we need make these changes. What’s been missing is not a lack of information or good research, but a lack of political will.”

Beth Hawkins writes about education and other topics.

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Comments (45)

  1. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 05/28/2010 - 09:30 am.

    I know that there are many, many talented, enthusiatic young teachers out there that are silently cheering these first genuine salvos in the battle to return professionalism to teaching.

    Sending the trade labor union that has hijacked their careers (to say nothing of the futures of hundreds of thousands of students) back to the widget factory will not cure public schools problems, but it is an absolutely necessary first step.

    Hang in there; we’re rooting for you!

  2. Submitted by myles spicer on 05/28/2010 - 10:18 am.

    There is a major problem in the subjective defining of what is a “bad” teacher. I learned this about 50 years ago as a newly commissioned young officer in the USAF. Quickly I found that there was a thing called “Annual Fitness Reports”. For career officers, a bad one would ruin your career. The problem was, the grade on the report was almost totally related to your RELATIONSHIP with your superior making out the report. It had less to do with performance.

    In the end, for better or worse, I beleive the most OBJECTIVE factors will produce the best teaching staff — at least it would be incontrovertible. That would include seniority, tenure, and career advancement through added education (and degrees). Sadly, there is now a freeze on all of these; and the better, most experienced teachers are the ones being hurt — not the students or system.

    This is an endless debate, but irregardless, without good compensation, and merit raises, the profession will not even attract the most competent and best teachers to start with.

  3. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 05/28/2010 - 11:58 am.

    A few random thoughts…

    A relative newbie to the city, the disparity of ethnic composition between staff and students is striking, to say the least. Why are there so few minority teachers?

    Having been there myself, I can assert with some confidence that tenure is not at all a guarantee of a job. All it guarantees is due process. When a school board member with an agenda – of either extremist end of the political spectrum – decides that teachers who don’t share that agenda need to be purged, due process becomes very important if some semblance of fairness is to be preserved in evaluation of teacher effectiveness and retention.

    Having to suck up to a principal no more guarantees classroom effectiveness than having that piece of paper in a frame that says you have a college degree.

    Basing teacher retention on “effectiveness,” when that “effectiveness” relies largely on fill-in-the-bubble test scores in which the student has no stake is lunacy, albeit the sort of lunacy that has often characterized education policy at both state and national levels. The assumption behind this notion of “effectiveness” is that all the students are equally devoted to doing the intellectual work necessary to acquire the best education they can get. That assumption seems false on its face. If it were accurate, there’d be no need for a discussion of this sort in the first place.

    The best teacher on the planet can only OFFER ideas, techniques, facts, knowledge. It’s up to the student to accept the offer.

  4. Submitted by Jeremy Powers on 05/28/2010 - 12:39 pm.

    Sure, it’s the fault of the teachers. That must be it. The kids are perfect. The parents are involved. How stupid do you have to believe that.

    The teachers unions in Minnesota are the ONLY group of professionals who even care what happens in the classrooms. But virtually no one listens to them.

  5. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 05/28/2010 - 04:41 pm.

    Great post Brock.

    Personally, I wouldn’t agree to base my professional career path or compensation package on undefined standards or measurement process. Why would anyone expect this of teachers?.

  6. Submitted by Lynnell Mickelsen on 05/28/2010 - 05:21 pm.

    I appreciate Beth Hawkins taking the time to write about these issues. A few things:

    1) Put Kids First Minneapolis doesn’t believe student progress should be the ONLY factor in measuring teacher effectiveness–we think student and parent surveys as well as classroom observations and other stuff should be part of the evaluation process too.

    2) We’re talking about using “growth” or “value-added” data, which is very different from the high-stakes, all or nothing test data used under No Child Left Behind.

    Value-added data works like this: Let’s say a student arrives in 5th grade with a 2nd grade level of math. At the end of the year, the student is doing 4th grade level math.

    Using value-added data, that teacher is recognized for being an incredible teacher for achieving two years worth of learning in one—-a superb accomplishment. Under No Child Left Behind, that same teacher is labeled a failure.

    The state and Minneapolis district are already tracking some of this stuff and the difference between a really good teacher and a lousy one is supposedly about one year’s worth of progress. Which means, all things being equal,a kid could be two years ahead or two years behind—-simply because of his teachers’ effectiveness.

    Tennessee has spent 20 years using, refining and improving value-added data in its schools. Over 100 school districts in Pennsylvania, Colorado, Texas, Florida and Wisconsin are using it as well. It’s not a new concept. There’s also been huge advances in how we can use and analyze data in the last 10 or 15 years—it’s game-changing stuff.

    3) Ditto for parent-student surveys which could now be taken on-line and sent directly to a central location to be tabulated and analyzed.

    Soooo, if parents—and /or kids–find a teacher disengaged, disconnected, disorganized or brilliant, engaging, dynamic and supportive—they should be able to weigh in.

    This protects good teachers from the whims or personality conflicts with principals and it helps identify which teachers who connect well with students, but could use more help in being better teachers.

    We also believe in similar kinds of evaluations for principals, so that teacher can weigh in.

    3) By the way, Put Kids First Minneapolis is openly progressive, supports collective bargaining and supports tenure as a form of due process.

    4) RE: race. No one is saying white teachers can’t teach kids of color or that ethnicity should trump teacher quality. But our current ratio—-where 70 percent of our students are kids of color and 85 percent of our classroom teachers are white is nuts. We need a more balanced staff.

    Let’s be honest:  if white boys in Minneapolis were failing at the rate of African-American boys, we would have already remade the school system to work better for them. We’d have changed the curriculum. Or the school day. Or the staff. Because this would be a big-time crisis!

    Furthermore, if white students were failing by huge percentages, and 85 percent of their teachers were African American and Latino ladies whom white parents felt often didn’t understand their kids and made parents feel unwelcome…. well,white parents would be demanding more teacher diversity. And if nothing changed, white families would be fleeing for charter, private or suburban schools.

    Just like our current families of color. Hmmm. Imagine that.

    5) Put Kids First Minneapolis thinks these staffing contract rules come down to a fundamental question of values:

    Do our public schools exist first and foremost to provide kids with the best possible education with public dollars….or to first provide jobs to adults, regardless of their performance or what students need?

    In its strategic plan, the district says “Children First” is its top value. But in its actual daily behavior, as dictated by the contracts both the district and union have signed, adult employment needs come first. Every. Time.

    We support Minneapolis teachers and their right to collective bargaining.  But we need contract reforms that put kids first.

    We would like to see similar reforms in the principals contract.

    Read more about our platform on our website, http://www.putkidsfirstminneapolis.org

    Lynnell Mickelsen
    co-founder, President, Put Kids First Minneapolis

  7. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 05/28/2010 - 08:14 pm.

    A few more random thoughts.

    I taught social studies in a public high school in another state for 30 years, and was once “Teacher of the Year” at my high school. I’ve never been in a Minneapolis high school, but my 1-year-old granddaughter, who’s the reason I’m here, has parents of modest means, and is likely to attend public schools, so if readers are looking for a vested interest, that’s mine.

    Much of what Brock has to say in his post above seems right on the mark to me, or at least fits my own experience, especially concerning hiring and evaluation of teachers. One of the striking facets of this ongoing debate is the ease with which the general public, and especially the political class, grant hiring and evaluation authority to people who’ve not taught a class in 20 years, or who don’t WANT to teach, or have proved to even themselves that they’re inept teachers.

    Every other profession of which I’m aware leaves these sorts of decisions to some form of peer review. Engineers set engineering standards. Doctors create diagnostic and treatment standards. We don’t let the driving public determine what the standards should be for constructing skyscrapers, or ask the general public what the treatment should be for cancer, or determine who should be licensed to practice medicine or civil engineering.

    This suggests several things to me, one of which is that, as a society, we still haven’t decided if teaching is actually a profession, as Horace Mann envisioned 170 years ago, or is merely glorified stoop labor which can be performed by anyone who’s enthusiastic about math or science, art or history.

    That said, the ethnic difference between staff and students in Minneapolis is, as I said in my first post, striking. A more diverse teaching staff seems like it should be a priority, but my original question remains: Why are there so few minority teachers? Are there no qualified candidates? Is working in the Minneapolis schools so difficult and disheartening that no one wants to do it? These questions are not entirely rhetorical…

    I can’t agree with the model Ms. Mickelsen is espousing. I’ll think about it more, but off the top of my head, a kid who makes outstanding progress during an academic year deserves kudos for accepting her teachers’ offers of knowledge and skills to be learned. I know of no research in the past quarter century that supercedes what we learned decades ago about student achievement: the single greatest predictor is the socioeconomic status of the student’s parents.

    Teachers cannot fix poverty. They cannot fix a broken home or abusive home life, or homelessness. It’s outside the bounds of reality to expect that a given teacher can turn around the lives of most of the kids in his or her classroom in an hour a day. Toss in some extra time after class, or after school, or during a summer vacation, and the miracles we need will still not happen with the frequency and regularity that seems to be expected from “effective” teaching.

    Regarding “effectiveness,” the line between subject and student-teacher relationship is generally fairly fuzzy to begin with – good teaching requires a genuine, human connection between the two people involved – and one of the ways in which demands for more ethnically-diverse faculties are troubling is the implication that that student-teacher relationship is ethnically-specific. That can’t be allowed to become policy.

    The description of “value-added” evaluation requires some added perspective. The U.S. has 50 states, and more than 10,000 school districts. I’d be cautious about grasping at a technique used by a single state and “more than 100” of the nation’s thousands of other school districts. That’s not a statistically-meaningful sample. It might be just what we need, or Tennessee may have spent 20 years refining and “improving” data for a model that’s worthless here.

    With all due respect, having students and parents take online surveys (anonymously?), which are then “sent directly to a central location to be tabulated and analyzed,” isn’t at all reassuring to me as a teacher. How does this protect me from the whims and personality conflicts of principals – or the public? It’s too easy for this sort of thing to become a popularity contest, which serves no one well.

    Still, it’s hard to ignore the implied philosophical underpinnings of Ms. Mickelsen’s organization. Teachers ought to teach because they WANT to. Their task is to prepare the next generation to take over our society – there is no more important work than that – so it’s crucial that the task be performed as thoroughly and successfully as possible. It’s not enough to be passionate about your subject. You have to – HAVE to – genuinely like children and/or adolescents, and be willing to accept the stresses of dealing with groups of them all day as both academic instructor and surrogate parent.

    And the kids have to WANT to learn.

  8. Submitted by Lynnell Mickelsen on 05/28/2010 - 09:26 pm.

    Ray writes:

    “I know of no research in the past quarter century that supercedes what we learned decades ago about student achievement: the single greatest predictor is the socioeconomic status of the student’s parents.

    Teachers cannot fix poverty. They cannot fix a broken home or abusive home life, or homelessness…… ”

    I agree with Ray. I think many poor parents would agree with Ray. Ten to fifteen years ago, my mantra was “It’s the family.” I wrote plenty of posts and columns about it.

    And I still think the family is key. But I also think that for the six or seven hours a day we have have these kids in school, we have got to do better by them.

    The other thing that’s changed in the last 10-15 years is that we have more and more working models of schools that get much better results with this same demographic that is failing en masse in Minneapolis.

    What’s missing is not a lack of research or usable models. It’s the lack of political will to do right by kids.

    Once again, I come back to this question: do Minneapolis public schools exist first and foremost to provide kids with the best possible education with public dollars….or to provide jobs to adults, regardless of their performance or what students need?

  9. Submitted by dan buechler on 05/28/2010 - 09:49 pm.

    Ray, hang in there you will over time learn more about MPLS and MN culture. I do not know how to condense it but you might want to read Ornstein’s book on Metropolitics. Its fairly readable and enjoyable with a lot of charts and graphs with good definition. That would be a start and I think he has a new book out. Kinda wondering why there has been no book interview with his as he is so appropriate in a good way. Enjoy the weekend!!

  10. Submitted by dan buechler on 05/28/2010 - 09:52 pm.

    I shoulda wrote Professor Orfield not Ornstein’s altho they are quoted too.

  11. Submitted by Dan McGuire on 05/29/2010 - 12:03 am.

    When Lynell says “The other thing that’s changed in the last 10-15 years is that we have more and more working models of schools that get much better results with this same demographic that is failing en masse in Minneapolis” I wonder to what she is referring, specificaly-all of those great charter schools?. Myron Orfield has a slightly different take on the value of charters, “Few issues trouble Orfield more than the rise of charter schools, independent public schools that operate under contracts with school districts or nonprofit organizations and that are supported by public school dollars (Minnesota, home to the first charter schools in the nation, currently has 153). “I understand why parents look for every opportunity to make sure kids succeed,” he says. “But it’s fair to say most charters are selling snake oil to desperate parents.” Quoted in a recent Minnesota Alumni Magazine.

    I think Lynell should read Orfield’s book before she pushes too far with her one pony agenda. If Put Kids First had any ideas other than reducing teacher employment protections, I might be able to take them more seriously. As it is, they seem to be like the bratty high school kids who threaten teachers with “I’m gonna have my parents get you fired,” except that they’ve gotten older and know how to use media instead of mommy and daddy. Their understanding of urban public education hasn’t matured yet, and is still poorly informed.

  12. Submitted by Brock Dubbels on 05/29/2010 - 02:08 am.


    interestingly, those studies that you cite also had policies of removing students from the general population into alternative schools and GED programs with no assurance that they would attend, and were thus taken off the roles for achievement scoring. The growth in those states was by subtraction as far as I understand from my reading.


    In teaching kids of all colors, I found that color is an easy excuse to say, “I won’t learn from you.” But the kids really don’t care that I am purple if they know I CARE.

    What is more interesting are the parade of initiatives and dysfunction of Minneapolis Leadership based upon their lack of knowledge to make decisions. All the ways we will buy IB curriculum and AP, and AVID, and Read 180.

    Carnegie HALL MY FIDDLE!

    WE HAVE TAKEN AWAY THE RIGHT TO FAIL AND RECOVER, because kids have to know so much more according to the adults who make decisions and protect their turf on fear and pushing the great divide in the achievement gap, when oddly enough, IQ scores have gone up steadily since we began this practice of collecting the scores. Look at the Pawlenty’s proclamation that kids should be reading in second grade. Are all kids physically ready? How about Algebra in 8th grade — it requires spatial skills — yes numeracy is based upon our sense of space and representation.

    So what is it these kids are supposed to prepare for?

    Maybe if we gave them some choice, some voice, and options, issues of motivation and engagement, this would lead to achievement.

    Mandating is best left to eHarmony.com.

    Yes, let’s have standards, but let’s also have some imagination and choice built upon examples, criteria, apprenticeship, and example from the community. Not test prep and consumer curriculum. Give your kids and other people’s kids your time and share your life.

    That will go much farther than the threat of not going to college.

  13. Submitted by Brock Dubbels on 05/29/2010 - 02:08 am.

    What we know is kids do what they see, not what we say.

    I used to threaten students that if they did not get ready for lesson that I would take out the text books the school had bought. I told them straight out that they were doing work that was substandard and I expected more heart. They responded, although many tried to protect the worksheet detente they had become accustomed to with minimum standards, and then parents got mad because they had to parent again.


    But not all teachers were like me, or my colleagues who brought their passion and interest to the classroom, and perhaps that is why we need to look at some teachers leaving, but with the help and guidance of other teachers, not political regimes building up for the next big district job with calls to follow the next great thing.

    learning is what we do naturally, education is something we have to train.

    Perhaps something to think about.

    Why are we paying a person like a principal on special assignment 80-120,000.00 to run a reading program in Minneapolis when we could have a tenure track quality PhD, who might choose to run a reading program in a large urban district over a professorship at a university?

    The public schools actually pay better in many ways, but public schools are country clubs at the district level — what is normally sought is people who are easy to get a yes from.

    In a study at the U of MN, students were not allowed to divulge their identities in an online course, but had to work collaboratively to solve problems — students in the course who were administrators complained and reported very low satisfaction because their ideas were never adopted or taken seriously. Funny how it works when your title is stripped and we have a meritocracy.

    We do need to question the leadership, because the leadership is spending money to be told what to do and how to do it — why does Minneapolis pay Institute for Learning out of Pittsburgh? Don’t we pay administrators 65,000.00 plus to do the jobs in addition to what we are paying consultants?

    Why are we hiring them and then letting them get the degree on the job? Shouldn’t they be qualified first? Our current superintendent Johnson has no PhD. Never ran a large district? Why didn’t we run a national search?

    Most of our leadership depends upon confirmatory evidence that will make people feel good about a decision where due diligence was not a factor. That is why advertising is done to retain customers, not get new ones–to make reassured about our decisions.

    Are these leaders getting the best educations they can get?

    Are we paying them to learn on the job instead of hiring people who are already qualified and know the research literature, as opposed to this middle-class management model, where the manager assumes because they have the position, they are qualified to make a decision?

    what happens when a lowly teacher questions a policy maker?

    The teacher starts getting hassled. Most teachers “teach under the radar. They have the classrooms they show, and the ones they grow.


    Perhaps we do not attract people to teaching because of the levels of dysfunction that come from education secretaries like Yeckie who replaced our standards with committees of citizenry rather than with content and learning sciences people.

  14. Submitted by Brock Dubbels on 05/29/2010 - 02:09 am.

    One of the problems that seems lost in this discussion, especially as it relates to measurement, is that we are not measuring what we say we are. The minimum standards tests are built upon cultural constructions and science of 40 years ago and a National Reading Report that was discredited.

    The ways we measure are often purchased by testing companies that oddly enough, have the folks on payroll to consult about who gets federal funding and who does not — see the convictions related to the folks who make the DIBELS reading assessment–which is used in minneapolis.

    it is odd to think that most folks think that more people should be drawn to teaching when a salary for a new teacher is on average about 24,000.00 and an engineer is 45,000.00.

    And then you get blamed for kid’s performance because the growth model didn’t take account for the fact that kids mature and grow at different rates intellectually, especially between gender, and then you have issues of how female institutions like schools treat boys and young men. And then there is poverty and violence.

    Most good teachers try and keep their heads down, and many submit to the worksheet detente that comes from packets and purchased curriculum. Unfortunately, this kind of education only teaches kids that there are easy answers and that following directions is the pathway to success.

    If you read Anyon (1980) you will still see the vestiges of what she called middle class education, and how that is reinforced through administration in assessment-focused classrooms where the ease of the assessment is more important than the learning of the student.

    When I left teaching this year, i was gratified to know that they were teaching Mandarin at my school– I suggested that they make sure to include a work visa with the diploma so they could go to the middle class jobs they were now qualified for that had been exported to China.

    Innovation and information age professional work is built upon collaborative production and problem solving — this is not what we do in schools. Teachers are not taught this way, and schools are not run this way.

    My own experience has been that the perception of achievement based upon the low expectation of minimum standards is the emphasis, as administrators work towards a superintendency and that next bigger and better district. Perception and how the numbers can be moved.

    How about their jobs being tied to performance?

    How about this market analysis and business model approach to success in schools. I feel better knowing that I am in debt 45,000.00 and so is every child born based upon the bail out to corporations like AIG, who are supposed to be a model for accountability and what schools are supposed to emulate. Schools are actually much more efficient.

    Sure, let’s measure. But just for the sake of a thought experiment–what if every act in school is measured and accounted for? What will that do for the student? The teacher? Does every child need to go to college? Want to? I don’t talk to the plumber when he comes bcause it costs me 100.00 an hour.

    But let’s take another tact:

    I was recently at a meeting where a person I respect from Educational Testing services said that formative and summative assessment are central in importance, because when that kid has to play carnegie hall, they need to play. Play what is what I say. Like someone with average skills that should not be at carnegie hall because they might be better suited working on a NASCAR pit crew?

    John Dewey thought we could teach just about anything, like physics in a combustion engine. I am currently teaching kids vectors and velocity with the Tony Hawk RIDE skateboard game. In fact, I raised reading achievement with a video games unit–not every teacher is going to do it, but if you reignite their passion to bring what htye care about and tie them to learning sciences like I did, you will never have to worry about minimum standards.

    It is my position that these assessments kill everything living above and below the 75th percentile. That we are building institutions of mediocrity with curriculum that is devoid of teacher passion, because it is consumer curriculum — bought and paid for, and then scripted out to fit with the assessments.

  15. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 05/29/2010 - 12:02 pm.

    “it is odd to think that most folks think that more people should be drawn to teaching when a salary for a new teacher is on average about 24,000.00 and an engineer is 45,000.00.”

    Speaking as an engineer, I doubt someone who has bought into the idea that his work is so unique, and whose success is based upon criteria that is so cryptoclastic as to be undecipherable by anyone else would be happy in a privately owned engineering environment.

    At the end of the day, when the engineer’s customer comes in to see the project he has contracted for, it either works, or it doesn’t.

    The engineering firm either gets paid, or it doesn’t; the engineer either has a career, or he doesn’t.

    I wonder how many people in the public school system (or any public sector environment, for that matter) are even aware that that sort of accountability exists, much less be willing to sign on to it.

    I guess some figure that a guaranteed $24k goes farther than $45k that is only as solid as the work put in to earn it.

  16. Submitted by Lynnell Mickelsen on 05/29/2010 - 12:18 pm.

    RE: Dan at post #12:Regarding charter schools. I’m agnostic. Some are good. A lot are bad.

    I think more charters spring up when people feel the “regular” district schools aren’t serving their kids and believe the “regular” system won’t changed because of entrenched interests So we are now spending millions of public dollars creating a parallel/satellite system of public education, even as state budgets are tight and district schools are closing due to declining enrollment. It’s disturbing—especially since many of those schools aren’t getting great results.

    Which is one reason we started Put Kids First Minneapolis. Our current school system took years and years of public investment. If it’s not serving kids well, we think, hey, let’s fix it, rather than try to build a parallel system of charter public schools.

    But one of the main things charters have that our current district schools lack is the ability for the school leadership teams to pick the best licensed teachers they can get their hands on and yes—using their fallible human judgement for what constitutes “the best.”

    So ask yourselves: what would you rather have for your own kids/grandkids? A system of strict seniority, where you get whatever teacher is in the limited pool? Or a team of administrators, teachers and/or parents using their brains, experience; knowledge of their students and yes, collective gut instincts, to pick the best teachers for their schools?

    Since neither method is infallible, I’d take the latter. In a heartbeat.

    Here’s a recent quote from New York University professor Pedro Noguera from an interview a few months back:

    “(Teachers’) unions need to make it very clear that the interests of the teachers are aligned with the interests of the children. Whatever’s good for the teachers better also be good for the children. And if it’s not, then it’s a problem. It should be the case that parents and children are in total solidarity with their teachers. Because they recognize that when teachers’ work improves, they also benefit. Right now, in too many places, that’s not the case.

    “The teachers’ union has defined its interests in terms that are often antithetical to the interests of the children, and that’s a huge problem. It’s a problem for the unions, because it means that a lot of times they are not getting the political support that they need. And it’s a problem for the schools, because too often the schools work for the adults, and not for the children.”

    Dan writes: As it is, (Put Kids First) seem to be like the bratty high school kids who threaten teachers with “I’m gonna have my parents get you fired,” except that they’ve gotten older and know how to use media instead of mommy and daddy. Their understanding of urban public education hasn’t matured yet, and is still poorly informed.”

    Dan and I follow each others’ posts on the Minneapolis Parent Forum, a Yahoo-group. From everything I can tell, he’s a terrific teacher and a real visionary, especially when it comes to using technology in the classroom and schools. From his posts and e-mails, I like the guy.

    But puhleeze,”I’m gonna have my parents get you fired”? Put Kids First supports tenure precisely to prevent that sort of thing. If we want passionate, fearless teachers (like Dan McGuire) in the classroom, they need protection.

    But why shouldn’t parent and student feedback be part of a teachers’ evaluation? The kids are the chief recipients of that instruction. And the parents, as other comments have said, play a key role in their kids education.

    There’s plenty of ways to gather data, via student ID#s or assigning parent ID# so that students and parents wouldn’t have to sign their names, but the input isn’t anonymous either. Plenty of organizations have figured out how to do client feedback. It isn’t perfect. but it ain’t rocket science.

    I’ve been a parent in Minneapolis school system for 16 years and still counting. There’s still a lot I need to learn and Lord knows, I’ve been wrong about plenty of things before. But from what I’ve seen in the last 16 years, our current contract rules, which makes seniority the chief criteria for hiring, lay-offs, assigning and transfer…..don’t serve the needs of kids, younger teachers, taxpayers or the public good.

    Seniority rules do, however, serve the employment needs of teachers who have put in the most years, regardless of their talent.

    Again, I go back to this fundamental question: Do Minneapolis public schools exist first and foremost to provide kids with the best possible education with public dollars….or to first provide jobs to adults, regardless of the adults’ performance or what students need?

    Charter schools are springing up because many parents feel it’s the latter. We’re trying to change that. If we’re successful, we’re the charters worst nightmare.

    Lynnell Mickelsen
    co-founder, President of Put Kids First Minneapolis.

  17. Submitted by Lynnell Mickelsen on 05/29/2010 - 12:48 pm.

    RE: testing and assessments.

    Frankly, I’m not crazy about testing and assessments. I have all the same issues with them as the commentators above. And I say Amen to much of what Brock Dubbels says at #13, #14 and #15

    (One question for Brock who wrote “those studies that you cite also had policies of removing students from the general population into alternative schools and GED programs with no assurance that they would attend, and were thus taken off the roles for achievement scoring.”

    Help me, Brock, what studies are you referring to? This isn’t rhetorical. I just don’t know what you’re citing, so let me know. I believe MPS also removes the same population in certain studies. I don’t necessarily care as long as we’re comparing apples to apples in various studies.)

    Back to testing and assessments: The current education/political pooh-bahs insist on data-driven policies, in part because that’s the only way to accommodate union demands for “objectivity” i.e. to make sure there’s no favoritism.

    So if data-driven are the rules we’re forced to play by, our goal is to use the best possible data—one that’s fair to both teachers and measures how students are doing. Hence, our endorsement of “value-added” data.

    We don’t think value-added data is perfect or infallible. But no data is, so insisting on perfection is also a great and time-honored way to preserve the status quo of rigid seniority rules.

    But I also agree with Brock and others about how testing insanity distorts education and limits creativity, etc.

    So here are my questions to my fellow commentators.

    1) Do you think teacher seniority should remain the chief criteria for all hiring, lay-offs, assigning and transferring?

    2) If not, how would you decide which teachers are the most effective?

    3) If “objectivity” is one of your high values, how would you objectively decide who’s effective without using data?

    RE: teacher peer reviews have their place. That seems to be the main system of evaluation that MPS uses right now. But let’s get real: peers don’t like to criticize or call each other out for incompetence. In that way, teachers are very much like cops, doctors, reporters, architects, municipal employees, bankers and almost every other professional group I’ve observed.

    It always sounds good in theory. In practice, you often get mush and peer protection.

  18. Submitted by Dan McGuire on 05/30/2010 - 06:13 pm.

    1) Do you think teacher seniority should remain the chief criteria for all hiring, lay-offs, assigning and transferring?

    Teaching seniority has never been the chief criteria for all hiring, lay-offs, asigning and transferring. Making that false claim is an insult to the entire existing system. It is simply not true and never has been. Seniority has been a deciding factor in some of each, but not even close to all or even most. Most of the bad hiring, lay-off, assigning and transfer issues have been the result of poor management decisions. Blaming ‘the contract’ or seniority is the way administrators end conversations with parents when they’ve been confronted with obvious problems in any of the above. Note: it is also very important in these discussions to distguinsh between hiring, lay-offs, re-assignment and transfer. To suggest that seniority is the chief criteria of all of these is to drastically over-simplify, to exagerate the issue.

    There are lots of problems with the MPS, and any problems that seniority is responsible for are minuscule compared to the real issues that are causing real problems for teaching and learning in the MPS. If you don’t fix the leadership issues before any adjustments are made to hiring, transfer and reassignment things will only get worse and then fixing the problems that result will only be that much harder.

    The financial accountability issues cause lots more real problems than seniority ever has or ever will. Make finances truly transparent and get leadership trusted by all staff and seniority won’t even be an issue, unless what you’re really interested in is busting unions.

    2) If not, how would you decide which teachers are the most effective?

    I think creating systems to determine teacher effectiveness is crucial to the long term success of our education system. The sooner real progress is made in getting evaluation systems in place and actually working, the sooner we’ll find reall answers to the issues of hiring, transfer, and re-assignment. But, changing the system before you have a new and better one working is a recipe for disaster.

    3) If “objectivity” is one of your high values, how would you objectively decide who’s effective without using data?

    Real objective data would be a great thing to have. It’s not going to be cheap or quick to acquire it, though. As soon as you’ve got some real progress in that area, we’ll have something more to talk about.

    I’ve actually been a proponent of using value added information for a very long time. Once we start actually doing that, MPS teachers will be making a lot more money than Edina teachers. Keeping your class all above the 90th percentile is not nearly as hard as getting those below the 5th percentile into the 20th percentile, and yet MPS teachers who year after year do the latter are year after year called failures. It would be great to actually get paid for doing the hardest work. Take a poll of Edina and Eden Prairie teachers and find out how many of them want to switch places with MPS teachers for the same pay.

    Again, though, that is not going to be cheap or quick, either. Teaching is not an individual sport; it is very much a team effort. Determining value added success is going to be significantly complicated by team-work analysis. Let’s get at it, but don’t throw out the existing system until the new one is in place. Modifying teacher hiring, transfer and reassignment is like replacing a heating system in a big house. If you don’t have a new one that works really well ready to go before you disconnect the old one, you’re likely to end up with a real mess, especially in a Minnesota winter.

    When you can convince all teachers, not just maybe a third of them, that you’ve got something good that will really work, then we can move forward. Until then, you’re just making political noise. It’s easy to get press these days with claims that ‘we’ve gotta get rid of those bad teachers,’ but having a wholistic solution that works for more than 2%-3% of the whole, the current charter percentage of students served, is the issue. Bashing the existing system is a lazy man’s, or woman’s, job, making the system actually work better is not.

  19. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 05/31/2010 - 08:02 pm.

    More randomness…

    Mr. Swift is a little off-base, again, regarding accountability. My dad was an engineer, of the aeronautical variety. I still have some of his now 70-year-old textbooks on calculus, hydraulics, metallurgy, etc. He was a decorated (DFC, Navy Cross) Navy carrier-based fighter pilot in WW2, and the engineering officer for his squadron. He became a test pilot after the war, and was killed on what should have been a routine production test flight of a then-current jet fighter when a poorly-sealed fuel tank exploded and the plane disintegrated at low altitude while traveling at about 500 mph.

    The Navy did not cancel its order for that fighter plane because of that crash, nor did the engineering team that designed the fuel tank get fired, nor did the assembly team on the production line lose their jobs. Regarding accountability, and to fall back on cliché, “S**t happens,” and it happens frequently with complicated machinery. The sort of 100 percent accountability implied by Mr. Swift doesn’t exist, at least not across the board.

    I didn’t get my dad’s math gene, so I don’t pretend to understand calculus, or even algebra, but I do understand that dealing with tangible, mechanical objects that can be replicated whenever necessary and that have reasonably consistent and predictable properties and responses to environmental conditions is not at all like dealing every day with human beings who are characterized by unpredictability, as a species, and especially so among its younger members. Does that mean teachers should magically be held exempt from accountability? Emphatically not, but the standards that work for engineers often have nothing to do with the work of those whose “raw materials” and “production processes” revolve around children and young people.

    Lots of axes are being sharpened on the wheel here, and I haven’t read all the same sources that other posters are referring to. My most recent educational read has been Diane Ravitch’s cogent and coherent retreat from both testing and charter schools, “The Death and Life of the Great American School System.” Since her academic specialty has been the history of education in the U.S., my inclination is to favor her interpretation, since she’s writing conclusions based on research up to and, in a few cases, even including 2009.

    Essentially – she’s a lot more detailed and eloquent – she argues that testing is often antithetical to education, that charter schools mostly don’t work any better than “regular” public schools, and more importantly, I’d argue, that charter schools are a potential threat to what few shreds of democracy remain in our increasingly corporate-dominated society.

    In far too many instances, and my own experience supports the same conclusion, testing takes over a school district program or agenda, and becomes antithetical to education. It can be (and currently often is) used to browbeat teachers for poor “performance” of a task that has little meaning for the student in the short term, and none for the student in the long term. It’s fascinating, though not in a good way, to watch poor student performance on a test that will have zero effect on that student, regardless of score, end up being used to evaluate not the student, but the teacher.

    As a culture, we seem averse, however, to using teacher-made tests in a particular subject that WILL have an effect on that student, at least in the lower (i.e., K-12) grades. I’m thinking of an old-fashioned final exam, or on a statewide basis, an “exit test” in a given field. The ‘Strib had a headline about something like this a few days ago – a state test that might well keep some kids from graduating if they don’t pass it. That’s the sort of test, or perhaps more accurately, the sort of consequence, that goes a long way toward ensuring that students will make some effort to perform reasonably well on it, since the effect falls on THEIR shoulders.

    When we began to administer statewide tests in my school district, there was, at the time, no discussion of hanging teachers out to dry if kids did poorly on the tests, but there was also no discussion of what advantages might accrue to students who did well on the tests, nor was there discussion of what negative consequences might befall kids who did poorly. Predictably, some kids worked their little tails off to do well. Others made no effort at all, finished in 15 minutes, or occasionally, created intricate patterns with the filled-in bubbles on their machine-scored answer sheets. Since nothing would happen to them, good or bad, as a result of their test performance, they had no incentive whatsoever to try to do a good job. Yet, just like here, the results were dutifully reported on the front page of the paper and commented upon in the 5 o’clock TV news as if they actually meant something of importance.

  20. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 05/31/2010 - 09:16 pm.

    More randomness redux, part XII (a), subparagraph (c), (2)

    Lynnell’s questions are good ones, and so are parts of Dan’s responses.

    My own experience was close, but not identical. When my district decided to lay some professional staff off as student enrollment declined some years ago, seniority was a major factor, but not the only one, in determining who was retained and who was let go. The district also considered evaluations, measures of “effectiveness” as determined by administrators (“Effectiveness” seemed to revolve around the frequency with which students were sent to the principal for disciplinary reasons), and involvement in non-classroom school activities (i.e., club sponsorships, coaching, curriculum collaboration, etc.). Teachers were assigned points for each of these and other factors, and a cutoff number was established by the district. If you were above the number, you kept your job. Below the number, you got a pink slip, but were sometimes employed as a substitute, and were kept on the list of interview candidates for rehiring if/when enrollment began to climb once again.

    Some who were laid off never came back. Some DID come back, but didn’t stay long. I can’t remember anyone who came back after that layoff and stayed until retirement.

    I agree with Dan that, if the current system is unsatisfactory, the district had better have something better in place before the current setup, whatever it is, gets tossed overboard. For one thing, dispensing with seniority altogether seems a prescription for disaster. The job is so demanding, emotionally and intellectually, that no one I know would be willing to invest the necessary energy and emotion if – like the burger-flipper or the graphic designer or… the engineer – the malevolent corporate model of “at-will” employment (for all but the leeches in the executive suites) is adopted. I’ve been on the receiving end of a school board member’s vendetta, and tenure is important, no matter how awkward. Seniority can’t be the only criteria in play, but dispensing with it altogether will ensure that staff turnover will reach unprecedented levels, and among the things that research (cited by Ravitch) suggests is most important to students and their performance is staff stability in a school.

    Precisely because we do NOT have peer review in most public school situations, and teachers almost never have meaningful input in the hiring of their faculty colleagues, when a teacher proves genuinely incompetent, the appropriate question to ask of the administrator is, “Why did you hire him in the first place?” Tarring other teachers with that brush, as is often the case when the word “tenure” is mentioned, goes well beyond unfair and into the realm of the truly cynical.

    Among the interesting things in this debate is the frequent reference, usually in disparagement, to “one-size-fits-all” when the discussion is about students, but almost never do people suggest that “one-size-fits-all” doesn’t fit teachers, either. Critics of public education, both left and right, seem to have a model in their heads, and just as students aren’t uniform, teachers aren’t, either. My own view is that teaching is an art, not a science. Good teaching is not quantifiable, and my bias is that it’s something you learn on the job, by experience, and sometimes, at least in terms of technique and style, if not content, from your students as much as from other professionals.

    Some teachers are Picassos, some are Rembrandts. Some are Marc Chagall, some are Norman Rockwell. Unfortunately, some are my Aunt Ethel. I was a very good teacher through most of my career, but I’m embarrassed by how dull and uninspiring I was for my first 3 semesters or so in front of a classroom. To a degree, good teaching is a collaborative, “team” effort, in that a beginning teacher really needs mentoring by people who are themselves good teachers, and who are willing to occasionally question their own techniques and style as they help a newbie develop his/her own style and techniques. But that’s only part of it.

    Parker Palmer wrote: “Teaching always takes place at the crossroads of the personal and the public, and if I want to teach well, I must learn to stand where these opposites intersect. Intellect works in concert with feeling, so if I hope to open my students’ minds, I must open their emotions as well.” I became a pace-the-room, sit-down-next-to-or-behind-you, look you in the eye, irreverent history teacher who was friendly, but demanding. I virtually never had discipline problems in my classroom, though most 16-year-olds haven’t lived long enough to have any appreciation for history. What made me a good teacher was not what I learned in a lecture hall in college, and frankly, technique, per se, didn’t have much to do with it. They knew I liked them, expected their best effort, and everything else flowed from that.

  21. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 05/31/2010 - 09:18 pm.

    Ah, but there’s the rub.

    We have a national teacher shortage, so measures making it easier to fire teachers (while important) won’t automatically lead to principals firing bad teachers.

    But, as many pointed out, teacher pay is quite low compared to the costs of the bachelor’s and master’s degrees we want teachers to have, so few choose teaching once they’ve attended higher education for more than 4 years.

    I find it no coincidence that the country with one of the best educational systems in the world, Finland, pays teachers salaries between $60,000 to $80,000.

    Put another way, that’s how much money an Engineer in the U.S. earns after graduating with a BS or Master’s – i.e., that seems to be the salary level that is necessary and sufficient to encourage bright students to stay in high education for 4+ years.

    Raise teacher pay in exchange for union cooperation in making teacher dismissals much easier.

  22. Submitted by Brock Dubbels on 06/01/2010 - 05:09 pm.


    cryptoplastic, what a great word — are you intimating that learning and assessment is subjective?

    I have to laugh when you make the analogy that in engineering it either works or it doesn’t, and you expect to make analogy between a material object and your cryptoplastic phenomenon.

    One of th emost interesting comments I have found from the chair of the national reading panel is that when dealing with humans, you do not have the luxury of replication, reliabiliyt, and validity.

    I think you miss the point:

    if you are smart, do you go for the 24,000 salary or the 45,000 salary?

    The odd piece here is that statistics in the humanities, as well as research models are much more complex than engineering, but valued less when it comes to investment.

    So you are saying that tying my engineering career to a fitting I did in 3d Catia amounts and whether it works is a good parallel to all the variables that need to eb accounted for in teaching a hiuman being content?

    You must be joking right?

    I worked in an engineering lab, and also for Xerox PARC, most of those scientists preferred staying away from what they called, “cat juggling.”

    So let me see . . .

    question, “why don’t we have the best people teaching?”

    possible answer — less money and more likelihood for blame?

    Are teachers respected? Most adults believe that they can teach if they were put in front of a classroom–but few understand that they don’t get to choose what they teach, they don’t get to choose who they teach, and each one of their “products” comes witha completely different history and set of instructions — in high school that is 36 * 5. I think most people will take the tedium of making a pipefitting in catia or autodesk — but some decide they like/ love kids and the challenges they bring. But because they are not turning the titanic, which includes parents that think school should look like packets and textbooks, companies that have a vested interest in selling their software to replace the teacher’s incompetence, or school board members who run for the board with no background, relationships, or education in the history of classroom learning and EDPA.

    I find it odd that people assume kids come to school ready to learn.

    But not that odd when I consider that most parents start looking for all-day child care immediately and pay others to raise their children.

    Is there guilt or shame in that game?

    Bet there is.

  23. Submitted by Brock Dubbels on 06/01/2010 - 05:48 pm.


    I know that Minneapolis tries to hide their underperforming students. I will never forget being in the auditorium at Washburn when Carol Markham Cousins started browbeating the Washburn staff for histograms on state standardized test achievement.

    I raised my hand and asked why the other comparable schools, North, Edison, and Roosevelt had particularly larger student populations in the blue histogram, as compared to the red.

    She didn’t know. I told her that the Blue was the 4 year-old MBST/MCA and that the red was the MCA2, and that rather than shaming Washburn teachers, who were “fresh started”, they should be commended for having higher expectations. When I speak of other states hiding poor performers, I can point to the ground I am standing on to know that leadership will not take responsibility for the numbers, and will go by the saying “if you torture your data, it will confess.”

    Most of the models you list, especially Tennessee were disasters. In Memphis, not even the rightwing Fordham institute could not spin the outcomes of the destruction that was caused where the same tactics happening in Minneapolis, happened in Memphis.

    Oddly enough, Superintendent Green and Johnson embraced the villains who ran from the mess they created with Carol Johnson. The mess in Memphis was so bad that popular politicians un-retired to nix the changes these harbingers non-sense had created and to restore some balance back to the schools where extreme stratification of poverty was reinforced, just as we have created here in Minneapolis with our new schools initiative — the difference in the countdown to disaster?

    Minneapolis has a teachers union, Memphis did not.

    So do these folks from Memphis, newly returned to Minneapolis want?

    I’ll let you connect the dots.

    We have bureaucracy to slow the fringe and extremist fly-by-nighters who extoll the virtues that are nothing new but in name and an opportunity to further their career with token changes in test scores — which by the way are not based upon any theories of comprehension. I worked on those tests four years and am a cognitive psychologist who specializes in comprehension — it was, and is, embarrassing what we call tests.

    Readability is word length and sentence length, as well as word frequency, and this is how we determine difficulty.

    Give me the readability of “to be or not to be”.

    We do not use cognitive research, because we are consistently hiring leadership with no training in areas where they should.

    Physician heal thyself.

    Maybe we should make parents educate their young.

    They are the ones making judgment, let them teach as well.

    But leave unto Caesar what is Caesar’s.

    Hire professionals who have a track record of publishing, meet criteria in in understanding research, and don’t just let them nod acquiescence as if they understand regression towards the mean, or meta-analysis.

    We cannot solve difficult problems with products, or unskilled, undereducated leadership.

  24. Submitted by Brock Dubbels on 06/01/2010 - 06:12 pm.

    Part 2 Dubbels

    So the teachers at Washburn were fired and relocated if they did not buy into the Casselius -Markham Cousins plan, and teacher leadership was destroyed in a school that had only teachers holding it together.

    The same is now happening at South High School, where any teacher who stands up or offends the wrong parent will be loudermilled and fired, and can later seek arbitration to get their job back to start the harassment again.

    Unskilled administrators will always use subtraction where they have nothing to add. Many administrators do not have near the years that teachers in the district do, and therefore do not have the collected experience, or wisdom, and in many cases, the quality of education from advanced degree programs.

    Look at what Great Britain did to India. Divide and conquer by quelling the resistance. Oddly, Minneapolis calls a teacher who speaks out a “resistor”. I learned that as a researcher before I started teaching in Minneapolis–that IFL had the principals identify the “resistors”.

    Without a large government, how would you stand a chance in a civil case against Lehman Brothers? Enron? Haliburton? We have large government and large unions to create checks and balances, as change should not come easily, but through communication and compromise where people learn from each other, hopefully with some grace and courtesy, and not the counterproductive actions of the blame game.

    How do I gauge a leader, by how they engage both sides.

    You cannot seek to humiliate a population in battle and then rule without resistance and resentment. That is why you cannot split a child down the middle to solve custody cases, because all old King Solomon did was to create more animosity to be brought to war another day. Jim knew this in Huck Finn’s adventures, and maybe most of us know this from reading it with a qualified, tenured, english teacher.

  25. Submitted by Mike Kluznik on 06/01/2010 - 11:34 pm.

    I don’t know much about the Minneapolis School system. I grew up in St. Paul and attended an inner city elementary school there. I never had a poor teacher until I attended one of the city’s high schools when I opted out of the gifted classes to be with my friends in the regular classes. That’s when I got assigned to a history class taught by the hockey coach. He was a very good hockey coach but a horrible teacher. I opted back into the gifted classes in my senior year and was once again challenged. Through all my years of attending public schools and then the U of M, I had only one poor teacher (the hockey coach I already mentioned) and a humanities prof at the U of M. Whatever failings I had as a student (and I had a few) were due more to choices I made than to anything the teachers did.
    Get rid of tenure? I’d have to say no. Do I have solutions for Minneapolis? How about trying this: if you want to raise achievement levels of financially-strapped inner city students, pay them for good grades. Money talks.

  26. Submitted by Mike Kluznik on 06/02/2010 - 07:54 am.

    America has a long tradition of anti-intellectualism. Political leaders from Wisconsin’s Sen. Joe McCarthy to Alabama’s segregationist Gov. George Wallace back in the 60s to Alaska’s half-term Gov. Sarah Palin have reveled in their collective ignorance. 2000-1008 witnessed the most intellectually incurious president since Harding and Coolidge. TV was termed a “…vast, intellectual waste-land…” by a famous commentator several decades ago. Turn on your TV for five minutes; the stupidity of the endless commercials by pharmaceutical companies, beer makers, etc. are more proof that the average American is below average. If that weren’t proof enough, consider Paris Hilton. If she didn’t exist, our culture would have to invent her. The vapid dolts on Fox News with their fear and hate mongers are high comedy but sadly are mistaken for truth-telling culture warriors. Did you know that former Miss America and current Fox News maven Gretchen Carlson was valedictorian of her high school class, graduated Stanford and was a Rhodes Scholar? To listen to her you would think she was an all-around C-student and airhead Valley Girl who works at a convenience store in the strip-mall down the street from you (she’s dumbing down for you, America). The depraved lyrics and and bland music of hip-hop and rap was used to torture prisoners at Gitmo. In America, the closer you live to the Canadian border, the better you do on academic achievement tests. Immigrant families move to America from Asia and Africa, the children and grandchildren become acculturated and over time each successive generation shows less intellectual curiosity and achievement than the preceding generation (America makes you dumber). In some inner-city schools it’s considered bad form to be smart and get good grades. America’s constant criticism of its public schools is simply an expression of its own self-loathing. Pass the nachos, sit back and watch The Donald in “You’re Fired” or Twitter yourself to death but quit complaining about a lack of intellectual rigor that none of us really want.

  27. Submitted by Brock Dubbels on 06/02/2010 - 10:37 am.

    Intellectual rigor is something that gets put in district mission statements, but the work involved in reinventing a culture created by students who thrive with worksheets will not easily disappear.

    Parents no longer want to parent, and they show up at conferences blaming the teacher fro not telling them their child was failing earlier. In my own experience as a teacher, I had to show them the signed grade reports the kids returned for 10 points to show that they had been warned, and then it was all-out war on their part.

    Yes, welcome to the days where kids will be encouraged to tell on teachers.

    Where a student can tell an adult that they are going to try and have them fired.

    Where minimum standards allow for the freedoms of mediocrity, the cult of personality, and consumerism to replace any teacher authority about high standards in learning, much less respect.

    I actually had a kid tell me in front of his parents that he was trying to get me fired. The parents sat there in shock and then tried to reason with him about how he couldn’t just do packets, making allusions to his favorite show -House; and that maybe trying to do the assignment as I built it with rubrics would be a challenge and he should look at his options for creativity and ownership.

    He just became snide and told his parents they were stupid, and then castigated his step-dad for wearing a sweater vest.

    Such parenting.

    Maybe the kid needed to hear the word “NO” for once.

    But “no” means following through on consequences and a fear that the teen will not love the parents the same, and will close off more and be secretive with friends until they get their way at home with the kind of autonomy that is Bernie Madoff in training.

    No boundaries, no limits, no laws are applicable because accountability is a buzzword that comes with minimum standards, not comparisons to genius and community.

    And these kids have allies. Let a new principal get the transcripts of a crying session of the kid’s exaggerations and mistruths, and all of a sudden a teacher leader is accused of failure to teach unless they consider changing back to the packets this kid likes — which he likes because they are easy and he has much time to spend how he wants in class now that he can just go to the wikipedia and share answers with friends, not even reading the books.

    Many teachers will no longer leave their rooms because of the cameras in the halls, where if they bump into a kid, this can be grounds for discipline and termination. All on tape.

  28. Submitted by Brock Dubbels on 06/02/2010 - 10:38 am.

    dubbels continued:

    I remember Apocalypse now where the chef learned never to get off the boat–it is the same for teachers: don’t leave your room, keep your head down, and “this too shall pass” when considering the next wave of curricular foolishness the next administrator brings to further their careers with their “innovations”.

    Sadly, this means new teachers will never see how expert teachers run a classroom, because they often do not want any attention, or to be seen as a possible adversary if they show any leadership and ever disagree.

    Better just to ignore the current trends as they come back like bell-bottom pants and out-come based education (1998?).

    So what is the problem?

    There is no respect for teachers, and very little incentive financially.

    Why put your neck out for the queen of hearts?

    What is the average tenure of a principal or superintendent these days at a school or district–four years?

    Ascendence of promotion-hungry principals who who want upward mobility can show tough leadership by destroying all discussion and dissent through letting a few select kids tell the schools how they should be taught and by whom, all the while keeping the quiet kids, who don’t want conflict, in the dark ages of middle class scantron-enabled mediocrity.

    Destroy the teacher leadership, keep the status quo in the shape of a bell-curve, and tell the parents who can barely make it to parent teacher night because they work two jobs that their very bright child has disengaged because certain kids with active parents get to decide what the classroom looks like and what learning is.

    I cannot blame the middle of the bell-cureve-kids for defiance as an act of integrity, when the student finds the work of bubbling in packets uninspiring — the teachers fault again?

    How about when your parents and district tell you that they are buying AP and IB curriculum and you will do it.

    Nothing like bringing your passion to work around learning.

    Beuhler, class, anyone?

    The funny thing is, those kids who have the parents who want to dictate curriculum, and their kids who learn to be manipulative in the same way, all end up at the class reunions with histories of bad marriages, over-involvement in sports that ended at high school finding themselves bossing the PTA, and school board through living their children’s lives, after falling flat on their faces academically once out of high school, and trying to relive and maybe extend their glory days –that lasted four years of their lives: high school.

    I love class reunions.

    Most of the bell-curve kids are the ones that show up to tell stories of success, while the manipulators want to talk about what happened in 11th grade.

    We are at a place of settling for less, because we have forgotten how to love learning — and if that building a love for learning gets in the way of an episode of Gossip Girls, watch out.

  29. Submitted by Mike Kluznik on 06/02/2010 - 04:18 pm.

    The number of trendy programs that have been introduced into the schools is amazing: Back to the Basics, Outcome Based Education (OBE), Profile of Learning, Assertive Discipline, Glasser’s “Quality Circles,” Synthetic Phonics, language-based math, New Math, Whole Language approach to reading which includes inventive spelling, Open Schools, Modular Scheduling, dropping letter grades for other forms of student evaluation, etc. And that’s just a partial list. My, my but It’s hard to keep up with all these trends. If you listen to Gov. T-Paw and others, apparently none of these programs worked. What to do, what to do?

  30. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 06/02/2010 - 06:50 pm.

    Strange thing about education reform is that everyone thinks they’re an expert just because they went to school. No need to review the existing research on what actually works in practice because teaching is so easy that anyone could do it, right? It’s kinda like people thinking they are qualified to advise on economics just because they have a bank account.

    John Hattie has an excellent book called “Visible Learning” summarizing thousands of studies on education. Yes, good teachers do make a difference, but there are numerous factors that contribute. Good students tend to do better regardless of the school, so paying more to get better teachers will have a limited effect (and don’t forget, if you really want to improve schools, you have to be willing to pay market rates to convince good people to work as teachers).

    Teaching is actually very similar to management, you have to persuade people to do things they often don’t want to do. However, managers can sack lazy workers, but teachers can’t sack lazy students, you have to deal with them. This makes identifying good teachers very difficult because objective measures of performance are difficult or impossible. There are huge problems using standardized test scores to rate teachers. One is that even a few problem kids in a class can make a huge difference to mean score gains, so you need some way of analyzing score gains to isolate the contribution of the teacher from all the “noise” in the data. Very few administrators have the statistical skills to do that rigorously enough to stand up in court. Let’s face it, most people with post-graduate training in statistics or psychometrics are going to work in fields that pay much more than education.

    Another major problem concerns “regression to the mean”, a well known problem in statistics that is frequently overlooked in analyzing standardized test results. This paper by an Educational Testing Service researcher (http://tinyurl.com/mebdvg)
    describes the problem. I would suggest that anyone who can’t follow the fairly basic statistics in that report, really has no business demanding that people be sacked. I am all for performance evaluations of teachers, but, if you take the issue seriously, then take the time to learn how to do it properly and be prepared to pay higher taxes to attract, train, and retain good teachers.

  31. Submitted by Lynnell Mickelsen on 06/03/2010 - 01:29 pm.

    I’ve been out of town and on the road, which is why I’m just catching up tosome of the comments,

    1) RE: Dan McGuire@#19: Dan says seniority has never been the chief criteria—he prefers the term “deciding factor.” Okay. Fine.
    But the fact remains that under our current system, if our schools have to lay-off a teacher and the choice is laying off an award-winning, dynamic, engaged teacher vs. a disconnected, dull, robotic, “just-phoning-it-in” teacher who has more seniority, the inspiring teacher is laid-off while the depressingly mediocre one is retained.

    Seniority rules,baby! It’s the law.

    It doesn’t serve kids, younger teachers, the teaching profession as a whole, taxpayers or the common good. But it does serve the needs of the teachers who have put in the most time.

    The current contract can be found on-line here: http://humanresources.mpls.k12.mn.us/uploads/tcon0709.pdf.

    It’s 222-pages long, which in itself is part of the problem. (When was the last time most of you signed a 222-page employment contract?) Most of the staffing rules are found between pp. 175 and 187. The opening preamble sounds good, but you need to get down to the actual nitty-gritty rules, which is where the rubber hits the road when it comes to real-life staffing decisions. And there you will find the phrases like “by seniority order” over and over and over again.

    If there are contract provisions that allow principals and school leadership teams to make decisions based on teacher quality or effectiveness, point me to ’em!!! Nothing would make me happier! I’m serious. I know there’s a few protected areas—autism, Spanish or French immersion or Montessori programs. But overall, the vast number of decisions for your “regular” teachers are decided according to seniority rank.

    2) Dan says we need to “fix the leadership issues” first. We need to deal with “financial accountability.” We need to first get “leadership trusted by all staff” (I suppose the key word here is “all”) Hey, I’m all for it. But it’s awfully vague. And it mirrors the usual response from contract defenders which goes something like this:

    The district, principals, parents and kids all need to change first, after which, then maybe teachers can discuss maybe changing.

    We agree that all parties need to change, We just reject the argument that one group has to go first. There’s plenty of reform that needs to happen. Let’s all get going on it.

    By the way, we focus on contract issues, not because we think it’s the ONLY reform necessary, but because it’s the one issue that our usual allies in education and reform (i.e. teachers, DFL political leaders, non-profit advocacy groups) don’t want to touch.

    3) I agree with Dan that the sooner we can get good evaluations systems in place, the better. My fear is that we will spend the next 10-15 years arguing about what’s a good or better evaluation system……while thousands and thousands of kids are stuck with sub-standard teachers. We’ve already lost entire generations of African-American kids. How many more years do we have to keep waiting?

    4) I really agree with what Dan says about value-added data, teaching the 90th percentile and teaching as a team effort (I actually think it’s a combination individual sport and team effort, sort of kind of like cross-country running or nordic skiing.)

    5) Dan says “when you can convince all teachers, not just maybe a third of them that you’ve got something good that will really work, then we can move forward.” Again, I suppose the key word here is “all.” which ain’t going to happen. (See #2)

    Dan continues, “Until then, you’re just making politicall noise.

    Yep. Guilty as charged. Because what’s lacking has not been good research or better ideas. What’’s lacking has been the political will to do right by kids.

    As we say on our website (www.putkidsfirstminneapolis.org) “For years, many of us have waited for heroic, bold (and okay, politically suicidal) superintendents, school board members or teachers to stand up and demand contract reform that puts kids first and serves the public good. But the truth is, they can’t do this unless there’s a powerful wind of public support and pressure.

    It is our job to create that wind. We are the public. These are our schools.

    Come join us!

  32. Submitted by Lynnell Mickelsen on 06/03/2010 - 02:17 pm.

    RE: Ray Schoch @#20 and #21. Thanks for your thoughtful comments. I have Diane Ravitch’s book on my “to-read” list. So far I’ve read a few long reviews of the book (which is the adult version of Cliff notes and cheating, I know.) and it sounds really interesting.

    I share your skepticism and wariness of standardized testing and how it can distort education. I think we already have too much standardized testing in the schools. I think standardized tests fail to measure or reward other kinds of intelligence. I hate how the testing has made the arts seem unimportant or a waste of time, even though we know it’s one of the best ways to connect with and inspire kids And on and on.

    In my mind, the only good thing that came out of No Child Left Behind, was it made schools collect data that proved what we already knew—namely that African-American, Latino and other kids were falling way behind academically. And it made people get serious about trying to reduce that gap.

    Our schools aren’t doing well with huge numbers of kids. And no, it’s not all the teachers’ fault. We need plenty of reforms in how education is delivered. Parents and students do need to become more engaged and serious about learning. But if the teacher is the biggest school-based factor in a kids’ academic success, we need to take teacher quality seriously and hire (and retain) the best licensed teachers we can get our hands on.

    When it comes to teacher effectiveness and data, I feel like seniority defenders often want it both ways. They say we have to stick to seniority because there’s no fair “objective” way to evaluate teachers. Feedback from the following groups are “subjective” and unreliable because:

    a) principals are too often lazy, incompetent and/or prone to personality conflicts;

    b) parents think their kids are perfect, blame teachers for everything and are prone to personality conflicts.

    c) kids are too often lazy, inattentive and prone to personality conflicts.

    But if we try to use “more objective” data, we’re inevitably told that the data is wrong, incomplete or misused, etc. etc.

    Reformers can’t win.

    At Put Kids First Minneapolis, we think value-added data works better than other kinds when it comes to teacher evaluations. But it’s hardly perfect or the silver bullet. Which is why we would like to see feedback from parents and students used as well as classroom observations. We would also like to see principals evaluated with similar input, including teacher feedback.

    RE: teaching as an art, not a science. You’re so right. It IS hard to quantify. But for all the talk about how hard it is to evaluate or find out who is a good teacher or not……..at almost any given school, there is usually a remarkable consensus among parents, students, principals and other teachers over who are the top 15 percent of the teachers and bottom 15 percent. For the 60-70 percent in the middle, people can often disagree.

    In Minneapolis, if we were able to change the contract so we could retain the top 15 percent performers and move out our bottom 15 percent performers, our schools would become so much more dynamic and engaging.

    I love Parker Palmer on teaching—especially the quote you gave. From your other comments, I suspect you were a remarkable teacher, shanks for all you did for kids! And you are totally right about how connecting with kids, affirming them, and expecting their best effort makes such a difference. Everything does flow from that. I taught college, which is far easier than teaching K-12, and it was true in my classroom too.

    So my question to you: how do we retain teachers like you and move out teachers who don’t connect with students and in many ways, don’t think they need to.?

    As one teacher once told me, “I’m doing my job. I’m presenting the material. If they don’t choose to learn, it’s their problem.” As you can imagine, this teacher wasn’t particularly effective.

    One last thing because it was easy to miss in Beth Hawkins otherwise excellent article: Put Kids First Minneapolis supports tenure as a form of due process. If we want passionate, fearless teachers in the classrooms, they need to be protected from bad principals, religious and political zealots, helicopter parents, false accusations and all kinds of crap that comes flying at teachers every day.

    But we do not support tenure as a life-time guarantee to a job, regardless of performance or what kids need.

  33. Submitted by Lynnell Mickelsen on 06/03/2010 - 02:57 pm.

    Richard Schultze @#22 writes “We have a national teacher shortage, so measures making it easier to fire teachers (while important) won’t automatically lead to principals firing bad teachers.”

    Lynnell: I’m not aware there’s a national teacher shortage. But if I’m wrong (and it wouldn’t benthe first time!)…well, that’s one more reason why I support alternative licensing for teachers in Minnesota because I think it’s a good way to get more qualified, diverse teachers from all walks of life in the classroom.

    I was disappointed that DFL House Leader Margaret Anderson Kelliher killed the alternative licensure bill in the last days of the session—and I’m a long-time DFL activist. The Minneapolis Federation of Teachers supported the bill, to their credit. Education Minnesota, the state-wide teacher union group, opposed it, but they weren’t the only ones.

    Alternative licensing is also hard to pass politically because the higher education groups tend to oppose it—their education schools currently have a terrific market monopoly. If you want to be a licensed teacher, you need to take classes from them and trust me, they aren’t giving those classes away for free.

    Richard also writes: “I find it no coincidence that the country with one of the best educational systems in the world, Finland, pays teachers salaries between $60,000 to $80,000. “

    Lynnell: For the record, the average teacher salary in Minneapolis is $64,123. If you add in medical benefits and pensions, etc, the overall compensation is much higher.

    Put Kids First Minneapolis believes teachers should be well-paid. As we say on our website, “In our perfect world, teachers would make more than lawyers and bankers, and, to achieve that, we’ll need collective bargaining.”

    Here’s a few other Q and As from our FAQs:

    Q. Is this an anti-teacher group?

    No. We’re active on this issue because we believe good teachers really matter. Teaching well takes enormous intelligence, energy, organization and sheer endurance. Good teachers work their tails off. Anyone who thinks otherwise hasn’t tried teaching.

    Q. Is this a front for some right-wing anti-union group?

    Nope. If you want to bust unions, find a different group. We believe unions can create a more just and equal world. In our perfect world, teachers would make more than lawyers and bankers, and, to achieve that, we’ll need collective bargaining.

    Q. Why do you claim reforming the teachers’ contract would be better for the labor movement as a whole?

    A.Because no other union reaches so deeply into so many lives for so long and affects what matters most to people–their children– as the teachers’ union.

 So when students, parents and taxpayers experience the teachers’ union as the force that makes them lose talented teachers, hire mediocre or bad ones, and lose much-needed staff diversity…. well, this does more insidious, long-term damage to the labor movement than anything right-wing union busters could come up with.

    It’s also a future organizing disaster because it can set kids against unions before they even enter the work force.

    If friends don’t let friends drive drunk, friends of unions shouldn’t let them drive off the cliffs of public opinion. We think reforming the teachers’ contract would make labor stronger in the long run.

    Lynnell again: You can read more at our website at http://www.putkidsfirstminneapolis.org

  34. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 06/03/2010 - 08:30 pm.

    Recruiting crusader types might suit TFA’s focus on tough neighborhoods, but is not suitable nor sustainable for the general teaching profession overall, I think. Doesn’t really help to improve the profession as a whole in any systemic permanent way.

    I wonder what is the percentage of TFA teachers that stay in the teaching profession, instead of simply passing onto more lucrative careers after a couple of years.

    A large part of that is the lousy job market. The take-home point is that without reforms that make teaching a more attractive profession, we’re not going to see continued interest in the field from highly educated individuals.

  35. Submitted by Grace Rousseau on 06/04/2010 - 10:33 am.

    As a matter of argument, why don’t we cut to the chase…

    Why do we have public schools? Wouldn’t it be nice to privatize the entire system? The school could then truly become a service business, built around the needs of their client base. It could function in much the same way that our health care system works today. We have the best in the world… Why not? Everyone would get their choice and the option to pick what works best for them.

  36. Submitted by Brock Dubbels on 06/04/2010 - 09:35 pm.

    Why don’t we just come clean on the teacher seniority abolition and say it is to cut salary.

    When Washburn did interview and select after the fresh start, they did not rehire any teachers with years of service or voice in leadership. About 20% of the staff were retained.

    What the result of this fresh start was that at the beginning of the next year, they still dod not have enough teachers hired, and that many of the teachers they did find were novice teachers — unprepared for the challenges of dealing with cultures of poverty, and that there are rolling vacancies at that school.

    Recently Minneapolis offered 25, 000.00 to each “senior” teacher who would retire if the union would give up seniority– this act potentially saving millions in salary and getting rid of all employees who had living experience of the lack of continuity in leadership and the educational fads each new regime brought with it.

    Often the teachers provide the only continuity, and the only memories of why things that are being pushed now, did not work in the past.

    I have noticed that teacher morale is at a point where it is felt that trusting an administrator is like the native americans signing treaties with the US government.

  37. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 06/04/2010 - 10:04 pm.

    HEY THERE, talented recent university graduate! I’d like to offer you a job in an extremely challenging and rewarding field. The pay is based almost entirely on performance metrics—you know, what they used to call “commission” in the old days. The better you do, the more you earn! Of course the worse you do, the less you earn, but don’t focus on that—you’re a winner, you’ll do great. We can offer you a five-year contract to start. By “contract” I mean we’ll let you work for us, if things work out, but we can of course fire you at any time. And after that you’ll have solid contracts! Each contract lasts one year, and we can decide to let you go at the end if you’re not performing up to our standards. And by that time, you’ll be earning…well, actually, you’ll be paid at exactly the same rate as when you started out. We’re prohibited by law from paying you more just because you’ve worked for us longer. If, however, you want to go get qualified in some new technical field or obtain an advanced degree, then…we can’t raise your pay either. We basically just pay you a flat standardized commission depending on how well you perform on the mission.

    The mission is to train 18 to 25 children to correctly fill out the answers on a series of standardized tests. You have no control over which children will be assigned to you, and unlike other commission-based workers (door-to-door salesmen, say), you will be stuck with the ones you’re handed for the whole year. Average salary is $45,000 a year, but if you work your butt off and get lucky with the kids who are assigned to you, you could push it to, oh, $60,000.

    If this offer doesn’t sound attractive to you, it’s probably because you have other career options. The idea that one could attract talented personnel to the teaching profession under conditions like those above is absurd.

    Does it seem to anyone else that the big problem we’re having with education in this country is that somehow teaching is hard to do by dichotomy? It seems like we either need extreme scored pay or no evaluation, tenure or disposable teachers.

    I might be coming to Mr. Dubbel’s view that school boards are the problem, in the sense that we seem to elect dull stones for everything. What are state legislators, after all but school board graduates?

  38. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 06/04/2010 - 10:07 pm.

    If people want to go into professions where most pay is based on commissions and bonuses, they’ll go into the ones where the rewards can be large, like real estate sales or finance. We’re not going to improve America’s schools by first turning teaching into a factory job, and then paying the workers on a piecework basis.

  39. Submitted by Lynnell Mickelsen on 06/05/2010 - 12:46 pm.

    RE: Grace Rousseau@#36: I assume this is snark/satire. But if not, for the record, Put Kids First Minneapolis is opposed to vouchers and other privatization schemes. We believe good public schools are the foundation of a functioning democracy. Our current system was built through decades and decades of public investment. If it isn’t good, we need to fix it rather than create an entirely new one.

    If Grace truly thinks the U.S. has the best health care system in the world, well, she’s obviously not reading the numerous studies and statistics that clearly show otherwise.

    RE:Brock @37 writes: “Why don’t we just come clean on the teacher seniority abolition and say it is to cut salary?”

    Put Kids First Minneapolis opposes our current rigid teacher seniority system because of teacher quality issues, not salary. Because we’ve watched great teachers flushed out while lousy teachers are retained, again and again and again.

    One thing that makes teaching so interesting and unique is that age really doesn’t matter. I’ve seen old, grey-haired teachers who rock their classroom. And I’ve seen young teachers who bore kids to death and can’t connect with them. Good teachers come in any age and size. Ditto for bad ones. I think schools are at their best when there’s a combination of young and experienced teachers.

    RE: Brock on Washburn’s fresh start. All I know is, since the fresh-start, enrollment at Washburn is up and there’s a great buzz about the school. Parents and students from the area seem far more excited and happy about the it.

    In fact, two of my friends, who live in the Southwest HS area, are sending their kids to Washburn, precisely because they say the class sizes are smaller and the teachers seem more dynamic and engaged. I NEVER EVER EVER heard of this happening before the fresh-start. Before the fresh start, Washburn was the school that neighborhood families were always trying to flee.

    RE: Richard Schulze@#38. The current situation is both better and worse than your job ad.

    On the plus side, the average salary for a Minneapolis teacher is currently $64,123. On the down side, the starting pay for a teacher, fresh out of college is $35,153.

    In the past 10 years, the MFT has focused much of their negotiating efforts on pay increases for their more senior teachers—which from their point of view, probably makes sense because most of their current members have 15 years or more experience, since nder the last-hired, first-fired contract rules, younger teachers have been laid off in droves. So the bulk of their membership is now senior teachers.

    Still, the current salary system has created a have and have-nots kind of system, where younger teachers are poorly paid and are the first to be laid off, even if they’re amazing teachers. This two-tiered system isn’t good for the schools…. or the union in the long run.

    In terms of class size, teachers in Minneapolis often have far more than 18 to 25 students.

    Richard writes: “We’re not going to improve America’s schools by first turning teaching into a factory job, and then paying the workers on a piecework basis.”

    I agree. But the current contract already treats teachers precisely like factory workers. Teachers are treated like interchangeable widgets–their abilities and relationships count for nothing under the current contract that Brock and Dan are defending. Instead, it’s all about seniority–because the teaching contract was based on an industrial model.

    I think teaching and assembly line work are not the same and shouldn’t be treated the same.

    As far as paying for work on a piecework basis—if we’re talking about merit pay, in truth, I’m conflicted about it. I don’t think most teachers are motivated to teach better if they’re better paid. That’s just not how teachers think.

    RE: school boards. There’s currently a lot of talk about what is the most effective form of governance: school boards vs. mayoral control vs. whatever. There’s no perfect model.

    Richard complains about “dull stones” but
    I’ve been active on Minneapolis school board issues for 15 years and I think the current MPS board is full of smart, dedicated people who have made some gutsy decisions. In my experience, most board members have been good. The problem isn’t the individuals who serve–it’s the structure of asking citizens, who are paid a tiny stipend, to try to govern and change a huge complex system, full of inertia, in their spare time. With no administrative assistance. It’s nuts. But the alternative ways of governance come with their own downside.

  40. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 06/05/2010 - 10:26 pm.

    The collapse in the public schools is a side effect of greater opportunity for women. The schools used to be largely run and almost entirely staffed by ridiculously overqualified women. I doubt their granddaughters have followed them.

    I kind of get the argument for tenure in universities (though it may be debated there, too), but how did tenure in primary/secondary education come about? How was it sold to the public?

    Double the pay for new hires. Current teachers can compete with the newcomers for the higher pay, but they must give up tenure to do so. If they choose to retain tenure, they get their old pay.

  41. Submitted by Brock Dubbels on 06/06/2010 - 08:34 pm.


    You completely miss the point through all of this and continue to argue a strawman.

    I see you coming back to the same point over and over without responding to any of the other issues, which makes me think that your agenda is political and not for the betterment of schools or kids.

    You say we need to get rid of seniority because we have poor performing old teachers who keep good teachers out.

    So why not work with the union that cares a lot about teaching as a profession– i have been a teacher — have you?

    I have found that it is easy to argue rhetoric and blame.


    The further you are away from a classroom, the easier it is to come up with a simple solution, which it seems like you have Lynelle.

    You would like to make it possible that senior teachers who have REAL experience in classrooms cannot question administrators who stay an average of two years? Superintendents also two years?

    What about the mess in Memphis?

    You relied heavily on that as a model, but if you read the outcomes from what happened, we find disaster.

    Your research please?

    Your empirically founded evidence?

    You would displace a profession and turn it into a service industry because you think some teachers are old and lazy?

    Your position is to simple for a complex issue, and you have still not addressed any of the other issues, but continue to return to saying “old lazy teachers are holding us back.”

    News for you, teachers are the one consistency.

    These teachers who have seen these educational fads come and go want evidence from fly-by-night administrators, with little if any classroom experience, and very poor educational attainment — and if they might disagree and might argue against policy from career-ladder-climbers they can be fired.

    Let’s take a look at who is making the decisions on good teaching.

    Where does your empirically validated model come from?


    MPS embraced that model and what happened?

    Oh I guess not so great– designed by an economist with no teaching experience. also, the administrtors who implement it have not research methodology experience — that make for reliability and validity.

    I had a principal give me a four on a scale that had definitions for what it was to be a 1, 3, or 5 — so what were the elements of compromise that made me a four in an undefined category?

    They made it up is what happened.

    If you want to assign blame, let’s look at the qualifications of what makes for good leadership?

    Does firing your adversary make you effective?

    Like I said, a real leader builds consensus through research and compromise, you propose making teacher leadership disposable and a non-profession. Tenure protects teachers who disagree with management and provide due process.

    SO, we get rid of tenure and seniority.

    Who is going to be left when the teachers who have seen the foolishness of the past policies are repackaged and put forward as progress?

    Lynelle, you have not responded to any of my arguments except to keep saying that we have old lazy teachers that keep energetic new teachers out.

    IS that all you have to support your position?

    And by the way, Washburn has worked very hard to rid itself of the population east of 94, to create the kind of school that thrives on perception rather than progress and attracts kids from the neighborhood and eliminates programs that might support kids who struggle on the tests and in school. A new form of institutional segregation — congrats.

    Redistricting will be very good for Washburn.

    Washburn was one of the few schools that kept programs like shop in contrast to South and Southwest who created programs that would discourage kids from poverty and low achievement from applying.

    This SLC model that created the imbalance came from this same group of administrators you support now created — they created SLCs four years ago. Why the change now?

    Did they make a mistake?

    Maybe they were lazy and bought solutions.

    So what about it Lynelle, shouldn’t we clean house?

    You say that protecting teacher seniority is about protecting teachers who are not doing anything and

  42. Submitted by Lynnell Mickelsen on 06/07/2010 - 11:34 am.

    RE: Brock@#42…..responding to some of your points.

    1) Old vs young. As I’ve said before, I don’t think teaching quality is related to age. I’ve seen teachers in their late 50s up to early 70s who I’d take in a heartbeat over some 20-or 30-something youngster. 🙂

    But the reverse is also true. A teacher with 22 years experience isn’t a defacto better teacher than someone with 12 years. Yet our current contract doesn’t allow us to hire or retain people based on their effectiveness in the classroom. Instead, seniority remains the trump card.

    How would we decide effectiveness? The same way most organizations/employers do—using a variety of feedback and human judgment Would it perfect? No. Is it better than our current rigid seniority rules? I think so.

    2) “Why not work with the union that cares a lot about teaching as a profession?” I’d welcome that.

    3) “I have been a teacher — have you?” Yes, but I taught college courses, which is a piece of cake compared to K-12. K-12 teachers are the real pros.

    4) I don’t rely heavily on Memphis as a research model, although Tennessee is one of many places that uses value-added data. We have a bunch of reports and studies up on our website at http://www.putkidsfirstminneapolis.org. Or we have links to those studies. Check ’em out.

    5) I’m not aware of the mess in Memphis. Could you please post some links, studies on that?

    6) “You would displace a profession and turn it into a service industry ….” Actually, we’d like a contract that treats teachers more like a profession and less like an assembly line worker.

    7) “TAP? MPS embraced that model and what happened?” I completely share your skepticism about TAP. We talk about that under FAQs on our website.

    8) We support tenure as a form of due process. As we say on our website, if we want passionate, fearless teachers in the classroom, they need protection. We do not support tenure when it is used as a life-time guarantee to a job, regardless of performance or what kids need. For the record, the MFT says it feels the same way.

    9) The principal, Carol Markham Cousins, at Washburn has fought the redistricting which is changing the student body. She’s been totally opposed to it.

    10) I’m all for bringing back shop and other vocational classes to any or all high schools. My kids went/currently attend Southwest and I would have loved to have them take shop.

    11) RE: cleaning house at 807. And as we say on our website, there’s three parties/levels to staffing issues: 1) the district headquarters at 807 NE Broadway; 2) the principals; 3) the teachers. We believe we need good people at all levels and support reform at all levels.

    But we don’t believe that one side has to change or reform before the other sides can start. There’s plenty of reform to go around. We can all get started on it.

    As I’ve told Lynn Nordgren, we welcome MFT input on specific things that need to change on the administrative and principal side of things to make sure we have the best teachers in the classroom—because the MFT probably has a better sense of this stuff than us ordinary parents and citizens.

    I say specific things because general statements like “get rid of 807” or “fire all the principals”doesn’t give us much to work with, however heartfelt it may be.

  43. Submitted by Brock Dubbels on 06/07/2010 - 04:15 pm.


    So let me understand your position:

    you want to get rid of tenure — what protects teachers from the fads and factions in district leadership because you feel that there are some lazy teachers?

    Can you give me a ball park estimate of how many lazy teachers there are per building?

    This will help me to understand how serious the problem you describe has become.

    How about the top-heavy bureaucracy at 807 that gets nothing done but hiring consultants and then becoming their henchmen and henchwomen because they do not have the education to understand what they are doing?

  44. Submitted by Brock Dubbels on 06/07/2010 - 04:37 pm.

    Most of these leaders at 807 do not know how to read data, understand a research model, or know what literature they should even be reading– do you expect someone like me who has been on the inside, who has research and publishing exeprience, and worked in social science labs with a McKnight Professor to trust them to make decisions on quality teaching?

    I see how they make their decisions — they hire people to do it for them.

    This is not generalize, as you have about teachers, and say all 807 administrators and principals are are lazy.

    Yes, let’s get rid of tenure in favor of giving Principals powers of Interview and Select as our first step towards group think.

    Let’s silence dissent so we can make policy.

    What I think is interesting is how a group can latch onto something easy like “lazy teachers” and not look at the systemic dysfunction that creates it.

    So how many lazy teachers do we have in our buildings? So age isn’t a factor? Then what are your factors? TAP? QComp?

    When I look at what MPS has done over the past 20 years, I think of Overmeier and Seligman’s landmark study in 1956 on Learned Helplessness, which in many ways parallels how leadership keeps playing whack-a-mole with teachers.

    It makes them want to teach under the radar and avoid the 10 hour days that it takes to change a curriculum after they have success with what they know.

    Removing tenure is taking away any assurance teachers have any agency in their classrooms.

    It is too easy calling them lazy.

    And that this protection only protects the lazy. Should we banish freedom of speech because it rids our society of foolish sentiment?

    Getting rid of tenure and security for teachers who speak out, and spinning it as being good for kids because there are some lazy teachers being protected is just fallacy in debate:

    as a logic major I remember and see here

    Argumentum ad nauseam
    Circulus in demonstrando
    red herring
    Argumentum ad populum


    I am sure that if this were not the same top-down mandate that always comes from MPS administrators, and teachers were part of a balanced committee from the community, we could come some way of protecting tenure, and encouraging some teachers to leave the profession.

    But it sounds like you prefer just destroying tenure and taking the easy way out.

    This is a slippery slope you propose.

    Dicto simpliciter — the fallacy of making a sweeping statement and expecting it to be true of every specific case.

  45. Submitted by Brock Dubbels on 06/17/2010 - 08:54 pm.

    Read this if you believe in value-added assessment and firing teachers: http://tinyurl.com/2ffbbhh

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